MORE VEGAS INFO
VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
February 17, 2014
How to Keep Your Personal Information Safe in Vegas
When you go to Vegas, it's pretty much a given that someone is going to take your money - the casinos are designed to do just that. But while the blackjack tables and slot machines are up front about their mission to separate you from your cash, these days there are increasing threats to your money, and even your identity, before you ever get to Sin City.
Last week the websites for the Sands Corporation, the parent company of The Venetian and Palazzo, were hacked. For a brief time visitors to the sites were greeted with photos of the company's resorts around the world covered by flames and political statements seeming to protest comments made by Sands chairman Sheldon Adelson about Iran. The company pulled down the websites and they have been offline for most of the week since. As of this writing there are temporary pages up directing guests to call to make reservations or get information about the properties.
The company is saying that the breach did not affect guest data or credit card information, unlike an incident in 2013 involving Affinity Gaming's systems. In that case, the credit and debit card information of an estimated 300,000 guests of Affinity Gaming hotels like Silver Sevens (formerly Terrible's) were stolen.
Keeping your money and your identity safe while planning a trip to Vegas and once you get there poses some extra challenges considering the nature of the beast. To get the best deals you usually have to book online but to do so you have to provide credit card and other personal information. If you want to get offers from the casinos, you have to join the players' clubs and give away lots of data about yourself.
You could make your travel arrangements over the phone, but that doesn't necessarily increase security. Remember that even if you make a call, your information is still being stored somewhere in a computer system and is therefore vulnerable to attack.
The sad reality these days is that unless you find a way to live completely off the grid you will most likely be a victim of an online breach at some point in your life. The best thing you can do is find a way to minimize the risk and limit your exposure if it ever happens.
Create a new email address that you use solely for things like getting receipts for online transactions and signing up for players' clubs. Why? Think of all the information you share via your regular, day-to-day email account and how much you would be putting at risk if it were breached. Using a separate, dedicate email address for online transactions allows you to limit what thieves could have access to if your account was hacked. A caveat to this is that you have to monitor the account regularly and make sure that if you get a receipt or confirmation of any kind that has too much personal information it (address, more than the last 4 digits of your credit card, etc.) that you print it out and then delete the email so it can't be used against you later.
When making online transactions, even if it's just entering a credit card to confirm your hotel reservation, be sure the website your are using is secure. Most browsers will display a little lock symbol somewhere near the URL to let you know that you are using a secure server but if you can't find that, just look at the website address and make sure it says https:// at the beginning instead of http://. That extra "s" tells you that you are on an encrypted network and that your data, while maybe not completely safe, is at least a little more secure.
You should only make those transactions with reputable, known companies. While you might be able to find a deal through some random, third-party website that will save you a few bucks, it is much safer to use the websites for the hotels or companies directly. While on there, be sure to read their privacy policies so you understand how your information is going to be used. Yes, privacy policies are often many pages long and filled with boring legal type language that can make your head spin, but the things to look for are whether or not they will share your data with other divisions within their corporate structure or with outside, third-party companies. Any time your data is transferred to another system, it increases your risk.
If what you are doing online requires you to create an account then be sure to use a strong password, one that you don't use for your day-to-day life, even if the account is not ostensibly linked to financial data. Even the most innocuous of accounts like signing up for a players' club will require personal information and they may be linked on the back end to transactions you have made with the company.
Credit Not Debit
Always pay with a credit card that carries a fraud protection guarantee (most do). Getting transactions reversed on a credit card is not fun, but it's a lot easier than having your bank account drained if you have used a debit card. Trust me on this one because it happened to me. The transaction I made was in a gas station but then thieves got my personal information and emptied my checking account. To add insult to injury, while the theft happened in Los Angeles, most of the money was taken out at ATMs around Las Vegas!
