Category Archives: Las Vegas Casinos

MGM Resorts to Replace Bartenders With Machines (No, Really)

Can we write a sensational headline, or what?

Thing is, we’re not kidding.

Several sources inside MGM Resorts have confirmed the company will soon roll out automated cocktail dispensing machines in its service bars (also called “well bars”) in Las Vegas and across the country.

That’s right. All those stories you’ve heard about humans being replaced with robots is sort of coming true, and its happening by the end of August 2019, according to our sources.

Smartender

Science meets drunken gambling benders.

MGM Resorts has quietly been testing automated cocktail machines at casinos in other markets (specifically, MGM Springfield in Massachusetts and MGM National Harbor in Maryland). Now, MGM Resorts is bringing those automated bartenders to Las Vegas.

As you may have heard, MGM Resorts is in the first phase of a massive cost-cutting initiative, MGM 2020. The goal is to save $300 million, with $100 million of that coming from savings on labor costs.

MGM 2020 is a “company-wide, business-optimization initiative aimed to leverage a more centralized organization to maximize profitability and, through key investments in technology, lay the groundwork for the company’s digital transformation to drive revenue growth.”

There’s nothing sexier than leveraging, if you ask us.

Dozens of top level MGM Resorts executives are expected to take “voluntary resignation” packages, saving the company millions.

Also in the crosshairs are jobs that can be done through automation and technology.

Lago cocktail

Insert gratuitous cocktail photo (a machine can’t make) here.

While everyone involved with the roll-out of drink dispensing machines have been sworn to secrecy (suck it, NDAs), we’ve heard from several employees they’re bracing for what could be the first wave of machines replacing jobs traditionally done by humans.

It’s no wonder Las Vegas unions dug their heels in during the recent contract negotiations. One of the sticking points: Automation.

It’s clear the union knew changes were coming and did their best to ensure employees losing their jobs would at least be treated fairly. Union leaders and members have said publicly they are “legitimately worried” about touchscreen beverage ordering systems.

It turns out they had good reason to be worried.

While we haven’t been able to confirm who’s making the beverage system coming to MGM Resorts casinos in Las Vegas (a reliable source says it’s a company called Easybar), we found one that illustrates what these machines can do, from a company called Smartender.

Take a look.

Brilliant, really.

Is it wrong we sort of want one for our house?

Basically, a server will put ice in a glass, hit a button, add a garnish and deliver the drink, all without the involvement of a bartender.

Here’s the Easybar teminal.

Easybar

We hear the Easybar cocktail station costs about $30,000, or roughly half what a human union bartender costs.

Here are some of the selling points of the Easybar self-service cocktail station.

Easybar

Seriously, get us one for our birthday.

To be fair, given all the benefits to a business, it would be hard to fault MGM Resorts for making this move.

Among the benefits of these machines: They reduce “overpours” and waste, they’re accurate within 1/20th of an ounce, drinks are recorded in a database and there’s “total accountability” because a company knows precisely who served what and how often.

Also, the company will assert, these machines provide guests a consistent experience across all venues. (At least that’s what they said when we caught them reducing their standard pour size back in 2016.)

MGM Resorts statement

Proof we’ve been annoying MGM Resorts since at least 2016.

So, how much should we freak out?

Unless we’re a service bartender, probably not much. (Actually, the way seniority works, service bartenders are pretty far up the food chain, bartenderwise. So, as they get displaced, they’ll bump others from their positions, and so on, down the line.)

These machines aren’t likely to replace your favorite casino bartender, though. These machines will be used in service bars, bars behind the scenes churning out thousands of drinks for players on the casino floor.

We should mention there are service bars in restaurants, too, and our sources say those bartenders will be phased out as well.

If you tend to freak out about technology in general, well, that autonomous ship has already sailed.

Any number of casino and hotel jobs have already been affected by technology. Gone are the days when casino employees lugged around massive bags of coins, thanks to TITO (ticket in, ticket out) technology.

Recently, hotels have made hotel check-in available through smartphones and kiosks, slashing the number of front desk agents. (Example: Staffing at the front desk of Park MGM has gone from about 15 agents to three following the implementation of check-in kiosks.)

In Vegas, robot room service is a thing. Robots have also taken some concierge jobs.

