Weekly Column by Rick Garman

Want to know what's happening in Las Vegas? You've come to the right place.

Each week you can come here to get the latest news, the juiciest gossip, and the best reviews for the most fabulous city in the world, Las Vegas. Hey... it says "fabulous" right on the welcome sign!

The latest weekly column will always be on this page, but you can go back through the archives (all the way back to 1999!) or take a look ahead and what's coming up next for Vegas by using the navigation on the left hand sidebar.

Thanks for visiting! Enjoy!



Vegas Food Poisoning Scare: How to Eat Safe

The small chain of Firefly tapas restaurants in Las Vegas has been popular with locals and tourists alike, giving diners a wide variety of "small plate" menu items at a relatively affordable cost. Last week the main restaurant on Paradise Road gave diners something else: food poisoning.

90 cases of salmonella poisoning have been linked to the restaurant, which was shut down by the health department over multiple code violations. Several of the affected were hospitalized but all are expected to recover.

The scary outbreak may cause concern for Vegas visitors who are usually dependent on the city's restaurants for the bulk of their food intake. Sure, you could bring a suitcase full of your own, homegrown food that you wash in the bathtub and cook thoroughly with the heating surface of the coffee maker in your room, but since that's not terribly practical you're probably going to be stuck eating what other people make for you. And that means you are at their mercy when it comes to how safe the food is.

There are approximately 76 million cases of food poisoning reported each year in the United States. In the vast majority of these the result is a few days of being intimately acquainted with the nearest bathroom but it can be more dangerous than that. Infection with certain strains of bacteria or viruses can result in hospitalization (about 325,000 cases each year) and even death (roughly 5,000 every year). Although young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk, everyone should be concerned about food safety.

The good news is that despite these scary statistics, the food supply in the United States is considered to be the safest in the world and believe it or not, eating out at a restaurant is actually the safer bet at least according to the numbers. Most of the food poisoning cases are caused by food prepared in the home.

In Las Vegas, the restaurants are monitored by the Southern Nevada Health District. Every eatery in town - from the big buffets and high-priced gourmet dining rooms to the fast food outlets and quick-serve kiosks at the mall - is inspected and graded. A grade of "B" or "C" means that excessive violations of the health code but an "A" grade doesn't mean that the inspection revealed no problems. It just means that they are relatively minor and usually involve things like improper food handling or storage.

You can review the grades and inspection reports of all Las Vegas restaurants online. The handy search feature allows you to specify the restaurant's name and even browse through the reports for all of the restaurants at a specific hotel.

But restaurant inspections are obviously not infallible. The Firefly was closed in 2011 by the Health District for excessive violations but the most recent inspections showed minimal problems. Those 90 people sickened by salmonella contracted it at a restaurant with an "A" grade hanging in the window.

Since most eateries won't let you inspect their kitchen before you dine there, your best bet is to observe the surroundings you are able to see. Look at the floors, walls, tables, your utensils or even the bathroom. If any of those aren't clean, there's a good chance that the kitchen isn't either.

You should also always make sure that your food is cooked thoroughly. Yes, that means ordering steaks at least medium-well and avoiding things like sushi, although I certainly understand that a pink-in-the-middle rib eye or a spicy tuna roll might be worth the risk.

Also, don't be afraid to send something back if it doesn't taste or look the way you were expecting it to.

I've been eating out in Las Vegas for 15 years, having dined at literally hundreds of establishments from high-class to low-rent, and I have never gotten food poisoning. Whether that means Vegas restaurants do a better job at keeping things clean or I've just been lucky is unknown, but since I don't want to pay the baggage fees to bring a whole suitcase full of my own food, I'm going to keep playing the odds. There's just too much good stuff to eat here!


Top 10 Best Pools in Las Vegas

The first legally operated Internet gambling website in the United States launched last week and it is being deemed a huge success, with more than 100,000 hands of online poker dealt in just a few days.

Internet gambling has been around for years but if you ever placed a bet at one of the online casinos or poker sites, you were actually breaking the law. Until recently the restrictions against web-based wagering were strictly enforced but that did little to stop the sites, which are based overseas and didn't do much to restrict access based on geography. The industry is believed to generate about $6 billion annually with a healthy chunk of that coming from the United States.

