MORE VEGAS INFO
VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
March 9, 2015
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Cosmo Drops Table Play Rewards
Casinos are looking for ways to maximize their profits and it is looking like squeezing the rewards you get through the players' club is one way to do that. Take the Cosmopolitan for example. A recent change in their Identity club removes the ability to earn points while playing table games, a worrisome development that could spread to other casinos in town. Points are still accumulated through slot play as long as you use your card but if you play blackjack or craps you won't earn anything on your account so don't even bother showing your card when you sit down. Read more about the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
9. Peppermill Staying Put
With all of the action happening on the North Strip around Convention Center Drive - the implosion of the Clarion and the impending closure and demolition of The Riviera - some people were worried about the iconic Peppermill restaurant and lounge. The blast-from-the-past bar has been a staple in Vegas since 1971 and you know how Vegas loves to blow up old stuff. Well, fear not. The Doumani family that has co-owned the place since it opened now fully owns the building and the land and head Lorenzo Doumani says the restaurant is 100% safe from being swept up in the redevelopment frenzy in the area. Interestingly, Doumani is the guy that had the Clarion imploded and plans to build a new hotel on the land. Read more about the Peppermill.
8. Bellagio Revamps Sports Book
If you're looking for a comfortable place to watch (and bet on) the game, you may want to check out the newly redesigned race and sports book at Bellagio. They have upgraded the furnishings and the technology in the room, putting in casual lounge-style seating instead of rows of traditional desks. Updated TVs and interactive tables complete the upgrades. Read more about Bellagio.
7. Wynn's Dancing with the Stars Odds
Wynn Las Vegas Race and Sports Book director Johnny Avello has unveiled his opening odds for who will win this season's Dancing with the Stars competition on ABC. Leading the pack at 4:1 odds is Nastia Liukin to which I say, who? Oh... I guess she's a championship winning gymnast. Thank you Wikipedia. Right on her heels at 5:1 odds is Redfoo, who is the guy from that group who had that one hit song that you'd prefer not to remember because it'll be stuck in your head all day. You're welcome. The people I actually have heard of - legendary R&B singer Patti LaBelle and actress and future Vegas headliner Suzanne Somers (apparently I'm every old) are coming in mid-pack in the odds at 20:1 and 14:1 respectively. As usual, the odds are just for fun - you are not allowed to place wagers on shows like this in Vegas. Read more about Wynn Las Vegas.
6. Miley's Wax Figure to Debut on a Wrecking Ball
Singer and provocateur Miley Cyrus is getting her own wax figure at Madame Tussaud's Las Vegas but in typical Miley fashion it's going to make quite an entrance. In a nod to her hit song "Wrecking Ball," the figure will be hoisted atop a 130-foot high crane on a wrecking ball, which will also be made of wax. The whole thing weighs more than 200 pounds and took six months to create. It will debut on Monday, March 9 at 9am outside of The Venetian on the Doge's Palace canal bridge and then be moved inside to the attraction's music room. Read the review of Madame Tussaud's Las Vegas.
5. High Roller Not Riding as High as Predicted
It may be the tallest observation wheel in the world, but Las Vegas' High Roller is observing less than stratospheric passenger counts. Before it was built as a part of the $550 million makeover of the Imperial Palace (and an alley) into The Linq hotel and shopping promenade, the parent company Caesars was predicting upwards of 10,000 riders per day. In an earnings call, the CEO revealed that ridership is only about half that. Still, 5,000 per day is nothing to sneeze at and they have plans to appeal to more corporate functions and groups to bump up those numbers in the coming months. Read the review of the High Roller.
4. Lion Habitat Threatened
The MGM lions just can't cut a break. After being kicked out of their home at the MGM Grand to make way for a nightclub, the lions greeted the public at the Lion Habitat Ranch on the south side of town near M Resort along with other animals rescued when the Las Vegas Zoo shut down. Now the facility is threatened with closure by the county that says that the property is only zoned for lions and none of the other exotic animals that live there like a giraffe or emus. The owner of the facility is hoping a zoning change can be worked out with the county to allow it to remain open but if not it will have to shut its doors to the public and relocate. Read the review of the Lion Habitat Ranch.
