Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column by Rick Garman

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The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week

10. Hawaiian Marketplace For Sale

While the west side of The Strip between Tropicana and Harmon Avenues is lined with glittery resorts like The Cosmopolitan and Aria Las Vegas, the east side is mostly made up of tacky souvenir shops, a rundown Travelodge motel, and the Hawaiian Marketplace, a mini-mall filled with mostly overpriced junk stores and a Chili's restaurant. That could change now that the owners of that land have put all 18 acres of it up for sale. This is the first time in a long time that "underdeveloped" land on The Strip has been for sale and with a renewed energy of development in Las Vegas it's possible that someone could swoop in and buy it for something splashy. It would be a brilliant play for anyone wanting to capitalize on expected surge in foot traffic that will come with the new Park development across the street, the 20,000 seat sports and event arena opening in 2016, and the anticipated redevelopment of the Monte Carlo. Stay tuned.

9. New Cirque Show Set for Light Nightclub

Billboard is reporting that Cirque du Soleil is going to put a new, cabaret style show into their co-venture Light nightclub at Mandalay Bay. "For the Record: Baz" will feature homages to the films of Baz Luhrmann including "Moulin Rouge," "Romeo + Juliet," "Strictly Ballroom," and "The Great Gatsby" along with music featured in those films such as "Lady Marmalade," "A Little Party," and "Love is in the Air." It has been playing in Los Angeles and will be making the move to Vegas under Cirque's supervision starting in late June. Read more about Light Nightclub.

8. Suicide at the Shuttered Riviera

There was a sad footnote to the storied history of the Riviera last week when a 49 year old Las Vegas woman jumped from the 20th floor of one of the shuttered room towers. The incident happened on Sunday, May 24th when security personnel found the woman's body by the former pool. It is believed she gained access by buying entry into the liquidation sale happening at the hotel, which is allowing people to scavenge through various part of the property to buy up anything that isn't nailed down. The company running the sale said that they would increase security to keep people from getting into off-limits area of the hotel.

7. Lucky Dragon Hotel Steps Just Outside of the "I'll Believe It When I See It" File

Take a drive or a stroll up to Sahara Avenue near the SLS and you'll see some construction activity happening on a tiny slip of land just west of The Strip. This is the foundation work on what is intended to be the Lucky Dragon, a boutique hotel and casino that was first floated as "absolutely happening" several years ago but then never actually did, until now, maybe. The plan for the Asian-themed property is to have 201 rooms in a nine-story tower, nearly 19,000 square-feet of casino space (about half the size of The Cromwell's small casino), a pool and spa, and a couple of restaurants. When it was first announced I placed it in my "I'll Believe It When I See It" file and moved on with my life. The fact that construction has started makes me nudge it just outside of that file but not very far. According to published reports, the financing for the entire property is not in place and the work that is happening so far might simply be a play to get investors lined up, much like the initial construction work that happened on the Skyvue observation wheel across the street from Mandalay Bay that never got finished. The developers insist that the hotel is on track to open by late 2016. Read more about upcoming hotels in Las Vegas.

6. Skill Based Slot Machines Approved

Slot machines have always been a matter of sheer luck, designed specifically that way to remove anything other than random chance getting in between you and your hoped for winnings (and more often, losing). That's going to change soon now that the Nevada legislature has approved a bill that would allow for the long-discussed skill-based slots to make their way into the state's casinos. The concept here is that the machines could offer some sort of player input that could help determine the outcome of the game, moving them closer to the world of video game technology. For instance, picture a machine that would feature a game like Candy Crush, where the more chains you complete, the higher your rewards. Or maybe this is the next generation of "The Walking Dead" slot, that has a bonus game requiring you to kill as many zombies as possible and the better you are at it the more money you win. There may even be multiplayer modes, where you are competing against other players, may the best man win. There is a lot of stuff that needs to happen between now and the actual implementation of these games, not the least of which is for the slot manufacturers to design, build, and roll them out but it isn't unrealistic to expect to start seeing the skill-based slot machines by 2016. Read more about gambling in Las Vegas.

