Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column by Rick Garman

Want to know what's happening in Las Vegas? You've come to the right place.

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!

The latest weekly column will always be on this page, but you can go back through the archives (all the way back to 1999!) or take a look ahead and what's coming up next for Vegas by using the navigation on the left hand sidebar.

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The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week

10. Bet on the (Fake) Ponies

Are horse races just a little too "real" for you? Good news: soon you will be able to bet on virtual horse races in Las Vegas casinos. The Nevada Gaming Commission approved the wagering concept, which is already very popular in the UK. It's basically a video game version of a horse race where the winners are selected by a random number generator. The idea is that they'd run in between real horse races. Watch for the concept to start popping up in Vegas casinos later this year.

9. New Caesars Mega-Club Debuts

Omnia, the massive new nightclub at Caesars Palace debuted this past weekend, with huge crowds trying to get in to hear superstar DJ Calvin Harris spin tunes for the event and maybe catch a glimpse of Justin Bieber, who had a belated 21st birthday celebration. The 75,000 square-foot club is one of the biggest on The Strip with multiple rooms, an outdoor patio overlooking The Strip, and a European theater design in the main room. It cost more than $100 million to build.

8. Strip Gets Wet

A water main break on The Strip in front of the Harley Davidson Café caused havoc last week with several lanes shut down and some businesses, including the Carriage House Hotel, the Harley Café, and Elara at Planet Hollywood without water. The break created a traffic nightmare on the already nightmarish Strip and its cross streets like Tropicana and Harmon, especially since it happened where there is construction at The Park and deconstruction at CityCenter. Things were more or less back to normal by the next day, which is to say traffic still sucked but not as bad as it did during the water drama.

7. Who Killed Bugsy Siegel?

The murder of Bugsy Siegel, one of the most infamous mobsters associated with Las Vegas, remains one of organized crime's most notorious assassinations. His story will be explored during "Who Killed Bugsy Siegel?" the next installment in The Mob Museum's Courtroom Conversation series, to be held Tuesday, March 24, at 7 p.m. This panel discussion will explore Siegel's life, his role in the rise of Las Vegas and the leading theories for his violent demise. Mob legend Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel's reign at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas was cut short at age 41 by an assassin's bullet on June 20, 1947, in Beverly Hills. No suspects have ever been arrested, although a number of plausible names and scenarios have been advanced, most of them revolving around Siegel's business dealings in Las Vegas. Almost 70 years later, the Beverly Hills Police Department still considers the murder an open case. Read the history of The Flamingo below and read the full review of The Mob Museum.

6. Miley Wrecks The Strip

The Miley Cyrus wrecking ball wax figure debuted last Monday at Madame Tussaud's Las Vegas, hoisted up by a giant crane in front of The Venetian. The whole thing is made of wax - the chain, the ball, and Miley. It has taken up permanent residence inside the music room at Madame Tussaud's. Read the full review of Madame Tussaud's Las Vegas.

5. Encore Room Remodel

Has it really been seven years since Encore opened? Time flies and so do luxurious decorations because the every room in the hotel is getting a makeover this year. The already plush digs will get new furnishings, carpet, drapes, and technology with an upgrade to 55 inch televisions and new integrated room controls. The project is expected to start this summer and wrap up by the end of the year. Read more about Encore.

4. Parkalypse? Rock in Rio's Worrisome Plan

The big Rock in Rio festival is happening over two weekends in May, with headliners like Taylor Swift, Sam Smith, No Doubt, and more taking the stages at a new festival ground being built across the street from the SLS on the north end of The Strip. More than 80,000 people are expected to attend but here's the rub: the new facilities include exactly ZERO parking spaces. The festival's organizers are encouraging people to walk, take the monorail, or take shuttles that will be operating from other hotel parking lots to get to the concerts. Hotels that aren't officially taking part in the park and ride scheme will most likely be restricting their garages and valets to guests and high-end players' clubs and some are even planning to charge for the privilege. Stratosphere is offering spaces for $30 per day... with no in or out. Sounds like a good couple of weekends to avoid Vegas if you aren't going to the festival. Read more about Rock in Rio.

3. Celine Coming Back to Vegas with a New Show

A spokesperson for Celine Dion has said that the singer will absolutely be returning to the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas to resume her headlining gig, and when she does the show will be all new. The announcement came along with the news of several members of the band and her musical director being let go, a move they say will help them create the new version of the production. There is still no formal return date but rumors are pointing toward late September. Dion abruptly shut down the production last summer so she could take time to care for her husband who is battling throat cancer.

