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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
December 8, 2014
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Readers' Choice Awards Reminder
The 2014 Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards are coming up and I just wanted to remind you to vote in the Readers' Choice portion of the program if you haven't already. The categories are Best Hotels, Shows, Attractions, Restaurants, Buffet, Nightlife, and Casinos and you can vote in one of two ways. Either go to the Vegas4Visitors Facebook page and comment in the posts that are up for various categories (click here for Hotels, click here for Shows, and click here for Attractions) or you can just send an email to email@example.com. The results will be revealed in a few weeks!
9. Hash House Planning 5th Restaurant
If you haven't been to Hash House a Go Go in Las Vegas, you only have yourself to blame for missing out on what are some of the best breakfasts (and other stuff, but mainly breakfasts) in the world. Now they are planning on opening a 5th location in Vegas... well, actually in nearby Henderson on South Stephanie Street, not too far from Green Valley Ranch. This joins the existing locations at The Linq, The Plaza, The Rio, and the original at 6800 W. Sahara. In case you are wondering, the location that used to be at the M Resort closed when they opened the one at The Rio. Read the full review of Hash House a Go Go.
8. Vegas Man Wins $14 Million Megabucks
Sorry folks... if you were dreaming of winning the Megabucks jackpot when in Vegas, someone beat you to it. A Vegas man, who has chosen to remain anonymous, won $14 million on a Megabucks machine at the Rampart Casino, located on the northwest side of town at the JW Marriott. But don't worry... the jackpot resets and has started over at $10 million... not shabby. The record jackpot ever won was at Excalibur in 2003 when a California man invested about $100 in a Megabucks machine and walked away with more than $39 million. Read more about the JW Marriott and Rampart Casino.
7. MGM Arena to Open in April of 2016
All that construction happening behind New York-New York is the beginnings of what will be a 20,000 seat sports and special events arena, which now has an official opening date: April of 2016. What, specifically, will be happening in the arena once it opens its doors is still unknown although rumors of a big boxing match and/or a series of superstar music concerts is being bandied about. Also still in the mix are the rumors of a new National Hockey League franchise team making the Vegas arena its home. The $375 million project is a being built through a partnership between MGM Resorts and AEG and will be part of The Park project that is transforming the front of NYNY and Monte Carlo with a series of new restaurants, stores, and plazas. Read more about The Park.
6. SLS Owner Denied Full Gaming License
Nightclub impresario Sam Nazarian's bid to become a casino magnate has hit another snag with news last week that the Nevada Gaming Control Board has denied his application to manage the gaming aspects of his new SLS Las Vegas hotel. Regulators were concerned about his affiliation with some less-than-reputable folks (read: felons) and his admitted drug use on a trip to Mexico earlier this year. A partner in the company is running the casino at the former Sahara while Nazarian is being allowed to run all other pieces of the property. He'll be able to reapply for a casino license next year. Read about the SLS Las Vegas.
5. Vegas Airport CLEARs Up
McCarran International in Las Vegas has joined a handful of nationwide airports that has installed the new CLEAR biometric platform, a system that is designed to speed up getting through security when you are flying. You pay an annual fee of $180 and go to a local ID center to get your fingerprints and iris image captured. They do a background check to make sure you qualify and then when you go to the airport, instead of standing in line for a person to review your ID and boarding pass, you walk up to a kiosk, scan your fingerprint and eye print, and then proceed directly to the baggage scan, skipping any lines. If you have TSA Pre-Check, you can still use the benefits of that, which include leaving your shoes and belt on when you pass through the screening. CLEAR is currently available at airports in about a dozen cities include San Francisco, San Jose, Denver, Dallas-Fort-Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Orlando, and Miami. To find out more, visit clearme.com.
4. Rumors of an Idol/Dance Mash-Up Show in Vegas
Fans of "American Idol" and/or "So You Think You Can Dance" are probably familiar with the name Nigel Lythgoe, the former executive producer of the former and the co-creator and judge on the latter. According to several reports, Lythgoe has been in Vegas shopping a production that would combine some of the most popular contestants from those two TV shows plus some from "America's Best Dance Crew" into one live variety show package. There are even rumors that former "Idol" judge Paula Abdul might be a part of the show. There is no confirmation of any hotel picking up the show yet but most of the gossip seems to be focusing on The Westgate (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton).
