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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
May 18, 2015
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
Caesars Faces Huge Fine for Money Laundering
Caesars Entertainment is currently negotiating a settlement with federal officials that will see the company fined as much as $20 million over allegations that it didn't do enough to prevent money laundering at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. An investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission has reportedly shown that the casino didn't follow the strict banking and money transfer regulations that the US imposes on large financial transactions that are designed to prevent criminals and criminal organizations from taking ill-gotten gains, buying chips at a casino, and then walking away with what then, on paper, appear to be legal winnings. If the deal is struck it will prevent Caesars Entertainment from getting hit with a criminal prosecution over the matter. This is not the first time a Vegas company has gotten hit with such a fine. In 2013, Las Vegas Sands, the parent company of The Venetian and Palazzo, agreed to a $47.4 million fine to keep federal money laundering charges at bay. Read more about Caesars Palace.
Las Vegas Riviera Going Piece by Piece
The scavengers have descended on the corpse of what was once one of the most luxurious hotels in Vegas now that the liquidation sale has officially gotten underway at The Riviera. The hotel closed last week shortly after it had celebrated its 60th anniversary on The Strip. Yesterday lines stretched around the block as bargain hunters and history hounds paid a $10 entrance fee to get inside the shuttered casino and scour through the sale items, which include everything that isn't nailed down (and quite a bit of stuff that was). Meanwhile, one of the giant Riviera signs was trucked to the Neon Museum where it will be put on display as a part of its permanent collection. Read the history of The Riviera and check out more about the Neon Museum.
Former Riviera Bosses to Run Westgate
Paragon Gaming is one of those companies that you have probably never heard of, but they had a presence in Las Vegas as the operators of The Riviera for the last several years. The Riv is gone but Paragon is sticking around now that they have reached a deal to manage the Westgate, the hotel and time share facility formerly known as the Las Vegas Hilton. The company will take over control of both the gaming and hotel operations but Westgate will still manage the time share sales. They are expected to help usher in more changes at the aging property that has recently seen some room renovations, a new Elvis exhibit, new entertainment, and an updated restaurant lineup. Read more about The Westgate.
Madame Tussaud's Offering VIP Package with Booze and a Boa
Sure, you could go wander through the wax exhibits at Madame Tussaud's Las Vegas and get lots of selfies with you and realistic versions of celebrities but wouldn't you rather do it with a drink in your hand and a feather boa wrapped around your neck? Now you can with the VIP experience at the museum that includes sparkling wine or a beer and a shot, your choice of a feather boa or fake moustache, and a Las Vegas guidebook for $45. This represents a $15 hike over the regular admission price but you get to keep the props, the book, and the drinks (obviously). The package is available now through the end of the year and could be extended if it is popular enough. Read more about Madame Tussaud's Las Vegas.
Vegas Marriage License Fees to Rise?
It will be more expensive to get married in Las Vegas if the Nevada state legislature has anything to say about it. A bill is working its way through the system that would hike the marriage license fees up to $77 (lucky sevens - get it?). That's a $14 increase over the current $63 fee. The reason for the increase is might seem counterintuitive at first glance as legislatures and industry officials say it is intended to make more weddings happen in the state. The extra money will go exclusively toward promoting marriage tourism to combat a decline in the portion of the wedding industry pie that the state has been seeing. In 2004 more than 128,000 licenses were issues while only 80,000 or so were issues last year. That decline has cost the county about a billion dollars in wedding tourism revenue and they want it back, hence the need for more advertising and marketing of the benefits of getting hitched in Vegas. Read more about getting married in Las Vegas.
Aria to Get Hot New York Restaurant Carbone
The Italian restaurant Carbone is widely considered to be one of the most sought after and hardest to get reservations in New York City, but by October people will have a chance to get a taste of the restaurant's cuisine in Las Vegas. Aria is reportedly going to replace the shuttered Sirio on the second floor restaurant row with a Vegas version of Carbone that will serve a similar menu but will have a Rat Pack era design flair complete with theatrical touches including actors and dramatic tableside presentations. Read more about Aria.
MGM Boss Hints at Monte Carlo Revamp
Rumors have been swirling lately that something big is in store for the Monte Carlo resort. Unidentified sources have said that the hotel is expected to get a top to bottom makeover that will even put a new name on the property. Last week, MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren gave an interview in which he hinted that the rumors may very well be true. Murren said that the company had "big plans" for the hotel although he didn't specify what those plans may be. Analysts think that the Monte will be revamped to bring it more in line with the Park development going up in between it and sister New York-New York that is adding restaurants, bars, a pedestrian mall, and a 20,000 seat arena behind the two hotels. Murren also decline to say when the big changes might occur but many think that it will kick off sometime before the arena is scheduled to open in April of 2016. Read more about Monte Carlo and The Park.
