Category Archives: Las Vegas Casinos

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.

Circa Resort & Casino: Name, Details Revealed for New Downtown Resort

It’s been a long time coming, but now we know the name of the new casino resort coming to downtown in 2020: Circa Resort & Casino.

The owners of Circa, Derek and Greg Stevens, revealed the name and details of the resort at their Downtown Las Vegas Events Center. The Stevens also own The D and Golden Gate casinos.

Here’s a good look at Circa, and it’s about time!

Circa Las Vegas

Boom as the kids say. Not very many of them say that, but some.

Not going to lie, we got warm feelings in our special places when we first saw that rendering, and it’s just the beginning.

Ready to experience some warmth?

Circa Las Vegas

Circa will be the tallest building in downtown Las Vegas. “Circa” comes from the Latin, “circum,” so you might say it will be circum-sized.

The new resort, expected to cost in the neighborhood of $1 billion, will sit on the former site of the Las Vegas Club, Mermaids casino and the Glitter Gulch strip club.

Circa casino is touted as the first ground-up resort development since 1980. That was the Sundance, which later became Fitzgerald’s and then The D.

The name Circa is meant to “celebrate the timeless spirit of the city while leading the charge for a bold new era with game-changing guest offerings.”

Here’s a slick video about this new Vegas offering.

According to the official news release, Circa “will mix the glamour of vintage Vegas with modern luxuries and cutting-edge technology, honoring the golden age of the city. Guests can expect top-notch entertainment while enjoying honest, attentive and friendly service.”

Shockingly, we actually love the name and we hate everything.

Circa Las Vegas

We’re just going to keep sharing renderings until you make us stop.

The only moment of pause we had when we first heard the name (after which we were sworn to secrecy, and it’s been weeks of agony ever since) is it sounded a little like “Circus Circus,” but the feeling quickly passed. We suspect the chances of confusion between these two casinos will be slim to none.

Now, we’re more interested in diving into what in the hell the Stevens and their team of geniuses have been up to. (Disclaimer: We are friends with many of the aforementioned geniuses, and we also work at Fremont Street Experience downtown, however, our opinions are our own.)

From the renderings, it appears they’ve been up to a lot.

Circa Las Vegas

Here’s the entrance on Fremont Street where Mermaids used to be. Please stop whining about missing the fried Oreos, they were gross. We know because we had the last one ever sold.

Circa will have 777 rooms, “a range of eclectic restaurants” (to be announced later), the longest outdoor bar on Fremont Street, a spa (we got to break that one on our podcast in Feb. 2016) and, understatement of the year, a pool.

In our 2016 interview with Derek Stevens, he described downtown as “underpooled,” and it’s clear Circa will seek to remedy that.

The hotel will feature a huge, multi-tiered pool amphitheater, which isn’t something we knew existed until pretty much right now.

There will be six pools and a huge video screen, as well as the anticipated beverages, food, beverages, private cabanas, beverages and DJs. But most beverages. The pool complex will accommodate 4,000 people.

Circa Las Vegas

They’re going to need a really big remote.

But wait, there’s more.

If you know anything about Derek Stevens and his crew, you know they love the sportsball (and the puckball also, especially since the Vegas Golden Knights came to town).

It’s not surprising, then, that Circa will have a multi-level, stadium-style sportsbook. Since it’s Las Vegas, you know it will also have “the biggest screen in sportsbook history.”

Circa Las Vegas sportsbook

Not your everyday man cave.

The Stevens recently announced a partnership with sports gaming media organization Vegas Stats and Information Network (VSiN) to bring an in-house broadcast studio to Circa.

While we’re not a sports person, we’re going to just roll with the punches on this one. Which, it should be noted, is a sports metaphor.

We also snagged this sweet rendering of the casino bar at Circa.

Circa Las Vegas

Longbar at The D is shaking in its boots right about now.

Check out this shot of the Circa Las Vegas casino. It will have two levels, rare in Las Vegas, although The D has a two-floor casino as well.

We suspect a good number of our hard-earned dollars will be devoted to beating the pants off the Stevens brothers. They’ll be fine.

Circa Las Vegas

Dibs on Wheel of Fortune, wherever it might end up.

The D and Golden Gate recently combined their loyalty clubs, and The One card will work at Circa when it opens as well.

As if that’s not enough sensory overload, you should get a load of the parking garage.

The parking garage will be named, wait for it, Garage Mahal. Told you there are geniuses involved. When we shared that scoop back in July 2018, complete with a misspelling, people thought we were kidding. Rude.

