Category Archives: Las Vegas

Vital Vegas Podcast, Ep. 106: Hard Rock’s Swan Song, Circa’s Restaurants and More

It’s been a minute, but we’re back with a shiny new episode of the Vital Vegas podcast. Sorry!

In this over-stuffed episode, we bid a fond farewell to Hard Rock casino. The resort closed on Feb. 3, 2020, and will soon become Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.

We snagged an exclusive interview with Richard “Boz” Bosworth, President and CEO of JC Hospitality, co-owner of the resort, along with Richard Branson.

During our interview (at 13:05 in the podcast), you can actually the music go quiet at Hard Rock. The last song to play at Hard Rock closed: “Trouble” by Coldplay. That’s some badass Las Vegas trivia right there.

Hard Rock Las Vegas closed

We find ourselves between a Hard Rock and a Virgin place.

We also hear from Derek Stevens, owner of The D, Golden Gate and the under-construction Circa Las Vegas.

Stevens shares his thoughts about the new restaurants coming to his new downtown casino, set to open in Dec. 2020.

Circa

We already reserved a spot at the bar inside Barry’s Prime at Circa. We made the reservation with some construction guy walking by, but we figure that’s solid.

Because we procrastinated so long, the episode is jammed with not only exclusive scoop, as is our way, but also a cubic ass-ton of Las Vegas news.

We talk Elon Musk’s tunnel. The Sahara poker room. Battista’s Hole in the Wall. CEO Jim Murren’s upcoming departure from MGM Resorts. The end of “R.U.N.” at Luxor. Residency rumors at Resorts World. ATMs on casino table games. Nobu moves. Shark Reef’s virtual reality experience. Sex doll brothel problems. New shows. Wynn’s new convention center. Upgrades coming to The D. Chick-fil-A’s debut at Planet Hollywood. The Go-Go’s lip slip. Atari’s pipe dream. Bellagio Conservatory’s slimmer schedule. MSG Sphere’s budget bump.

All that and a controversial, hastily slapped-together “Listicle of the Week.”

It’s everything you’ve ever wanted in a podcast and less. Purge your earholes by taking a good, long listen!

Bellagio Conservatory Reduces Number of Displays in 2020

In what appears to be a cost-saving measure, the Bellagio Conservatory is reducing its number of seasonal displays in 2020. By one.

This year, rather than five seasonal displays, the Conservatory will have four.

Bellagio Conservatory

It’s just one fewer displays. Please remain clam.

Instead of its traditional Spring and Summer displays, there will be a consolidated one: “Japan Journey: Magical Kansai.” This display will span two seasons, spring and summer.

We are not a math person, but the move should shave 20% off the Conservatory’s annual budget.

In the past, the Bellagio Conservatory had five seasonal displays: Chinese New Year (Jan. to March), Spring (March to May), Summer (June to Sep.), Autumn (Sep. to Nov.) and Winter (Dec. to Jan.).

In 2020, there will be four displays:
googie Chinese New Year (Jan. 11 to March 14)
googie Japan Journey: Magical Kansai (Mar. 21 to Sep. 12)
googie Autumn (Sep. 19 to Nov. 28)
googie Holiday (Dec. 5 to Jan. 4, 2021)

Bellagio Conservatory winter 2015

Christmas isn’t going anywhere.

Recently, there’s been a growing Japanese presence in some seasonal displays because of the efforts of MGM Resorts, operator of Bellagio (the resort was recently sold to Blackstone Group in a lease-back deal), to land a potentially lucrative casino in Japan.

Las Vegas observers have long wondered how long Bellagio would be able sustain this free attraction. While such attractions draw crowds, it’s questionable whether such crowds translate into customers.

Other free attractions, such as “Sirens of TI” at Treasure Island and “Parade in the Sky” at Rio have been nixed to cut costs.

For the moment, Bellagio should get some cost savings without visitors noticing one fewer seasonal displays.

Bellagio Conservatory

Bellagio continues to be a major supplier of whimsy.

It’s unknown if the reduction in seasonal displays is related to the change of ownership of Bellagio, but time will tell if reductions continue or if Bellagio could (gasp) begin charging for the attraction to reduce costs further.

Here’s the official Bellagio Conservatory Web site, and thanks to eagle-eyed Ryan L. on Twitter for sending the tip on this story our way.

 

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.

Watch for a Celine Dion Residency at Resorts World

Brace yourself for our latest bombshell! We’ve long suspected Celine Dion wasn’t done with Vegas, now we’ve gotten exclusive scoop she’s signed for a new residency at Resorts World.

That sound you hear is your brain exploding. Same.

While details related to this juicy rumor are scant, we hear Celine will get a custom theater built to her specifications at Resorts World, just as she did at Caesars Palace (at a cost of $108 million back in 2003).

Celine Dion Resorts World

Has to be true. It’s on the Internet.

