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.

Thanks for visiting! Enjoy!

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The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week

10. Resorts World Groundbreaking Set

The groundbreaking ceremony for the ambitious Resorts World megaresort in Vegas is now set for May 5, 2015, not too long before they originally said they'd have at least part of it built and ready for business. Why the delay? They're busy. Or at least that's what they have been saying in press releases and other media reports. The massive Asian themed resort is going on the land once occupied by The Stardust and is expected to have 3,000 rooms, a big casino, a mall, entertainment facilities, and more, all at a cost of at least $5 billion. The timeline for the debut is probably now going to be sometime in 2017. Read more about Resorts World Las Vegas.

9. Penn & Teller on Broadway

Vegas resident magicians Penn & Teller will be picking up their bag of tricks and taking them to the Great White Way with a six week stint at the Marquis Theater. The shows will reportedly mix elements of their Rio Las Vegas show along with some fan favorite classic illusions. The run starts July 7 and goes through mid-August, but don't worry, the duo are coming right back home afterward to continue their record-breaking headlining gig at The Rio, now in its 14th year. Read more about Penn & Teller.

8. Pawn Star Plaza Construction Begins

Fans of the show Pawn Star flock to the G&S Pawn Store on Las Vegas Boulevard near in Downtown Las Vegas, often lining up down the block just to get in the place. Ever the idea man, the store's owner Rick Harrison is converting the parking lot they usually stand in front of into shopping mall and now the brightly colored, prefabricated cubes that will make up Pawn Plaza are being put into place. When it is done there will be about a dozen stores and restaurants that will resemble a smaller version of the Downtown Container Park. It should debut by late summer. Read more about the G&S Pawn Store.

7. Comme Ca and Gold Buffet Closing

It's not easy being in the restaurant business in Vegas. It's hyper competitive, audiences are fickle, and prices to run it (from rent to employees to ingredients) are high. Any of these reasons could be behind the impending closures of two more high-profile Vegas restaurants. Comme Ca, the delightful French restaurant overlooking The Strip at The Cosmopolitan, will shut down within the next few weeks, and the not fantastic but pretty decent Ports o'Call Buffet at the Gold Coast will be serving its last all-you-can-eat meal sometime next month. No word on what will replace either yet.

6. New Vdara Bar

Remember Vdara? It's the nice but kinda boring hotel at the back of CityCenter that you probably never go to unless you are actually staying there? Well, in an effort to spice things up a bit they have added a new indoor/outdoor lobby bar called Vice Versa. The concept is that it is two bars in one, with the Vice part being like a pub with craft beers and hearty appetizers, while the Versa part is more refined with classic cocktails and light bites. It also features a stage for live entertainment on weekends. Read the review of Vdara.

5. High Roller Goes Green for St. Patrick's Day

Lighting up the High Roller Observation Wheel in festive colors is becoming an integral part of major celebrations in Vegas, so it's no surprise that the wheel was lit up in bright green for St. Patrick's Day. It was a perfect accompaniment to the green day festivities happening at O'Shea's, a popular party spot on March 17th. Photo courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau/Mark Damon. Read more about the High Roller.

4. Changes in Store for the Cosmo

The new owners of the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas are planning some changes to try to make the hotel profitable. Items mentioned on their "to do" list include adding super high-roller suites to the top of one of the hotel towers, adding VIP rooms in the casino, adding new restaurants and bars in unused space, and changing some of the existing, underperforming restaurants (hence #7 above). Speaking of the Cosmo...

3. Cosmo Gets Windy City Sister

The new owners of the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas are on a bit of a spending spree and it has resulted in a famous new corporate sibling for the hotel. The Blackstone Group has purchased the Willis Tower in Chicago, the 110-story building that used to be known as the Sears Tower and is one of the tallest buildings in the world. The Blackstone Group is a private equity investment firm owns a diverse portfolio including Hilton Hotels, Legoland, The Weather Channel, Madame Tussaud's, and the company that does Mrs. Paul's Fish Sticks and Hungry Man TV Dinners. Read more about the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

2. Megabucks Slot Jackpot at Westgate

A Utah woman is $10.7 million richer (before taxes) after hitting the Megabucks progressive slot machine jackpot at the Westgate hotel on Monday. 78-year-old Trinidad Magna had invested less than $100 in the machine when it hit the big prize. According to a hotel spokesperson she wants to use her winnings to visit family in the Philippines and to buy a yellow Ford Mustang. She could buy several dozen of them and still have enough money left over to live quite comfortably. Read more about the Westgate.