Circa Garage Mahal

The Taj Mahal was named for an emperor’s wife, Mumtaz Mahal, making this the most useless caption in the history of ever.

Why tout a parking garage? Or give it a name? It’s because it’s fun. Remember when Las Vegas casinos did nutty stuff just for entertainment value? Well, there you go.

Garage Mahal promises to be state-of-the-art, designed specifically with rideshare in mind.

Circa Las Vegas

Nobody ever thinks to give props to the graphic artist who does these renderings, but we owe them a cocktail.

It will have 1,200 spaces and will be across Main Street between the Plaza and Main Street Station. It will be connected to the main hotel by a bridge. We took a photo of the space awhile back, to help get your bearings.

What’s left to say, other than please dive into the renderings and if you don’t feel things you might be a cyborg.

One final note: Vegas fans will be pleased to know the Stevens have confirmed news we’ve shared previously. The iconic Vegas Vickie statue will be making her way back to Fremont Street as part of the Circa Las Vegas resort.

Vegas Vickie is the counterpart of Vegas Vic, and she once sat above the Glitter Gulch strip club. Read more.

Vegas Vickie will be refurbished and will be a key design feature of Circa’s hotel lobby. Vickie’s coming back, Vegas Vic, so better clean up your act. (Looking at you, Pioneer gift shop.)

Learn more by visiting the official Web site for Circa Resort & Casino Las Vegas.

Update (1/15/19): You heard it here first! The address for Circa Las Vegas will be 8 Fremont Street. Lucky number!

Circa Las Vegas

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Hard Rock Las Vegas to Close Four Months During Transition to Virgin Hotel

As we were the first to report via the Twitters, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino will close entirely for four months next year as it transitions to Virgin Hotel Las Vegas.

Specifics of the hotel’s rebrand were shared with hundreds of employees on Dec. 19, 2018.

Hard Rock’s overhaul will start around Labor Day of 2019 and will last a total of eight months. The full closure will happen during the last four months of that renovation window.

(Updated 3/21/19): To make it easier for the search engines: Hard Rock Las Vegas resort will close around April 1, 2020 and will remain closed through July 2020.

Virgin Hotel Las Vegas will debut on or about August 1, 2020.

Virgin Hotels

It’s unclear how long Virgin will stay that way when it gets to Las Vegas. Because Las Vegas.

The hotel’s new owners say every part of the resort will be touched by the renovation and rebrand.

The upgrades will include: newly-designed Virgin rooms, new bars and restaurants, a redesigned pool deck, a new hotel exterior and landscaping, an expanded and redesigned casino floor, upgraded and expanded event space and new security systems.

Hard Rock Center Bar

The original Hard Rocks Center Bar was around for 20 years. The current one is likely to go away after just four.

Virgin Hotel will have a sports book, described as “a food and beverage sports viewing environment with app-generated gaming.” It’s unknown who will operate the sports book, or if it will continue to be “powered by CG Technology.”

Owners also mentioned the Virgin rebrand will bring with it “powerful loyalty programs,” including hotel, gaming and event customer databases.

The importance of this element of the evolution of the hotel and casino can’t be overstated, as it shows the new owners understand it takes more than resort improvements to succeed, especially in a challenging location.

It sounds like the Hard Rock’s ownership is addressing another key component needed for future success: Union negotiations.

Back in Sep. 2018, the Hard Rock’s new owners took the fairly uncommon step of signing a “card check neutrality agreement,” a contract between unions and an employer where the owner agrees to support the union’s attempt to organize workers. Hard Rock employees voted to unionize, and negotiations are currently underway.

The resulting union contracts are expected to take effect in early 2019. Read more.

Virgin Las Vegas rebrand

We hear the new owners of Hard Rock loved our Virgin rendering, complete with chastity belt. They were probably just being nice.

The renovation will also include a modernization of The Joint, the hotel’s entertainment venue.

Owners mentioned to employees plans for a “huge act” to perform at The Joint in June, a symbolic send-off to Hard Rock and a nod to the metamorphosis to come.

The act has not been named, but an announcement is expected around the time of the Super Bowl (early February).

Hotel ownership has said it has gone to great lengths to assist employees with the disruption caused by the renovation and temporary closure. There will be incentives for staff members to stick around until the hotel shutdown, and those wishing to return following the rebrand won’t have to apply again.

Estimates of the investment in Hard Rock’s rebrand to Virgin range from $50 million to “hundreds of millions.”