Tipsy Robot Las Vegas

Robot bartenders at Tipsy Robot inside Planet Hollywood. They’re a hoot.

We hear, as part of MGM 2020, restaurant cashiers are likely to be a thing of the past at MGM Resorts casinos, too.

Some in the business estimate thousands of MGM Resorts employees will ultimately be affected by the MGM 2020 initiative.

Leveraging and optimizing come at a cost, of course.

You can bet MGM Resorts is looking at what’s happening at Caesars Entertainment and is highly motivated to avoid a similar scenario. (It’s looking more and more like Caesars Entertainment will be sold, or broken up and sold off in pieces.)

If you’re bored, watch us drop this scoop on KLAS, Channel 8 in Las Vegas.

There’s much more to come.

Update (3/6/19): Our story has been confirmed.

Circa Las Vegas Resort Begins Construction

Just a month after the announcement of a name for Circa Resort & Casino, construction is officially underway.

The start of construction follows a lengthy demolition of the former Las Vegas Club, Mermaid’s casino and the Glitter Gulch strip club. Demolition of the one-block site at 18 Fremont started in February 2017. Note: Circa’s street address will be 8 Fremont Street.

Preparation of the site on Fremont Street took several months, much of which was spent chipping through a material which has caused headaches for innumerable builders in Las Vegas, caliche.

Circa construction

This Dec. 2018 photo shows a machine breaking up caliche. “Caliche” is a Dothraki word meaning “queen.”

Now, the Circa site is a hive of activity as crews drill holes for “caissons.”

Circa construction

We are proud to bring you all the Las Vegas dirt.

While we don’t pretend to know anything about construction, we have to care because this construction involves a Las Vegas casino.

A “caisson” in this context is a colloquial term referring to concrete poured into a hollow cylindrical form. Yes, we stole that from Wikipedia. We are a blog, not a Structural Engineer.

We were on-site to see the very first rebar “cage” at Circa lifted by a crane and inserted into a 120-foot hole, later filled with concrete. Which, trust us, sounds a lot sexier than it really is.

Circa construction

We were there to see Circa’s first concrete poured. And it is exceptionally rude for you to wonder if we have a life.

Anyway, crews are drilling and filling six caissons a day at Circa. They will be part of the foundation of the new resort, and there will be 308 caissons when all is said and done.

Thankfully, if we get any of this information wrong, there are a lot of experts on the Internet who will gleefully correct us.

Circa construction

We asked about those blue tanks. Apparently, they’re used to collect the “slug water” so it doesn’t go into the storm drains. Just pretend to know what slug water is, like we did.

Circa is expected to open in 2020, so crews are working 24/7, seven days a week, through rain and snow (yes, this was actually a thing recently).

While the caissons are rolling along (like we weren’t going to use that line at some point), crews are also busy over-excavating nine elevator shafts, whatever that might mean.

Circa construction

Quite the drill bit collection you’ve got there.

Here’s another shot of the drill guys doing their thing.

Circa construction

Shout-out to the Underminer.

Next, construction crews will drill cap footings for the building’s vertical components.

Again, we’re flying blind here, but we need words to keep the photos from slapping together.

Circa construction

We are determined to have the most “before” photos of Circa than any Las Vegas blog.

As a reference point, here’s what Circa is going to look like “after.”

Circa Las Vegas

Schwing.

While we may not entirely grasp what’s happening at the Circa site, we’re happy to see all the progress.

More than a few projects in Las Vegas have been taking longer than expected, or have completely stalled, so witnessing a project moving forward so quickly helps restore our faith in the rebar gods.

Circa construction

“Rebar Cages” would’ve been a great name for a Sting album.

Thanks to our friends at Tre Builders (Circa’s project management company) for some patient hand-holding with all this construction talk, and we’re sorry we don’t take better notes.

Circa Las Vegas

Useless fact of the day: Circa is an anagram of “ricca,” the feminine form of the Italian “ricco,” meaning “rich.”

We expect to visit the Circa site often (yes, the restraining orders are already being drawn up), so check back for all the updates you can stomach.

Hey, we like new and shiny, and Circa will qualify on both counts. Read more about Circa and check out some glorious renderings while you’re at it.

