Category Archives: Las Vegas Casinos

Derek Stevens Land Buy Opens Up Possibilities for Downtown Vegas

While Vegas-watchers had their eye on a classic neon sign, Vegas Vickie, coming down on Fremont Street, they missed news of much greater significance.

Derek Stevens, owner of The D, Golden Gate and a new resort on its way to the former Las Vegas Club site (referred to as “18 Fremont”), recently closed a land deal that opens the door for dramatic changes to downtown Las Vegas.

Stevens purchased a site known as P/Q, part of Symphony Park. Here’s a look at the parcel from a perspective you know you’re only going to get on this blog.

PQ site Derek Stevens

Pretty much the first dirt lot that’s ever made us giddy. Just keep reading.

Symphony Park is a rather nebulous name for a district downtown Las Vegas has long had high hopes for. Symphony Park home to The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, Discovery Children’s Museum and Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

The roughly 6.4-acre site sits behind the Plaza casino, not far from another parcel Stevens purchased in October 2016. That parcel sits between the Plaza and Main Street Station casino. Vegas-watchers missed that sale, too. Hey, we do what we can.

Here’s another look.

The more you know about the latest land purchase, the more intriguing the possibilities become.

Here’s a useful map to help sort out what’s where. At left, the latest acquisition. The land in the center, next to Plaza, will be used for parking for the new resort at 18 Fremont. The new casino at 18 Fremont will be connected to the parking structure by a bridge.

Derek Stevens land purchases

Remember how we kept calling the purchase next to Plaza casino “strategic”? We’re not just randomly typing words, you know.

Derek Stevens has shown he has a vision for his business ventures and downtown Las Vegas, so it’s not surprising these purchases aren’t random.

For now, the new parcel will serve as a “laydown” yard during the construction of 18 Fremont, a place for construction materials to be delivered and set out before being used in the resort. The lot next to the Plaza would seem to be a good staging area, but it’s expected a parking structure will be built simultaneously to the new resort, so the P/Q parcel will serve that purpose.

Several trailers are already in place at P/Q, and those will be offices for the companies doing demolition and construction on the 18 Fremont project.

18 Fremont laydown yard

Stick with us and we’ll help you impress your friends with terms like “laydown yard.”

But, wait, there’s more.

It’s interesting to note the site purchased by Derek Stevens is the only parcel in Symphony Park zoned for gaming.

That’s worth repeating. The land recently recently purchased by the owner of The D, Golden Gate and a new casino resort at 18 Fremont is zoned for gaming.

If you’re thinking that’s the point in our story that gets us giddy, you’d be right.

While plans for the land, beyond its utilitarian use during the construction of the 18 Fremont project, haven’t been specified, there’s no denying it’s a strategic move and one that could very well mean much, much bigger plans are in the works.

But, wait, there’s more.

In all the plans for Symphony Park, a 61-acre district that stalled during the economic downturn, the parcel abutting the P/Q lot has been slated for a sports arena or, most recently, soccer stadium.

Plans for a stadium have not taken off, but if such a stadium came to pass, it would mean Derek Stevens, his brother and business partner Greg Stevens, and their company, are in the best possible position to take advantage of that development and any resulting boom in business.

downtown arena

Let’s just say the Stevens would probably not be disappointed if someone built a stadium 15 feet away from their newly-purchased site.

If you look closely at that map, you’ll see the P/Q site was previously supposed to be the Forest City Casino-Hotel. The best laid plans and all that.

But, wait, there’s more.

We’ve learned Stevens’ company has invested millions in lobbying efforts toward to the creation of a new off-ramp that will lead from the nearby U.S. 95 freeway directly into W. Ogden Ave.

Apparently, the lobbying has paid off because the off-ramp project is happening.

That’s right, the road that runs along the P/Q site, past the parking structure next to Plaza and right to the back door of the new 18 Fremont hotel and casino. You can see Ogden emerging from a tunnel to the left of the shaded area (the parcel owned by the Stevens), below.

Stevens parcel

Maybe we just like putting shaded areas on things.

Freeway off-ramps are powerful and transformative things, and have helped shape the economic futures of more than a few American cities.

All this from a land sale that’s flown largely under the radar. Until now. You’re welcome.

Full disclosure: Our day job is in digital marketing at Fremont Street Experience, the marketing arm of a group of casinos, including The D and Golden Gate. Our opinions are our own.

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Caesars Entertainment Explores Restaurants From Jennifer Lopez and “Deadliest Catch”

Caesars Entertainment, the casino giant that operates 10 resorts on or near the Las Vegas Strip, loves it some surveys.

