Category Archives: Las Vegas

Bellagio Reopens With Japanese-Themed Conservatory Display

The debut of the new Japanese-themed display at the Bellagio Conservatory may have been delayed by world events, but the horticultural wizards at the Strip resort have managed to pull off another impressive jaw-dropper.

The Bellagio Conservatory is one of the best free things to do in Las Vegas, and Las Vegas needs its eye-popping attractions more than ever.

Here’s a look inside the new display, starting with a replica of Osaka Castle.

Bellagio Japanese display

Osaka means “large hill” in Japanese,” making this the most useless photo caption you’ll read all day.

The new display, “Japan Journey: Magical Kansai” was supposed to debut March 21, but the unveiling was pushed back due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Japanese-themed exhibit runs through Sep. 12, 2020.

Bellagio Japanese theme

Flowers made of flowers are the “Inception” of horticultural magic.

On the day we visited, it was eerily quiet at the Conservatory. The venue has subtly adjusted how guests move through the attraction, helping avoid crowding.

While the lack of patrons isn’t great for the hotel, it makes the experience a lot more enjoyable for guests and the photo ops are better than ever.

Bellagio Conservatory

Remember all those times you wished people would get out of your way? Not an issue anymore.

One of the highlights of the new display is a giant Hello Kitty.

The news release says Hello Kitty is 14 feet tall. A placard at the Conservatory says it’s 16 feet tall. We love a good conspiracy!

Bellagio Hello Kitty

Hello Kitty is made of 30,000 roses, or about the number of flowers we tell people we send on Mother’s Day.

Fun fact: Hello Kitty’s last name is White.

The exhibit also has Sika deer, butterflies, a bamboo forest and a three-story pagoda.

Why a Japanese theme? Well, MGM Resorts publicly says it “reflects MGM Resorts International’s commitment to celebrating Japanese culture.”

The reality is MGM Resorts has invested what’s estimated to be $100 million in getting a license to operate a casino resort in Osaka, Japan.

Officials were hoping to get a resort open by 2025, but those hopes were dashed by the pandemic.

Still, MGM Resorts has made it clear there’s woo being pitched, and a Japanese-themed display at the Conservatory shows Japanese officials and travelers the company is in it for the long haul.

Bellagio Conservatory

The attention to detail is, as always, a wonder to see.

An intriguing element of this year’s display is the main entrance that sends guests through the mouth of a lion. The Conservatory says the “wide-opened mouth of the lion is believed to swallow evil spirits and bring about success and good fortune.”

A long-standing myth in Las Vegas holds that the original entrance to MGM Grand had to be changed because it forced guests to walk into the mouth of a lion, presumably considered bad luck by Asian tourists. They didn’t actually walk into the lion’s mouth, as they do at Bellagio, they walked under the lion’s chin, but we should never let facts get in the way of a good story.

Bellagio lion

Good luck or bad, this is awesome.

Several elements of the display made their debut last year, including the butterflies and Osaka Castle replica.

As we were the first to report, Bellagio previously made the decision to cut back on the number of its displays, from five seasonal displays to four each year.

It’s not the number of displays that counts, it’s the quality of the stamen. Or something.

Bellagio pigoda

We love these Nishijin-ori textile ribbons! Yes, we knew what they were called off the top of our head, not because we read a news release.

Everything in Vegas is a little off right now, which might explain why Bellagio hasn’t updated the official Conservatory Web page with the current display. We’re just happy it happened at all.

Enjoy more poorly composed and out-of-focus photos of the Bellagio Conservatory’s “Japan Journey” display.

More Las Vegas Casinos Coming Back Online Sooner Than Expected

While Vegas isn’t completely back, it’s getting there.

Strong demand is causing major casinos to scrap their worst-case-scenario reopening schedules.

Among the recent announcements, MGM Resorts says it will open Excalibur on June 11, 2020. It was originally slated to open July 1.

Excalibur Las Vegas

Welcome back, you kitschy thing, you.

Luxor opens June 25, 2020, along with The Shoppes at Mandalay Bay Place.

Aria, Mandalay Bay and its hotel-within-a-hotel Four Seasons, reopen July 1, 2020.