It's also a good idea to get a separate credit card, if you can, with a lower limit to use for online transactions. This will limit your exposure should your data get stolen. Some credit card companies offer pre-paid cards but you may not be able to use them for things like guaranteeing a hotel room.
Beware of Phishing
After you have made your transaction online, be wary about so-called "phishing" scams. This is the kind of thing where you might get an email asking you to re-enter your credit card data or email other personal information after making a hotel reservation for instance. There is almost no legitimate reason for a business to do this so if you get such an email, call the company at the number listed on their website (don't use a number in the email - it might be fake, too) to verify the validity of the request.
Once you get to Las Vegas, the primary online threat is in using the public or hotel-provided Wi-Fi systems. Most of them are not secure so you should never, under any circumstances no matter how dire, email personal information while using them.
You should also beware of social media while in Vegas. I know you are just dying to Tweet or Instagram a selfie of you sitting by the pool with margarita in your free hand, but what that is doing is telling pretty much the entire world not only exactly where you are at that moment (which may present dangers in and of itself), but that you are NOT in your hotel room with all your valuables that you can't carry in your swim suit.
It's easy to get swept up in the Vegas insanity but a little common sense will go a long ways toward ensuring that the only place your money is going to get "stolen" is in the casino.
Drunk Scale: Rating the Thrill Rides in Vegas
The new extreme roller coaster El Loco is now open at The Adventuredome at Circus Circus. One of only six such rides in the world, it starts with a 70 foot climb followed by an over and under backwards dive that creates 1.5 negative vertical G's. This is different than regular g-force such as is experienced with sudden acceleration - negative 2 is about the most the human body can withstand. The ride also features a 45-degree banked outward turn, a 180-degree turn that goes into a barrel roll, and a greater than straight down diving drop. The four-person open-air cars will give riders the sensation of flying during the 75-second ride.
And yes, here's another thing in Vegas I won't be doing.
When discussing thrill rides like this, I have often joked (but I'm not really joking) about how I'll review it from the nearest bar, watching other people do it while I have a drink. In that spirit (pun intended), I have devised an exclusive rating system for the thrill rides in Vegas, wherein I gauge exactly how much time I'd need to spend at the bar before I would even consider going on one of them. I call it the How Drunk I Would Need to Be to Think This Was a Good Idea scale. Zero is I'd do the ride stone cold sober and 10 means I'd have to pretty much be unconscious and have someone carry me to the ride, strap me in, and then carry me off at the end, probably to a waiting ambulance.
I'd put El Loco at about an 8 on the scale, although that may go up or down when I see it in person next week.
The rest of the rides at Adventuredome are less extreme although that doesn't mean I'd want to ride them, less out of the fear factor and more out of the "I'm going to hurl" factor. Inverter, Chaos, Disk'O, and Sling Shot (to name a few) all involve spinning, twirling, dropping, and/or looping and that puts them all at about 6 on my Drunk scale. Of course if I had that much to drink I'd probably hurl anyway.
The other major coaster in town, the one at New York-New York, gets a 7 on the scale, not because it's less scary but because the concept of it is so silly-Vegas that it makes me wish I was more of a man so that I could ride it. I'm not going to, but I guess I'm not going to a little less than I'm not going to ride El Loco.
SlotZilla, the upcoming zip line along Fremont Street, is also so completely silly-Vegas that I am going to ride it when it opens. I rode the last zip line (and hated every minute of it) so I figure I can do this one but I'm still giving it a 3 on the scale. Mind you, that's for the traditional seated zip lines; the flying "zoom lines," wherein you are propelled the length of The Fremont Street Experience face down in super hero flying style, is funny but not funny enough to get me to do it. That gets a 9.
I'm not a big fan of heights - and by that I mean I'm terrified of them - but I am looking forward to (with some trepidation) the upcoming High Roller observation wheel so I'll give that a 2. Similarly I have managed to make it up in The Eiffel Tower and the Stratosphere Tower and I did both sober although I won't get anywhere near the edges of the observation platforms so I'm going to give both of them a 2 also on the Drunk scale.
