Category Archives: Las Vegas Casinos

Tropicana Las Vegas Sold Amidst Coronavirus Shutdown

The owner of Tropicana Las Vegas, Penn National Gaming, has sold the casino to its real estate investment trust (REIT), Gaming & Leisure Properties, Inc.

Penn National Gaming will continue to operate the resort.

Penn National will get $337.5 million in “rent credits” from Gaming & Leisure.

Tropicana hotel

The Trop has a history of drama, and this qualifies as that.

For comparison purposes, MGM Resorts pays $292 million a year in rent to Blackstone Real Estate for Mandalay Bay and MGM Grand.

A sale of Tropicana has long been rumored. We know this because it was our rumor. No one could’ve predicted this turn of events, however.

The sale of Tropicana is largely due to “liquidity pressure” resulting from the coronavirus shutdown. Translation: Casino companies are taking it in the butt right now.

Always happy when we can help cut through the jargon.

What Penn isn’t saying is this move was probably driven by the desire to avoid a future bankruptcy. The company has additional assets it could shed, to that move doesn’t appear to be in the immediate future.

More bad news is on the horizon, as Penn (which operates 41 casinos in 19 states, including M Resort in Las Vegas) has said it will furlough about 26,000 employees starting April 1, 2020. The company will pay employees through March 31.

Here’s the letter sent to Penn National customers on March 27, 2020.

Penn National Gaming

Free vision test. You’re welcome.

The upshot of the unceremonious sale of Tropicana is guests won’t see any changes at the resort when they visit again. And everyone’s hoping that’s relatively soon.

Hard Rock Las Vegas Closes for Renovation and Rebrand

It’s the end of an era. Hard Rock Las Vegas hotel-casino closed on Feb. 3, 2020 at 6:00 p.m.

Hard Rock will remain closed for renovations and will re-open as Virgin Hotels Las Vegas in Nov. 2020.

We stopped by to say farewell to Hard Rock, a Vegas fixture since it opened on March 9, 1995.

Hard Rock hotel closed

The ceremonial lock and chain seal the deal. Dobs on one of those handles.

Virgin Hotels and a group of investors led by JC Hospitality purchased the Hard Rock in 2018.

By the time Hard Rock closed, it’s table games had been shut down (at 3:00 a.m. the night before), but a few stragglers were still playing slots.

The casino’s restaurants and retail shops were already packed up or in the process of doing so. Some will be back (MB Steak and Pizza Forte), some will not (Pink Taco and Mr. Lucky’s).

Hard Rock closed

Adios, Pink Taco.

It was surreal making the rounds at Hard Rock as it closed, and we experienced what others have, a flood of memories from this casino that at one time was one of the hottest spots in town.

Hard Rock closed

Whenever a craps pit closes in Las Vegas, an angel loses its hymen. Or something.

We get a lot of questions about the music memorabilia at Hard Rock. Thousands of pieces were part of the purchase. Some of the memorabilia has been sold off, some is going into storage, some has been donated to charity and it’s expected some will return in a retail shop at Virgin.

We also scooped the fact there will be a new hotel tower built as part of Virgin, with a Hard Rock presence, so expect to see memorabilia in that new offering as well.

Hard Rock closed

We’re not crying, you’re crying.

Now, all eyes will be on Virgin Hotels.

Estimates put the cost of the rebrand to Virgin at about $200 million.

The Virgin Las Vegas renderings so far have been pretty sweet. The new look and feel has been described as “modern desert resort oasis.”

Hard Rock closed

One last look.

Virgin will have 1,504 rooms and suites (called “chambers” in Virginland), as well as a 60,000-square-foot casino, new restaurants and 130,000-square-feet of meeting space.

As we were the first to share, because you expect nothing less, the casino at Virgin will be managed by Mohegan Gaming.

Hard Rock closed

Iconic wasn’t paying the bills. Next up, Virgin.

Because we are a badass, as Hard Rock was closing, we snagged an interview with the CEO of JC Hospitality, Richard “Boz” Bosworth.

As you listen, at 4:16, you’ll hear the very last song ever played on the P.A. at Hard Rock Las Vegas.

 

For posterity: The last song ever played at Hard Rock was “Trouble” by Coldplay.

Hard Rock

Thank you, Hard Rock, for a quarter century of party.

Enjoy some of the last photos ever taken inside Hard Rock Las Vegas, and we can’t wait to see what’s next.

ATMs at Las Vegas Casino Table Games Are Officially a Thing

The D casino announced it now offers what amounts to ATMs at its table games, and the Internet sort of lost its mind.

In a news release, The D shared it has “officially debuted a new automated cashless gaming system, ACS PlayOn, for all table games.”

