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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
November 24, 2014
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Ricky Martin's Waxy Build Up
Singer Ricky Martin met his wax figure at Madam Tussaud's Las Vegas at The Venetian yesterday. The statue required more than 500 measurements to get so life-like and was even clothed by Martin himself, who put it in a suit from the wardrobe of his current world tour. Ricky... the real one... is scheduled to perform tonight in Vegas at the Latin Grammy's being held at MGM Grand. Ricky... the wax one... will be in Vegas for a short time and then head to Orlando in time for the opening of a new Madame Tussaud's there. Read my review of Madame Tussaud's Las Vegas.
9. Free Marriages on the High Roller
For the last 14 years there have been a stream of supposedly "lucky" numerical order dates that have drawn crowds to Vegas - January 2, 2003 (1/2/3), May 6, 2007 (5/6/7). The last one this century is coming up with 12/13/14 and the High Roller is celebrating with FREE wedding ceremonies on board the world's tallest observation wheel from 10:11am to 12:13pm. You'll have to share the cabins with other people (including other couples getting married and random strangers) but they will include the officiant, a champagne toast, and a photo. Or you could get a private cabin ceremony with packages that range from $1713 to over $7,000. Read more about the High Roller.
8. Riviera To Host World Series... of Beer Pong
Yeah... Vegas is klassy like that. Where else would you expect to find the World Series of Beer Pong? The 5 day event is set for January 1-5, 2015 at The Riviera and will feature thousands of beer pong "enthusiasts" competing for a $50,000 grand prize. If you want to participate (and you know you do, even if you won't admit it to yourself) you can register through the website below but it will cost you $500 (which includes a room at the Riv). Drink up! Read my review of The Riviera.
7. Electric Daisy Carnival Dates & Ticket Sales Announced
When not to visit Vegas: June 19-21, 2015...that is unless you are planning on going to the Electric Daisy Carnival. The huge electronic music festival held at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway has picked those dates for next year's event and is expecting the typical influx of about half a million people into town for it, making it the busiest weekend of the year (rivaling or exceeding New Year's) and also one of the most expensive. Tickets for the fest go on sale 12/1/14 at noon and start at $329 for 3 days of general admission but the 365,000 or so tickets usually sell out in minutes so have your clicking fingers ready on time.
6. Rascal Rocks
Country-western band Rascal Flatts has signed on do one of the mini-residencies that the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas is fond of. They will be performing 9 shows in The Joint concert venue between February 25 and March 14 with tickets starting at $40. Sales start this Friday. This will be the first time that a country band has done one of the short stands at the hotel following stints by Guns N Roses, Def Leppard, and KISS, who are in the middle of their run now. Read more about the Hard Rock.
5. Mac Making Magic Through 2019
One of the best shows in town and certainly one of the best entertainment values will be around for a long time to continue proving it - Mac King has signed a contract extension with Harrah's that will keep his afternoon comedy-magic show in residence through 2019. Congrats Mac! If you haven't seen this one, put it on your to-do list now. I recently saw his show again and I have updated the show review, which you can read below or on the Mac King page.
4. Duck Dynasty Musical Coming to The Rio
Yes, a musical based on the A&E show "Duck Dynasty" called "Duck Commander Family Musical" is heading to Vegas and will open at The Rio in February. It will tell the story of the Robertson family's rise to wealth and fame via their duck calling business and reality TV show and is reportedly attempting to be a springboard for a run on Broadway. To make way for it the Michael Jackson tribute show "MJ Live" and "The Rat Pack is Back" are both closing in December. I have learned to say "never say never" when it comes to Las Vegas so I will withhold commentary on whether or not it can succeed. Read more about The Rio.
3. Swedish Man Wins World Series of Poker's $10 Million Top Prize
28 year old Martin Jacobson, a professional poker play from Sweden, has won the 2014 final table at the World Series of Poker held at The Rio. His reward for besting the 8 other players - $10 million. He entered the competition ranked #8 of 9 but managed to work his way to the top after 2 nights of play. Don't feel too bad for 2nd place finisher Felix Stephensen of Norway... he got more than $5 million. A total of 6,683 people entered the competition back in July, paying $10,000 to play. If those stakes are a little too high for you, you can always play free casino games like slots, blackjack, roulette, and video poker on Vegas4Visitors.com.