2. Linq Showroom to Get (Long Overdue) Makeover

The old Imperial Palace has gotten a new lease on life as The Linq, with an entirely new casino, new restaurants, new rooms, a new pool, and more new, new, new. One of the things that didn't get touched, however, is the ancient showroom where the fun Jeff Civillico and Divas Las Vegas shows perform. That will change soon as the "classic" vibe of the space - high-backed booths and uncomfortable tables that force you to squeeze in and turn your head to the side the entire time - will be going away in favor of traditional theater seating. There are also unconfirmed rumors that magician Mat Franco, who won "America's Got Talent," may be getting his own show in the new room. Read more about The Linq.

1. Celebrities Guest in Strip (Pun Intended) Shows

Two Vegas shows are getting some star power as N*SYNC singer Joey Fatone takes on a role in Rock of Ages and model Tyson Beckford struts his stuff in the Vegas version of Chippendales. Beckford will be acting as guest emcee April 30th through May 24th, adding his name to the list of semi-famous faces that have bared at least some skin for the gig at The Rio including "90210" and "Sharknado" actor Ian Ziering and 98 Degrees singer Jeff Timmons. Fatone, one of the not Justin Timberlake guys in the boy band N*SYNC, is currently starring as Bourbon Room owner Dennis Dupree in the the 80s music mashup musical at The Venetian. His run goes through the end of April. Read the reviews of Chippendales and Rock of Ages.

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Earn Two Nights at Caesars Palace for a Good Cause

How would you like to go on the adventure of a lifetime and get two free nights at Caesars Palace for doing it? And it's all for a good cause!

I am co-chairing a big charity event in Los Angeles this May called Stories to Save Lives, where brave and adventurous people are raising money for the opportunity to rappel down the 24 stories of the Hilton Los Angeles at Universal City. It benefits the Esophageal Cancer Action Network, a group dedicated to advocacy and awareness for Esophageal Cancer.

One American dies of Esophageal Cancer every 36 minutes. It's is one of the fastest growing cancer diagnoses in the country - up more than 600% in the past 35 years. More frightening, the type of Esophageal Cancer increasing so rapidly in the U.S. is usually caused by reflux disease, what many people think of as heartburn. Because there are few symptoms until it is too late, EC is also one of the deadliest cancers. Fewer than 1 in 5 survive longer than five years.

As many of you know, I am one of those lucky few that survived. I was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2012 but because I had been aware of the link between heartburn and cancer, I managed to catch it very early. Although it was still a tough journey to get through it, I am happy to report that I am in remission still 18 months later.

Obviously, this event and this cause means a lot to me and I know that at least some of you are in the Los Angeles area or might be interested in traveling to Los Angeles for the event. So here's the deal... the first two people who sign up to do the rappel will each get two free nights at Caesars Palace. The certificates are good any night of the week through September 30, 2015, although certain restrictions apply.

Even more exciting, we have some cool prizes for our top fundraisers including a Viking River Cruise to Europe for two people, including airfare, valued at more than $12,000!

To qualify for the Caesars nights, here's what you need to do...

1) Go to StoriesToSaveLives.org and read about the event, find out what you need to do to qualify (basically be over 18 and weigh between 100 and 300 pounds) and what you need to do register and do the rappel

2) Go the registration page on ECAN.org and sign up - there is a $99 registration fee, which goes toward the fundraising minimum you have to hit in order to do the rappel

3) Forward the confirmation email you receive to rick@vegas4visitors.com with your name and address

The first two people who are verified as registered will get the Caesars Palace certificates.

For anyone who signs up after the two certificates have been given away, I will provide a free travel planning session by phone or email to help you plot out your next trip to Vegas. I'll help you find the best hotel, guide you toward some terrific restaurants, help you figure out what shows and attractions might be right for you, and more.

If you aren't in the local area but still want to help out, you can make a donation to the event or to a specific rappeller. Some of my friends are doing this because of me and so you can visit the fundraising pages for Sheryl Rothmuller, Fred Ferrier, and Maureen Bergmueller if you are so moved.

We are also still looking for sponsors, volunteers, in-kind donations, and more. Visit StoriesToSaveLives.org for more information.