The release continues, “Offering a convenient experience for guests, PlayOn is a modern technology that allows players to purchase casino chips using a debit card, eliminating the need to use an ATM machine or cashier’s window between hands.”

Cue the mind-losing.

Here’s a look at the kerfuffle-causer in question.

cashless table game system

Reminder: PIN stands for “personal identification number,” so please don’t say “PIN number.” It’s like saying “please RSVP.” Really annoying.

Simply put, when you’re at the table (roulette, craps, blackjack, whatever), you can use your debit card to get chips.

That’s pretty much it.

Yes, there’s a fee. We know how you are.

The fee is $4, plus 2.5% of whatever you withdraw. So, for $100, that’s a total of $6.50, or about the same as an ATM fee. (Reminder: ATM stands for “automated teller machine,” so please don’t say “ATM machine.” Sorry to call you out, news release, but common mistake.)

It’s worth noting the PlayOn machines don’t accept credit cards. They also won’t let you exceed your debit card’s maximum daily withdrawal limit.

This seemingly straightforward service has already been in place at Palms since December 2019. The system will also be available at Golden Gate (same owners as The D) and The Strat in the next few days (as yet unannounced).

News of the system’s debut at The D seems to have hit a nerve.

Most of the feedback on the Twitters relates to the belief people will gamble more than they typically would because the cashless system makes money (or chips) too readily available.

There was also some discussion of the fee being too high. At The D, players can withdraw $50-$3,000. The 2.5% fee on $3,000 would be $75, presumably.

We didn’t read the fine print. We were drunk. Full disclosure: We still are. You’re not our mom.

Our brilliant response to most of the criticism of this system was, “It’s an ATM, just closer.”

A good number of people expressed that in the heat of the moment, a player having to stand up and walk to an ATM might give them time to ponder their life choices and avoid the impulse to throw good money after bad.

Interestingly, few mentioned people often win in casinos when they throw good money after bad. Glass half empty, much?

The controversy about “tabletop ATMs” in casinos isn’t new. When Palms got its system in 2019, the news coverage ranged from balanced to outright damning.

All we know for sure is if we’re playing blackjack and out of cash but want to double down, now we can do it without leaving the table (and without borrowing the money using a “marker,” or casino credit).

We’d love to hear your thoughts about this, as the amount of negative feedback was genuinely surprising, and we tend to know everything.

Another disclosure: We work in digital marketing at Fremont Street Experience. The D is a member casino of that organization. Our opinions are our own.

Here’s the official site for PlayOn, the cashless casino table games system we expect is here to stay.

Circa Resort Construction is Halfway to Completion

Circa Las Vegas has made impressive progress during its first year of construction, and we’ve got a look at the current state of the new hotel-casino downtown.

The $1.2 billion Circa is expected to open in December 2020. The project broke ground on February 19, 2019.

Circa Las Vegas construction

Downtown’s about to get some new shiny.

Here’s an amazing fun fact about Circa: Since Oct. 3, 2019, Circa has been adding a floor per week.

The 44-story, 500-foot-tall Circa will eventually have 777 rooms, but will open with closer to 500 rooms, plus 71 suites. The final mix of rooms and suites will be based upon demand.

Among the new resort’s features will be what’s billed as the “world’s largest sports book.” Gird your loins, Westgate.

Here’s a look at the space where the sports book will reside when it slides into home. Or something.

Circa sports book

They’ll probably spruce it up a bit before opening day.

The three-level Circa sports book, expected to cost about $20 million, will have a 78 million pixel high-definition screen.

Here’s a rendering of the finished product for comparison purposes, reversed angle from the perspective above.

Circa Las Vegas

Consider it spruced.

The jewel of Circa will be its rooftop pool complex, with six pools open 365 days a year. It’s projected the pools will be able to serve about 4,000 people a day.

The video screen at the pool will have 14 million pixels.

Here’s the owner of Circa, Derek Stevens, showing off his baby. Stevens and his brother Greg also own The D and Golden Gate.

Circa Las Vegas Derek Stevens

We were the first to quote Derek Stevens as saying, “Downtown is under-pooled.” He’s determined to remedy that.

Here’s the rendering of what the pool deck will look like when it’s completed.

Circa Las Vegas

Good luck escaping the sports at Circa.

It was a blast being among the first to walk around the future Circa casino, where we fully anticipate making regular donations.

Circa will have 1,350 slot machines and 49 table games.

Here’s a “before” shot of Circa’s casino!

Circa Las Vegas casino

Savsies on Wheel of Fortune.

During our tour, we spotted an area we’re pretty sure will be the home of Vegas Vickie upon her much-anticipated return to Fremont Street. She is set to be a featured part of Circa’s
lobby.