2. Wynn Sets Bruno Mars and Zedd for New Year's Eve
If you're looking for a good place to party into 2015, you may want to go snap up tickets to the nightclubs at Wynn Las Vegas, which are hosting two of the biggest names in music. Bruno Mars will be appearing with producer/DJ Jermaine Dupri at Tryst Nightclub while EDM superstar DJ Zedd will be spinning at XS. Tickets to Tryst are $100 for men and $50 for women while XS is $150 and $75 respectively. Why pay more for Zedd than for Bruno Mars, who is by most measures a bigger name? Because Mars is just "appearing" at the club - he's not going to be giving a full concert. Read the reviews of Tryst and XS.
1. Gordon Ramsay's British Invasion Continues
A couple of years ago Gordon Ramsay had zero restaurants in Vegas. Now he has three and will have a fourth next spring with the opening of Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips at The Linq promenade. The latest eatery will feature British comfort food like the titular fish and chips plus bangers and mash, chicken planks, sausages, and more. It will be a takeout restaurant only - there will be no (or very limited) seating inside the 740 square foot outlet. Read the reviews of Gordon Ramsay Steak, Gordon Ramsay's Pub & Grill, and Gordon Ramsay BurGR.
Holidays in Vegas
It used to be that Christmas and the weeks leading up to it were the slowest time of the year in Las Vegas, with very little to do in the way of holiday festivities. These days there are still plenty of low cost rooms to be had and you'll find shorter lines at the buffets but there is plenty to do that will put you in the holiday spirit. Here's a sampling:
A must-visit on everyone's list should be the botanical gardens at Bellagio, which get all decked out every year with one of the most eye-popping holiday displays in town. There is usually a giant Christmas tree and plenty of faux-snow, plus more than a few lights and ornaments. The holiday display runs from December 6 through January 4, 2015. Read more about the Bellagio Conservatory.
One of the most iconic Vegas attractions takes on a decidedly holiday spin with the dancing waters choreographed to various Christmas songs. Expect "It's Beginning to Look at Lot Like Christmas," "Santa Baby," and "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" to name a few. The holiday songs will be in the rotation during the month of December. Read more about the Bellagio Fountains
Caesars Palace is getting into the winter spirit with an indoor/outdoor "chalet" complete with an LED lit ice skating rink, fire pits, warm drinks, and more. It's located on the Roman Plaza next to the tent in which Absinthe is performed and will be running from 11am until 11:30pm daily through January 11, 2015. Admission is $20
Cosmopolitan Ice Skating
It's usually too chilly in Vegas in December to go swimming so the Cosmo has decided to embrace that weather reality and turn their pool area into a winter wonderland, complete with an ice staking rink, fire pits, and warm cocktails, s'mores, and even a machine creating snow showers over the area. Mondays feature "Date Skate," with couples specials and holiday movies playing on the marquee; Wednesdays will have resident DJs pumping up the jams; and Thursdays will feature retro music from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The ice skating rink is open now through January 4, 2014 from 3pm until 12am Monday through Friday and 12pm until 12am Saturday and Sunday. Snow effects will happen Thursday through Sunday nights from 6-10pm. You can visit the winter themed area for free but the cost for skating is $15 per person with skate rentals at $5 more.
Crystals at CityCenter Holiday Display
The big mall at CityCenter usually decorates to the nines for the holidays with thousands of seasonal flowers (think poinsettias) and decorative ornaments. The display typically runs during the month of December. Read more about Crystals at CityCenter
Ethel M. Chocolate Factory Holiday Cactus Gardens
With the sweet smell of chocolate wafting in the air, the Ethel M. Chocolate Factory transforms their botanical cactus garden into a winter wonderland with half a million colorful lights adorning the plants. They also feature visits from Santa and local choirs performing carols. The display is on now through January 1 from 5-10pm nightly and is free of charge.
Fremont Street Experience
Glitter Gulch gets wintry in December with the addition of Christmas themed shows on the Viva Vision canopy, holiday concerts on the various stages, and lots of winter themed decorations. The light and sound shows are every hour on the hour after dark; concert acts and times vary. Read more about the Fremont Street Experience
Glittering Lights Las Vegas at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway
More than 2.5 miles of twinkling holiday lights adorn a drive-through spectacle at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It costs $20 per car to drive through regardless of how many people you have inside. The lights are lit now through January 5, 2014 and are open for goggling from 5:30 to 9pm Sunday through Thursday and from 5:30 to 10pm Friday and Saturday. Note that traffic can be a bit of a nightmare around the event area so plan on some extra time. You can get tickets and more information on the event website.
The Great Santa Run
Opportunity Village - a local charity supporting people with learning disabilities - hosts this annual event that draws thousands of marathon runners dressed up like Santa Claus. There is a 5k run and a 1 mile walk plus bands, food, and more. The event this year is on Saturday, December 6 at 8am in Downtown Las Vegas. You can get more info on the Opportunity Village website.