A recent survey provides a gold mine of information about restaurant partnerships being explored by Caesars, including Jennifer Lopez and the reality series, “Deadly Catch.”

The first question mentions a potential new restaurant created by a celebrity or performer, and asks customers which celebrity’s dishes the restaurant should feature.

Caesars survey

Just a random list of celebrities, right? Have you learned nothing from this blog?

If you’ve seen enough of these surveys, you know that while Caesars appears to be fishing, they’re actually leading survey-takers down a path. That path leads to Jennifer Lopez.

How do we know? Ponder this question: Which celebrity, out of all the celebrities listed, has a super successful residency at Planet Hollywood, a Caesars Entertainment resort?

Hey, we can make up leading questions, too.

Answer: Jennifer Lopez.

Jennifer Lopez

We’re fairly sure Jennifer Lopez would spend about as much time cooking in her Las Vegas restaurant as Guy Fieri does in his.

While Lopez has no culinary training we know of, Caesars Entertainment has had a lot of success creating restaurants with folks like Gordon Ramsay, Guy Fieri and Giada De Laurentiis. Jennifer Lopez would seem a good fit for a restaurant offering, although we’d love to see what hottie Chrissy Teigen or golfer Phil Mickelson might bring to the table. Literally.

Next on the survey is an intriguing question about a buffet inspired by a TV show.

Caesars survey

Just some random shows, right? Ah, now you’re getting it.

While this blog loves it some Pioneer Woman, Caesars is actually hoping our gaze lands upon “Deadliest Catch.”

How do we know?

Caesars survey

You’re getting the hang of this. You should start a Las Vegas blog. The hours are awful, but the groupies.

That’s right, Caesars Entertainment is considering a buffet inspired by one of the best reality shows of all time, “Deadliest Catch.”

The answer to the question, of course, is “crab.”

Rio buffet crab legs

Fun fact: The Rio’s buffet serves up 1,200 pounds of crab legs every day.

While we can’t know which resorts might be getting a Jennifer Lopez restaurant or a “Deadliest Catch” buffet, we figure it’s about time for a rebrand of the Spice Market Buffet at Planet Hollywood.

What conclusions do you draw from this survey? We’d love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment.

 

 

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Golden Entertainment to Buy Stratosphere, Three Other Casinos for $850 Million

The Stratosphere is set to be sold, along with three additional casinos, to Golden Entertainment, owners of the PT’s Pub chain.

The deal includes Stratosphere, locals casinos Arizona Charlie’s Decatur and Arizona Charlie’s Boulder, and the Aquarius in Laughlin.

In case you’re unfamiliar with it, Laughlin is very much like Las Vegas, but in sweatpants and without makeup.

The sale of the four casinos will cost $850 million.

Funny Stratosphere chip

Please, Golden Entertainment, make this collectible chip a reality.

When the sale gets did, Golden Entertainment will operate about 15,800 slot machines, 114 table games and more than 5,100 hotel rooms across eight casinos, including the world’s most phallic, Stratosphere Las Vegas.

Stratosphere

Well, hello to you, too.

While Golden Entertainment isn’t the best-known name in Las Vegas, their influence is undeniable given they have about 50 bars and restaurants (known in the business as “taverns”) with a gambling component, many of which we personally frequent for the Caesar salad wraps and Captain Morgan, poured from a bottle. Our favorites include PT’s Gold and Sierra Gold.

Golden Entertainment owns several casinos in Pahrump (Pahrump Nugget, Lakeside, Gold Town), as well as the Rocky Gap gap casino in Maryland.

We’re thinking the Rocky Gap and Stratosphere are going to get along just fine, if you get our drift.

Stratosphere

Value of this view from Stratosphere: Priceless.

The sale of Stratosphere and the other casinos is expected to be a done deal by the end of 2017.

The sale of Stratosphere follows on the heels of news another distressed north Strip casino will be sold, SLS Las Vegas. Casinos in that neighborhood continue to face challenges, with rumors the nearby Lucky Dragon is also struggling to find a foothold.

It’s telling that, in 2008, the Stratosphere alone was sold to Goldman Sachs for $1.3 billion.

Sorry we weren’t able to ferret out this story before everyone else, but we have to sleep sometime.

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Details Emerge of Las Vegas Club, Mermaids and Glitter Gulch Demolition, Plus Vegas Vickie’s Fate

There’s a lot going on at the Las Vegas Club site in downtown Las Vegas, and we’ve got all the skinny about the upcoming demolition set to clear the way for a new hotel-casino.