While the Hard Rock’s new owners—including Juniper Capital Partners, Bosworth Hospitality Partners, J.C. Hospitality, Dream Alternatives and bajillionaire Richard Branson—haven’t shared many details of what’s in store for Virgin Hotel Las Vegas, the brand has been described as “disruptive.”

Here’s a snappy video that highlights some of the things Virgin considers brilliant and “unbrilliant.”

They had us at “beds that do tricks.”

While we’re in the vicinity, there was some recent news about Pink Taco (which currently resides in Hard Rock) and the aforementioned J.C. Hospitality which we didn’t understand, but maybe you will.

Because we have to make everything about us, here’s us talking about plans for the Hard Rock on Channel 8.

We look forward to watching what Virgin Hotel Las Vegas has in store. As you might suspect, we’re a big fan of disruptions.

Confirmed: Total Rewards Will Become Caesars Rewards

Caesars Entertainment has been kind enough to confirm a story we first broke back in October 2018: The company’s loyalty club, Total Rewards, will be rebranded as Caesars Rewards.

We are not a psychic, we just play one on the Interwebs.

The switch from Total Rewards to Caesars Rewards will take place Feb. 1, 2019.

Here’s a look at the new Caesars Rewards cards.

Caesars Rewards

Caesars Entertainment is resting on its laurels.

Beyond the name change, Caesars Entertainment assures the program itself won’t change. “You will continue to receive all of the same great benefits with Caesars Rewards and more,” says the Caesars Rewards Web site.

Most Caesars Entertainment loyalty club members will barely notice the rebrand, and they can continue to use their Total Rewards cards until they take part in the time-honored casino tradition of forgetting them in a slot machine.

There are a couple of tweaks to the loyalty club for certain tier levels. For example, Platinum members will now get a free night in Las Vegas or Atlantic City (so, a free night in Las Vegas, because Atlantic City) for every 5,000 tier credits earned in 2019, up to seven nights.

Diamond tier members will get that new perk, plus they’ll get two free nights at the new Caesars Resort Dubai. Which is an inexpensive freebie for Caesars, as only four Caesars Rewards members are likely to take advantage of the offer, ever.

Seven Stars members, the folks who gamble the most at Caesars Entertainment casinos, already get some great benefits, and will get even more as the Caesars Rewards rebrand rolls out. Translation: Some of these folks might actually take Caesars up on its Dubai benefit.

That’s about it. It’s a name change.

It’s worth noting Caesars Entertainment spent about $40 million to relaunch its Total Rewards program in 2012.

Total Rewards Diamond

The Caesars Entertainment loyalty club, with 55 million members, employs an aspirational strategy designed to get players to seek higher tier levels. The higher the tier, the greater the level of ass-kissery.

So, why is Caesars Entertainment tossing a valuable and established brand like Total Rewards? We can only guess.

It’s likely the powers that be have simply decided to make the most of the Caesars brand. It’s the name on the company’s flagship casino resort in Las Vegas, and has international heft as well. Caesars has casinos on four continents.

The company’s most recent deals have involved slapping the Caesars name on non-gaming resorts like the aforementioned Caesars Resort Dubai and another in the works, Caesars Palace Puerto Los Cabos.

As the Caesars Entertainment business model moves from building and acquiring to licensing, the value of its Caesars brand is more important than ever.

Overall, Las Vegas casino companies are pivoting toward being perceived as entertainment companies rather than casino companies. Hence, it’s not Harrah’s Rewards or Horseshoe Rewards.

The outgoing CEO of Caesars Entertainment, Mark Frissora, has said we’ll be seeing more of the Caesars brand, including the possibility of adding “Caesars Entertainment presents” to the name of all its hotel-casinos.

So, get ready for Caesars Rewards!

Since you’ll be replacing your Total Rewards cards, it’s a great time to take another look at our 11 Alternate Uses for Your Casino Players Club Card. You’re welcome.

Player Hits Rare Sequential Royal Flush for $217,000 Jackpot

Lots of video poker players dream of hitting a royal flush. Some of us have even played on and off for, oh, 20 years and have never hit one.

Not bitter. At all.

One lucky video poker player at Red Rock Resort not only hit a royal, they hit a rare sequential royal flush.

The player’s $5 bet reaped an incredible $217,591.55 jackpot. And the Internet went wild.

Sequential Royal Flush

The stuff gambler’s dreams are made of. Photo Red Rock Resort.

We shared a photo of the sequential royal on our Twitter account, resulting in more than 130,000 Tweet impressions. This has nothing to do with the story, we just like to show off.