3. Learn How to Gamble with Jeff Civillico
So you're primarily a slots player but you look at the table games in the casino longingly and wish you knew how to play. Linq headliner Jeff Civillico is here for you. The comedy juggler is starring in a series of 4-minute videos featured on the Caesars Entertainment YouTube channel giving quick overviews of craps, blackjack, roulette, and Texas Hold 'em. They won't make you an expert but they have the basics covered and Civillico makes an engaging host for the series. Learn How to Play Craps, How to Play Roulette, How to Play Blackjack, and this video about How to Play Poker:
2. Vegas Country Music Fest Announces Lineup
The Route 91 Harvest Festival will be returning to Las Vegas in October and it is already lined up a pretty impressive array of talent. The three-day festival will feature Florida Georgia Line, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, Jake Owen, Mark Chestnutt, and more taking the main stage while a series of up and coming country artists will occupy the "Next from Nashville" stage. There will also be the requisite festival food and other entertainment, all being staged at the MGM Resorts Village, which is the very fancy name for what is basically a parking lot across the street from Luxor. It runs October 2-4 and tickets go on sale March 13 at $199 for a standard 3-day pass and $349 for the VIP experience that includes shaded lounges, air-conditioned bathrooms, and complimentary massages. More info at rt91harvest.com
1. IRS Proposes Taxing Slot Wins Above $600
As if the IRS wasn't hated enough by pretty much everyone, now they are looking to piss off slot machine players as well by proposing lowering the limit at which winnings are reported from the current $1,200 down to $600. Right now, if you hit a jackpot above $1,200 you have to get a hand pay and a 1099 miscellaneous form that must be filed when you do your taxes. The government takes 25% of your winnings (so a $1,200 jackpot is really only $900). Anything under $1,200 is yours to keep - this is why some machines have their highest payouts set at $1,199. This new rule would mean any jackpot above $600 would require a hand pay, a form, and taxes. The proposal has entered a 90 day review period to allow the casino industry to comment and they are fighting it hard, worrying it will hurt business. Stay tuned.
Resort Fee Report
Over the last few months, dozens of hotels in Las Vegas have raised their resort fees and the trend does not seem to be slowing down. Three major hotels have just jacked up their nightly fees including The Venetian, The Palazzo, and Trump International. All of those properties were at $25 per night and are now at $29 plus tax, which winds up being a $32.48 add on to your nightly bill if you stay there.
The move is not at all surprising and in fact I have been predicting it for weeks. Every other high-end hotel in town like Bellagio, Wynn, and Aria have raised their fees to $29 in the last few months so the only shock about The Venetian and Palazzo raising theirs is that it took this look to do it.
And also not shocking is the fact that there is no additional benefit thrown in for the extra $4 per night. The resort fees still only cover the basics like Internet and gym access.
In addition, there have been increases in the fees at other hotels in Vegas that I missed along the way. The Plaza Hotel in Downtown Las Vegas bumped up their fee to $15 per night, The Silverton increased theirs to $12.99 per night, and the Aliante Hotel on the north side of town also raised theirs to $12.99 per night. I don't know exactly when these increases happened but I'm pretty sure it's been within the last few months.
The funniest - and by funny I mean dumb - increase thought has to be the one at The Riviera, which is now at $17 up from $15 before. Yes, the hotel is closing its doors forever in May and yes the hotel is kind of a dump and no they have not done anything to improve the place but they are still going to squeeze out every last dime from the people who walk through those doors while they are open.
The good news is that no new resort fees have been added since I last did a full report. The hotels that haven't been charging one are still fee free as of this writing including The California, The Cannery, the Eastside Cannery, The Four Queens, The Fremont, M Resort, and Main Street Station. How long they will hold out is unknown but I expect at least a few these to succumb to the lure of resort fee revenue this year.
The lowest resort fee at hotels on The Strip is $15 plus tax per night at Circus Circus. The highest is at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, which recently claimed the outrageous crown by instituting a $30 per night plus tax fee.
You can get the full rundown of charges at every major hotel in town on the Resort Fee page on Vegas4Visitors.com.
Las Vegas for Families
No matter what you may have heard, Las Vegas is not a very family friendly town. Sure there are roller coasters and animal exhibits but there are a lot more strip clubs, topless shows, gambling opportunities, places to drink, places to smoke, and places for general debauchery than there are amusements for the wee ones. In addition, most major hotels are no longer offering any discount for children staying in their parents' room, so you'll pay an addition $25-40 per night for the visit if you go above double occupancy in your room. Although some families have made trips and come away with a successful vacation, I've heard from many more that say they'll never do it again.
Of course sometimes you don't have the option to leave the kids with grandma, so if your vacation plans have to include the offspring, the lists below should help guide you toward your best bets for having the best Vegas vacation with your family.