Celine’s run at Caesars Palace, of course, is the stuff of Las Vegas legend.

Her final show at Caesars was June 8, 2019, after two residences (“A New Day” from 2003 to 2007 and “Celine” from 2011 to 2019), 16 years and 1,141 shows.

Celine Dion’s residences reaped a record-crushing $681 million in ticket sales. That’s a mind-boggling 4.6 million tickets.

When her Caesars Palace residency ended, there was a lot of speculation about what Celine might do next. At the time, other top names were being snagged by lucrative offers at Park MGM.

Then came a mysterious errant Tweet from the LVCVA (Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority), listing Celine among Park Theater’s roster of divas. The LVCVA said it was a mistake, but the stage was set for Celine’s return.

Around that time, we heard Celine had begun construction of a new home in Las Vegas, and knew she’d take a little time off and tour (artists are often contractually prevented from changing venues before a year has passed) before lining up another, even more profitable, gig in Las Vegas.

This might help put “profitable” into perspective: She made about $500,000 per show during her most recent Caesars Palace residency. It’s rumored Lady Gaga makes a million a show at Park MGM.

If the rumor proves true, Celine’s choice of Resorts World as her new home is huge for both the reigning queen of Las Vegas residencies and Resorts World, slated to open in summer 2021 following numerous delays.

Resorts World Las Vegas

Word is this will be Celine’s new stomping grounds on the Las Vegas Strip.

For Resorts World, Celine would add an immediate stamp of legitimacy, and would bode well for the resort’s bottom line.

Celine’s appeal to a casino isn’t as much about ticket sales as it is other revenue. She appeals to a casino’s ideal customer. They not only buy expensive show tickets, but also spend money in the casino and on non-gambling amenities like restaurants, shopping and nightlife venues.

Celine’s residency at Caesars Palace was a windfall, and Resorts World no doubt would love to have that scenario unfold all over again.

The tricky part, of course, is a lot of people have seen Celine. Also, Resorts World will be an unknown quantity, and it remains to be seen if Celine’s star power will be enough to lure fans to a stand-alone resort on the north end of The Strip.

At the very least, a Celine Dion residency could cement Resorts World as a major player in Las Vegas, and would get the new resort on the radar of other A-list performers seeking a big payday.

Celine Dion

Yes, that’s Celine. Your insolence is duly noted.

Competition for entertainment dollars is already cutthroat in Las Vegas, and even more seats are coming online with the MSG Sphere and Raiders stadium.

Questions abound about who’s filling all those seats, as visitation in Las Vegas has been flat for two years and a number of shows have tanked in a big way recently, including “Blanc de Blanc” at Sahara and “R.U.N.” at Luxor (to the tune of $60 million).

It would be great to see Celine Dion back where she belongs, on the Las Vegas Strip.

She paved the way for other Vegas residencies including Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and innumerable others.

The Celine Dion residency at Resorts World hasn’t been officially announced or confirmed, but our sources are awesome, official announcements are boring and dropping scoop first is just how we roll.

Battista’s Hole in the Wall Could Close, Per Rumor

A Vegas institution, Battista’s Hole in the Wall restaurant, could close if rumors are true.

We first caught wind of the potential closure of Battista’s, a beloved restaurant near the Flamingo casino and infamous Stage Door Casino, in a tip on Twitter.

The Tweet claims, “A new group from Chicago is taking the spot for a new restaurant and entertainment venue.”

Battista's Hole in the Wall

It couldn’t hurt to swing by Battista’s Hole in the Wall, just in case.

We contacted Battista’s and were informed they have heard nothing whatsoever about the prospect of Caesars Entertainment ending its lease when it comes up for renewal in May 2020.

A rep said, “You would think we’d know about it. We make them money.”

Battista’s Hole in the Wall has been around since 1970. A 50-year run is rather astounding, as that is nearly 6,200 Las Vegas restaurant years.

Back in 2005, the owners of the restaurant, Battista and Rio Locatelli, sold it to Caesars Entertainment (called Harrah’s at the time).

Stage Door’s lease, by the way, runs out in 2030. Nobody expects the colorful bar will survive beyond that, so drink up.

Battista Locatelli wrote a memoir about his adventures in restaurateuring. Rio Locatelli passed away in 2018.

Here’s look at the restaurant, along with a good dose of throwback charm.

Were Battista’s Hole in the Wall to close, a quirky chapter in Las Vegas history would close as well.

Innumerable celebrities have found their way to Battista’s, known for its (wait for it) off-the-wall Italian decor and Gordon Jaffe, an accordion player who roams the restaurant as he has for more than three decades.

Lots of longtime fans of this barely off-Strip restaurant will bemoan its demise if the rumor pans out, but change is a constant in Las Vegas, just like poker chips, neon and women carrying their pumps after a night in the club.

You’ll know when we know, but food for thought.

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.