A crackdown on poker sites in 2011 led to a push to legalize online gambling led by Nevada Senator Harry Reid. That effort failed but did lead to an opinion by the justice department that Internet based wagering wasn't really violating US law as long as it didn't involve sports betting. That led several states, hungry for the tax revenue, to quickly pass laws that allowed Internet gambling.

Nevada's law only allows online poker (for now) and requires technology that prohibits anyone outside the state from participating. Players from anywhere in the country can register online and deposit money electronically but can only play once they are in the state of Nevada. New Jersey legalized online gambling in all forms that are found in land-based casinos (slots, roulette, blackjack, etc.) but is also restricted to the state's borders. Delaware has a similar law but they also allow bingo.

Interestingly, instead of viewing online gambling as a threat, the major casino companies have invested heavily in the industry. Nevada- based, the first to start accepting legal wagers in any state, is majority owned by the Station Casinos chain of hotels like Red Rock Resort and Green Valley Ranch. Players can even deposit funds or withdraw winnings at brick and mortar Station casinos and the site will eventually be tied into the company's Boarding Pass players' club program.

Most of the big casino companies have infrastructure in place and will start rolling out online gambling sites within the next year. The World Series of Poker is expected to be the big play from Caesars Entertainment but MGM Resorts, South Point, and many others already have sites in place that should be ramping up soon.

The crossover goes both ways., one of the big offshore gambling sites, has been trying to buy the Atlantic Club in Atlantic City. Although the deal fell apart last week, representatives the UK based online gaming site say they are still interested in acquiring the property to give it a foothold in the US market that will help bridge the gap between online and the real world.


Garth Brooks to Return to Wynn Las Vegas

Country superstar Garth Brooks ended his three-year residency at Wynn Las Vegas late last year but is coming back for a series of special shows at the hotel. The concerts will be filmed for an upcoming TV special and DVD release.

Four shows over Memorial Day Weekend May 24-25 go on sale on May 6 with tickets running at $125 plus fees. Another set of concerts will be performed over the Fourth of July weekend.

Brooks' stripped down show at Wynn - which involved just him and a guitar on a bare stage - was one of my favorite entertainment experiences in Las Vegas. If you can score a ticket to one of these upcoming performances it is absolutely worth the dough. If not, be sure to keep your DVR or DVD players in good shape so you can watch the filmed versions when they are released.


Bowling For Vegas

The South Point hotel and casino just south of The Strip has announced plans to become the epicenter of the bowling universe with the construction of a $30 million alley that will be the home to major professional tournaments and events. The two-story facility will feature 60 lanes, stadium style seating, its own events area, shopping, dining, and more. Construction is expected to start any day now and it will open in early 2014.

Can't wait until then to get into the strike zone? No worries; there are plenty of places in Vegas to go bowling now including one at the South Point! Here's a rundown:

Gold Coast Bowling Center

The Gold Coast, located just off The Strip next door to The Rio has a 70-lane bowling alley with automatic scoring systems, a full-service pro-shop, snack bar, video arcade, lockers, and more. It's open 24 hours a day and game run about $3 each with shoe rental about another $3.

Orleans Bowling Center

Located on Tropicana about a mile west of The Strip, the Orleans also has a 70-lane alley with all of the latest electronic bells and whistles plus a snack shop, retail, and a bar. It's open 24 hours and games cost between $3-4 with shoe rental $3.

Red Rock Lanes

This facility at Red Rock Resort on the west side of town is probably the fanciest bowling alley in Vegas with 72 lanes, 40" color LCD scoring monitors, plasma TVs, projection screens, snack bar, lounge, arcade, pro-shop, and (believe it or not) VIP suites in 4-, 8-, and 12-lane configurations. It's open from 8am-2am Monday through Thursday and 24 hours on the weekends. Games are $3-4 with shoe rental about $3.50.

