Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column by Rick Garman

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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!

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The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week

10. Jeff Civillico Rapuggles Down Planet Hollywood

Comedian/Juggler Jeff Civillico took part in Over the Edge for Special Olympics charity event at Planet Hollywood last weekend where folks raise money for the opportunity to rappel down the side of the building. But Jeff couldn't "Just" rappel, he had to kick it up a notch or ten by "rappuggling" down the building - he juggled while he made the descent! Watch the video of his stunt below. Read the full review of Jeff Civillico's show at The Linq.

9. Frankie Moreno Show Closing

The energetic musical revue led by singer Frankie Moreno at The Stratosphere is closing in December. According to reports, the hotel has decided to end Moreno's contract, which was due to run through late 2015, early although they didn't specify why in PR statements. The show had been running at the Strat since 2011 and is considered a favorite in town by a lot of folks - so much so that there are already rumors swirling that he may wind up at another Las Vegas property sometime next year. Read my review of the Frankie Moreno show.

8. Is Uber Coming to Vegas?

The ride sharing service Uber is hugely popular in other cities but isn't operating in Vegas. Why? The local taxi commission is one of the strongest in the nation with some of the most stringent rules on who can give rides to people and charge money for it. Uber insists that it isn't a taxi service - just connecting people who need rides - and therefore doesn't have to play by the taxi rules and is now making moves that seem to signal it is going to launch in Vegas. They held a series of orientation meetings for people interested in being drivers and they took out a full-page ad (with just their company logo) in the local paper. The taxi commission is spoiling for a fight, insisting that Uber is unregulated and unlicensed and can be unsafe. I expect a HUGE fight over this so stay tuned. Check out ways to get around Las Vegas.

7. Blue Moon Gay Resort Closes

In what is perhaps a good example of irony, the week after gay marriage was legalized in Las Vegas the one and only exclusively gay resort closed suddenly. The hotel was located just off Sahara near the I-15 freeway and catered primarily to gay men as a exclusive retreat. The reason for the closure was murky at best but some reports indicated that the owner of the property foreclosed on the hotel's lease. The operators of the hotel are working to get refunds to those who had future reservations.

6. Jumping on the Gay Marriage Bandwagon

Speaking of the recently legalized gay marriage, everyone with a wedding chapel (and many of those who don't have one) is trying to get in on the new potential revenue stream by inviting same-sex couples to get married with them. Caesars Entertainment is offering 15% off renewals and ceremonies for gay couples at all of its chapels and wedding facilities through March of 2105 and the Neon Museum sent out a press release officially welcoming same-sex couples to get married amidst the classic neon lights. Read more about Las Vegas for the GLBTQ traveler.

5. Silverton Raises Resort Fee

In the "told you so" category comes news of another resort fee hike - this one at the Silverton where the fee for a standard room has gone up from around $5 to around $10. The good news, if you want to call it that, is the hotel has added Wi-Fi to the list of things covered by the fee, so at least you are getting something for the extra $5 per night. I am expecting that we will hear about a lot more of these fee hikes over the next couple of months. See a full list of all the resort fees at the major hotels.

4. Ri Ra Sets Guinness World Record for Longest Concert

372 hours and 10 minutes... that's the new Guinness World Record for the "Longest Concert by Multiple Artists," a feat reached at Ri Ra Irish Pub at Mandalay Bay. The concert of mostly Irish bands, many of whom flew in from Ireland for the stunt, went on for almost 16 days with only 25 second breaks between songs and five-minute breaks between sets. They eclipsed the previous record of 360 hours, set in 2011 in Michigan. Read the full review of Ri Ra Irish Pub.

3. Omnia - Pure Replacement Unveiled

When Pure nightclub at Caesars Palace closed a few months ago, everyone said what would replace it would be pretty spectacular but they didn't offer any details. Last week the Hakkasan Group, which operates Hakkasan nightclub at MGM Grand, unveiled their plans for the replacement to be called Omnia. Spreading across more than 75,000 square feet (including space formerly occupied by the Caesars poker room and the restaurant munchbar) the club will have a big room with the main dance floor, a laid-back ultralounge, and a rooftop garden overlooking The Strip. It is due to open in the spring of 2015. Check out all the Vegas nightlife.