3. Giada Restaurant Expanding
Just how popular is Giada de Laurentiis' restaurant at The Cromwell? You can get a table there with about a week's notice if you are willing to dine at 5:30 or 9pm. Want to go at 7pm? How does a 6-8 week wait sound? In addition to expanding to now serve breakfast and lunch, the restaurant itself is expanding to increase the size of the main dining room and add a second, private dining room with a patio. The work should be underway any day now and is expected to be complete by sometime in the spring. Read the review of Giada.
2. Wet 'n' Wild Offering Free Season Passes
In the holiday spirit of gift-giving, Wet 'n' Wild Las Vegas is giving away 2015 Silver Season Passes every day on its Facebook page during its "12 Days of Giveaways" campaign. It is running now through December 16th and involves posts each morning that highlight fun reasons why moms should get a Wet 'n' Wild Season Pass. Under each day's reason, there will be a link to enter the drawing to receive two 2015 Silver Season Passes to the park, totaling 24 passes given away. Read all the rules on their Facebook page and read my review of Wet 'n' Wild on Vegas4Visitors.com.
1. Bellagio Holiday Display Is Now Open
Of the five rotating seasonal displays in the Bellagio Conservatory, the holiday/winter spectacular usually outdoes them all and this year appears to be no exception. The exhibition features a walk-through snow globe, floral versions of polar bears, giant ornaments, mechanical penguins, a model train set, and a 42-foot tall Christmas tree as the centerpiece. It's open 24 hours a day through January 3 when it will get switched over to the Chinese New Year exhibit, usually a close second in terms of its eye-popping wonder. Read about the Bellagio Conservatory.
Resort Fee Update: $30 Per Night Resort Fees Hit Vegas
Some people scoffed when I predicted that resort fees in Vegas would soon break the $25 mark where they have topped out for most of the bigger, nicer hotels. Sometimes I hate being right.
MGM Resorts has gone first in the great resort fee war, raising its rates at its top tier hotels by $5, to an astounding $30 plus tax per night. The new fees are now in effect at Aria, Bellagio, Delano, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, Mirage, and Vdara meaning that if you stay in one of those hotels, you need to add $32.48 (the resort fee and tax) per night to whatever rate you think you are paying for the room.
But they didn't stop there. They also raised the fees at all of their other properties with Luxor, Monte Carlo, and New York-New York going up to $25 per night ($28 with tax); Excalibur up to $20 ($22.40 with tax); and Circus Circus up to $15 ($16.80).
Mandalay Bay's rate for the night was $165. Add in the regular taxes plus the resort fee and the taxes on that and the total for the night came to $217.28, about a 32% increase over the advertised cost of the room.
MGM Grand was offering their standard room at a remarkably low $70 per night. Add in taxes and the resort fee and the total is $110.88, an insane 58% higher than what they are saying the room will cost on their rate calendar.
Over at Monte Carlo, they are advertising $52 per night rooms. Factor in taxes and their new $25 per night fee and you come up with a total of $86.24, 65% more than the standard room rate.
Of course this is not just limited to MGM Resorts hotels. Caesars Entertainment recently raised rates at all of its hotels to $25 per night plus tax. The Flamingo is offering rooms on that same 1/29 date for a bargain basement $37 per night. But once you throw in the taxes and fees the total comes to $69.44, perilously close to double what they say the room is going to cost.
Where is it going to go from here? My prediction is that other high-end hotels are going to fairly quickly match MGM Resorts $30 per night number so be watching for announcements from places like Wynn/Encore, The Venetian/Palazzo, and the Cosmopolitan. You may even see Caesars Entertainment going back to the well on hotels like Caesars Palace, The Cromwell, and Nobu.
I'm also expecting that the last few remaining holdouts will probably start instituting resort fees soon, with the prime candidates being The California, Main Street Station, and The Fremont in Downtown.
You can check the resort fees for all of the major Las Vegas hotels on the Resort Fees page on Vegas4Visitors.com.
Shakeup in the Stars at Caesars
For the last several years, the lineup of headliners at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace has been fairly stable - Celine Dion, Elton John, Shania Twain, and Rod Stewart traded dates, filling the room on about 300 nights of the year.