Circa

The Circa lobby will have a moon roof.

From what we can tell, the Vegas Vickie sign is so tall (40 feet), she’ll actually extend beyond the ceiling of the casino, protruding through an opening in the ceiling.

We couldn’t help but create this weak and entirely speculative image of where Vegas Vickie might go at Circa.

Vegas Vickie Circa

When we asked a friend at Circa which way Vickie’s leg will go, the reply was, “We don’t know.” If they don’t know, we sure as hell don’t.

Our mole got some sweets shots of Vegas Vickie during her renovation at Yesco Signs. She’s got a fresh coat of paint!

Vegas Vickie renovation

If you love classic Vegas signs, this photo gives a whole new meaning to “halfway to completion.”

Across the street from Circa is another key element of the project, deemed Garage Mahal.

The nine-story Garage Mahal structure will hold about 1,200 vehicles, but the big selling point is it’s the first parking garage in Las Vegas to be built around catering to rideshare services like Lyft and Uber.

Garage Mahal

In Persian, “Mahal” means mansion or palace. Because writing photo captions is hard.

More fun facts: More than 10.75 million pounds of rebar (emphasis on “bar,” because Vegas) have been installed at Circa to-date, as well as 12.2 million pounds of structural steel (emphasis on “pounds,” because you know how we are).

Circa is set to announce more about its bars and five restaurants in the next couple of months. Let’s just say the mix of cuisines will augment the already popular options at The D. Hint: Think “east,” both “coast” and “far.”

We haven’t heard much about non-sports entertainment at Circa, although a stage production called “Circa du Soleil” would have been absolute gold, marketingwise.

How is Circa coming along so quickly? Credit has to go to the stellar efforts of Steelman Partners (architecture and design), McCarthy Building Companies (general contractor) and Tre Builders (construction manager).

Oh, and the construction folks, of course. The total number of construction workers on Circa and Garage Mahal is about 600. Note: Safety vests are hawt. Are we right, ladies?

Circa

Oh, like we were going to write this entire story without a single use of the word “erection”? Do you know this blog at all?

Disclosure: We work in digital marketing at Fremont Street Experience as our day job, and The D and Golden Gate are member casinos of that organization. Our opinions are our own.

Update (1/7/20): The first windows have been put into place at Circa.

Circa windows

No panes, no gain.

Enjoy a few more photos of Circa’s construction, several of which are accidentally in focus.

Update (1/14/20): On Jan. 14, 2020, the pedestrian bridge between Circa and Garage Mahal appeared overnight, literally.

Circa

Overnight Bridge would be a decent band name.

Tropicana Looks to Be First Las Vegas Casino Sale of 2020

Our sources are awesome, and three tell us Tropicana Las Vegas is being sold.

We expect Tropicana to be the first big Las Vegas casino sale of 2020. (Update: Curses! Mandalay Bay and MGM Grand beat them to the punch. We are a blog, not a psychic.)

Tropicana hotel

The Trop cost $15 million to build. That hefty price tag (at the time) earned it the nickname “Tiffany of The Strip.” Seems appropriate a Las Vegas casino would have a stripper name.

The Tropicana is owned by Penn National Gaming, the same company that owns M Resort.

The COO of Penn, Jay Snowden, shared back in October 2019 the company had received unsolicited bids for the Strip resort. At the time, executives claimed a sale wasn’t “imminent.”

Now, we hear one of those offers has been accepted and the sale is under way.

Translation: The sale of the Trop is “imminent” AF.

The sale of Tropicana would fit into the recent trend in Vegas casino companies monetizing assets, as MGM Resorts has with Circus Circus and Bellagio, and Caesars Entertainment has with Rio.

The sale of Tropicana, predicted to be in the $700 million range, would take a nice bite out of Penn’s long-term debt of about $11 billion.

Tropicana Las Vegas

Trop has gotten some upgrades, but still has a touch of old-school Vegas.

Penn National Gaming paid $360 million for Tropicana in August 2015. The Trop was previously owned by Onex Corp. and Alex Yemenidijan.

When Penn purchased Tropicana, it nixed a planned $100 million expansion called “The Shops at The New Tropicana Las Vegas.” Some projects are better off nixed. Because shopping, meh.

What might have been. And what might have failed, miserably. Good call, Penn.

We quite like Tropicana, and recently enjoyed a visit to the Oakville Steakhouse and the new Trago Lounge.

It’s unknown what plans are in store for Tropicana following the rumored sale. All we know is if they screw with the stained glass ceiling in the casino, we riot.