1. Celine Dion Returning to Vegas in August

A spokesperson for Celine Dion has told several media outlets that the singer will be returning to her residency at Caesars Palace in late August and that the show will be substantially revised from its last incarnation. Dion abruptly cancelled all appearances and concerts last year so she could help take care of her husband who is battling throat cancer. The specific dates of the return have not been set, yet. Read more about Celine Dion.

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Vegas4Visitors Museum Presents: The History of The Tropicana

The genesis of the Tropicana started thousands of miles away in sunny Florida where Ben Jaffe, co-owner of Miami's famed Fontainbleau Hotel, envisioned a tropical resort in the middle of the Nevada desert. He focused his attention on a 40 acre parcel of land on a mostly desolate section of The Strip where only the Hacienda was nearby, located where Mandalay Bay now stands. The rest of the major resorts of the time were more than a mile north up the highway, with little more than scrub brush and sand in between them.

Although not a twin of the Fontainebleau, Jaffe and his partners wanted the hotel to have a tropical Cuban theme, a far cry from the western and desert motifs that were dominating most of the design schemes at other resorts.

Who were those partners? Well, infamous mobster and leader of the Luciano crime family Frank Costello was believed to be involved from the start.

A ground breaking ceremony was held in 1955 with a plan to build a $3 million resort across 10 acres with 300 rooms. The target opening date was June of 1956 but The Trop ran into trouble before it ever opened when the building boom of the 1950s interfered with its schedule. The huge Stardust was under construction up the street and it was using up all of the available workers skilled enough to build a resort of that scale and complexity.

Undoubtedly, some of this lack of resources was because The Stardust was being backed by less than friendly mafia rivals like Moe Dalitz and Meyer Lansky.

Work slowed to a crawl or an outright stop as the price tag ballooned to more than $5 million. Jaffe wound up having to sell his stake in the Fontainebleau to finish construction.

The Tropicana finally opened on April 4, 1957 at an estimated cost of $5.5 million.

Dubbed the Tiffany of The Strip by a publicist, the design featured a concrete flower sculpture and fountain in front of the porte corchere main entrance, which is more or less where it still is today. That led into the main building with the casino, showroom, restaurants, shops, a beauty salon, barber shop, bars, lounges, and more. The hotel rooms, each individually air-conditioned and with their own balcony or patio, stretched out in a Y shape away from the main building in three-story wings surrounding a center recreation area with formal gardens and Olympic sized pool that had under water speakers playing music.

In late 1957, the operations of the hotel were threatened when someone tried to kill mobster Costello. He survived but was found with a piece of paper that detailed, to the penny, the money that was being taken in by the Tropicana's casino. The management team was fired under pressure from authorities and new management was brought in, but it was just as "connected" as the previous ones so things were pretty much status quo at the Trop.

A bit of legitimacy was restored when noted casino magnate JK Houssels bought a share of the hotel in 1958. Houssels had been the driving force behind both the El Cortez and Showboat hotels. He tried to right the ship but was unable to do so and the casino closed briefly. According to legend, Houssels walked into the casino with giant bags of cash and the casino was back in business. Where he got that cash and why nobody bothered to ask where he got that cash is still unknown.

Another wing of rooms was added in 1958 bringing the inventory up to 450.

On Christmas Eve, 1959, a new show debuted: Folies Bergere. Based on the famed Paris cabaret of the same name, the lavish production reportedly cost nearly $1 million and had a huge cast of more than 80 people including singers, dancers, musicians, and what were billed as the most beautiful showgirls in the world. The production would last in one form or another for nearly 50 years.

In 1961 the hotel expanded north by adding a 120 acre golf course and country club across what is now Tropicana Avenue where the MGM Grand parking garage and convention facilities are located now. It featured 18 holes across rolling hills and a southern gothic inspired mansion acting as the main clubhouse. There was also a 150-room motel next door called the Golf Club, located more or less where the MGM Grand's main entrance and casino are located now. It was run as a separate entity from the Tropicana but managed its overflow.

Another 100 rooms were added to the main hotel in 1962 and another 130 in 1964 in wings that more or less encircled the entire pool area.

