Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column by Rick Garman

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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!

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The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week

Bally's Adding a Buca

Fans of massive amounts of Italian food can rejoice with the announcement that Bally's will be adding a Buca di Beppo restaurant this summer. Well, sort of... it's actually going to be a smaller version called Buca Café Italiano but the basic concept will be the same. The hotel is going to add a new Mexican restaurant also this summer. Read more about Bally's.

Strip Sidewalks Getting an Upgrade

Walking on The Strip can be a challenging proposal. First you have to deal with all those people, many of whom seem to be oblivious to the fact that others would like to share the sidewalk and/or get to where they are going without being blocked by people who seem to want to stop for absolutely no good reason (pet peeve). The Clark County can't do anything about that, but they can do something about the other big problem, which are the non-human things that get in the way. Crews have begun work on a multi-million dollar, multi-year project that seeks to improve pedestrian traffic flow on The Strip. It involves widening sidewalks, relocating obstacles such as light poles and fire hydrants, adding new handicap ramps, and installing a uniform collection of newsstand racks. The latter will have sloped tops so people can't leave trash on top of them. Construction is underway now near Planet Hollywood and will spread up and down The Strip over the next year.

Duck Dynasty Musical Quacks Up

Well, that was fast. The much ballyhooed musical Duck Commander, based on the hit reality show Duck Dynasty, is going to close after less than six weeks at The Rio. It was supposed to be a test run for a possible run at Broadway but that seems like an even longer shot now than it was when someone first came up with the idea. The reviews have been surprisingly not awful but the audiences were apparently stuck in their duck blinds and never made it to the theater. Read more about The Rio.

Food Trucks Invade The Strip

The food truck craze that has captivated other cities has been slow to hit Vegas and absent from The Strip where there is food roughly every four feet. But the Grand Bazaar Shops at Bally's is going to go all-in with mobile dining concept by hosting the Great American Foodie Fest and several food trucks all summer long. Among the participants are Nonna's Kitchenette (which you may have seen on the Great Food Truck Race), Dragon Grille, which has been voted best Vegas food truck in the LVRJ for three years in a row, and more. They will be there starting today and running Sun-Thu from 10am-10pm and Fri-Sat from 10am-11pm. Read more about the Grand Bazaar Shops.

The "Inventor" of the Buffalo Wing Coming to Vegas

Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York is famous as the originator of the Buffalo-style chicken wings and although you can get them at pretty much anyplace in Vegas with a TV screen showing sports, soon you'll be able to get the original. The company has announced plans to open an outlet in the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian and will be serving up its famous wings at a quick-serve eatery (meaning no traditional sit-down restaurant seating). There is no opening date yet other than sometime this summer. Read more about the Grand Canal Shoppes.

Rock in Rio Kicks Off Two Weekend Festival

The big Rock in Rio music festival completed its first of two weekends in Las Vegas with bands like Metallica, Deftones, and Linkin Park rocking the stages while several thousand people watch on under cloudy, and briefly rainy, skies. Attendance was reported to be robust but not as jam-packed as it probably will be next weekend when pop acts like Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars take over. Weekend passes are sold out but there are still single day tickets available at $169 apiece. Find out more at rockinrio.com/usa/.

Hard Rock Data Breach

If you ate at the Hard Rock Café at the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas between September 3, 2014 and April 2, 2015 you may want to keep an eye on your credit cards. The hotel has reported a data breach on the credit and debit card info that passed through the cafe, bar, and retail stores during that time. It also affected Culinary Dropout but not the hotel, casino, or other restaurants at the property. Hard Rock is offering one year of fraud protection and resolution through Experien to anyone who was affected and free fraud detection services through ProtectMyID. Read more about The Hard Rock Hotel.

Gold Strike Sale Approved

The Nevada Gaming Commission has approved the sale of the Gold Strike in Jean, Nevada from MGM Resorts to JETT Gaming. The aging property located along I-15 about 25 miles outside of Vegas is a familiar sight to those driving in from Southern California but the new owners plan a dramatic overhaul that could get you pull over the next time you cruise by. The plan is to transform the front of the property with a series of quick-serve restaurants, an outdoor mall of stores, and a massive new truck stop that could wind up being one of the biggest in the United States. They are also going to upgrade rooms and renovate the casino floor to reduce the number of slot machines.

Crazy Girls Stolen!

If you never saw Crazy Girls during it's nearly three-decade-long run at the Riviera, well, count your blessings. Let's face it: it was a terrible show. But(t) it is making the news in a big way with word that the show and the big bronze butt statue that used to be at the front of the Riv were moving to Planet Hollywood starting May 13. But(t) wait... now maybe not, because someone stole a flatbed truck with $300,000 worth of costumes, sets, props, and music/production files that had been removed from the Riviera prior to its closure on Monday. They found the truck, the rest of the stuff is gone so the opening of the show is now in doubt. I'll have more news when it cracks... I mean breaks. (yes, I'm 12 years old, leave me alone). Read more about Planet Hollywood.