Well, we riot on Twitter. You know, not real rioting. We have a tear gas sensitivity.

Update (3/27/20): The Tropicana has been sold. Can’t even crow about it since it’s in the midst of the coronavirus shutdown. Read more. Penn National has sold Tropicana to its own real estate investment trust. Not as sexy as it sounds.

Front Yard at Ellis Island Is Worth the Wait

It’s taken a minute, but Front Yard at Ellis Island is ready for its debut. The new restaurant and bar opens Dec. 6, 2019.

Here’s a first look inside. Although, if you follow us on Twitter, it’s a second look inside, but let’s not get bogged down by details.

Ellis Island Front Yard

You know we like a place if we like it even when sports are on.

The Front Yard was announced all the way back in July 2017 and broke ground in April 2018.

We’re pleased to report it was worth the wait, as Ellis Island’s new venue offers top-notch food, ample booze and great values. So, it’s pretty much Ellis Island, expanded.

You sort of can’t miss the Front Yard. First, it’s in front of Ellis Island. Second, the exterior of the
Front Yard constantly changes colors, a clever marketing tool sure to catch the eye of drivers-by.

Ellis Island Front Yard

Ellis Island just got 400% more fleek or whatever the kids are calling it now.

The Front Yard is a two-story affair described as an “outdoor dining, drinking and entertainment venue.” It’s a temperature controlled structure with a fabric roof and capacity of about 300 people.

Front Yard boasts two bars (one with 15 video poker machines) and approximately 4,700 televisions.

One of the TVs is roughly the size of Lancaster, Michigan and nearly blinded us when hockey was on the screen.

A cocktail or three helped us recover. The Welcome to Jamrock cocktail features Bacardi Silver rum, Malibu rum, melon liqueur, pineapple and cranberry.

Front Yard Ellis Island

These are better by the half dozen.

The signature cocktails at Front Yard will run $8-12, with big-ass shared drinks (for 2-3 people) a bit more. For context, a Captain and diet in the casino is around $5, a freakish anomaly for a casino on or near The Strip.

The food at Front Yard continues the Ellis Island tradition of hearty, approachable, old-school offerings including bar food, sandwiches and burgers.

Nothing fancy, everything satisfying. Yes, Ellis Island, feel free to put that in your advertising.

We dove headlong into the chicken wings appetizer.

Ellis Island Front Yard

Fun fact: The average American eats 90 chicken wings a year. Not so “fun” for chickens, probably, but don’t be a buzzkill.

The Front Yard burger was awesome, too, and bacon fanatics will not be disappointed.

Front Yard burger

Ellis Island’s burger game is strong.

As for the food prices, still being finalized, we’re talking $6-10 for appetizers, $16-20 for main courses, with flatbreads (that’s pizza to us regular folk) in the $12-15 range.

Ellis Island is known for its beer, much of which is brewed on the premises.

While we are not a beer person, we know a value when we see it. During our visit, prices weren’t available, but if the cost of beer inside the casino is any indication (in the $2 range for a massive glass), beer lovers are in for a treat.

And speaking of the casino, Ellis Island continues to offer some of the best gambling near The Strip, and there’s easy access to and from the Front Yard.

Oh, and there’s free parking.

Ellis Island Front Yard

Hit the second floor so you can say you did a stair workout in Vegas.

You know we got a panorama of the second floor, so check it out.

Our love of Ellis Island is fairly obvious, due in no small part to the above-mentioned values, but also the absolutely charming family behind Ellis Island. The Ellis family, in case that wasn’t clear.

A family-owned casino is a rare breed and Ellis Island’s unpretentious vibe, and commitment to great fun at a great price, make it a Las Vegas must-visit in our book.

For the record, Ellis Island is a block east of The Strip, just off Flamingo on Koval Lane.

Front Yard Ellis Island

Front Yard at Ellis Island is our new favorite hang.

We’re excited about the long-awaited opening of the Front Yard and Ellis Island has a winner on its hands. Be strong, liver, be strong.

Updated (11/29/19): We went back to Front Yard and the restaurant is officially open. We got a look at the menu, and you can click here for the Front Yard food menu and drink and dessert menu. Prices may change, so don’t get emotionally attached.

Front Yard Ellis Island menu

Please don’t try and read this, it’s for illustrative purposes only. Click on the links.

We also discovered another surprise at Front Yard. The restaurant’s sound system is connected to the Rockbot app. That means you get to be the DJ at Front Yard.

Front Yard Ellis Island

Oh, yes, there was a hell-ton of Duran Duran.

Guests get to add their favorite songs to the queue, and give the whole venue an interactive vibe. Give it a try, it’s free.

Here are more photos from Front Yard at Ellis Island.