2. Giada Now Open for Breakfast

Giada De Laurentiis' eponymous restaurant at The Cromwell continues to be one of the most sought after dinner reservations in town, with wait times measuring in weeks to get a prime time table. If you don't have that kind of patience, you can try to get in at breakfast instead. The new menu of morning specialties includes things like a Strawberry Polenta Waffle, Italian Hash, Salmon Cake Benedict, and several fresh pressed juices. The breakfast and lunch menu are being served from 8:30am until 2pm. Read my full review of Giada.

1. Video Preview of Resorts World Las Vegas

Genting Group has released a new video with computer animation of what their upcoming Resorts World mega-resort will look like. The Asian themed resort will have a rooftop deck with an infinity pool, a 4,200 seat theater with a Chinese martial arts show, a Forbidden City themed shopping mall, gardens, and both an indoor hanging lantern attraction and a giant hanging lantern on the outside of the hotel that will go up and down the tower. The video is intended to lure investors to what is projected to be a $5 billion project they want to have open by late 2016 or early 2017. It is planned for the land that used to be home to The Stardust on the North Strip, next door to Circus Circus. Watch the video below and check out the preview of Resorts World Las Vegas on Vegas4Visitors.com.

Resorts World Las Vegas via EB5 Select from EB5 Select on Vimeo.

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New Las Vegas Implosion Set

Las Vegas loves a good spectacle and few events are as big as a building implosion. Over the years, Vegas has been home to some of the wildest, most over-the-top building blow-ups but it has been awhile since there has been one. Heck, they are tearing down the Harmon at CityCenter floor by floor instead of dropping it with dynamite - how is that any fun?

Good news for pyrotechnic fans thought: the recently closed Clarion hotel - which was known formerly as the Greek Islands, The Debbie Reynolds, The Paddlewheel, The Royal and other names - will be imploded just after midnight on January 13, 2015 followed by a party to celebrate whatever is happening there next.

The new owner of the property hasn't been completely specific on what will replace The Clarion but has said that it won't have a casino, it will have multiple restaurants, it could feature the tallest tower in Las Vegas (other than the Stratosphere), and it could cost as much as a billion dollars. But will any of it happen? As always I'm going to put this in my "I'll believe it when I see it folder" but the man behind the big ideas makes me think this one has a better than average chance of becoming reality.

Lorenzo Doumani comes from a family that has a long history in Vegas. His uncle ran the Tropicana in the 1970s and his father was the original owner of La Concha, the clam shaped motor inn that used to be on The Strip that now serves as the lobby for the Neon Museum.

Regardless of what happens to the land after the implosion, we know the implosion itself is set so if you've always wanted to see one, mark your calendars.

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A History of Las Vegas Implosions

Here's a look back at 10 of the most memorable Vegas implosions:

Dunes 1993

Steve Wynn is nothing if not a showman and he proved that when he demolished the Dunes to make way for the Bellagio. The event coincided with the opening of Wynn's Treasure Island and the whole thing kicked off with cannon fire from one of that hotel's pirate ships supposedly setting off the fiery implosion down the street. The Dunes had opened in 1955 and was imploded in 1993. Read the history of The Dunes.

Landmark 1995

The Landmark was an observation shaped tower that opened in 1969 just off The Strip on Convention Center Drive near The Riviera. The hotel never really did well financially and finally closed in 1990. Five years later it was imploded in a particularly spectacular, Hollywood directed fashion and used in the movie "Mars Attacks."

Here's news coverage of the implosion:

And here is how it looked in "Mars Attacks":

Hacienda 1996

The Hacienda opened in 1956 and operated for decades as the southernmost major resort on The Strip. It closed in 1996 and was imploded on New Year's Eve - December 31, 1996 - to make way for Mandalay Bay. Interestingly, the implosion didn't work as well as the hoped - a big chunk of the tower remained standing and they had to knock it down with a wrecking ball the next day.