Legends in Concert
Every year the long-running impersonator show gets its festive on by adding a couple of Christmas songs to each of the performer's sets. This means you'll wind up with something like an "Elton John" doing "Rocket Man" and "Jingle Bell Rock." It's silly fun, so why not? Read the review of Legends in Concert
The Linq has announced plans to add a 30-foot high hill behind the High Roller observation wheel that people can go tubing on starting December 5th. It'll be open 4-10pm Mon-Fri and 2-10pm Sat-Sun and will cost $5 per slide or $20 for an all-day pass. Then on December 8, the Linq promenade will be transformed into a winter wonderland complete with holiday decorations, carolers, and snow showers every half-hour in the afternoons and evenings.
Magical Forest at Opportunity Village
More than 3 million lights and holiday displays adorn the Magical Forest, an attraction put on by local charity Opportunity Village. But it isn't just lights... they also have Santa visits, carousel rides, a miniature golf course, carnival games, a train ride, and more spread out across three acres. All of the proceeds go to help people with learning disabilities. The Magical Forest is open now through January 4, 2014 from 5:30 until 9pm Sunday through Thursday and from 5:30 to 10pm Friday and Saturday and costs $11-$20 for adults and $9-18 for kids. You can get more information on the event website.
Sam's Town Mystic Falls
The indoor atrium at Sam's Town on the east side of town gets a holiday makeover with polar bear sculptures, twinkling lights, holiday music, and a Cowboy Santa Claus. It's free and is open daily in the evenings. Read more about Mystic Falls
Scuba Santa at Silverton
When you have a 117,000 gallon aquarium, what you do during the holidays it put a scuba diving Santa Claus in it. Or at least that's what the Silverton does. Kids can bring their wish list and an elf will communicate it to Santa via microphone. I love Las Vegas.
Resort Fee Update: 8 Hotels Raise Fees
Hotels love resort fees. Why? Well, money is a big part of it. United States hotels are expected to rake in more than $2.25 billion in 2014, up from around $2 billion 2012.
The other part is that it allows hotels to advertise lower rates so they can show up higher in search results on sites like Travelocity and Expedia. If they advertise a room for $100 with no fee versus one for $80 and then charge a $25 per night resort fee, which do you think gets more bookings?
Everyone else seems to hate them but as I have been saying for a while now, get used to them - they are here to stay. The only question is how high will they go?
Pretty high if we consider the recently raised resort fees at eight Vegas hotels.
Caesars Entertainment standardized their fee across all their hotels at $25 per night. This meant an increase of between $3 and $5 per night at Bally's, Flamingo, Harrah's, The Linq, Paris, Planet Hollywood, and Rio. This matches what was already in place at Caesars Palace, The Cromwell, and Nobu and equals high end hotels like Wynn, Bellagio, and Aria.
And no, they didn't add any additional services for those extra few bucks.
Even worse, the resort fee is now mandatory even for comped guests unless you are at the Diamond or Seven Stars level in their Total Rewards club. So now a formerly free 4-night stay at Bally's, for instance, is going to cost you $100.
Meanwhile, the Plaza in Downtown Las Vegas has set a January 1 date for an increase in their fee from $12 to $15, making it among the highest in the neighborhood.
As of this writing there are only eight casino-hotels that don't charge resort fees Arizona Charlie's, The California, The Cannery, The Eastside Cannery, The Four Queens, The Fremont, M Resort, and Main Street Station. I'm expecting that at least a few of those are going to fall in the next six months, mostly in the Downtown area.
The next big frontier for the fees will be breaking the $25 per night ceiling that 30 of the major hotel-casinos in Las Vegas are now charging. I think we'll see a hotel like Wynn bump that up by at least a buck or two sooner rather than later.
You can see all of the resort fees charged by the various hotels on the Resort Fees page on Vegas4Visitors.com.
What are the Odds?
You have arrived in Vegas, your bags are tucked in your room, and now your wallet is buring a hole in your pocket, ready to be pulled out in the casino so you can make your millions and retire in style like you deserve. The only question remaining is what game should you win your fortune at? Of course there is no such thing as a sure bet, especially in Vegas, but not all games are created equal in terms of your odds of winning. Some keep more (known as the "hold") than they give back (known as the "payback" or "payout").
Let's start with slot machines, the most popular games in the casino.
Generally speaking, the higher the denomination, the better your odds of winning. For instance, a penny slot machine will return, on average, about 88% of what it takes in. A nickel slot, on the other hand, only keeps about 9% of what it is pumped into it meaning that 91% comes back to the players. Moving up the limit line you have quarters returning about 92%, dollars at around 93%, $5 machines at just under 95%, $25 machines at just over 95%, and $100 machines at around 96% return.