The End of the Riviera

The era of one of the Grand Dames of The Strip came to an end last week with the closure of The Riviera. The hotel closed its doors on May 4th at noon, although according to reports it took a little longer after that to get everyone to cash in their gaming chips and get out before the locked the doors. The Riviera will be demolished to make way for new convention facilities but before that everything inside will be sold off starting May 14 in an event that is open to the public (for a $10 entry fee). As far as the gaming equipment, many of the more popular slot machines like Wheel of Fortune and Megabucks are leased from the companies who manufacture them like IGT so those were returned and will probably get refurbished for use elsewhere. The rest - about 850 of them - were sold to Derek Stevens, the owner of the D Las Vegas and Golden Gate in Downtown. Several hundred of them will start appearing in those casinos and the rest will be sold at auction. Read more about the history of The Riviera.

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Tropicana and Hooter's Hotels Sold!

The south end of the Las Vegas Strip is about to undergo some changes with two separate sales in the last two weeks of major hotels right next door to each other.

The Tropicana was purchased by Penn National Gaming for $360 million it was announced on April 29th. The company is not terribly well known in Vegas - its only other property is the M Resort on the south side of town - but it is one of the biggest gaming companies in the United States with more than two dozen casinos and race tracks in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Kansas, West Virginia, Maine, New Mexico, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, and Canada. Most of them operate under the Hollywood Casino brand but they also run the Argosy and Boomtown chains.

The company has been fairly restrained in their discussions about what is in the Tropicana's future, saying only that they will invest about $20 million to upgrade some of the hotel's facilities while they take some time to figure out long term plans. Additional shopping and dining venues are a possibility but it seems like the big planned expansion that would have added a three-story mall at the front of the property is dead (for now).

It is likely that the property will keep the Tropicana name, although there are rumors that Penn might double down and bring their popular Hollywood Casino brand to Las Vegas for the first time. If that happens it probably won't be until 2016 or beyond.

The Tropicana opened in 1957 and has gone through several ownership changes over the last few years as it struggled to stay relavent against newer competition from neighboring casinos. It recently underwent a $200 million renovation that upgraded everything from the casino to the rooms and beyond.

Meanwhile, right next door get ready for yet another new sign to be hoisted over 115 E. Tropicana Avenue now that Hooter's Hotel and Casino has been sold. If the new owners change the name, as they are expected to do, it will be the eighth or ninth the hotel has operated under since it opened in 1974.

A company you have never heard of before, Trinity Hotel Investments of New York, purchased the Hooter's hotel for $53.8 million last week. With a name like that you'd expect that they own a lot of hotels, but not so much really. According to their website they currently have investment in the Doubletree in Little Rock, Arkansas and the Crown Plaza in Minneapolis and that's about it but have owned or invested in dozens of hotels in the past many of which have operated under the Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, and Doubletree banners.

Trinity has not said what they plan to do with the hotel yet but a remodeling and rebranding is almost certain. Some reports say that it will be operated by the Holiday Inn chain but it may not actually have that name on it. The Hooter's restaurant at the property may or may not stay put but don't worry, the chain is opening a new one at The Palms that will be the biggest Hooter's in the world. Biggest restaurant, that is. What did you think I meant?

The hotel now known as Hooter's opened in 1974 as at Howard Johnson's and over the last four decades has operated under a variety of names including The Polynesian, The Treasury, and The San Remo.

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Resorts World Breaks Ground

It has been a couple of years since Malaysia's Genting Group bought the former Stardust site and announced plans to build a $4 billion, Chinese-themed mega-resort but not much has happened since then. The property, which has the skeleton of the partially constructed Echelon resort that Boyd Gaming abandoned in 2008, has sat mostly untouched.

That all changed on May 5th with a groundbreaking ceremony that officially kicked off construction of Resorts World Las Vegas, the hotel and casino that is expected to reinvigorate the northern end of The Strip. Traditional Chinese drummers, dancers, and performers in dragon costumes started the event that was attended by Genting executives, city officials, and even the Governor of Nevada.

Resorts World Las Vegas will feature a Chinese design theme throughout, with Pagoda-like tops to the structures, fanciful laterns, and other Asian touches but the designers swear that it won't be a kitschy replica like Vegas specialized in back in the Luxor and Excalibur era. They are aiming for something much more elegant than that with Zen-like gardens and other lush landscaping, water features, and more.

Of course, they are also planning to include a replica of the Great Wall of China and a live panda exhibit, so maybe the kitsch will still be a factor.