What Happens to the Rock in Rio Festival Grounds Now?
The big Rock in Rio festival that wrapped up this past weekend with sets from Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars among others was perhaps not as big as organizers had hoped it would be but it still got mostly positive reviews from the press and attendees alike. But the big question now is what happens to the MGM Resorts Festival Grounds (as they are now named) that were built across from the SLS Las Vegas on the north end of The Strip? The answer is that they are staying put and will host more concerts, events, and festivals. Rock in Rio is set to return to Vegas in 2017 but before that the concert stages could see as many as a dozen events per year according to rules put down by county commissioners. The next big one that has been confirmed is the Party for a Cause concerts in April of 2016 that will feature country music artists like Carries Underwood and Kenny Chesney.
Nevada Speed Limit Raised to 80
The governor of Nevada has signed a bill that officially raises the top speed limit in Nevada from 75 miles per hour to 80. But hold on there, Speedy, don't go dropping the pedal to metal just yet. The bill simply allows the state to start examining which roads can get the new speed limit and then they have to go out and change all the signs so it will be awhile before you can (legally) do 80 on the interstates leading into Vegas. The most likely target for the new limit is the I-15 corridor from the California border to just outside of Vegas but as anyone who has ever driven that knows there is often so much traffic along that stretch of road that 80 would be, at best, wishful thinking.
Crazy Girls Update: The Case of the Missing Giant Phallus
The long-running topless revue Crazy Girls is reportedly still on track to move to Planet Hollywood but exactly when that will happen is up in the air as the production scrambles to replace the costumes and props that were stolen after the show closed at The Riviera. The incident occurred on Monday, May 4 when someone drove off in a truck that contained boxes of the show's stuff including, wait for it, a 7-foot tall um... phallus... that shoots streamers from its tip. Klassy. Anyway, authorities found the truck but nearly $200,000 worth of the production's goodies, including the phallus, have not been recovered, which begs the question of what one would do with a 7-foot tall penis statue that shoots streamers from its tip outside of a topless Vegas review? Turn it into a coffee table? So still no word on when Crazy Girls will open at Planet Hollywood - the show is not listed on the hotel's website of entertainment options - and no word on whether or not they will be building a new phallus for the new production. Read more about Planet Hollywood.
Headliner Report: Jennifer Lopez Joins All-Star Vegas Lineup
After months of rumors Jennifer Lopez has finally confirmed that she will be joining the roster of Vegas headliners with her own residency show at Planet Hollywood. The series of concerts were announced during the finale of American Idol and are slated to begin in January of 2016. The deal will see Lopez doing nearly 100 shows at the resort over two years and is worth a reported $350,000 per show, making her the second highest paid entertainer in Vegas behind only Celine Dion.
And yes, she's making more than co-Planet Hollywood headliner Britney Spears who is reportedly making about $310,000 per show.
Tickets to the JLo concerts are on sale now for the first set of dates, which will run January, February, May, and June of next year with prices ranging from $59 up to $219 before taxes and fees.
Lopez joins a quickly growing list of megastars that have taken up residency on the stage of Las Vegas. Here's a rundown of who you can see and where:
The Canadian songstress has taken a year off of her headlining gig at Caesars Palace to help care for her husband who has been battling throat cancer but is coming back with a new production in August of this year. Read my review of the previous Celine Dion show.
Lots of singers are called divas but few have as much claim to the title as Carey, who just launched a two-year headlining stint at Caesars Palace last week. I will be seeing the show in a few weeks and will have a review for you soon.
Reba, Brooks & Dunn
Country music fans have a great opportunity to see some legends of the genre when Reba McEntire and a reunited duo Brooks and Dunn perform together in a series of shows at Caesars Palace starting in June. I'll be seeing the show shortly after it opens.
Speaking of divas, the famed piano man has been performing at Caesars Palace for several years and is scheduled to continue his run through at least 2015 and probably into 2016 as well. Read my review of Elton John's Million Dollar Piano show.
Boyz II Men
The Australian singer and actress has been performing regularly at The Flamingo since last year and is currently slated to continue her periodic series of shows there through the end of the year at least. Read my review of Olivia Newton-John.
Donny & Marie
The Best Advice for Your Next Vegas Trip
I have been writing about Las Vegas for nearly two decades now and I have taken more trips to the city than I can possibly count. I have done things right and had fantastic experiences and I have done thing incredibly wrong and had lousy ones. So what I have I learned from my time in Sin City? Here's the best advice I can give you for your next Vegas vacation.