Already open in the MGM Resorts family are Bellagio, MGM Grand and New York-New York.

Bellagio Conservatory

Bellagio reopened with yet another badass new Conservatory display.

On the Caesars Entertainment side, the company said it will open the casino at Linq on June 12. Linq’s hotel and parking garage will remain closed for the time being.

Already open are Caesars Palace, Flamingo and Harrah’s.

Las Vegas casinos reopened on June 4, 2020, a day that will be remembered as the one where we cashed in our 401(k) to support all the casino employees out of work for 78 agonizing days.

And that’s the story we’re sticking to.

As more casino resorts come online, there are still a lot of questions about demand.

While the opening weekend was strong, there are substantial challenges related to the lack of conventions and international travel. We talked about opening weekend on Fox Business News.

Scott Roeben Fox Business News

Yes, we were on Fox Business News. We’re a pretty big deal, and it’s rude of you to suggest otherwise.

Las Vegas is feeling more like Las Vegas with each passing day. Visitors just need to adjust their expectations, as not all offerings (like restaurants, nightclubs and shows) will be available just yet.

We can’t wait to play at our favorite places again, so it’s great to see so many casinos reopening sooner than expected.

Big Elvis Returns to Harrah’s Las Vegas

Our buddy Pete “Big Elvis” Vallee returns to Harrah’s on June 12, 2020, and it’s about damned time.

Las Vegas wouldn’t be quite as Vegas without Big Elvis.

Pete Vallee Big Elvis

Big guy, bigger voice, biggest heart.

Big Elvis performs in the Harrah’s Piano Bar on Friday, June 12 and Saturday, June 13 at 2:00 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.

Weekend shows will continue for the foreseeable future.

As always, the show is free, but there’s usually a two-drink minimum.

We trust Pete also takes tip, so tip generously.

Guests: Please do not touch or breathe on Big Elvis. He is a Vegas institution. He’s also a heavier guy, and that “underlying condition” means you need to keep your distance, and if possible, wear a mask.

This talented, big-hearted icon will be back to hugs and handshakes soon enough.

New Ad Reminds Everyone Las Vegas is Lit Again

As of June 4, 2020, Las Vegas is officially open again.

As a reminder, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority released a slick ad that makes it clear Sin City is back in business.

The CGI-fueled ad gives a drone’s-eye-view of the Las Vegas Strip as lights are turned on across our town which was shut down for two months due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Rather than us ineptly trying to describe it, we’re going to used some very sophisticated “embedding” technology to just show you the damned thing.

While Vegas is “open again,” it would be in accurate to say it’s fully open again.

Some casinos remain closed (awaiting demand to return, especially due to travel restrictions), and even at reopened casinos, some restaurants, bars are either closed or have limited offerings.

Live entertainment venues, nightclubs and dayclubs are out of the picture for the moment, too.

Still, a lot of what we love about Las Vegas is back in action.

Casinos are taking steps to ensure guests are safe, and feel safe. Many of the changes are long overdue, such as more frequent cleaning of slot machines, door handles, elevator handrails and other commonly-touched surfaces.

Vegas now openish

This was probably not in the video. Do you know this blog at all?

Other changes post-reopening are very much welcome, such as free parking pretty much everywhere.

It’s definitely a weird Las Vegas at the moment, and we’ve encountered some frustrations due to closures or changes in hours, especially at restaurants.

Many of the changes aren’t intrusive, although the jury’s still out on playing craps or blackjack with Plexiglas dividers, like at Bellagio.

Bellagio Plexiglas dividers

Hate the transparent petroleum-based thermoplastic product, not the game.

Other changes are more noticeable.

Casino Royale, for example, has dumped all its table games temporarily.

Binion’s has removed its poker room, and “million dollar” photo op, temporarily.

Buffets remain closed, although Wynn’s will reopen with upgrades and new technology (others are expected to follow).

Temperature checks and scans are at virtually every casino.

Adding to the “Bizarro Vegas” vibe, all casino employees are sporting masks.

The list goes on.

The bottom line is it’s a strange Las Vegas at the moment, but we’d rather have a halfway Vegas than no Vegas at all.