The property will have 3,000 rooms but could eventually expand to as many as 6,000 in the future. It will use much of what was already built for the failed Echelon project that was supposed to have 5,000 rooms.

The casino will be a massive 175,000 square-foot affair, making it one of the biggest in Las Vegas and roughly the same size as the mammoth MGM Grand. It will have more than 3,000 slot machines and dozens of gaming tables.

There will be roughly two dozen restaurants, a 4,000-seat theater, more than 100,000 square-feet of shopping, and all of the other bells and whistles that a major Vegas mega-resort is supposed to have.

In future phases they plan on adding not only the aforementioned room towers but also an indoor water park and maybe even a movie studio theme park.

Construction is underway now and the resort is expected to open in early 2018.

Here's a video of what the hotel is expected to look like.

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What Happened to Macau and How It Could Affect Las Vegas

A couple of years ago I wrote several articles about the gambling capital of the world. No, not Las Vegas, but Macau, China. This region south of Hong Kong had seen explosive growth both in terms of the number of casinos - many with recognizeable names like Wynn, MGM Grand, and The Venetian - and in the amount of money passing through them. At its peak in 2013, Macau raked in more than $45 billion in gaming revenue or about $3.75 billion a month. Add up the money brought in by every single casino in the entire state of Nevada and you get to $11 billion in 2013. Compared to the Las Vegas Strip, Macau was bringing in more money in two months than casinos along Las Vegas Boulevard were raking in all year.

But Macau is experiencing an unprecedented crash with the 12th straight double digit monthly decline in gaming revenue, with April 2015 numbers down nearly 40% from 2014. That follows a 40% drop year over year in March and nearly 50% lower in February. While 2014 was lower than 2013 at about $44 billion, 2015 is expected to generate somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 billion when all is said and done.

If you were paying attention above, you'll note that even at a third lower than its peak, Macau is still going to bring in nearly three times what Nevada casinos are expected to get this year, but for the companies that have bet big chunks of their future on gaming growth in the region this is devastating news.

Wynn Resorts, MGM Resorts, and Sands, the company behind The Venetian, have invested heavily in Macau and more of their company's profits come from there than any other region in the world. Not only do all three already have several major resorts there but they all started building several more multi-billion dollar properties during the height of Macau's boom.

The cause of the crash is not hard to pinpoint. The Chinese government has strict controls on the amount of money that can move from its banks to other countries. While Macau is technically a part of China, the former Portuguese colony operates as a Special Administrative Region, much like Hong Kong did as a former British colony until 1999. According to the law, the most that mainland China residents can take to Macau is about the equivalent of $3,300 per day, but the casinos there have long operated like a giant money laundering machine where the wealthiest Chinese citizens, many of whom get their money from less-than-legal means, can funnel millions through the gaming palaces.

The workaround the Chinese regulations is a pretty easy and fairly blatant one. While shopping is a big deal in Vegas, in Macau many of the stores there exist solely to move money for high rollers. People walk into a luxury store, "buy" a $200,000 piece of jewelry for instance, and then immediately return it for cash, minus a commission for the store. They then take that cash into the casino and the Chinese government is none the wiser.

Until now. About a year ago, China started cracking down on the corrupt money flowing through Macau and it has scared the wealthiest whales away in droves. Fearing getting caught up in the sweep, those high rollers are either heading to other gambling markets like Singapore, where the Chinese government has less reach, or are simply staying home. The result is high end gaming parlors within the major casinos going from always full to nearly empty virtually overnight.

The impact on companies like Wynn Resorts, which derived much of its revenue from Macau, has been dramatic. A year ago the company's stock was trading at more than $200 per share. Today it is at $115, meaning the company has lost billions in value since the Chinese government crackdown began.

Companies like MGM Resorts and Sands that are investing billions in new casinos have gone too far down the path to stop now. They are hoping for an "if we build it, they will come" type of mentality and are looking for ways to diversify Macau's appeal beyond just gambling by adding lots of new entertainment, shopping, and dining options.

Sound familiar? Las Vegas gaming companies overbuilt in the 1990s on that exact same mentality. After the economic troubles of the 2000s they have now virtually stopped new construction on gaming facilities and are instead investing heavily in things like arenas, observation wheels, and malls.

But with dramatically lower earnings and profit because of the Macau situation, those companies may not be able to spend as much money here at home. There had been rumblings that MGM, Wynn, and Sands were all looking at possible multi-billion dollar expansions within Sin City but if those plans existed they are certainly sitting on a shelf now. Other than The Park and MGM Resorts Arena under construction in between Monte Carlo and New York-New York, there are no other major projects on the drawing boards at this time from the companies who have big portfolios in Macau.

Most analysts are predicting that the gaming revenue in Macau will stabilize within the next year but if they continue to decline it could have an even bigger impact in Las Vegas in the years ahead.

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