Stories To Save Lives will be held May 1-2, 2015 in Los Angeles and is open to the public even if you aren't rappelling!

Thank you!

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Four Ways To Stay Active in Vegas

As we anticipate the arrival of spring, we also have to break down and admit that the winter probably hasn't been kind to our bodies in more ways than one. Who could blame you for skipping the gym and instead cozying up by the fire with a cup of hot chocolate and some warm cookies (and cakes and pies and candy) to tide you over.

So when you start thinking about that next trip to Vegas, you might also want to consider ways to stay active when you visit. It's tempting to just sit in front of a slot machine and gorge on buffets but there are some ways you can get a little exercise and have some fun at the same time.

Bowling

Las Vegas used to be home to the world's largest bowling alley and although those lanes were torn down a few years ago, there are still some great bowling centers around town. All of them have modern automatic score-keeping and many offer everything from pro-shops to video game arcades and more. One, Red Rock Lanes, even has private VIP bowling suites where you can party like you're Earl Anthony complete with a nightclub worth sound system and bottle service. Here's a list of the major bowling centers at Vegas casinos:

Golf

Although my golf experience is limited to courses that involve windmills and clown's mouths, even I know enough about the sport to understand that Las Vegas is one of the premiere golf destinations in the country. There are dozens of world-class courses around the city, many of which were designed by legendary figures like Arnold Palmer and Tom Fazio. They range from the classic and relatively affordable like Las Vegas National (which used to be the golf course for the Stardust, Sahara, and Las Vegas Hilton) all the way up to the super exclusive and expensive like the course at Wynn Las Vegas, where tee time start at $300 and go up from there. Here are some of the best courses in Vegas:

Tennis

Back in the day, tennis courts were considered a pretty standard amenity at Las Vegas hotels. These days, there are only two major properties on or near The Strip with courts - Bally's and the Westgate - but the good news is that they are open to the public so you don't need to be a guest of the hotel to use them. Prices run about $25 per hour plus the rental of whatever you didn't bring with you.

Hiking

No, I'm not talking about hiking from one end of the Forum Shops to the other, I'm talking about getting into the great outdoors and working up a sweat.

Although Las Vegas is an urban jungle, it is considered to be the most geographically isolated major city in the country, surrounded by miles of mountains, deserts, canyons, and lakes. In many of those areas you can find hiking trails that range from "look at the pretty scenery!" to "you go on ahead, I'm just going to lay down here and die," including one trail at Mount Charleston that will take you all the way to the 11,000-foot peak. If you want to go take a hike, so to speak, consider these places to do it:

Visit the Recreation section on Vegas4Visitors.com for more ideas on how to stay active in Vegas.

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Attraction Review: Cowabunga Bay

A water park in the hot Nevada desert seems like a no-brainer, but Las Vegas was without one for years after Wet 'n' Wild on The Strip closed. Now there are two, with another Wet 'n' Wild open on the west side of town and Cowbaunga Bay taking over the east side. It's a battle for water park dominance. Who will win?

Cowabunga Bay is spread across 23 acres in Henderson, near the Sunset Station hotel and Galleria at Sunset mall if that means anything to you. Absent traffic it's probably a 15-20 minute drive from The Strip, which makes it about the same distance as Wet 'n' Wild is on the other side of town so the distance category ends up being a draw.

The facility has a fun 1950s, Frankie and Annette beach movie theme with a "dive in" movie theater setting at the wave pool and lots of bold, Surf City style colors. It's all window dressing but it's amusing window dressing and it gives the place a little bit more of a personality than Wet 'n' Wild has.

There was a delay in getting the park open so there aren't as many rides and slides here as there are at the competition but there is still plenty to do with about 20 different water attractions, the longest lazy river attraction in the state, an arcade, rental cabanas, food and drink, and more. Additional slides are already under construction and will be open by the summer 2015 season but for now Wet 'n Wild has the edge in terms of the inventory of amusements.

Shade is at a premium, of course, so bring plenty of SPF 1000 for the blazing sun. It's also located more or less under one of the primary approaches for Las Vegas McCarran International Airport so plane noise can be a factor if you are sensitive to stuff like that, but most likely you'll be too busy splashing around to ever notice.

Prices are a few bucks cheaper at Cowbunga Bay than at Wet 'n Wild - $37 for adults and $28 for kids plus you have pay a few bucks for parking and if you want a locker. Go after 4pm and you can get discounted admission.