Family Friendly Hotels
The following hotels offer the most choices for kids including pools, arcades, and attractions, while still offering the grown-up fun of a casino. Please note, however, that many of these hotels still offer "adult" oriented entertainment including gambling, drinking, shows that are not appropriate for children.
Although most adults would rather stick needles in their eyes than step foot in this place, it really is the only good option for parents with children on The Strip. It has the The Adventuredome amuseument park, a Circus Circus Midway, and lots of other family friendly entertainment and dining.
Sure, they have a male strip show and a restaurant where foul-mouthed waiters insult you, but they also have a full game arcade and the kid favorite Tournament of Kings medieval dinner theater experience.
The roller coaster and large game arcade make this one a decent option. Plus there's the big Hershey's Chocolate World store out front, which any kid will love. You may not after they get all hopped up on sugar, but...
This locals' favorite hotel has an 18-screen movie theater, a bowling alley, a Kids Tyme play center, a video game arcade, and an events arena plus lots of low-cost dining options.
Located a few miles south of The Strip, this locals' hotel has an equestrian events center, two bowling alleys, a movie theater, and more.
Located on the far east side of town, the drive is a bit of a bummer but the hotel has a movie theater, a video game arcade, and a Kids Quest play center so that may make up for it.
This sister to Boulder on the north side of town has a similar lineup of amenities including a movie theater, a bowling alley, a video game arcade, and a Kids Quest play center.
Similar to corporate siblings Boulder and Texas above, this hotel on the southeast side of town has a movie theater, bowling, video game arcade, and play center plus an amphitheater for concerts and events.
Las Vegas also has dozens of non-casino hotels that will allow you to be close to the action but not right in the middle of all of it. Check out the list of alternate lodging in Las Vegas.
Family Friendly Entertainment
The following attractions and shows are the ones that I think kids would enjoy, although you know your kids better than I do so be sure to investigate them thoroughly before attending.
Family friendly comedy and "how did he do that?" illusions make this a great show for adults and kids.
The comedy juggler's manic energy is like catnip to kids and the host goes out of his way to make sure they are entertained and included in the show.
The weird antics of the men in blue will probably confuse smaller children but its just offbeat enough that older kids should be entertained.
The hip-hop dance crew is a favorite among older kids and adults alike.
Although some of the imagery might be a little disturbing for younger kids, the dreamy stunts and good-natured clowing around should entertain even the most jaded of teenagers.
Older kids will probably know who Michael Jackson was and will probably enjoy this tribute to his music.
Horses and knights and fair maidens. Older kids will roll their eyes but younger ones will eat it up.
This indoor amusement park has roller coasters, laser tag, and plenty of other diversions to keep the kids entertained for hours.
Although it only runs for a few minutes, the iconic fountains will keep even small children amused.
This is Vegas' way of teaching children how to gamble - put down money and you might win something. Still it's a good diversion and there are free circus acts to watch as well.
This water park on the east side of town has plenty of wet rides for kids of all ages.
The best family attraction in Vegas is primarily designed for younger kids with hands on exhibits that mix fun with education, but older ones may find themselves drawn into the action as well.
There's a big play area in the center of this shopping complex that younger kids will love and everyone is amused by the fire breathing praying mantis sculpture out front.
Go fast in go karts. Obviously not for small kids.
Recently relocated to the Town Square Shopping center, this facility has tons of video games, a computer game lab, a bowling alley, and more. Plus, bonus! They have a bar for the adults.
As long as your kids (or you) aren't afraid of heights, the views from the world's tallest observation wheel are pretty cool.
Sure, most kids won't know who KISS is, but they should still be entertained by the day-glo madness of this indoor golf course.
Although the go-karts are the primary attraction, they also have amusements including slides and an arcade.
The famous faces cast in wax should be interesting to most kids, especially the Marvel super heroes section complete with a 4-D theater attraction.
Adventurous kids will love this extreme coaster that winds its way in and around the Gotham themed hotel.
If your kids love animals, this is the best furry and finned friend attraction in town with an opportunity to get up close with dolphins and other exotic animals.
Another one that only last for a few minutes, but the faux-lava show is still spectacle sized entertainment that should have your kids buzzing.
This might be a little too retro for today's kids, but the playable pinball and video games will probably amuse the heck out of adults.
Some of the animals at this aquarium and zoo might be scary to smaller kids (and some adults) but for the most part the younger set should love this place.
The indoor trampoline center will literally have your kids bouncing off the walls - in a good way.