Binion’s Announces Whiskey Licker Up Venue and Boutique Hotel Apache

Binion’s Gambling Hall has announced two expansion projects: Whiskey Licker Up and Hotel Apache.

Whiskey Licker Up will be a full-service saloon with a rotating bar as its centerpiece.

The new bar and restaurant will be 6,500-square-feet and will be located on the southwest corner of Binion’s, just above the existing Whiskey Licker Bar.

The new venue will feature drinks, food, dancing, live entertainment and a mechanical bull.

Binion's Whiskey Licker Up Bar

A new place to get bucked in Las Vegas.

While the venue will play up the casino’s western theme, a variety of music will be available, based upon feedback from guests.

There’s already evidence of work being done for Whiskey Licker Up.

Binion's facade

Be gentle with that gorgeous neon, please.

The second floor of Binion’s, formerly The Mint, has been gutted to make way for the new venue.

Binion's Whiskey Licker Up

That entire back wall is going away so guests get a bird’s eye view of the circus that is Fremont Street.

Here’s another shot of the space, just because nobody else has them and that makes us look cool.

Binion's

A number of the venue’s design elements are built around structural features of the original casino. Yeah, we should’ve taken notes.

And speaking of The Mint, easily one of the best features of Whiskey Licker Up will be the integration of an original wall from The Mint, complete with petrified wood.

Binion's Mint

These stairs will give guests easy access to the venue via a new entrance off Fremont.

Here’s a look at the location of what will be the entrance to the upstairs bar and restaurant and mechanical bullery.

Binion's

A new entrance will help guests avoid having to navigate their way to Whiskey Licker Up via the casino.

Whiskey Licker Up will overlook Fremont Street Experience’s 1st Street stage.

Here’s the view from the balcony, likely to become a go-to spot for people-watching. This will all be seating, with arena-style levels so everyone can enjoy the views.

Binion's new bar

See more photos from behind the facade in our photo gallery thingy.

In anticipation of your question, yes, the new venue will mean a loss of some drop-dead gorgeous neon, but there’s a matching facade on the east side of Binion’s, so don’t have a freak-out.

Binion's facade

No pain, no gain. You’ll survive.

Construction of Whiskey Licker Up will be completed by the summer 2019.

The second expansion project is the opening of a boutique hotel, Hotel Apache.

The concept was inspired by the colorful history of the casino. The original Hotel Apache opened on the site in 1932.

Benny Binion purchased the Apache Hotel (and Eldorado Club) in 1951, and re-opened them as Binion’s Horseshoe. The rest is history. History we don’t have time to research because we are busy playing Wheel of Fortune, so cut us a break.

During our eight seconds of research, we did determine the hotel at Binion’s closed in 2009. You’re welcome.

Hotel Apache will have a modest 81 rooms, decked out with old-timey decor.

Hotel Apache Binion's

Hotel Apache, where every day is Throwback Thursday.

A unique element of the Hotel Apache project is it will play up rumors of the hotel tower being haunted. Ghost hunters and true believers will have the opportunity to explore a hotel owners claim has a “long history of eerie occurrences.”

Trust us, there are a lot of people who are really, really into this.

As with the new saloon, it’s expected Hotel Apache will be open this summer.

We know how you are: No word yet about whether Hotel Apache will have a resort fee, but its sister hotel, Four Queens, doesn’t have them, so fingers crossed.

The new offerings at Binion’s follow on the heels of a number of projects slated for downtown, including the new Circa Las Vegas resort (on the site of the former Las Vegas Club), as well as new hotel towers at Fremont casino and Downtown Grand.

Binion’s has always been one of our favorite Las Vegas casinos, with some of the best dining (try the BBQ) and drinking (generous pours) values in town, and we can’t wait to check out the new saloon and hotel.

But especially the saloon. Do you know this blog at all?

Whiskey Licker Up Vegas

This rendering is a lot like the other one, but we will never let a rendering fail to fulfill its destiny of being on this blog.

Begrudging props to VegasChanges.com for ferreting out some of the Binion’s news prior to the official announcement.

Full disclosure: Binion’s is a partner casino of Fremont Street Experience for whom we do digital marketing. Our opinions are our own.