Sands 1996

The Sands was one of the most legendary hotels on the Vegas Strip, a favored playground of The Rat Pack and the primary home for Frank Sinatra when he was in town well into the late 1960s. The hotel was imploded in late 1996 to make way for The Venetian but not before the closed property was used for a big action scene in the Nicholas Cage movie "Con Air" (a plane crashed into the casino). Read the full history of The Sands.

Aladdin 1998

Never one of the premiere hotels on The Strip, theoriginal Aladdin opened in 1966 and its biggest claim to fame was that it was the site of Elvis and Priscilla's wedding in 1967. The hotel was imploded on April 27 of 1998 to make way for a new version of the Aladdin, which promptly went bankrupt and is now Planet Hollywood. Read the full history of the original Aladdin.

Castaways 2006

The original incarnation of this hotel was as The Showboat, a riverboat themed property located on the east side of town where Fremont Street and Boulder Highway meet. It opened in 1954 and was mostly known for the bowling tournaments that happened in their 100 lane facility, the biggest in the world at the time. The hotel became The Castaways in 2000, closed in 2004, and was imploded in 2006. The land is still empty today. Read the full history of The Showboat/Castaways.

Bourbon Street 2006

This small hotel casino flew under the radar for years, located just off The Strip behind what is now The Cromwell, across the street from Bally's. It opened in 1980 as The Shenandoah and became the Bourbon Street a year later as part of the first of many ownership changes and financial difficulties the property went through over the years. It was bought by Harrah's in 2005 and closed later that year then imploded in 2006 to make way for what was going to be a super-mega-resort designed to replace most of the casinos on the east side of The Strip. That never happened and the lot is empty today. I couldn't find a good video of the actual implosion but did find this really funny and odd Lego version:

Boardwalk 2006

The Boardwalk opened in 1965 as a Holiday Inn and then picked up its Coney Island theme and name in 1970. For most of its life it was a low-cost Vegas afterthought, overshadowed by the bigger, splashier resorts that surrounded it. It closed in January of 2006 and was imploded in May of that year to make way for one of the biggest, splashiest resorts ever built with the CityCenter complex.

Frontier 2007

The Frontier opened in 1942, the second major resort casino on The Strip, years before The Flamingo. Notable parts of its history include ownership by Howard Hughes, the first headlining gig by illusionist Siegfried & Roy, and one of the longest labor disputes in US history that saw picketers in front of the property for more than six years. It was sold in 2007 to an Israeli group who planned to build a Vegas version of New York's famed Plaza hotel and the hotel was imploded on November 13, 2007. The Plaza never happened and the lot is empty today but was recently purchased by Australian gaming magnate James Packer who plans to build a $5 billion megaresort on the land by 2018. Read the history of The Frontier.

Stardust 2007

The Stardust opened in 1958 with a space-age theme that made it one of the most popular hotels in Vegas for years. It closed in 2007 and was imploded to make way for Echelon, a $5 billion complex of hotels and casino space that was mothballed in a partially built state when the economy went into the toilet in 2008. The property was bought by Asia gaming company the Genting Group last year who plans to build a multi-billion-dollar Asian themed hotel called Resorts World on the land by 2017.

Want to see all of the implosions in one video? Here are the 10 implosions all together:

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SLS Makes Headlines with Layoffs but is it News?

It started as a relatively small news story but has blown up and gotten national press: the new SLS Las Vegas has announced layoffs of approximately 2% of its staff less than a couple of months after opening. This followed other stories about cutbacks in hours of some of the hotel's amenities including the buffet, only operating on weekends now, and some big discounts on hotel rates.

So the typically hyperbolic news media was suggesting (if not actually coming right out and saying) that Las Vegas' newest hotel was in trouble, which perhaps could signal big problems for Las Vegas as a whole. But look at the situation a little more objectively and you start to see that in this instance there may be more smoke than actual fire at the SLS.