The rides atop The Stratosphere are a whole different ball game. X-Scream, where they put people in a contraption that makes them believe it is falling off the side of the buildin; the aptly named Insanity, which twirls people around in a circle 800 feet above the ground; and the Big Shot, a thing that blasts you up to the tippy top of the more the 1,000 feet height of the building, all get a 10 rating for me. But Sky Jump, wherein you actually jump off the top of the building... well, there isn't enough alcohol in the entire world to make me think that's a good idea.
My kinds of thrills - the ones that I wouldn't need some liquid courage to get through - are more in the "need for speed" category. Exotics Racing and the Richard Petty Driving Experience allow you to get behind the wheel of some serious performance machinery and push them to your limits (trust me, you'll never come close to the car's limits). It can be scary as hell so I'm still giving it a 2 on the scale, but since one shouldn't drink and drive you can have the cocktails afterward to steady your nerves.
Whew... I'm glad this article is done. Now I can go have a drink.
Culture in Vegas
In Vegas you can almost endless supply of crass, from party 'til you puke nightclubs to strip bars to scantily clad cocktail waitresses to blaring and glaring slot machines and so much more. But believe it or not, Vegas has a measure of class as well if you know where to look for it. Yes, culture is alive and well in Sin City.
For instance, The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art is readying a new exhibition entitled "Painting Women," a collection of nearly three dozen paintings by female artists including Georgia O'Keefe and Berthe Morisot. Arranged chronologically by the date of their creation, from the 1870s through the mid-20th century, the paintings highlight the evolution and impact of women in the art world. The program is being presented through a partnership with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and runs through October.
Nearby you can also visit the Bellagio Conservatory, which is an indoor atrium filled with seasonally inspired displays of flowers and plants celebrating the holidays, spring, summer, and fall. The Chinese New Year display is on now through March 1.
There are many museums in town that fall in to what I think are two different categories: traditional and offbeat. The traditional include the Clark County Museum, a small facility on the far east side of town that looks at the history of the region from settler days through the modern casino era; the Natural History Museum, which examines the region's flora and fauna back to the dinosaur age; and the Nevada State Museum, a facility that traces the state's roots from wooly mammoths through showgirls.
The offbeat museums may not be typical but they are no less serious about their subjects and, in many cases, are the premiere facilities in the country in their field. Take the National Atomic Testing Museum for instance, a stunning facility that looks at the history of the atomic age in America and the impact it had specifically on southern Nevada. It is affiliated with no less than the Smithsonian Institute and is both entertaining and educational at the same time.
Likewise the National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement, better known as The Mob Museum in Downtown Las Vegas. It's an incredible look at the history of the mafia both in America and in Las Vegas and should not be missed.
There's also The Neon Museum, which is very Vegas specific and fun but no less educational as the tour guides give you the history of the city as told through the lens of the neon artwork that used to adorn its building.
More traditional art is a little harder to find in Vegas, at least in one focused location. Other than the aforementioned Bellagio Gallery, the other curated experience is at the CityCenter Fine Art Collection, which has several major new and classic works from major artists like Maya Lin and Henry Moore spread about the campus.
If you are looking for the performing arts to get your culture credentials, I'd argue that shows like Mystére, KÀ, O, and Le Rêve are worthy of being called "art" but your primary focus should be on The Smith Center in Downtown Las Vegas. This world-class facility has everything from major orchestra, ballet, and opera productions to jazz, touring Broadway shows, and more.
I'm not saying you have to spend all of your Vegas vacation immersed in the good taste represented by the above, but may you can mix in an little class with your crass the next time you are in town.
Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards
The Ribbon Cutting Award of the Week goes to The Linq, which will be opening most of the rest of its street full of shops, restaurants, and bars on February 28th. It is partially open now and every single storefront will be operating at the end of the month, but the bulk of it will be. Still no opening date for the High Roller observation wheel but I'm hearing it might start soon.