If you've ever played a slot machine you should understand that this doesn't mean that if you drop $100 into a penny machine that you'll get $88 back and that if you put it in a $100 machine you'll get $96 back. What this means is that each machine has a pay cycle, a pre-defined number of spins that constitute the period in which the machine must give back a certain percentage of its intake. This is set by law in Nevada at a minimum of 70%.
So to make the math easy, let's say the pay cycle is 1,000 spins and the payback percentage is 90%. If, over those 1,000 spins the machine takes in $10,000, it must give back $9,000 of it. It could do that in small wins over time - $10 here, $5 there - or it could pay back absolutely nothing for 999 spins and then on that 1,000th pay one lucky person $10,000.
The difference in denominations is really all about ROI for the casino. A penny machine takes up just as much floor space as a dollar machine and takes in less overall money so they hold back more of it to be able to make up for the deficit.
It also makes a difference where that slot machine is located. The Strip pays the worst, with an average of about 91% return on quarter slots whereas that jumps up to about 95% Downtown.
Okay, now you have the one-armed bandits covered, it's time to go play some games at the tables. But wait! There are some big differences here, too.
Your best odds are found at the craps table. If you can find one that pays double odds, the casino hold is less than 1% and even the regular odds tables are only at 1.4%. Baccarat is another good job with the casinos only keeping 1.2% of the money that comes in.
Blackjack, on the other hand, keeps about 2% and roulette holds back about 5%.
Those specialty poker games around the casino usually offer among the worst odds for players. This includes things like Three Card Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold 'em, Let It Ride, and the like, which generally have 3-5% holds for the casino. Throw in the bonus bets like the extra $1 or $5 you have to kick in to get those progressive jackpots and the odds get even worse.
Of course in the end the only way to make sure you don't lose any money in the casino is to not go into one.
Show Review: Mac King
I have been saying this for years, but every time I go back to Mac King's Comedy Magic show at Harrah's I have to say it again: this is one of the best shows in Las Vegas and without a doubt the best entertainment value in town.
This was my fourth or fifth time seeing it - I have lost count - but every single time I am entertained in ways that shows that are twice the size and five times the price don't. He keeps the show fresh with new comedy material and illusions but even the stuff I have seen before still amuses and amazes. How the hell does he get the goldfish in the brandy snifter?
You'll note that the title puts the word Comedy before Magic and this is at once important and deceptive. It's important because King puts humor at the forefront, drawing his audiences in with a genial, good-natured comedic style that delivers out-loud laughs. It's deceptive because it can make you not notice how brilliant of an illusionist he is.
Mac King eschews the grandiose smoke and mirrors type of magic that most of the acts in this town have beaten into a virtual parody of the genre. Really, is anyone impressed by the levitating showgirl or whirling blades of death anymore? I'm always looking for the wires and the hydraulics and the sleight of hand with the big spectacle illusions instead of being impressed by the overall affect. Watching Mac King make a goldfish appear in a brandy snifter or making a supposedly burned $100 bill reappear in a surprising place is more entertaining than whatever gigantic thing David Copperfield is making disappear this week.
Of course the tricks that King performs are nothing ground breaking - the mysterious rope that regenerates itself, a host of card tricks and other sleight of hand - but this style of up close magic will make you look at the art form with a fresh appreciation.
A couple of examples: King gets a pair of hapless audience members on stage for an extended bit that involved playing cards and rain poncho that provides him with "powers of invisibility." It sounds silly and it is but it had the audience rolling in the proverbial aisles and surprised everyone - perhaps as much because of the fact that magic could still be surprising. Another bit involves a Quaker Oats cannister, a wadded up ball of paper, and... well, I don't want to spoil the punchline of that one but it's fun and funny, trust me.
And that, more than anything, is what makes Mac King's show so terrific. By infusing a healthy dose of laughter into the proceedings, King takes away your inhibitions and lets you enjoy the entertainment of magic again. After all, it's hard to be suspicious when you're laughing that much.
So, even before we start talking about the price, King's show is a winner. But add to the mix that low ticket cost for this much fun and it's a no-brainer. Plus, you can often find discount coupons in local magazines or at the hotel that get the cost even lower.
There are a bunch of shows I have seen multiple times and usually I start to grow tired of them - the Blue Man Group is a good example of one that I loved the first time I saw it but by the third time was like, "Okay, they're blue, I get it." I think I could see Mac King another five or six times and never grow tired of it. If that's not magic, I don't know what is.