Do Your Homework
I know it's tempting to just do the same old thing that you usually do - stay in the same hotel, eat at your favorite restaurants, and sit by the same pools that you usually do but Vegas has so many options and so much to do that you are really missing out if you don't expand your horizons. Take some time to do your homework by reading Vegas travel planning sites like this one and really make sure that you know what all is out there before settling for a repeat. Read more about Deciding When to Go to Vegas and What to See and Do in Las Vegas, which can help you figure out the best times to visit and what to do when you get there.
Book Direct Online
The best deals for hotel reservations can usually be found on the individual websites for each hotel. Yes, you could spend a lot of time trolling through aggregator sites like Expedia or Travelocity and yes, occasionally, you might save yourself a few bucks here and there but not very often unless you are booking a package deal that includes air and a car. Usually the lowest rates can be found on the hotel websites and they usually come with low-price guarantees and easy cancellation that you can't get in other places. And forget about calling - many hotels are now charging you an extra fee to make a reservation by phone and may not be giving you the lowest rate you can get online. Read more about Choosing the Best Vegas Hotel.
Don't Book and Forget It
One of the biggest mistakes people make when booking a trip anywhere (not just Vegas) is they make their hotel reservation and then forget about it. This could be costing you money! When you book, make sure your reservation comes with the option to cancel at no penalty. Most Vegas hotels offer this as an option as long as you cancel 24 to 72 hours ahead of your reservation. Once you book, check back periodically to see if the rates have gone down, which they often will. If you see a lower rate, call the hotel and ask if you can get it applied to your reservation. If they don't give it to you, simply cancel your original reservation and rebook it at the new lower rate. Rinse, lather, repeat until you hit your cancellation deadline. I have seen people saving upwards of $100 per night off their original reservation just by doing this simple trick. Check out the list of Vegas hotels.
Stay off The Strip
If you have never been to Las Vegas then staying on The Strip is an essential part of the experience. But if you have been there, you've already done it and, quite frankly, don't need to do it again unless you are getting some amazing deal at a Strip hotel. Instead, consider staying off The Strip in Downtown Las Vegas or at one of the local neighborhood casino hotels (or non-casino hotels for that matter). You will often be able to save yourself a considerable amount of money at places that are just as nice, if not nicer in some cases, than the hotels on The Strip. Read more about Las Vegas hotels.
Get off The Strip
If you do decide to stay on The Strip, don't limit yourself to spending all of your time there. Las Vegas has so much to offer beyond the boundaries of Las Vegas Boulevard that you are doing yourself a disservice by not experiencing. For instance, Downtown Las Vegas has become really interesting over the last few years with lots of great restaurants, interesting shopping, and unique bars and clubs that are usually significantly more fun and significantly cheaper that what you'll find on The Strip. Read more about Las Vegas hotels.
Rent a Car
To aid in your exploration of Vegas be sure to rent a car. It's often cheaper than taking cabs everywhere and certainly easier than walking plus it broadens your horizons in terms of what you can do and where you can stay. Yes, traffic is a pain in the ass in Vegas and you certainly don't want to be driving yourself if you are going to be partying at the Vegas clubs, but for most Vegas visitors it is a terrific way to see and do more. Check out some practical advice about Renting a Car in Las Vegas and Insider Info on Las Vegas Shortcuts.
Join Players Clubs
If you spend a dime anywhere inside of a Vegas hotel in the casinos, the shops, the restaurants, or beyond and aren't a member of that hotel's players club you are missing out big time. Even the lowest limit gamblers can get perks for the gaming play and many casinos offer reward points for spending money pretty much anywhere inside the building. This can get you free meals, show tickets, rooms, and even cash back in the casinos. Most players clubs require you to sign up in person but some will let you do it online. Take advantage of it! Read more about Casino Basics in Las Vegas.
Set a Budget and Stick To It
It's hard to do in Vegas, I know - my bank account will attest to how hard it is - but setting a budget and sticking to it is key to having a successful Vegas vacation. It is tempting to keep gambling, eating, drinking, or souvenir shopping beyond what you had originally planned on spending - heck, that's what Vegas is counting on! - but you don't want to get home and look at your bank balance and wonder where all your money went. Read more about Managing Your Money in Las Vegas.
Vegas is, by and large, a pretty safe town as long as you stick to the heavily trafficked tourist areas. But it is a major city and there are lots of unique possible threats both human and otherwise. Read more about Protecting Your Valuables, Protecting Yourself, Fire & Disaster Safety, and Staying Healthy in Las Vegas.