But with Celine on a break to deal with her husband's cancer recurrence and Shania Twain moseying on to other pastures, the Colosseum's calendar had gotten a lot more open - that is until last week when the first major announcement of a new headlining act at the hotel was announced.
Country superstars Reba McEntire and a reunited duo Brooks and Dunn will be sharing the stage in a country-combo concert that is expected to heavily feature their greatest hits and some new tunes. The show, called "Reba, Brooks & Dunn: Together in Vegas" is expected to run for at least 24 shows a year for two years although the deal leaves open the possibility of adding more if the demand for tickets outpaces availability.
That is a distinct possibility. Reba McEntire is one of the best-selling music artists of any genre having sold more than 80 million albums. During Brooks and Dunn's 20 year career they had 20 number one country singles and another 19 in the top 10. They broke up as a duo in 2010 so this reunion is quite an event for their fans who made their tours some of the top-grossing concerts in the United States.
The first set of dates starts in June of 2015 and tickets are on sale now but you better act fast if you want to attend - they are going very quickly.
But the country trio is not the only news coming out of the Colosseum. It is expected that another big name pop artist will be added to the rotation with an announcement sometime right after the first of the year. The two names being bandied about most often right now in the gossip-sphere are Jennifer Lopez and Katy Perry, but everybody is playing it very close to the vest right now so it's all just rumors at this point.
They will need to do something to fill those empty nights, though. According to reports published last week, Celine Dion has told Caesars that she will be taking off even more time than expected. Originally she was planning on coming back in March of 2015 but that got pushed back to May and now may be even further out. Nothing is official but it'll probably be awhile before she returns to the stage in Vegas or anywhere else for that matter.
Nightclub Review: Drai's
Pack up your club clothes, put away the body glitter, and set down your overpriced cocktail, the Vegas nightclub war is officially over: Drai's at The Cromwell has officially won.
Part of it is because this is the newest party place in town and so that automatically wins it some sort of cachet, but the bigger part of it is that it's a fantastic space with a deliriously over-the-top atmosphere and the kind of energy that you can't fake. Where other clubs are dark and intense, this one is light and open and fun. It's the kind of place you want to hang out, dance, drink, and have a good time.
The place is named after nightclub impresario Victor Drai, who started with a club in Hollywood and then came to Vegas in 1997 with Drai's restaurant in the basement of what was then Barbary Coast. Late at night (or early in the morning depending on how you want to look at it) it transformed into Drai's After Hours nightclub and became one of the most popular spots in town to party until dawn.
When the hotel with Drai's closed for its renovation into The Cromwell, a huge effort went into creating the ultimate party spot. They added several stories on the top floor of the hotel with a massive rooftop pool, two levels of private cabanas, and an indoor/outdoor, multi-level nightclub space that overlooks the whole thing. As if that weren't enough, they built an entirely new structure on the side of The Cromwell just to support the oversized pool deck and to house the elevators that ferry people to the club.
Once you get up there, the space is dramatic. The indoor part evokes a theater, with tiers of VIP seating and the DJ booth all cascading down to the massive dance floor. Where the stage would be is a giant opening that leads to the outdoor pool and cabana area, all of which becomes a part of the nightclub. It's a lot better lit than most Vegas nightclubs and so you get a really good sense of the space and how gorgeous it is, especially from that outside area and its views of The Strip and the Bellagio Fountains.
The sound, lighting, and special effects systems are top of the line, enveloping you in a whirl of motion and energy. It's a bit overwhelming, especially on the packed dance floor, but that's what the kids like these days. Music is a little bit of everything - the night I was there I heard everything from pop to hip hop to straight up high energy EDM and back again all within the space of an hour. As a former nightclub DJ (back when it was much less sexy) I really appreciate the genre busting mix as opposed to one non-stop heavy base thump soundtrack.
The lines are long and the crowd is huge, packing every single square inch of space on the typical night. It is mostly the younger, party set but a more relaxed one. Other mega-clubs in Vegas have an almost aggressive air about them (I'm looking at you Hakkasan) but here it was like everyone just wanted to have a good time and not care about the poser games that happen elsewhere.
Prices are, as you might expect, very high. Although you can get around it if you are a woman or a local, most tourist guys will have to pay at least a $40 cover. Drink prices will run you $10-$20 depending on what poison you pick and if you want a VIP booth you're going to have to pay anywhere from a couple of grand to many, many grand for the privilege.