In 1968 Houssels sold his stake in the hotel to Trans-Texas Airways but the family of the late Ben Jaffe still maintained a substantial interest. They basically owned the land and leased the buildings and business to the airline. Without Houssels to manage the property, it started to decline and by the early 1970s was considered to be a lower tier property.

It was purchased in 1971 by Minnesota businessman Deil Gustafson. A year later, investigators found out that a company he was involved with had loaned money to mafia figures and he was forced to sell his majority interest in the hotel. Chemical company heiress Mitzi Stauffer Briggs came on board and bought 51% of the property.

The hotel would go through a series of complicated ownership and investor lineups over the next several years, which did nothing to help the struggling hotel despite many changes that were being made.

The Folies show was revamped, a "discotheque" opened in 1972 (probably the first major nightclub in Vegas), a new casino lounge and bar areas were added, and a new 1,150 seat theater was built. The Superstar Theater, as it was originally known, was built to the specifications of Sammy Davis Jr. and became his home stage for a time along with a rotating series of big name entertainers. That lasted until 1975 when the showroom was renamed the Tiffany Theater and Folies moved in.

The first of the two existing hotel towers debuted in September of 1979. The $10 million building was originally known as the Tiffany Tower and brought the room inventory up to 1,150. It featured a multi-level shopping and restaurant arcade at its base and the theme extended into the casino when they added the now famous Tiffany-style leaded glass ceiling above the main gaming pit.

In addition to being pretty, the ceiling was a marvel of modern engineering. When they first started to install it, they found that subtle vibrations caused by the mechanicals of the building were causing the glass to crack. So they came up with a plan to suspend it on a series of shock absorbers, allowing it to basically float free, immune the motion of the building around it.

Just a couple of months later, the owners were forced to sell their stock after more allegations of mafia involvement surfaced.

Ramada hotels bought the property in 1979 for $80 million. In 1985 they kicked off a $55 million redevelopment effort that would add another 22-story hotel tower, revamp the pool area into a lush tropical "island" with swim-up blackjack tables, add restaurants, more casino space, indoor tennis courts, and a big convention center at the back of the property. This debuted in 1986.

The hotel sort of changed hands in 1989 when the arm of Ramada Resorts that had been managing their gaming properties in Nevada and Atlantic City reorganized and was spun off as the Aztar Corporation.

Around this time, the golf course was sold to Kirk Kerkorian who would go on to create the MGM Grand on the land.

In 1996, the front of the hotel was remodeled to resemble a Caribbean beach resort.

In a nod to the hotel's history, they added the Casino Legends Hall of of Fame attraction in 1999. it featured more than 10,000 bits of gaming memorabilia from around Vegas and honorariums to the people who helped make the town what it was. It lasted until 2005.

Around 2002 the Jaffe family finally sold the last bit of their ownership of Tropicana to Aztar. Shortly afterward, Aztar released the first of what would be many proposals to revamp or replace the Tropicana. The first was a 10,000 room mega complex of interconnected resorts on the Tropicana land. Later versions would have added new room towers, demolish the main buildings but leave the room towers, leave the Trop alone but add sister resorts on land next door, and beyond. None of it ever came to fruition.

Aztar was acquired by hotel company Columbia Sussex in 2007, right before the big economic meltdown in the United States. The Trop, which was already having a hard time competing against newer, more modern resorts, contributed to the company sinking into bankruptcy in May of 2008.

The hotel was purchased out of bankruptcy in 2009 by its creditors and led by a former MGM Mirage executive Alex Yemenidjian. Under his direction, the hotel finally embarked on a long overdue makeover, with more than $165 million thrown at a remodeling almost every square inch of the hotel. The tropical theme, which had become garish and worn, was ditched in favor of a bright and sunny South Beach look using lots of white, orange, and yellow with light wood accents. Rooms, the casino, restaurants, meeting space, the pool, the lobby, and virtually every other area of the hotel were redone. One of the oldest wings of the hotel, dating all the way back to 1957, was demolished to create a new entrance that would allow people to more easily get to the swank nightclub that was added.

As part of the reinvention of the property, the long-running Folies Bergere show ended in March of 2009, just shy of its 50th anniversary.

The "new" Tropicana debuted in 2012.