Sam's Town Bowling Center

On the far east side of town you'll find 56 lanes at Sam's Town with automatic scoring, a pro shop, a snack bar, a cocktail lounge, a video game arcade, and more. It's open 24 hours and games run $2-3 with shoes about $3.

Santa Fe Bowling Center

Way up on the north side of town at Santa Fe Station is this 60-lane facility with high-tech scoring systems and all of the usual accompaniments like a snack bar and cocktail lounge. It's open Sunday through Thursday from 7am until midnight and Friday and Saturday from 7am until 2am with games running $3-4 and shoe rental about $3.50.

South Point Bowling Center

The previously mentioned 60-lane addition will be separate from the existing 64-lane bowling center the South Point already has. It's unique layout that puts 32 lanes on either side of a center aisle and has automatic scoring with touch-screen controls, a snack bar, a cocktail lounge, a pro-shop, and more. It's open 24 hours a day with games and shoes about $3.

Strike Zone

Sunset Station on the east side of town has the biggest bowling center in town with 72-lanes, state-of-the-art scoring system, 36" color scoring monitors, plasma TVs between lanes, a bar with lane service, an arcade, pool tables, and more. It's open 24 hours and games and shoes run $3-4.

Suncoast Bowling Center

The 64-lane facility at the Suncoast in the Northwest part of town has automatic scoring, a pro shop, a bar, food, and more. It's open 24 hours a day and games run $2-4 with shoes around $3.

Texas Star Lanes

This 60-lane bowling center at Texas Station has all the basics including a bar, snacks, and video games. It's open Sunday through Thursday from 7am to 1am and Friday and Saturday from 7am until 3am. It's one of the most economical lanes in town with games as low $1.50 although shoe rental is on the high side at $3.50.

And finally, if you are looking for a little more attitude with your bowling, try Drink & Drag, the drag queen staffed nightclub at Neonopolis in Downtown Las Vegas that has 12 lanes adjacent to the high-energy dance floor.


Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards

The High Heel Award of the Week goes to Kenny Kerr, the ground-breaking female impersonator who passed away last week. Kerr was the headliner for Boylesque, a drag revue that played at various hotel casinos around Vegas for decades. Kerr was 60.

The Blast from the Past Award of the Week goes to The Neon Museum, which will be hosting a celebration of the 58th anniversary of the opening of the Moulin Rouge hotel and casino on May 23rd. The famed Vegas property operated for only a brief time in 1955 but it was the first casino in the city to be racially integrated. The evening will feature a showing of scenes from an upcoming documentary about the hotel and a special viewing of the Moulin Rouge's sign. The latter was designed by Betty Willis - the same person who designed the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign.

The Welcome Back (sort of) Award of the Week goes to the Gold Spike in Downtown Las Vegas, which will be (sort of) reopening this week. By (sort of) I mean that the former hotel and casino won't have a hotel or casino but will only be a restaurant and bar with the former gaming space turned over to things like pool tables and other non-wagering type games.

The Welcome Back (Maybe) Award of the Week goes to legendary illusionists Siegfried & Roy who are reportedly contemplating a one-off return to the stage this October to celebrate Roy's 69th birthday. That date, October 3, is also the 10th anniversary of the date the "incident" between Roy and one of the duo's signature white tigers that ended their career. So far this is only a rumor.

The Speaking of Anniversaries and Magic Award of the Week goes to comic magician Mac King, who will be celebrating his 13th anniversary at Harrah's Las Vegas next week.


Vegas History: Circus Circus

Although it is now one of the biggest hotels in the world, when Circus Circus first opened in 1968 it didn't have any hotel rooms... but it did have an elephant.

The casino was the brainstorm of Jay Sarno who had opened Caesars Palace in 1966. He originally wanted to build the Roman Circus, a family friendly destination, next door to Caesars that would've continued its Roman theme. Unable to cobble together the necessary land, Sarno moved the concept up the street and changed it to be a more traditional American circus - a "circus circus" - thus the name.

The casino opened on October 18, 1968 at a reported cost of $15 million. As mentioned above it didn't have a hotel but it wasn't due to a lack of desire. Sarno wanted to include accommodations but couldn't raise the money.