5. Earthquake Shakes Las Vegas

If you standing still (or sitting still as in the case of many people like my parents when it happened) in Vegas on Friday, May 22 you may have felt the earth move. An earthquake hit at 11:47am registering 4.8 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was about 100 miles north of Vegas but it was felt throughout the city by many. Inspectors shut down the bridges at the I-15/I-95 "Spaghetti Bowl" for several hours and found very minor damage that will require one of them to be closed for a night for repairs but that's about the extent of the impact in Vegas from the quake. Although earthquakes are common in Nevada they are rarely big enough to be noticed, although as most Californians know, a 4.8 is nothing to get too excited about. I don't get out of bed for anything less than a 5.0. Of course this was nothing compared to the disastrous 7.1 earthquake that destroyed Hoover Dam... in the movie "San Andreas" now playing in theaters.

4. Biggest Sportsbook Getting Major Overhaul

It is billed as the biggest sportsbook in the world and soon it's going to get a major upgrade. The race and sports betting barn of a space at the Westgate, formerly the Las Vegas Hilton, will get a top-to-bottom makeover of its 30,000 square feet over the summer. This involves completely renovating the layout, with the race and sports sections switching sides, new furnishings, a new LED video wall, new betting counters, new carpeting, and more. The overhaul is expected to be complete in time for the fall football season. Read more about the Westgate.

3. Las Vegas Club to Become a Pharmacy?

Just about the only thing more popular than casinos in Las Vegas are pharmacies, or at least so it seems with the explosion of CVS and Walgreen's stores on The Strip. There is one of those stores within a block or two of just about anywhere you are on The Strip, including a huge new CVS that just opened at Treasure Island and not one, but two Walgreen's within feet of each other just north of the MGM Grand and at the Harmon Corner shopping mall by Planet Hollywood. Now there is word that at least part of one of the oldest casinos in Vegas may become a pharmacy with Eater.com reporting that plans are afoot to convert about half of the gambling space at the Las Vegas Club in Downtown Vegas into either a CVS or a Walgreen's. Located on the corner of Fremont and Main, across the street from the Golden Gate and Plaza hotels, the Las Vegas Club dates back to 1930 (although not in its present location) and has been just short of a derelict property for years. The hotel portion closed in 2013 and the 20,000 square-foot casino has seen better days. The rumored plan would take the chunk of the casino on the corner and turn it into a pharmacy with food and liquor sales (the real reason they are so popular) and leave the rest of the casino intact. This is just gossip at this point so I'll let you know if it becomes more real.

2. Stevie Wonder to Headline Life is Beautiful Festival

The Life is Beautiful festival will be taking over Downtown Las Vegas for the third year this September and has lined up an impressive roster of music acts to take the stages. Stevie Wonder, Duran Duran, Imagine Dragons, Kendrick Lamar, Hozier, Kid Cudi, Weezer, Death Cab for Cutie, Clean Bandit (one of my personal favorites), and dozens more will take part along with celebrity chefs, world renown artists, and speakers for the three day festival running September 25-27. More than 90,000 people attended last year's event and this one should be even bigger. Advance tickets are on sale now at LifeIsBeautiful.com.

1. The Return of Piff the Magic Dragon!

The show Vegas Nocturne only played for a few months at the Cosmopolitan but it was, without a doubt, one of the most inventive, outrageous, and downright funny productions that has ever hit Las Vegas. The highlight among a series of them were the pieces involving Piff the Magic Dragon, which involved a guy in a dragon costume doing slight of hand magic and comedy that included card tricks, a dog being shot out of a cannon, and a funeral for a fish. As sad as I was to see the show close I was even more sad that I wasn't going to get an opportunity to catch Piff's deliriously silly antics but we have all been given a reprieve. Piff is now appearing on this season of "America's Got Talent" and is also rumored to be heading to a show at the Flamingo as a part of an upcoming revue called X Comedy. As much as I don't want to see a show called X Comedy, I'll see anything with Piff in it so count me in when it opens this summer! Here's the clip of Piff's first appearance on AGT:

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The Future of Vegas Transportation: Subways and Light Rail?

Despite the fact that Las Vegas The Strip is a relatively compact area - a little more than four miles from one end to the other - getting from point a to point b is often a giant pain in the butt. Too many cars, too many cabs, too many buses, and too many people conspire to make traffic difficult to deal with on a regular day and an almost impossible nightmare on busy weekends. Try to get off The Strip can be even more difficult and, too often, expensive.