Almost every new hotel in Vegas overstaffs when it first opens to handle the rush of people who check out the new property. For the first few weeks or months after the ribbon is cut, lines are long, crowds are thick, and employees are needed everywhere all the time. But then that starts to calm down, operations get tighter and more efficient, and things settle into a rhythm that means that they don't need the same number of people as they did at the beginning. Almost every new hotel has adjusted the size of its workforce after opening and that adjustment usually means people losing their jobs.

The only potentially eye-raising thing about the SLS is how quickly it happened. The honeymoon period often lasts for a lot longer than a couple of months but the quick decision could also be chalked up to a proactive management wanting to move sooner rather than later.

The operating hours part of the story is a little more interesting but should be viewed as individual components rather than a larger whole. Sure, the buffet may not be doing so great but that could be because there are often lines out the door at the hotel's Griddle Café, a restaurant that offers massive amounts of high quality food for low costs (sort of like a buffet). And even if internal competition isn't the cause, it still doesn't necessarily mean the entire hotel is in trouble just because people are avoiding the all-you-can-eatery.

The most important part of this story in terms of the health of the hotel is the room rate angle but even that is a little misleading. When the hotel opened its lowest weekday rate was around $100 and on weekends around $200. Now you can get rooms for significantly less than that with rates for multi-night stays being discounted 25-33% with food and beverage credits added at no extra cost.

The thing that makes this less concerning to me is that these price points are where the room should have been to start with. I know they wanted to think their swank decor and funky attitude justified higher prices but the rooms are simply too small for modern Vegas standards to make them feel like they were worth it. Whether or not the hotel's business model can support these lower rates is yet to be seen.

I think the hotel is fine for now and will continue on while waiting for development on the north end of The Strip to catch up to it. Having said all of this, I want to state for the record that I am not privy to the hotel's books so all of this is just conjecture. I'm wrong all the time.

Read my review of the SLS Las Vegas.

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20 of the Top Grossing Independent Restaurants in the US are in Vegas

Restaurant Business Magazine has released their survey of the top 100 grossing independent restaurants in the United States and the #1 spot goes to a restaurant in Vegas: Tao at the Venetian, which raked in more than $64 million in sales last year.

But the good news for Vegas eateries doesn't stop there. 20 of the Top 100 are in Vegas, a total exceeded only by New York City.

The Venetian/Palazzo did quite well with five of the Top 100. Tao's sister restaurant Lavo at the Palazzo came in at #5 with $24 million in revenue; Mario Batali's steakhouse Carnevino was at #13 with $19 million; Emeril Lagasse's Delmonico Steakhouse was #53 at $13.3 million; and Itlaian eatery Zefferino was #88 with nearly $11 million.

Right across the street, Wynn Las Vegas had two of the Top 100 with SW Steakhouse at #14 with $18.6 million and Bartolotta at #78 with $11.6 million.

Bellagio, Paris Las Vegas, and Mandalay Bay all had two each. Bellagio placed with Prime Steakhouse at #17 with $17.3 million and with Fix at #76 and $11.7 million. Paris charted Mon Ami Gabi at #20 with $17 million and the Eiffel Tower Restaurant at #87 with $11 million. Mandalay Bay scored with StripSteak at #79 with $16 million and Aureole at #89 with $11 million.

The rest were one-offs - Joe's Seafood at The Fashion Show mall came in at #12 with $20 million; Top of the World at The Stratosphere hit #27 with almost $16 million; N9NE Steakhouse at The Palms was #56 with $13.2 million; Craftsteak at MGM Grand was #66 with $12.6 million; Jean-Georges Steakhouse at Aria was #69 with $12 million; and Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace was #74 with $18.8 million.

In case you weren't paying attention, eight of the 20 are billed as steakhouses and at least a couple of the others could arguably be classified as the same.

There are 19 restaurants covered above, so you may be wondering what the 20th was. I never would've guessed this in a million years but it's the Harley Davidson Café, which came in at #83 with $11.2 million.

By the way, in case you are wondering, an "independent" restaurant is classified as one that is not part of a corporately owned chain so things like Denny's or even the Hard Rock Caf#233; wouldn't count.

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