Have Fun (But Not Too Much Fun)
It's easy to get annoyed in Las Vegas. There are too many people, ridiculous resort fees, clouds of smoke hanging in the casinos, nightmarish traffic, high costs for everything, and oh, did I mention all the freakin' people? But you probably didn't come to Vegas for peace and quiet so just let it all go and have fun. For example, instead of being annoyed by all the people, take some time to do some people watching, which in Vegas can be even more entertaining than a Cirque show. Just be sure to keep your snarky comments about what they are wearing to yourself, because in Vegas there is such a thing as too much fun. This city was built on the concept of excess so just remember that it is easy to spend too much, drink too much, gamble too much, walk too much, eat too much, and on and on. The one thing you don't want to do on your plane ride home is regret that you overdid it.
Las Vegas Turns 110 Years Old
Last week was the 110th Anniversary of the founding of Las Vegas. To mark the occasion, let's take a look back at where it all started.
Although most people think of the grand gambling palaces on The Strip when they think of Las Vegas, the city actually got its start miles to north in what we now refer to as Downtown Las Vegas.
The development of the city kicked off on May 15, 1905 when US Senator William Clark held a land auction that created most of Downtown Las Vegas. At the time there was not much there other than a railroad depot on the spot that is now The Plaza hotel.
Early Las Vegas was a wild west town, infamous for its hard-drinking, prostitution, and legal (or at least not illegal) gambling. The epicenter of this was Block 16, a red light district where all of the above was openly tolerated. About a dozen bars with gambling and brothels in back rooms operated on the block between Stewart and Ogden and First and Second Streets (now a parking lot and parking structure for Binion's).
Even after gambling was made illegal in Nevada in 1910 and Prohibition went into effect in 1920, the bars in Block 16 and along Fremont Street continued to operate, hiding their now illicit activities behind speakeasy style facades and paying off local officials to let the good times roll.
The early 1930s had three major events that turned Las Vegas into a boom town and shaped its future for decades.
The first was in 1931 when work began on the Hoover Dam (then called Boulder Dam). The project, one of the biggest public works efforts in United States history, brought tens of thousands of workers to the area, many of whom traveled to Downtown Las Vegas for recreation.
That same year, Nevada repealed the law banning gambling, allowing all of the clubs on Fremont Street and elsewhere to move their card tables and roulette wheels out in the open. Some places literally just tore down the false walls that shielded the gaming from public view.
Then in 1933, Prohibition was repealed and alcohol began flowing freely and openly again.
Downtown Las Vegas exploded in popularity with dozens of casinos and clubs opening in the area, some of which still exist today. The Las Vegas Club dates back to 1931; The Apache Hotel (now Binion's's) opened in 1932; El Cortez opened in 1941; and The Golden Nugget opened in 1946. The relatively narrow Fremont Street became lined with taller and taller neon signs for the casinos, lending it the nickname Glitter Gulch.
But things started to change in when Los Angeles hotelier Thomas Hull's car broke down on the highway leading into Las Vegas. According to legend, as Hull sat there in the desert heat waiting for a tow truck, he envisioned a cool swimming pool alongside the highway luring all of the people making the trek from California. In 1941, Hull opened El Rancho at what is now an empty lot at the corner of Las Vegas Blvd. and Sahara Avenue and effectively created the Las Vegas Strip.
As development moved south, Downtown became a low-cost alternative instead of a main destination for most Las Vegas visitors. Over the next several decades Downtown development slowed while The Strip boomed. Binion's opened in 1951, The Fremont Hotel opened in 1956, The Mint in 1957, The Four Queens in 1966, and The California in 1975. In that same time period more than a dozen major resorts opened (and some closed) on The Strip.
By the 1970s and 1980s, Downtown Las Vegas was considered seedy and crime ridden; the place people only went to if they couldn't afford to go to The Strip. Efforts to revitalize the area mostly failed and even those that worked were controversial. The 1992 decision to close Fremont Street - Glitter Gulch - to traffic and turn it into a pedestrian mall with a giant LED canopy over the top was met with howls of protests from purists.
It lured new audiences to the neighborhood but Downtown still struggled all the way until 2010 when Zappos.com, an online retailer, announced it would move its headquarters into Downtown Las Vegas from suburban Henderson. The anticipated influx of thousands of workers spurred development on a level not seen since the 1930s. Old hotels were revamped (The Plaza and The D Las Vegas), new attractions were added (The Mob Museum and Neon Museum), and bars and nightclubs in the Fremont East Entertainment District (Commonwealth, Vanguard Lounge) turned a once dangerous area into a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike.