Vegas4Visitors.com 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!

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Resort Fee Update

Two major Vegas hotels have made big moves in the resort fee wars: LVH has added one and Bally's has raised theirs.

LVH (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton) had been making a big deal about how it was one of the last major resorts to not charge a resort fee. So much for that little bit of marketing. The off-Strip hotel is charging an $18 per night fee that covers in-room Internet, fitness center access, and in-room local and toll-free calls.

Bally's just added their fee a few months ago but apparently the $15 wasn't enough - now it is also $18, which matches the fee at sisters Flamingo and Harrah's.

For those of you not familiar with the concept, a resort fee is an additional charge on top of the room rate that is added to your bill at check-out. The fee usually covers things like Internet access, gym use, and a few other goodies and if you actually use those services it is actually a pretty good deal. The trouble is that most people don't use the services and in most instances you have to pay it anyway.

There are a few hotels that allow you the option of paying the resort fee or paying for the services ala carte including The Venetian, Palazzo, and Treasure Island.

It is worth noting that the resort fee is per room, per night and is not affected by the number of people in the room, however the included services are usually only for one person. So for instance if the fee covers in-room Internet and fitness center access it is usually only good for one device at a time for the web and one person at a time for the treadmills.

All of the major hotels on The Strip and many of the ones off The Strip charge a resort fee. The highest are at hotels like Bellagio, MGM Grand, Wynn Las Vegas, and Caesars Palace, which all have $28 (including tax) nightly resort fees. The lowest on The Strip are at The Quad and Circus Circus, both at $10 plus tax. The lowest in town is at The Gold Coast just off The Strip, which charges a $3 nightly fee that covers local and toll-free calls, coffee service in the room, access to the fitness center, shuttle service to The Orleans and The Strip, and parking.

Most Downtown Las Vegas hotels do not charge resort fees although that may be changing. The Plaza already has a $10 (plus tax) fee and there are rumors that The Golden Nugget will be adding one soon. If that happens, other Downtown hotels are sure to follow.

You can view the updated list of hotels and what they charge (or not as the case may be) on the Vegas4Visitors.com Resort Fee page.

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Rio To Add Zip Line Style Attraction

Later this summer if you hear screaming coming from the general direction of The Rio, don't worry - it'll most likely be coming from the riders of the hotel's upcoming zip line style attraction VooDoo Skyline.

The ride will be the highest of its kind in Las Vegas, sending guests between the two hotel towers more than 400 feet in the air at speeds of more than 30 miles per hour. The one-minute and 10-second zip ride will takeoff from VooDoo Lounge, located atop Rio's Masquerade tower, sending guests cascading more than 800 feet to the Ipanema tower. VooDoo Skyline can accommodate up to two riders at one time and will have a unique feature: on the return trip guests will ride an additional 800 feet to the starting point facing backwards (!!?!), a total ride of nearly one-third of a mile.

VooDoo Skyline will run 7 days a week, offering rides from noon to midnight. Pricing has not been released yet but I'd expect it to be in the $30-$40 range.

There is no official opening date but insiders are saying it will be up and running by August.

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New Restaurants Planned

It's been a busy couple of weeks for food writers trying to keep up with all of the announcements of some big name restaurants heading to Las Vegas. Several celebrity chefs are coming to town to set up (or in some cases set up an additional) shop.

Buddy Valastro is best known as the Cake Boss from his hit TLC reality show of the same name. The Hoboken, New Jersey native will be bringing family-style Americanized Italian food to The Venetian/Palazzo this fall. It will feature big portions of Italian comfort food (think pizza, pasta, etc.) and a healthy dose of his famous pastries, naturally. It will be going into the space formerly occupied by First Food and Bar, overlooking The Strip near Rockhouse.

Celebrity chef Mario Batali will be opening his fourth Vegas restaurant this fall, also at The Venetian/Palazzo. In addition to his upscale Italian B&B Ristorante, Batali will be doing a more casual B&B Burger and Bar. Said to focus on more affordable and accessible hamburgers but with Batali's signature Italian flair, the restaurant should be open by late summer.

The name Daniel Boulud may be familiar to Vegas visitors from the chef's eponymously named restaurant that operated at Wynn Las Vegas for years. That place closed but Boulud is not done with Vegas and plans to open a branch of his New York City restaurant DBGB Kitchen & Bar later this year. The restaurant will be more casual (and cheaper) than the high-end joint he ran at Wynn and will focus on pub grub style food with a French Bistro twist. It will be located at... wait for it... The Venetian/Palazzo.

And finally, chef Michael Mina has been playing in Vegas for years with restaurants at Bellagio, Aria, and Mandalay Bay. His Seablue restaurant at MGM Grand closed recently but is being replaced by another Mina outlet to be called PUB 1842. The gastropub concept will have an extensive beer and cocktail menu to accompany its twisted comfort food menu that will include things like crispy chicken wings with chipotle glaze and a peanut butter crunch burger with bacon jam. It is expected to be open by July.

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Neon Museum Summer Hours Include Evening Tours

Just in case you weren't aware, it gets a little hot in Las Vegas during the summer. Like blast-furnace hot. To that end, the operators of the Neon Museum figured it wouldn't be a terribly pleasant thing to wander around in the dusty, open-air boneyard looking at highly reflective metal signs so from (roughly) Memorial Day through Labor Day, daytime tours will only be available in the early mornings.

The good news is that the museum is now conducting the first regular evening tours. Starting at 7pm or 7:30pm and running until 9pm, the tours will give visitors a chance to see some of the signs the way people used to see them when they were affixed to buildings on classic Las Vegas casinos. Some of the restored signs will be lit up with their own bulbs but most of the signs are not in working order so they will be illuminated with custom-designed, colorful exterior lighting.

You have to pay a premium for the nighttime tours - $25 instead of the usual $18 - but it will be a one-of-a-kind experience to be sure.

Daytime tours run at 9, 9:30, and 10am now through September 15. Evening operate at 7:30, 8, 8:30, and 9pm through July 31 and will start at 7pm from August 1 through September 15.

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Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards

The And the Livin' Is Easy Award of the Week goes to the Bellagio Conservatory, which has launched its annual summer display. Entitled Summer Garden Party, the colorful botanical display features birds (both real and floral), a lighthouse, a babbling brook, and kites. It is up and running now and goes through September 8.

The Know When To Fold 'Em Award of the Week goes to the World Series of Poker, which has kicked off its 2013 season at The Rio in record breaking fashion. More than 6,000 people entered a special $1,500 buy-in tournament, almost doubling the amount of entrants from a similar tournament last year. The event runs through June and into July with the big "final table" in November. You can follow along at wsop.com.

The Hooked Up Award of the Week goes to the new pedestrian bridge that now links the two sides of Downtown Las Vegas that are split by railroad tracks. The bridge runs from the City Hall parking garage to the Smith Center parking garage and provides easy access for Downtown visitors to get from the Fremont Street Experience area to the Union Park area and attractions like the Smith Center and the Las Vegas Premium Outlets North.

The Big Laughs Award of the Week goes to comedian Louie Anderson, who will be returning to Vegas for a headlining gig at The Plaza in July. Anderson has had regular shows in Vegas for years, first at Excalibur and most recently at Palace Station. His new gig comes on the heels of his appearance in the inexplicably popular "celebrity" diving show "Splash."

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Las Vegas History: The Dunes

Al Gottesman is credited with being the driving force behind one of the most influential and longest-lasting Las Vegas hotels, The Dunes. But who exactly was he? According to most Dunes histories, Gottesman is referred to as a "movie mogul" but the only thing that seems to support that reference is that he owned several movie theaters in Connecticut and Massachusetts, including the famed Palladium in Worscester. But Gottesman sold those theaters to Warner Bros in 1929 and what he did between then and the early 1950s when he popped up in Las Vegas are not well-documented. There are certainly no indications that he ever produced, directed, or had anything to do with an actual movie.

Could he have been a part of an organized crime syndicate? It certainly wouldn't be surprising considering that most Las Vegas hotels developed during the time period came from mob money in one way or another, but since the history books are unclear let's just refer to Gottesman as a the accepted "movie mogul" and leave it at that.