In the end, which one you choose is kind of a tossup. I like Wet 'n' Wild's lineup of attractions but think it is trumped by the fun atmosphere of Cowabunga. Maybe you can do them both - it gets awfully hot in Vegas and you could use a lot of cooling off.

Cowabunga Bay
900 Galleria Drive
Henderson, NV
702-850-9000
website
$37 adults; $28 kids
Sun-Thu 10:30am-7pm
Fri-Sat 10:30am-8pm
Vegas4Visitors Grade: A-

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Vegas4Visitors Museum Presents: The History of the Flamingo

There are two common myths surrounding the legendary Flamingo Las Vegas. No matter what you have heard it was not the first hotel on what would eventually become The Strip and it was not the brainchild of Bugsy Siegel. In reality it was Billy Wilkerson, the owner of the Hollywood Reporter and several Los Angeles nightclubs, who bought the land and started construction years after hotels like El Rancho and The Frontier were up and running.

Unfortunately Wilkerson ran out of money during construction and opened the door for Siegel and his mafia connections to take over. Siegel dumped cash into the resort at a stunning speed. By the time it opened on December 26, 1946 over $6 million had been sunk into the project. By way of comparison, El Rancho cost $425,000 to build only five years earlier.

Problems began almost immediately. The hotel was not complete when it opened and only the casino and some of the entertainment facilities were available while construction continued elsewhere. A second weekend "grand opening" on December 28th added some celebrity names to the attendee list but with no guests staying there the property hemorrhaged money. The Flamingo shut down after only two weeks in business.

Siegel scrambled to get the rest of the funds necessary to finish the property and reassure his nervous bosses that everything was under control.

The hotel had its third (and last) "opening" on March 1, 1947 with the name The Fabulous Flamingo. It had 105 rooms, a showroom, restaurants, and casino, and acres of lushly landscaped lawns around a center courtyard pool. Atop the three-story room buildings was a suite for Siegel that included a ladders to an escape tunnel under the hotel and steel lined walls to make it bullet proof.

Bugsy could've used that on June 20, 1947 when he was gunned down in Los Angeles. Even though the hotel was turning a profit by then, Siegel had burned too many bridges in his relentless zeal to get the Flamingo up and running. After his death, the hotel was taken over by several mob figures and front men designed to put a good face on the organization for law enforcement and regulatory types.

The Flamingo was a hit. It was much more upscale than El Rancho and The Frontier, with an atmosphere that was more akin to a resort than an overgrown motel and without the kitschy Western theme that both of its competitors sported.

Other hotels like The Sands followed suit not long after, pushing The Flamingo to make upgrades. A 1953 remodeling is believed to have cost $1 million.

The hotel was sold several times over the next few years to various groups of investors but it is widely believed that most of them were still connected in one way or another to the mob. The Flamingo was expanded and renovated numerous times as well and by 1958 the hotel had over 300 rooms.

In 1963 it got its "close-up" as the primary filming location for the Elvis Presley, Ann-Margaret movie "Viva Las Vegas." Most of the exteriors were shot around the Flamingo pool.

Eventual MGM investor Kirk Kerkorian bought the property in 1967 and then immediately set about on a major renovation and expansion of the hotel. A 28-story room tower added 1,250 rooms and the casino and front entrance were expanded. A bigger showroom, still in use today, was added in 1968.

Kerkorian sold half of the Flamingo to Baron Hilton in 1970. the property officially became the Flamingo Hilton in 1971, a name it would carry for almost 30 years.

More rooms and major expansions happened in 1975 and again in 1990, driving the room inventory up over 3,000

The last of the original resort was torn down for new construction in 1993.

In 1994 the Hilton Grand Vacations towers were added at the back of the property.

In 1998, the Hilton corporation spun off its gambling focused properties including The Flamingo, Bally's, and the Las Vegas Hilton under a new umbrella called Park Place Entertainment. They removed the Hilton part of the name in 1999 and the hotel went back to being The Flamingo (or Flamingo Las Vegas).

A major remodeling of the front of the hotel in 2003 revamped the facade and added a flagship Margaritaville restaurant and bar.

Park Place was bought by Harrah's Entertainment in 2005 and the hotel became a sister to properties like Harrah's and The Rio. That company renamed itself Caesars Entertainment in 2010.

In 2011, the casino addition was added at the front of the property that carried the Margaritaville name.

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