Demolition of a one block site at Fremont Street and Main, informally called “18 Fremont,” will begin on or around July 15, 2017.

All the structures on the block will be taken down to ground level, including the closed Las Vegas Club casino and its two hotel towers, Mermaids casino and Girls of Glitter Gulch strip club.

At one time, it was believed the older of the two Las Vegas Club hotel towers would be imploded, but it’s now been decided no implosion will take place.

Las Vegas Club

If you’re a fan of things being “blowed up real good,” sorry. The Las Vegas Club hotel towers are coming down with a whimper, not a bang.

Demolition in mid-July will begin with a small office structure once used as the management offices of Granite Gaming, owners of Mermaids and Glitter Gulch. Removal of that building, along with a couple of smaller buildings (one a power house, another an “annex”), will make way for some heavy duty demolition equipment to set up shop in the middle of the block.

One of the cranes which will be moved into the site is said to be the largest demolition crane of its kind in the world.

Next, Mermaids and Glitter Gulch will bite the dust.

Mermaids casino

This makes Mermaids prettier than it actually was, trust us.

The owners of the property, Derek and Greg Stevens, along with their team, have devoted an extraordinary amount of time creating an inventory of the signage on all the structures involved in the demolition.

Vegas Vickie, for example, will be removed from the Glitter Gulch facade on June 12, 2017.

It’s estimated the Stevens will invest $11,000 just to remove the iconic sign. There are questions as to whether Vegas Vickie can even be removed intact given her deteriorated condition.

Vegas Vickie

It’s unclear whether Vegas Vickie’s removal will necessitate a divorce from Vegas Vic. They were married in 1994. Not kidding.

Vegas Vickie will ultimately be restored and put on display. Exactly where Vickie will end up hasn’t been decided, but early word is that it will most certainly remain in downtown Las Vegas and is expected to be even more accessible for photo ops.

In the meantime, she’ll be packed up and kept in storage until details of a new location can be sorted out.

It’s estimated the cost of restoring Vegas Vickie could be as much as $100,000. Talk about high maintenance.

There are dozens of other signs in and around Las Vegas Club, Mermaids and Glitter Gulch, including another classic sign, a neon beauty which reads Golden Goose.

Golden Goose casino

Golden Goose opened as the State Cafe. Then it was was Buckley’s Casino, and later the Mecca Casino. Oh, like you’re going to remember all this.

Many of the signs will be salvaged prior to the demolition, and Derek Stevens has said some signs and other fixtures in and on the buildings will be given away in casino promotions. Listen to our recent podcast to hear more.

We’ve learned exclusively the giveaways will begin in August 2017, and players will have a chance to win letters from the various “Las Vegas Club” signs at the site. There are 24 letters up for grabs.

Las Vegas Club sign

Dibs on a “V.” Because Vital Vegas. Please try and keep up.

The demolition will continue around the site, with the Las Vegas Club’s street level casino next on the chopping block.

Then, it’s on to a parking structure on the northeast side of the site.

Finally, the older of the two hotel towers (14 stories) will be taken down, then the newer tower (15 stories) will meet its end. The buildings won’t be taken down floor by floor, but in “columns.”

Here’s a look at the various phases of the demolition project at 18 Fremont.

18 Fremont demolition

Here’s the plan. 1. Granite Gaming office. 2. Mermaids and Glitter Gulch. 3. Las Vegas Club casino. 4. Parking structure. 5. Old tower. 6. New tower.

By the way, the band names on the rooftops are remnants of a video used to promote the Life is Beautiful music festival back in 2015.

That’s Fremont Street Experience in the upper right of the photo, where we work in digital marketing as our day job. The D and Golden Gate, part of the Fremont Street Experience, are owned by the Stevens.

If all goes as planned, demolition at the 18 Fremont site will be completed in November 2017.

In an intriguing twist, it’s been announced slot play will return to Las Vegas Club and Mermaids for eight hours each on June 27-28, 2017.

A quirky (and costly) gaming rule requires that slot play be made available to the public for at least eight hours every two years. Yes, it’s a deeply stupid rule, but hey, this blog loves it some quirky. Check out our visit to another temporary casino, Moulin Rouge.

temporary casino

Yeah, not exactly your typical flashy Las Vegas casino. The worst part: No cocktail service.

One of the stranger aspects of the whole temporary casino nonsense is casino owners don’t keep the money played on the machines. The whole operation is set up by a vendor, United Coin Machine.

So, that should provide some idea of what’s going down at the former Las Vegas Club at 18 Fremont. The official name of the new resort has yet to be announced, but trust us, we’re doing a lot of poking around.

The Las Vegas Club opened in 1930 and had the second neon sign in all of Las Vegas (the first at a casino). The Las Vegas Club closed at midnight on August 19, 2015. Glitter Gulch closed on June 27, 2016. Mermaids closed on June 27, 2016.

There’s lots of new and shiny on the way, but first there’s some serious house cleaning to do.

Expect more photos, drone footage and security breaches in the months to come. Allegedly.

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SLS Las Vegas Tweaks Loyalty Club Program, Unveils Club 52

SLS Las Vegas has rebranded its player loyalty program following news the resort is being sold to Alex Meruelo and his Meruelo Group.

The casino’s new loyalty club was unveiled June 1, 2017, and is called Club 52.

While the casino hasn’t officially said what Club 52 refers to, we’ve heard the name reflects the fact the Sahara opened in 1952. SLS Las Vegas, of course, was the result of a massive renovation of that classic Las Vegas hotel-casino.

SLS Club 52

The number 52 not only represents the year Sahara opened, it’s also the number of cards in a deck. It can also represent analysis, introspection and adventure. We are not making this up.

Renaming the player’s club could very well be a hint the resort will undergo its own rebrand, potentially back to Sahara.

Which would quite possibly be the coolest thing, ever.

SLS chandelier

Vestiges of Sahara can be found throughout SLS, including this sweet chandelier made of Sahara door handles.

Fun fact: Keen-eyed reader Mike P. shared that the design flourish inside the Club 52 logo was often used in Sahara artwork and around the Sahara itself during its heyday.

Sahara Buddy Hackett

That’s some serious Vegas throwback action right there.

With the launch of Club 52 at SLS, the tiers and their associated benefits have been rejiggered.

The previous loyalty club, The Code, had tiers named Select, Premium, Elite and Legend.

Club 52 has Preferred, VIP, Elite and Legend.

The SLS Las Vegas Web site lays out the perks of the various Club 52 tiers.

Here’s a look at what play will get you what slot points and tier credits.

Code 52 tiers points

Thank you, screen grab technology, for helping us avoid having to type all this information.

There’s been quite a bit of speculation about what changes are coming to SLS Las Vegas following its sale later this year, including spectacularly insightful ideas like, “SLS needs more casino and convention customers.”

The hope is new ownership at SLS Las Vegas can help a great resort find its footing in a challenging location and keep the legacy of Sahara alive.

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Comp Drink Validation to Be Rolled Out to Thousands of Slots on Las Vegas Casinos Floors

Another tectonic shift is coming to Las Vegas casinos, and we’ve got an exclusive look at what’s in store.

Back in Sep. 2016, we first reported comp drink validation systems were being installed at all casino bars with video poker at Caesars Entertainment resorts.

The purpose of the comp drink validation systems is to ensure guests are playing enough to warrant free drinks. Getting free drinks, of course, is a longtime tradition in Las Vegas casinos.

The bartop drink validation system measures a guest’s rate of play, and shows a red light or green light to bartenders. Green light, you get your free drink. Red light, you need to either step up your play, or pay for your drink.

Caesars comped drinks

Blue means you’re gambling, green means you’re due a free drink, red means you’re SOL.

Reaction to our original story about comp validation systems was strong, made local and international news and was not especially positive.

In short order, though, just about everyone realized (including this blog) that such systems have no effect on the typical player. They merely serve to deter those who want something for nothing, and provide bartenders a tool to do what they’ve always done—provide free drinks based upon a guest’s rate and level of play.

Ardent drink validation system

These are the drink monitoring devices currently in use at casino bars with video poker machines. But wait, there’s more.

Now, the company that makes and installs the drink validation system for bartops, Las Vegas-based Ardent Progressive Systems & Games, is about to field test a variation of the system for slots across the entire casino floor.

Albert Tabola, an Account Executive with Ardent, says his company currently has developed the next generation of comp drink validation devices, and they’re poised to implement them in thousands of slot machines across casino floors throughout Las Vegas and beyond.

Here’s a first look.

Ardent comp validation system

This simple device is about to change everything.

“Gaming approval has been given, so now we’ll be able to move on to the casino floor machines,” says Tabola.

At the moment, the company has about 1,000 drink validation units on bartop video poker machines. Slots on the casino floor can number in the thousands, from about 1,000 in a smaller casino to upwards of 3,000 in a Strip resort.

The benefit to casinos is fairly obvious. Ardent says one of its casino clients has already saved $1 million in comped drink costs at a single location.

But is there a case to be made drink monitoring has benefits to customers as well?

Tabola and the casinos say “yes.”

For starters, Tabola says his company’s Comp Anywhere comp validation system “will hopefully eliminate some of the arguments and headaches the cocktail waitresses encounter.” Customers looking for freebies without playing have long been a frustration for front line casino employees.

Giving cocktail servers a tool to easily determine if a player has earned a comp could dramatically speed up drink service for gamblers. We would be a huge fan of that particular outcome.

Las Vegas cocktail waitress

Not gonna lie, we were sort of just looking for an excuse to share photos of a Las Vegas cocktail waitress.

Drink validation systems have already proven useful in deterring customers from taking up machines they’re not playing.

“If you’ve been in a casino, you know them, you’ve seen them,” says Ardent’s Tabola. “They play a penny, then sit and wait for the cocktail waitress. We’re trying to solve the operator’s problem of players trying to get something for nothing.”

While Tabola acknowledges some guests are resistant to the use of validation technology, he’s seen reactions evolve as staffers and customers become accustomed to the machines.

“The feedback from casino staff has changed dramatically since the machines were first rolled out. I remember when we first installed these, the bartenders said, ‘This is just another whip you’re cracking on me,’ but after two to three months, they’ve said, ‘This is actually really great, I love this because it lets me clear my bar out of the people that are taking up space.”

The bottom line is there are lots of places to spend time in a casino, but machines are intended for those who are gambling.

Elvis slots

If you can get used to Elvis with a fanny pack, you can adjust to comp drink validation systems on the casino floor.

So, business and philosophy aside, what rate of play does it take to keep the drinks flowing?

On the current machines, it’s about $4-5 “coin-in” per minute. That can sound daunting until you break it down.

Tabola clarifies, “That’s not as much as it sounds. If you’re playing max bet on a video poker machine, that’s $1.25 a hand. So, if you play four hands every minute, then you’re fine. Typically, they’re playing 15-20 hands a minute.”

He says, “As an example, out of every $20 you play, let’s say the ‘hold’ is 10%, so the casino gets to keep $2. Well, if it costs them .80 for a beer, for a couple of beers, that’s $1.60 out of that $2. That leaves .40 to pay for the salaries, the benefits and everything else. That’s not a lot.”

This is typically the point in our drink monitoring stories when people scream, “Everything is ruined. No more free drinks in Las Vegas!” Ironically, comp drink validation systems may just have the opposite effect.

They may actually save the tradition of free drinks in casinos.

comp validation systems

It’s worth saying again, with a calming blue graphic.

“In the end,” says Tabola, “it’s not that casinos don’t want to give comped drinks, they want to do that. This gives them a way to measure that out and get those drinks to the right people.”

He concludes, “This technology helps make it feasible for the casinos to continue to provide complimentary beverages and not see them say ‘we’re not doing this any more at all because we can’t control the costs.'”

It’s what Vegas insiders have known for some time. Las Vegas casinos are taking a long, hard look at all their loss-leaders, and everything is up for grabs, including free drinks.

Slot machines

Back in the day, comped drinks were an incentive. Now, they’re a reward.

On a related note: Our feeling for some time has been that the practice of comped drinks should end in casinos altogether. We have a fondness for a particular brand of liquor, and we can rarely, if ever, get it on the casino floor because of an insidious and widespread practice we call the liquor brand swap. Ending comped drink service would mean we could just pay for our drink at the table, and we’d get the liquor we actually ordered.

In any event, comped drink validation machines aren’t just the future, they’re here and they’re on their way to Las Vegas casino floors.

Slot machines

Most players won’t even know a drink monitoring system is in place. A light will show a cocktail waitress your rate of play from 10 feet away.

The light colors on the card-reading bezels have yet to be determined (so we may not be able to use “red light, green light” as short hand for the practice), but Tabola says once field testing is complete, installation of the devices can be done “fairly quickly.”

Ultimately, free drinks in casinos have never truly been free. They’re paid for by gambling.

Soon, casino staffers won’t have to guess if you’re playing enough to warrant a free drink, the process will be automated. And that’s the biggest change in the culture and business of Las Vegas casinos in recent memory, with the potential for an even greater financial impact than paid parking.

We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Update (5/3/17): Thanks to KTNV here in Las Vegas for a great segment inspired by our story.

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