If you’re into historic Vegas architecture, check out the Nevada Preservation Foundation. They have an event coming up that includes a “backstage tour” of Binion’s, The Mint and Hotel Apache.

Whiskey Licker Up and Hotel Apache at Binion's

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Stratosphere Confirms Rebrand to The Strat Hotel, Casino and Skypod

Confirming a story we first shared nearly a year ago, Stratosphere has officially announced it will be rebranded to The Strat Hotel, Casino and Skypod.

We’ll give you a minute on the whole “Skypod” thing.

Strat Las Vegas

Out with the old, in with the thing we’ve been calling it for some time now.

While people have been calling Stratosphere “The Strat” for some time, the whole “Skypod” thing could take some getting used to.

While a news release from Golden Entertainment, owners of The Strat, says the resort will “begin its transition to The Strat” on Feb. 3, 2019, the rebrand has actually been underway for some time.

Although, the changes have been subtle.

Like the massive “Strat” in the hotel’s revamped porte cochere.

Strat casino

The Strat telegraphed its rebrand a little.

Golden Entertainment bought Stratosphere in late 2017. Renovations of the hotel-casino began in mid-2018.

One of the more visible changes was the replacement of the casino’s high limit slot room with a Starbucks.

That’s a strong statement, either about the state of The Strat’s casino or the direction of Las Vegas casinos. Let’s just go with it being a statement about coffee.

Strat Starbucks

We don’t get it, but we’ve literally never had coffee. It’s funky.

In Nov. 2018, Strat closed its Roxy’s Diner, replacing it with the Strat Cafe and Wok.

Roxy’s went from annoying (servers sang ’50s songs) to bland, but at least an effort was made to change up the dining offerings.

Strat Cafe

Everything in Las Vegas should pretty much have “Wok” slapped on the end of it.

Here’s a peek inside the Strat Cafe.

Strat Cafe

De-theming is a thing.

A nice addition to the Strat’s restaurant line-up is the addition of 108 Eats on the hotel’s Observation Deck.

108 Eats Strat

Nothing fancy, but guaranteed to hit the spot.

We stopped by right away because the grab-and-go restaurant is from the same chef behind downtown’s Esther’s Kitchen. 108 Eats doesn’t disappoint. The sandwiches and paninis are top-notch.

We also just like saying the word “panini.”

108 Eats Strat

So much better than it has to be.

There’s also a Froot Loops ice cream. That tastes exactly like Froot Loops. Well worth a visit when you’re checking out the view from the hotel’s 108th floor.

Don’t forget: There’s a fee to visit the Observation Deck, but just tell them you’re going to the lounge. You’ll want to take advantage of the happy hour, anyway, but your elevator ride will be free.

There’s more on tap at Stratosphere.

The Strat Stratosphere

At the moment, The Strat is straddling its current and future name.

The resort will introduce Blvd. & Main Taphouse in 2019. Here’s a rendering.

Blvd. and Main Tavern Strat

We trust “Blvd.” refers to Las Vegas Blvd. “Main” refers to Main Street. Strat is at the intersection of these streets. Hey, this isn’t rocket science.

Here’s another Blvd. & Main Tavern rendering, because you can never have too many renderings.

Blvd. & Main Tavern

We’re going to put that whole “you can never have too many renderings” thing to the test.

All right, just one more.

Blvd. & Main Tavern Strat

We love new.

Also in the mix will be a new View Lounge overlooking the casino floor and a fully remodeled race and sports book, which construction walls are already teasing.

Strat casino

Are we the only one who thinks this “Rising Soon” tagline is a little awkward given The Strat is the most prominent phallic object in Las Vegas?

Here’s a look at what’s the come at the race and sports book at The Strat.

Race and Sports Book Strat

Nice photo bomb, golf dude.

Here’s a rendering for the View Lounge.

View Lounge Strat

The rendering person at The Strat has been really busy.

Blvd. & Main Taphouse and View Lounge will be located on the northwest corner of the casino, basically at the bottom of the escalators as you enter from the self-parking garage.

Oh, and parking is still free at The Strat.

Another new addition will be 108 Drinks, a sister venue to 108 Eats. Rendering alert!

108 Drinks Strat

We were voting for 108 Dranks, but this will do.