The On Ice Award of the Week goes to The Plaza in Downtown Las Vegas, which will be adding a new 3,500 seat arena to host the Las Vegas Wranglers hockey team starting this fall. The facility will be one of those tent-like structures and will be built adjacent to the pool deck in between the two hotel towers. It should be up and running by October and will allow the team to make the move from the Orleans where they have skated for the last nine years.
The Party Spot Award of the Week goes to the new rooftop pool and party spot being built at The Cromwell (formerly Bill's). It will be called Drai's Beach Club/Nightclub and will feature a multi-level indoor/outdoor club experience and a pool (naturally), VIP bungalows with their own pools, and a "fireworks menu" that will allow people to spend an fairly ridiculous amount of money to be able to shoot a firework off the roof. Ah the things rich people do with their money. The hotel is opening sometime in the next couple of months and the pool club will debut Memorial Day weekend.
The Booooo! Award of the Week goes to the Caesars Palace Bacchanal Buffet, the most expensive buffet in Vegas, which just got a little more expensive. As first reported by the LV Advisor, prices on the Caesars Palace Bacchanal Buffet have gone up be several dollars across all meals and are now $4-$5 higher than when the buffet first opened. Breakfast is $26, lunch is $36, weekend brunch is $45 (including champagne), and dinner is $51-$54 depending on what night of the week you eat. Hope you're hungry...
The Reprieve Award of the Week goes to the doomed Harmon Hotel, which will be sticking around until at least the fall. A judge has set September as the next date for the messy trial trying to figure out who is financially responsible for the mess of building, which is so structurally unsound engineers believe it could collapse in an earthquake. The building at CityCenter (in front of Aria, next door to the Cosmo) will not be imploded because it's too close to other buildings - instead it will be deconstructed floor by floor... eventually.
Restaurant Review: The Earl of Sandwich
Back in 1762, the First Sea Lord of the British Navy, John Montagu, was kind of a busy guy. There was the navy thing, of course, but he was also a dedicated gambler who loved to while away an entire day playing cards.
The problem he faced way back then was that you spend all day at a card table and you get hungry but things like, you know, mutton isn't easy to eat while drawing to an inside straight.
Yes, I know poker wasn't the game he was playing, but it's a Vegas review so just go with me here.
Anyway, so dear old John came up with the idea to put meat between two slices of bread and invented a thing that was named after one of his other titles - the Fourth Earl of Sandwich.
Today his descendent, the 11th Earl of Sandwich (seriously) has lent his family's name to an endeavor of sandwich shops, one of which is satisfying hungry gamblers (and others) at Planet Hollywood.
The menu is mostly sandwiches, unsurprisingly. There's the Original 1762 with roast beef, creamy horseradish, and cheddar; the Earl's Club with turkey, applewood smoked bacon, and Swiss; and the Full Montagu with beef, turkey, two kinds of cheese, and more. Turkey, BLT, tuna melt, and ham sandwiches are also available as are some more creative concoctions like the Hawaiian BBQ with grilled chicken, ham, Hawaiian barbecue sauce, and pineapple or the Caribbean jerk chicken with roasted hot banana peppers.
Since apparently man cannot live on sandwiches alone, they have expanded the menu to include salads (Cobb, Caesar, Greek, etc.), wraps (which are sandwiches for people who can't commit), soups, and breakfast items served until 11am.
But getting something other than a sandwich here seems like an affront to history. Over multiple visits I have sampled the Full Montagu, the Italian (stuffed with salami, capicola, ham, mortadella, and mozzarella), and a couple of sandwiches they don't offer anymore (I miss the beef and bleu!). All come warm, served on artisan baked breads and all were delicious. I don't think you can go wrong here.