Other additions included the Laugh Factory, a branch of the famous LA based comedy club, and the Mob Attraction, an interactive museum exploring the history of the mafia in Vegas and beyond. The latter lasted about a year and then shut down under questionable circumstances and lawsuits. Several of the new restaurants, the nightclub, at least two shows (a Gladys Knight residency and a new edition of the ABBA musical "Mamma Mia) also failed and the hotel, while certainly nicer than it had been, still struggled to find an audience.

In November of 2013, the hotel announced plans to completely revamp the front of the property by adding the Shops at the New Tropicana, a massive retail and restaurant complex where the hotel's valet entrance is now located. The three-story complex would feature dozens of stores and eateries including a food court spread across 275,000 square-feet of space. It would be fronted by a Times Square style facade covered with LED screens, lights, and windows, which would transform the corner in pretty spectacular ways.

When it was announced, they had hoped for a 2015 debut but nothing has actually been built as of this writing and the project's future is in doubt.

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Vegas Photos Part 1

I went through my archive of old Vegas photos and thought it was time to share. Click on any photo to the right for a bigger view.

The Barbary Coast

Created by Michael Gaughan, who now runs South Point, the Barbary Coast opened in 1979 and became Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon in 2007. The hotel closed in 2013 and reopened in 2014 at The Cromwell.




The Boardwalk

The hotel opened as the Holiday Inn South in 1965 but the casino, known as the Slot Joynt, was not added until 1977. It was remodeled with a Coney Island themed in the early 1990s and given the name the Boardwalk, which it operated under until it closed and was imploded in 2006. It is now where CityCenter is located.




The Bonanza

This small hotel and casino operated on the corner of The Strip and Flamingo from the 1960s until 1972, when it was purchased by Kirk Kerkorian and torn down to make way for the original MGM Grand (now known as Bally's.
















The Hacienda

Located at the far south end of The Strip, this hotel was originally going to be called the Lady Luck but luck was not on its side and the original investors were bought out by the owner of the Hacienda motel in Fresno, California. The Hacienda Las Vegas opened in 1956 and operated all the way until 1996 when it closed and was imploded on New Year's Eve. Mandalay Bay was built in its place.
















Holiday Casino/Harrah's

Opened in 1971 as a Holiday Inn, this riverboat themed casino operated under the Holiday Casino banner until 1992 when it was remodeled with a Mardi Gras theme and renamed Harrah's Las Vegas.

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Vegas Photos Part 2

I went through my archive of old Vegas photos and thought it was time to share. Click on any photo to the right for a bigger view.

Howard Johnson's/20th Century/San Remo

This hotel has gone through so many different incarnations that it almost takes family tree to map it all. It opened in 1973 as a Howard Johnson's and through the years was known as the Paradise, the Polynesian Paradise, The Treasury, the 20th Century, and the San Remo among others. It is currently operating as Hooter's Hotel & Casino.














McCarran International Airport

The first McCarran airport was actually located where Nellis Air Force Base is now. After World War II, they wanted to move commercial traffic elsewhere so they took over what was then known as Alamo Field on the south side of town and renamed it McCarran Field after a popular Nevada Senator. It formally opened in 1948. Today it is the 24th busiest airport in the world serving more than 41 million passengers annually.























The Silver Slipper

This hotel and casino, originally called The Golden Slipper, opened in 1950 as a part of The Frontier. It was renamed the Silver Slipper and operated under that name until 1988 when it was closed and torn down to make way for a parking lot for The Frontier. The land has been vacant since that hotel was imploded in 2007 but Australian gaming magnate James Packer purchased it recently and plans to build a major new resort.

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Vegas Photos Part 3

I went through my archive of old Vegas photos and thought it was time to share. Click on any photo to the right for a bigger view.

Las Vegas 1999

This picture, taken from the observation deck at The Stratosphere is from January of 1999. If you look closely, you can see the Wet 'n' Wild water park in the foreground and Stardust, Frontier, and Desert Inn hotels.





Cape Vegas

This thrill ride operated next door to Circus Circus during the 1970s and later became AJ Hackett Bungee.















The Venetian

These two photos were taken in early 1999 showing The Venetian under construction.


























Westward Ho

The Ho was a popular casino motel that was located next door to Circus Circus. It opened in 1971 and closed in 2005 to make way for what was going to be a Maxim magazine branded hotel. That never happened, of course, and the land was eventually purchased by Boyd Gaming and incorporated into what was supposed to be the Echelon development. That got mothballed in 2008 but is being revived as Resorts World by the Genting Group, which plans a 2017 or 2018 opening.

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