If that's not extravagant enough for you, you could also get your own fireworks display set off from the rooftop pool deck. Basically you get to design and then set off the pyrotechnics, along with a VIP booth and bottles of champagne. Costs range between about $20,000 and $737,000, the latter of which includes a private, chartered 737 jet to fly you and up to 100 of your friends to Vegas, a 3 1/2 minute fireworks show, and 100 bottles of Dom Perignon. The things people do with their money...
Drai's is undeniably the club of the moment but with a package and presentation like this it deserves for that moment to last for a long time.
Las Vegas History: Binion's Horseshoe
The property at 128 Fremont Street had a lot of different incarnations over the years leading up to 1951 when it became Binion's Horseshoe. The hotel portion opened in 1932 as the Apache, most notable for being the first building in Las Vegas to have an elevator. The casino was also called The Apache and then later The Western Casino. In 1945 it became the SS Rex Club and then in 1947 the Eldorado Club. Through all this the hotel remained The Apache.
Benny Binion was a well-known mobster in Texas, effectively running the organized crime families in Dallas. Although he was never convicted, it is believed that Binion killed several people and was involved in everything from moonshine to illegal gambling. After the war ended, the Chicago mafia made a successful move on Texas and Benny Binion moved west to Las Vegas.
After buying into the Las Vegas Club, Binion purchased the Apache Hotel and the Eldorado Casino, renaming the latter Binion's Horseshoe - the hotel would retain the Apache name into the 1960s.
The Horseshoe became popular with serious gamblers, drawn by the high limits betting action that Binion pioneered. No other casino in Vegas could match the bets Binion was willing to take although most tried to reach the bar that Binion kept moving.
Besides high stakes, Binion was at the forefront of a lot of casino innovations that we take for granted today. According to legend, free drinks were mainly only offered to high rollers but the Horseshoe was the first to offer free drinks to all players regardless of what they were wagering.
But Benny Binion's reign over his property was short lived. He lost his gambling license in 1951 shortly after the Horseshoe opened and was sentenced to five years in prison in 1953 for tax evasion. Binion sold his stake in the casino to pay for his legal debts.
The Binion family regained controlling interest of Binion's Horseshoe in 1957 and although Benny, now released from jail, could not formally run the place because of his criminal record, he was the de facto boss.
In 1970, Binion created one of the most enduring gambling legacies of all time: the World Series of Poker. The first tournament was invitation only and the winner was determined by secret ballot. By 1973 the series was open to anyone who had the $10,000 to buy in - there were 13 players. At it's peak in 2006 there were nearly 9,000 entrants.
The Horseshoe property remained pretty much the same all the way until 1988 when the neighboring Mint hotel and casino was purchased and incorporated into Binion's. The tall hotel tower was original part of The Mint and you can still recognize the border between the two properties in the casino - what used to be The Mint is a few steps higher than the Binion's portion.
Benny Binion died in 1989 of heart failure and a protracted battle began for control of the casino between several of Binion's children, Jack, Ted, and Becky.
Ted, who had been acting as the casino manager, took the lead until 1996 when he was officially banned from even entering the casino by the Gaming Control Board who suspected him of mob ties and drug use. Sister Becky Behnen took on a controlling interest in 1998 after Ted died.
Behnen was unsuccessful at running the property and it sank into debt and was unable to pay bills and meet payroll and other employee cost responsibilities. Federal regulators stepped in and seized the property on January 9, 2004. The property closed.
Binion's was purchased out of bankruptcy by Harrah's Entertainment but they only wanted rights to the Horseshoe name and the World Series of Poker. They turned around and sold the Binion's hotel and casino to MTR Gaming on March 11, 2004. After some minor remodeling, the casino and hotel reopened in April of 2004 as simply Binion's.
MTR sold the property to TLC Casino Enterprises, the company that owned neighboring Four Queens on March 7, 2008. TLC had big plans for the property including a new hotel tower but the global recession not only stopped the expansion plans, it forced the shutdown of the hotel entirely. The casino remained open but the hotel stopped accepting guests on December 14, 2009.
There are rumors that the hotel will get a major remodeling and reopen at some point but that has not been confirmed by the owners yet.