Older kids who crave thrills will love this zip line running down Fremont Street. Adults will want to go at night for the cool lights but if you have kids take them during the day because things can get a little rowdy on Fremont after dark.
A really cool interactive experience about nature, ecology, and water has enough whiz-bang stuff to keep older kids interested and the animal exhibits should appeal to younger ones.
If your kids have a taste for extreme adventure, try out these high flying thrill rides more than 1,000 feet up in the air.
Another water park, this one on the west side of town.
Childcare & Babysitting
Most major hotels will be able to arrange childcare or babysitting services for you or refer you to reputable companies that service their facilities. This eliminates the worry of trying to investigate an unknown on your own.
Many hotels also have onsite childcare facilities. These include Boulder, Sunset, and Texas Stations located elsewhere around town. Be sure to ask what facilities or services are available when you make your hotel reservation.
Casino Cage Match: The Cromwell vs. Nobu Hotel Las Vegas
The question I get asked the most is some variation of "what's the best hotel in Vegas?" That's a tough one to answer since it totally depends on why you are going, when you are going, and how much you are paying (which can vary dramatically from week to week at any given hotel). On a macro level, comparing the vastly different hotels is tough but when you narrow it down to specific examples it gets easier and more entertaining.
Hence the Casino Cage Match, where I pit two similar hotels against one another and compare what they have to offer in several categories, eventually leading to a winner.
This edition is going to look at the two latest boutique luxury hotels in Vegas, The Cromwell and Nobu Las Vegas at Caesars Palace. Both have under 200 rooms, both are going after the luxury crowd, and both often have sky high prices. So which one is best? Let's see how they stack up...
Both hotels are located on the Center Strip, right across the street from one another in the heart of the action so this category is a tie.
Nobu is a revamp of one of the hotel towers at Caesars Palace and it is located in the middle of that hotel's sprawl. Getting there means using one of the valets or the parking garage and then schlepping your luggage to the check in, which can be quite a walk depending on where you came in from.
The Cromwell's tiny footprint as a standalone hotel means that getting from your car or the parking garage or even walking from The Strip takes a lot less time and footsteps.
The clear winner here is The Cromwell.
Both hotels have very small check in areas, with Nobu's located in the elevator bay of the hotel tower and The Cromwell's located in a corner off the casino. The layout of the Nobu design means that people trying to get to their rooms often have to step around the line of people and their luggage trying to check in and vice versa - it can be a pain. The Cromwell, on the other hand, has its own dedicated area and even a private check-in for VIP guests.
The winner again is The Cromwell.
The Nobu rooms are a bit bigger and much better lit, but the furnishings go for a Zen minimalist effect, which comes across as a little bland and boring. The Cromwell's rooms are small and dark but they have a much more interesting design aesthetic. Done with flavors of a New York City loft, they have with wood floors, fun artwork, games, luggage inspired furnishings, and more.
I wish they had more light and floor space but I have to give this one to The Cromwell.
This is not really a fair comparison because Nobu doesn't have its own dedicated casino but has all of Caesars Palace's gambling options just steps from the elevators. The Cromwell has a casino but it is very small, not terribly interesting in its decor, and limited in its options. True, several other casinos are right next door, but that doesn't count in the Cage Match.
The victor here is Nobu.
Hotel Amenities & Facilities
Again, here, Nobu has everything that Caesars Palace has, which is way too long of a list to detail here from restaurants to shopping to shows to pools and more. The Cromwell, on the other hand, has one restaurant, a few nightclubs and bars, a pool, and that's about it.
Nobu wins this category by a mile.
Cost & Value
Both hotels are outrageously expensive, usually coming in well above $200 per night plus a $29 per night resort fee. So really, this one comes down to value - what do you get for the money you are paying? Because of that, I have to tip this one to Nobu because of all the Caesars Palace services and amenities that come with the room rate, which far outweigh what is offered at The Cromwell.
Both hotels won three categories and tied in another, so the Casino Cage Match between The Cromwell and Nobu ends in a tie! If you want to break the tie, all you have to do is decide, which of the categories above is more important to you. If you want cool rooms and an easy time getting in and out of the property, go with The Cromwell. If you want a lot of stuff to do without having to leave the hotel, go with Nobu.
Vegas4Visitors Museum Presents: The History of the Thunderbird/Silverbird
The Thunderbird was the brainchild of casino magnate Marion Hicks, who owned El Cortez at the time, and Clifford Jones who happened to be the Lieutenant Governor of Nevada. As with most hotels of the era, the mafia was most likely involved in the development of the property, which started with a $2 million land purchase. They secured the acreage on the east side of The Strip across the street from what is Circus Circus today but in 1946 there were only four other major resorts: El Rancho, which was more or less across the street, the Frontier, which was across the street and south a bit, and The Flamingo, which was further to the south.