The sequential royal flush jackpot is remarkable for several reasons.

First, it’s remarkable we didn’t even know this existed.

Apparently, some video poker games require sequential royal flushes appear in order, left to right. The player at Red Rock nailed a “reversible sequential,” reading right to left.

Second, that’s a metric hell-ton of money.

Third, seriously, 20 years. Just saying.

The jackpot was won on a game called Video Poker Deluxe. Note to self.

How rare is a sequential royal flush? Well, the elusive royal flush (where cards can appear in any order) is 1-in-40,000. No small feat, obviously.

The odds of getting a sequential royal are about (wait for it) 2.4 million-to-1.

Or as we call it in Las Vegas, Saturday.

Defying the odds is what Vegas is all about. Well, that and cleavage. But mostly that first thing.

SLS Las Vegas Shares Peek at New Casino

SLS Las Vegas has taken down a construction wall enclosing a section of its casino, revealing a dramatically different look and feel the new owner and his management team hope will help change the fortunes of the long-struggling resort.

SLS casino renovation

SLS is getting it some fancy.

The new owner of SLS, Alex Meruelo, has said he’ll invest $100 million in making over the former Sahara.

SLS Las Vegas

In Vegas, never don’t bling.

The new decor at SLS more closely aligns with what traditional casino patrons expect, veering away from a trendier look, including a fairly unpopular “unfinished” ceiling with exposed ducts.

SLS Las Vegas renovation

This was one of the few things in Vegas that didn’t benefit from exposure.

The new interior design at SLS will be familiar to those familiar with Meruelo’s other resort, the Grand Sierra Resort & Casino in Reno.

It’s expected SLS will be rebranded Grand Sahara Resort & Casino at some point.

The carpeting is also a distinct departure from the eclectic SLS design.

SLS renovation

New on the left, old on the right.

The new carpeting actually has a hypnotic effect if you look at it long enough.

SLS

It’s an urban myth casino carpeting is busy to force players to look up at the slot machines. They’re designed to camouflage stains.

One of our favorite features of the casino at SLS was the giant, high-resolution video screen over the center bar. The screen is known for featuring slick, 3-D animation.

The plug’s been pulled on the screen, but we’ve been informed it will be relocated elsewhere in the resort, near Bazaar Meat restaurant. So, there’s that.

SLS renovation

The screen showed 3-D legs, a duck and a human face.

Oh, like we were going to mention a freaky 3-D face and not actually show it to you? Do you know us at all?

We were going to spend more time talking about how much we like the direction of the SLS Las Vegas overhaul, but we were kicked out of the resort for taking photos. Buzzkill.

SLS

Look! It’s a photo we weren’t allowed to take! Suck it, The Man.

While overzealous casino security is an all-too-common phenomenon in Las Vegas, being kicked out of SLS raised some red flags for us.

See, SLS may not realize what it’s up against.

No matter what’s invested in the resort’s renovations (it won’t be $100 million), none of it will matter if SLS doesn’t differentiate itself with amazing service, a friendly, welcoming environment and a fun, lively casino.

Kicking out a casino guest for taking photos is a great example of the exact opposite of all that.

SLS renovation

A little compare-and-contrast action.

SLS needs word-of-mouth. SLS needs buzz. SLS needs to be a party. SLS needs to get its shit together.

SLS also needs to appeal to locals, and locals aren’t going to put up with poorly-trained staff or intrusive policies for one minute.

SLS needs to attract and retain every possible customer it can. If someone walks up to the casino cage and tries to rob it, SLS needs to offer the thief a line of credit.

We were taking photos. Of things the resort itself had shared in its social media channels earlier in the day. We posed no security risk. We weren’t taking photos of gamblers with their mistresses.

A simple request to discontinue taking photos would’ve been understood (yes, reluctantly, because such policies are outdated and idiotic) and accommodated. And we’d have gambled and had dinner at Cleo.

SLS

Spirals were engraved in Mayan temples. We’d show you a photo of one, but the Mayans had strict policies about such things. You see what happened to the ancient Mayans. Just saying.

Alienate guests without cause and word gets around.

Treat employees poorly, word gets around.

Breeze into our town (yes, it’s ours) and think you’ll succeed because you’re a big deal in Reno and you changed out some light fixtures—you’re destined to fail. And we’ll be there for a heaping helping of schadenfreude.

Give us a warm smile, decent odds, looser slots, great food (see the aforementioned Cleo) and make us feel welcome and respected and appreciated, you may just have a chance of success, slim as it is.