Also in the works is a Links Lounge, a partnership with Aristocrat Technologies.

The lounge will offer Aristocrat’s popular “Link” slot machine series, including Lighting Link, Dragon Link and Liberty Link.

Strat Easter egg

Here’s a fun Easter egg. All the custom videos featuring The Strat contain something gold in honor of the resort owner, Golden Entertainment. We thought it was a faulty pixel. Hey, we can’t be right about everything.

Also new in 2019 will be a new loyalty program, True Rewards. The Strat will be the first Golden Entertainment venue to roll out the new program.

True Rewards will also be available at 130 venues operated by Golden, including about 60 PT’s pubs and several casinos in Las Vegas (Arizona Charlie’s), Laughlin (Aquarius, Colorado Belle, Edgewater), Pahrump and Maryland. Learn more.

True Rewards Strat

These adorable tier names, though!

So, about the “Skypod” in The Strat Hotel, Casino and Skypod.

It’s a little unclear why Strat would need to carve off the top of its tower with a different brand, but given the financial success of its thrill rides, it makes sense to try and make the most of those offerings.

Translation: The thrill rides at Strat print money.

In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if the thrill rides at Strat make more than its casino, just as the restaurants at SLS make more than its gambling operation.

The “Skypod” refers to anything at the top of the Strat’s tower, including the revolving Top of the World restaurant (a must-do in Vegas), 107 SkyLounge and the thrill rides: Sky Jump, Big Shot, Insanity and X-Scream.

107 SkyLounge

There are happy hours, then there’s this happy hour.

We’ve heard rumblings of other thrill rides in the works for the Strat, but there have been no official confirmations to-date.

Buzz about The Strat’s name change has ranged from “We already call it that” to “When I hear ‘pod’ I think of ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers'” to “The guitar people aren’t going to be happy abou this.”

“Strat” is a common way to refer to Fender Stratocaster guitars, of course.

We added you to Wikipedia’s disambiguation page, Strat. You’re welcome.

Strat resort Las Vegas

The Strat uses all caps in its new name. Please don’t. It will just encourage them.

Props to The Strat for its refresh. We’re always up for new things to see and do, and look forward to seeing what’s next.

We’ll be by to get a Strat-branded chip for our collection, too.

Here’s the latest from The Strat, including even more renderings!

Update (2/3/19): Tipster Jim C. shares Fellini’s Ristorante Italiano will close at The Strat in April 2019. No word about what might replace it.

Fellini's Stratosphere

Arrivederci, Fellini’s.

Demolition Sets Stage for New Downtown Grand Tower

It’s taken awhile, but there’s finally some construction activity at Downtown Grand in preparation for a new hotel tower.

Technically, it’s deconstruction, but let’s not get bogged down in details. Things are happening!

Downtown Grand construction

We can’t find a “before” photo, but trust us, it didn’t look like this before.

Downtown Grand’s porte cochere structure is being demolished, with plans to erect a hotel tower with 495 rooms.

The new hotel tower will sit at the corner of Ogden Ave. and 4th Street, just across from Gold Spike, a place we used to visit until they took out all the slot machines.

Here’s a rendering of the new hotel tower, because renderings are life.

Downtown Grand tower

The new tower will have three presidential suites, as if one president weren’t already far too many.

While Downtown Grand has struggled to become profitable since it opened in 2013—it’s rumored the resort loses about $4 million a year—the resort’s hotel is a strong revenue driver, so it makes sense the owners (CIM Group) would try and exploit that asset.

The demand for accommodations downtown exceeds capacity. Downtown accounts for only about five percent of the rooms in Las Vegas, despite an estimated 24 million-ish people visiting downtown each year.

Downtown Grand hotel tower

Sorry, we can’t share this photo because a guy at the site, clearly an expert in both demolition and constitutional rights, said, “No photos.”

The new Downtown Grand hotel tower is expected to open in 2020, as is everything ever announced in the history of Las Vegas.

Some of the things expected in 2020 include Raiders stadium, the new Circa resort, the Las Vegas Convention expansion, The Drew (don’t hold your breath) and MSG Sphere.

The start of construction at Downtown Grand is a welcome relief from untold delays since the project was first announced in July 2017.