Gottesman and partners from Las Vegas bought a horse ranch at what is now the southwest corner of The Strip and Flamingo. Although now one of the busiest intersections in the world, in 1953 it was fairly desolate territory. The Flamingo had been up and running for nearly a decade across the highway but most of the action with hotels like The Frontier, The Desert Inn, The Sahara, and The Sands were happening much further north. The property was the southernmost to be dedicated to a major resort and would be, for a time, the first one that visitors driving in from California would encounter.

Whether Gottesman was involved in organized crime or not is unknown but it is widely accepted that money raised to complete The Dunes came from less than reputable sources. A alleged Rhode Island crime syndicate and the infamous Teamster's Pension Fund were responsible for the bulk of the $3.5 million required to build the resort.

The Dunes opened on May 23, 1955 with 200 rooms. It came in the middle of a boom time for the Las Vegas Strip, coming only a month after The Riviera and The Royal Nevada.

The hotel had an Arabian nights theme complete with a 48-foot tall sultan statue atop the porte corchere. There was a dinner theater showroom called The Arabian Room, a double-Olympic sized swimming pool in a V-shape billed as the "largest in America" at the time, restaurants, bars, and a casino, of course.

With all of the competition boiling over on The Strip, The Dunes wasn't able to compete and suffered from money woes almost immediately. Management from The Sands was brought in to try to right the ship but the casino shut down at least twice in late 1955 into 1956 although the motel portion stayed open. The property was sold to a Chicago firm and had a "grand reopening" in June of 1956.

In 1959 the hotel added a golf course, convention center, and more parking.

In 1961 the hotel joined the high-rise boom by adding a 21-story tower bringing its room total to 450. Much of the property was redone at the same time, pulling back (a bit) on the Arabian Nights theme and going for a more modern, 60s contemporary look. Not long after the Sultan was removed from the top of the porte corchere and the iconic neon Dunes sign was added at the front of the property. He was moved to the golf course at the back of the hotel, visible from the interstate.

A 1965 addition to the property was the Dome of the Sea restaurant, a clam-shell shaped structure used projections inside to give the illusion of dining under water. It was located at the front of the property, more or less in the middle of what is now the lake where the Bellagio Fountains are located.

The next major expansion to the property was in 1979 when a 17-story hotel tower was added. In 1983 a second casino was added with an entrance closer to The Strip's foot traffic. Dubbed the Oasis Casino, it was located where the current Via Bellagio shopping area is

The following year, saddled by debt and an underperforming casino, the owners of The Dunes declared bankruptcy. It was sold in late 1984 to the owner of The Maxim, a hotel on Flamingo just east of The Strip.

The hotel was sold again in 1987 to a Japanese investor who promised big things but could never raise the money to upgrade the property.

I personally remember staying at The Dunes in the early part of 1989. I had booked one of the cheap motel style rooms out back but when I got there they gave me a room in the main tower overlooking The Strip for the same rate. By that time the entire property was seriously run-down and only a shadow of its glamorous former self.

In 1992 The Dunes was sold to Steve Wynn, who had opened The Mirage and was working on Treasure Island.

The Dunes closed on January 27, 1993 and was scheduled for demolition later in the year but a fire in the mostly unoccupied buildings took care of a great deal of that work. The September 16, 1993 blaze destroyed much of the original motel style buildings at the back of the property and seriously damaged the casino and portions of the high-rise towers.

The final moments of The Dunes were quite spectacular. Treasure Island opened on October 27, 1993 and owner Steve Wynn connected the occasion to the implosion of remaining portions of The Dunes. A faux cannon shot from the pirate ship in front of TI "triggered" a massive fireworks and implosion spectacle that brought down the northernmost room tower and the Dunes sign. The remaining hotel tower was imploded "quietly" in 1994 to make way for the construction of Bellagio, which opened in 1998.

By the way, in case you're wondering what happened to the giant Sultan statue... in 1985 a presumed electrical short in the lighted figure caused a fire that reduced the Sultan to ash.

For more photos, visit the Vegas4Visitors.com Dunes Museum page.

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