The two story big-top shaped building featured a casino on the first floor that was totally open to the circus style acts that performed above. The second floor stage that created a separation from the gambling and the circus acts was not added until a couple of years later.

The circus attractions were designed by Al Dobritch, operator of the Dobritch International Circus - a Barnum and Bailey style company that toured the world. In addition to trapeze artists, high-wire acts, and clowns, Circus Circus had its own elephant, Tanya. Tanya would be taken for regular walks through the casino and was even taught to pull the handle of a giant slot machine (the first of its kind) and throw dice on a craps table.

The casino got a lot of attention When it first opened including a live broadcast of the festivities on the Ed Sullivan Show. Thinking he had a hit on his hands, Sarno went so far as to charge an admission to get into the casino - 50 cents during the day and $1.00 at night.

Unfortunately the casino didn't do as well as Sarno had hoped, hampered by a lack of hotel rooms. Cash flow problems concerned the state gaming commission enough that they threatened to close the casino in 1969 until Sarno agreed to remove himself from direct oversight. He came back on board in 1970.

Seeking to rectify the accommodations issue, the first hotel tower opened in 1972. The 15 stories building had 400 rooms. A twin tower that creates the L-shaped buildings right behind the big top opened in 1975, bringing the room total up to 795.

By then the hotel had new ownership - sort of. William Bennett had built a small empire of furniture stores in Arizona but left that to go into the gaming world in the mid-1960s. He worked at casinos in the Lake Tahoe and Reno areas before joining forces with other investors to lease Circus Circus from Sarno. Although it wasn't a straight sale at the time, Sarno was effectively out and Bennett and team ran the place.

Bennett would later go on to preside over the opening of Excalibur and Luxor and then, after leaving the company, owned the Sahara from 1995 until his death in 2002.

Occupancy at Circus Circus grew again in 1979 when they opened the RV Park at the back of the property and then again in 1980 when the 810 motel-style Manor rooms opened.

With the property growing in all directions, the owners decided they needed a way to move people back and forth between the rooms and the main casino so they introduced the monorail style "Sky Shuttle" in 1981. That kicked off a major renovation in 1982 that upgraded the public areas of the hotel and remodeled the exterior. One of the biggest changes was the addition of a new clown-shaped sign known as Lucky. Standing at more than 100 feet tall it was certified at the time as being the largest neon sign in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records.

The renovation also saw the opening of the now legendary Steakhouse at Circus Circus, which is still a favorite after more than 30 years in business.

The hotel grew again in 1986, which saw the opening of the Skyrise Tower with 1,188 rooms and other amenities including additional casino space, and again ten years later in 1996 with the opening of the West Tower's 1,000 rooms. The latter came with a new integrated lobby and an upgrade to the circus theme in many areas to a more European style look, which toned down some of the garishness. Some.

In between those two events was the 1993 opening of Adventuredome. The indoor amusement park under the big pink dome out back was originally called Grand Slam Canyon because of the design, which featured canyons and cliffs amongst the rides. It featured five major rides including a roller coaster and a water flume ride.

In 1999 the company that owned the hotel and sister properties Luxor and Excalibur changes its name from Circus Circus Enterprises to Mandalay Resort Groups after opening Mandalay Bay at the opposite end of The Strip.

In 2005 MGM Mirage purchased Mandalay Resorts Group, making Circus Circus a sister property to hotels like Bellagio and the MGM Grand.

Between 2005 and 2008 there were several rumors about a major renovation for Circus Circus including one that would have integrated it into a massive, modern complex of hotels and casinos on the neighboring land that was once home to El Rancho. That project - a parternship between MGM Resorts and South African gaming magnate Sol Kerzner - collapsed during the recession of 2008.

A new attraction was added in 2012 that further solidified the hotel as probably the only real family destination on the Las Vegas Strip: The Chuck Jones Experience. The interactive museum pays homage to the animator responsible for characters like Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner.

In 2013, Adventuredome replaced one of its original rides - the Rim Runner water flume - with a new roller coaster called El Loco.