Downtown Grand

Never before have so many taken so many photos of so little.

It should be noted there were also plans for an entertainment complex at Downtown Grand, complete with a tavern, fitness center and outdoor climbing wall. The project was apparently scrapped at some point. The fact the project was to be called “The Quad” did not bode well, anyway. Long story.

Beyond Downtown Grand’s mellow casino and appealing pool deck, we’re a big fan of its restaurants, especially Triple George Grill and Pizza Rock.

It’s great to see Downtown Grand playing to its strengths, despite a tricky location. More hotel guests means more gamblers, more restaurant patrons and more hope this boutique casino resort can turn its fortunes around.

Update (1/24/10): Boom, gone.

Downtown Grand demolition

Downtown Grand seems to have a handle on demolition, now let’s see how it does at building.

Tracking the About-Face of SLS Las Vegas

The overhaul of SLS Las Vegas is underway.

Despite the fact we were summarily given the boot for taking photos during our last visit, we’re determined to keep you apprised of developments, so here’s the latest.

Summarily, it should be noted, is the worst kind of boot to be given. By far.

Grand Sahara Las Vegas

SLS is in a state of flux. We just hope they know what the flux they’re doing.

The new owner of SLS, Alex Meruelo, has said he’ll invest $100 million in “revitalizing” the former Sahara. That’s a whimsical number, but there’s no question a dramatic facelift is taking place in the resort’s casino.

There’s been a dramatic shift in the look and feel of the perennially under-patroned casino, including new carpeting and a rethinking of the dark, unfinished industrial ceiling of SLS.

Grand Sahara SLS

They’re apparently going for the classic portobello mushroom look.

The interior design of SLS was distinctive, but SLS was an unmitigated financial flop, having never made a profit since the day it opened.

Was the decor a contributing factor? Hard to say.

Alex Meruelo and his team clearly believe so, hence their decision to try a more traditional vibe.

SLS Grand Sahara Las Vegas

Nothing new or edgy here, but SLS was new and edgy, and we know how that went.

While changes in the SLS casino are most visible, Meruelo has been chipping away at the resort’s challenges behind-the-scenes as well.

Cost-cutting has been a big priority, with a number of departments pared down to shore up the bottom line.

SLS Grand Sahara lounge

In most casinos, chairs don’t generate nearly as much money as slot machines. This chilling area’s days may be numbered.

The restaurant line-up at SLS has also been scrutinized. Holdovers from the SBE Entertainment era of the resort, Cleo and Katsuya, are unlikely to survive the summer from what we hear.

Look for the introduction of new dining concepts, including a food hall concept, expected to be a welcome addition for value-seekers.

We’ve also heard a buffet could be in the works. SLS had a buffet on the hotel’s second floor when it opened, but it was underwhelming it didn’t last long.

SLS Grand Sahara Vegas

Low ceilings in casinos fosters intimacy. We are always on the lookout for intimacy in casinos, which is one of the reasons we have a bailbondsman.

When the time is right, SLS will presumably get a new name: Grand Sahara Resort. (Alex Murelo also owns the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno.)

It remains to be seen if the changes at SLS will help turn the struggling casino around.

SLS

Anybody seeing a Park MGM influence here? Just saying.

The resort’s location continues to be an undeniable challenge, as a number of north Strip projects are on hold (Wynn West), dead on arrival (Lucky Dragon) or plodding along at a snail’s pace (The Drew, Resorts World, All Net Resort).

Little foot traffic means the casino needs to get creative with marketing. Easier said than done.

SLS Grand Sahara

Casino carpets typically have busy patterns to better conceal stains. Now you know.

A casino refresh at SLS can’t hurt. Ultimately, though, casino resort fundamentals need to be in place for a venue to succeed.

Loosen up those machines. Give loyal customers generous perks. Pour liquor from the bottle (rather than the gun). Provide value. Keep parking free. Dump the goofy statue out front. Bring back the awesome video screen that was above the casino bar. (That’s the plan, by the way.)

Oh, and let people take photos.

SLS Grand Sahara

Las Vegas casinos resemble its roadways more with each passing day.

We’re rooting for you, SLS.

Sorry, Grand Sahara.

That may take some getting used to.