World Series of Poker 2020 to Take Place Online

The best-known poker tournament series in the world, the World Series of Poker (WSOP), will happen entirely online this year due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The World Series of Poker, which typically happens at Rio Las Vegas, may have been postponed, but now players will have a chance to pursue a coveted WSOP bracelet from home for the first time.

The online WSOP will take place over two months, starting July 1, 2020. There will be 85 WSOP bracelets up for grabs.

WSOP’s biggest event, the No Limit Hold’em Championship, starts July 31.

WSOP chips

It won’t be the same this year, but how many things are?

WSOP predicts this will be “the largest online tournament series of all time” with the “chance to win gold bracelet glory across two distinct gaming platforms, and GGPoker.”

The initial phase of the tournament will include one bracelet event per day during July on

Caveat: allows play from customers geo-located in Nevada and New Jersey.

WSOP dogs

Yes, we took this photo of dogs playing poker at the World Series of Poker. Herding cats is easier.

On July 19, 2020, bracelet tournaments will take place on GGPoker Network. This is the first time players outside the U.S. have been able to complete for an official WSOP bracelet online. (U.S. players can’t take part in the GGPoker tournaments.) The international series runs through September 6, 2020.

According to the WSOP, GGPoker just wrapped up its WSOP Online Circuit Event, with a total series prize pool of more than $134 million.

Clearly, poker’s still a thing.

Find out more about the World Series of Poker Online tournament at the WSOP’s official Web site.

It’s going to be a strange summer in Las Vegas, but it would’ve been even stranger without the World Series of Poker.

Las Vegas Is Now Smizing Capital of the World

Las Vegas has always been known for its “service first” attitude, now casino and restaurant workers face a challenge nobody could’ve predicted: Guests can’t see their smiles.

Following the COVID-19 shutdown, casino and restaurant employees have to wear masks. That includes the folks we interact with most at casinos, including cocktail waitresses, servers and bartenders, among others.

How are casino staffers overcoming this dilemma? They’re doing what they do best, they’re smiling and taking it in stride.

Behold, the power of “smizing.”

Las Vegas smizing

Thankfully, not the buzzkill we anticipated.

From our first visit to a reopened restaurant, we noticed immediately we could tell if servers were smiling just by their eyes, also known as “smizing.”

“Smizing,” or “smiling with your eyes,” was popularized by model and TV host Tyra Banks.

Vegas may not have invented “smizing,” but our service industry employees have perfected it.

Smizing Las Vegas

Ellis Island is as welcome as ever.

Many wondered what affect masks would have on the Las Vegas experience. Would they spoil the vibe? Would they deter gamblers from hitting the tables?

Apparently, not so much.

Waitress smizing

Wolfgang Puck’s new Players Locker is wall-to-wall smizing.

Demand for hotel rooms has been stronger than expected since casinos reopened on June 4, 2020, and casino employees, especially, have managed to make customers feel welcome despite masks.

That even includes the town’s iconic showgirls.

Showgirl smizing

We can’t mask our mixed feelings about this. Thanks to Caesars Entertainment for the photo.

We’ve been all over town, and “smizing” is in full effect everywhere.


Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell if someone’s smizing, but we sort of don’t care.

Interacting with your favorite dealer or restaurant server in a mask can be disconcerting at first, but after five minutes or so, it becomes a non-issue.

Waitress mask

We never gave eyes enough credit.

You still get the banter, the attitude, the friendliness, along with the knowledge this isn’t permanent.

Las Vegas finds a way.

Vegas smizing

Ahern Hotel isn’t really even a thing yet, but smizing is.

The current over/under on how long employees will have to wear masks is 60 days.

Legions of service industry employees seem to be acclimating to the mandated safety protocols just fine, knowing their inconvenience is serving a larger purpose. Among other things, face coverings let guests know health is top-of-mind.

Masks are also a visual cue casinos are doing everything they can to assure a safe place for travelers to stay and play.

Waiter smizing

Dudes can smize, too, in case you wondered.

Let’s all hope this “new temporary” is as fleeting as a poker player’s bad beat.

We need to see those smiles again, because Las Vegas isn’t quite the same without them.