They also have a series of baked on the premises desserts including massive cupcakes and brownies, which if you catch them at the right time will be warm from the oven and gooey and delicious and will get all over your computer keyboard but you won't care. I'm guessing.
One complaint I have heard about this place is that the sandwiches and contents of same are not of the scope that hungry American stomachs have grown used to. In other words, some people whine that the sandwiches are too small. I say "Fie!" (it's something an Earl may have said) - these are human sized portions as opposed to the waistline expanding portions served at other sandwich shops. If you really can't stand it, order two - they're cheap.
And by cheap, I mean cheap. Most of the sandwiches, salads, and wraps are under $7, sides are around $2, and soup around $4. So while the whining about high food prices in Las Vegas is totally justified, there are options to paying $15 for a hamburger.
One other note is that while they manage to keep things moving pretty well, the lines at this place are long almost all the time (or at least were every time I walked by). Limited seating means you may be eating your sandwich at a blackjack table, but that's how dear old John probably would've preferred it.
Drinking at the Downtown Grand: Mob Bar & Art Bar
A linchpin in the revitalization of Downtown Las Vegas was the 2012 opening of the Mob Museum, a terrific interactive facility that traces the roots of the mafia in the United States and in Vegas. Of course one of the things that helped organized crime grow and expand was their monopolization of the illegal alcohol trade during prohibition so what could be more appropriate than a bar that gives a winking nod to the "good old days" when the mob ran Sin City?
When it first opened, Mob Bar was in a small slip of a storefront along 3rd Street about a block from the Fremont Street Experience and from the Mob Museum. Now it has moved into the Downtown Grand hotel in a much bigger, much nicer space that has windows looking toward the museum.
The decor is sort of a mix of 1920s speakeasy meets 1960s garage sale, but I mean that in a good way. Mix and match furnishings give it a homey vibe while brick walls, rich wood paneling, and soft lighting from faux-crystal chandeliers gives it a warm aura. There are chairs, couches, and booths scattered about; a decent sized bar to sidle up to; and live entertainment on select nights (vocalists, dueling pianos, etc.).
The prices are very reasonable for the kind of craft cocktails they serve, which use fresh ingredients and a mixology style of blending that goes way beyond booze in a glass. Drinks like this on The Strip would run you $20 easily but here they are half that.
They also have a limited menu of snacks and appetizers, most of which are under $10 so this would make a good place to go for a bargain drink and nosh.
It's not exactly a destination type of bar - it is simply too small and the mob theme, while cute, is not interesting enough to make it worth going out of your way for. But if you are out bar hopping in Downtown Las Vegas (and you should at some point), then this can be one of your many stops.
Mixing alcohol and art is nothing new; tortured artists have been doing it for centuries. It's not even new for Las Vegas, as the popular local nightclub Artifice draws an artsy crowd with its gallery showings and offbeat music programming.
Art Bar at the Downtown Grand isn't as fully realized of a concept as that, but it's still interesting as a curiosity and an okay place to grab a cocktail as you are on the way to somewhere else.
The place is tiny, with seating and standing for a few dozen people max. It's comfy, with a kind of BoHo aesthetic in its mismatched furnishings and brick wall treatments. There are big windows looking out on the street so that's better than the cave-like environs of many Las Vegas bars.
So where's the art, you may be asking? Look up. The ceiling is "paneled" with framed paintings, which is a fun touch. There are also books on art scattered about that you can peruse while you are sipping whatever you have chosen to drink.
There are some specialty cocktails and beers on tap, but for the most part this is just a bar. The good news is that the prices are low. You shouldn't be paying more than $10 for the fancier cocktails and beers and some mixed drinks can cost a few bucks less than that. This is a welcome relief from The Strip where $10 might buy you a Budweiser and that's before tax and tip.
There's no real reason to go out of your way to go to Art Bar, but if you're on a pub crawl of Downtown Las Vegas and need a low-key respite between the more crazy Fremont Street watering holes, this might be a good option.