Construction started in 1947 and the hotel opened September 2, 1948.
The name and mascot were based on a Navajo legend. While the thunderbird appeared in the mythology of many indigenous cultures as a wrathful spirit who controlled the weather, to the Navajo people it was a bringer of happiness and good fortune. So naturally that should get slapped on a casino (and later a Ford). The hotel's namesake was represented in a rainbow hued neon sign resembling a modern, angry bird on top of a three story observation tower near the porte corchere that emitted smoke from its beak. The macho design was intended to be an avian counterpoint to The Flamingo's more feminine style.
Typical of hotels of the ear, it had a western theme. There were giant murals of scenes with cowboys and cactus surrounded by wagon wheel furniture and lots of rough-hewn wood. Restaurants and lounges were given Indian names and design motifs including the Pow Wow showroom, the Wigwam room, the Navajo room. Three big fireplaces in the main area gave the place a homey feel. The 76 hotel rooms were in a low wing that stretched back from the main building located near the street. There was a pool, several restaurants, the aforementioned showroom, and a sizeable casino.
The hotel got off to a splashy and yet nearly disastrous opening, at least for the owners. The event was attended by the movers and shakers of Las Vegas at the time including owners of competing Vegas resorts like Jake Katleman of El Rancho and Farmer Paige of the Pioneer Club in Downtown Las Vegas. They reportedly won so much money in the casino that they owned the hotel by the end of the night! Hicks and Jones negotiated a settlement with the gamblers so they could keep the place but the details of that settlement were never made public. The mob was mostly likely involved.
The hotel was expanded several times in the first couple of years and by 1950 it had 206 rooms.
In 1951 the hotel hosted the first Las Vegas appearance of Rosemary Clooney and the property became known as a mecca for great entertainment. At one point in the mid-1960s they had seven different shows running around the clock, creating a 24-hour a day experience. In 1965, they hosted Judy Garland's final appearance.
The hotel was a hit - so much so that they were usually sold out. Instead of adding more rooms, they built a second hotel next door. It was called the Algiers and it opened in 1953. Anyone who stayed in one of its 110 rooms was treated as if they were a guest of the Thunderbird.
The front of the hotel was remodeled in 1955 to compete with upgrades and a remodeling across the street at The Frontier. The casino was expanded and a second floor was added.
A little later that year, the hotel was shut down by the Nevada Tax Commission when reports surfaced of mobster Meyer Lansky's involvement with the property. The named owners of the resort convinced the state that everything was on the up and up and the doors opened again after only a brief closure.
The hotel was remodeled again in 1957 and expanded a few more times with more amenities thrown in to keep it exciting. By the early 1960s it had over 500 rooms and a horse racing track behind it.
The new owners did another major remodel that included getting rid of much of the western design in favor of a more modern look, expanding the casino, and adding what was billed as the biggest swimming pool in the state of Nevada. They entire front of the hotel was revamped to include a 700-foot long sign that unified the multiple buildings into one cohesive structure. At the time it was considered the longest sign on The Strip.
Over the next few years there were some changes to the lineup of restaurants, shows, and bars but for the most part the hotel stayed as is until it was purchased in 1972 by the Pearlman family who also owned Caesars Palace. They rebranded it as the New Thunderbird but didn't actually do anything significantly new to the hotel. In fact, for a time they planned to tear it down and build a sister resort to Caesars called the Marc Anthony. Those plans never came to fruition and the hotel started declining from a lack of attention.
They finally sold the place in 1977 to Major Auterburn Riddle who also owned the Dunes at the time. He closed the property for awhile so he could slap a new coat of paint on the buildings, revamp and rename restaurants and bars, and update the room decor. It reopened in late 1978 as the Silverbird.
The property would operate under that name for only a few years. It was purchased in 1981 by Ed Torres, who had once co-owned the Aladdin down the street. He dramatically remodeled the property and named it El Rancho - an homage to the first resort that was ever built on The Strip in 1941.
You can read the full history of what happened with this hotel from 1982 forward on the El Rancho history page but here's the short version: Torres invested a huge amount of money into expanding the hotel, it never did well financially, and finally closed in 1992. It remained a derelict shell on The Strip for the next eight years until it was finally imploded in October of 2000. The land is now home to the derelict Fontainebleau hotel.