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada wants to change all that and has unveiled the results of a multi-year study of ways to improve traffic flow around Las Vegas. Some of the proposals are pretty revolutionary and include everything from more pedestrian bridges to light rail lines between The Strip and the airport to a subway system under The Strip. A few of the highlights:

Pedestrian Bridges and Elevated Sidewalks

When the county added the pedestrian bridges over The Strip at Spring Mountain, Flamingo, Harmon, and Tropicana Avenues, it greatly eased the flow of vehicle traffic that too often got hung up at the intersections as roughly nine bazillion people tried to get from one corner to the other. The study calls for more of them including connectors across The Strip between Bellagio and Planet Hollywood and from The Mirage to Harrah's; over the driveway between the MGM Grand and the Showcase Mall; and at Sahara Avenue and The Strip by the SLS Las Vegas. Additionally, the study looks at the idea of elevating the sidewalks along big chunks of the resort corridor over the driveways to hotels like Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Monte Carlo, and more. They also suggest more pedestrian walkways between resorts such as those between Paris Las Vegas and Bally's or between Mandalay Bay and Luxor to move some of the foot traffic away from the sidewalks. Basically what they are suggesting would make it so that there are no places along The Strip where a person has to use a crosswalk to get from one place to another.

Expansion of the Las Vegas Monorail

Although the monorail system has been dogged by bankruptcy and low ridership levels since its inception, the RTC study implies that part of the problem is that while it might not be great for tourists it could be more valuable for business travelers. They suggest expanding the monorail from its current endpoint at the MGM Grand over to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center and to add new stations at the Sands Expo center behind The Venetian and at the upcoming convention facilities that will replace the Riviera.

Easing Airport Accessibility

The RTC study recognizes that one of the biggest challenges is getting people to and from the airport, something that now requires either a car, bus, or cab to accomplish. They want to build a new transportation system hub between the airport and The Strip that would connect a people-mover system from the terminals to buses, light-rail, or even an extension of the monorail. This would theoretically reduce congestion at the airport itself and give people more options on how they get to their hotels.

Light Rail and Subways

The most ambitious part of the study suggests that the best solution to the city's traffic problems is a light rail and/or subway system. It suggests creating a subway line from Hacienda Boulevard near Mandalay Bay all the way up to Sahara Avenue that would connect to either a light rail system or more subway into Downtown Las Vegas. That line would connect to the airport via above or below ground lines along Harmon, Tropicana, and/or Hacienda avenues and additional spur lines of street cars or light rail along Flamingo and Charleston to get to Off Strip locations.

Of course all of this falls squarely into the "I'll Believe it When I See it" category. It took them more than two years to come up with the idea and would take probably five times that to get through all of the environmental and traffic studies, regulatory hurdles, and land rights issues that all of this raises. And that's before we even start to talk about the money. The cost of creating just the subway along The Strip would be in the billions of dollars and the questions of who would pay for all that have already started to be asked. While the pedestrian bridges and other relatively small improvements could get done sooner, it is unlikely that any of the more ambitious stuff will ever see the light of day, at least not anytime in the next couple of decades.

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Uber and Other Ride Share Services Approved in Nevada

Battles between ruling classes and a populist uprising often end poorly for the establishment. Such was the case last week when the Nevada legislature approved bills that will allow ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft to operate legally, thus effectively breaking the dominance of the powerful taxi lobby in the state.

The war started in October of last year when Uber started operating in the suburbs of Las Vegas. In case you're not familiar, Uber is a ride-sharing app. The short version is that you need a ride somewhere, someone else has a car, and they are willing to give you a lift for a fee. To use the service, you download the app and create an account with a credit card. When you need to go somewhere, simply log on to the app, tap a couple of things, and presto... a car is on its way to you with a pre-negotiated price (you can add a tip but it isn't required) that is automatically billed to your credit card. No money changes hands.

The people who pick you up are not licensed taxi drivers - they are just people giving you a ride somewhere.

The taxi union immediately filed protests and lawsuits saying that the service constituted an illegal and unlicensed taxi service that is not only unfair but potential unsafe for consumers. They say that the drivers don't go through the same background checks that cab drivers do, their vehicles are not required to go through the same inspections that a taxi does, and that liability insurance is not as comprehensive. State authorities listened and started cracking down on Uber, with some drivers getting big fines and their cars seized by the police.

Since then, legal wrangling has been going on in the courts and in the legislature, ending with Nevada Assembly Bills 175 and 176 that effectively legalize the ride sharing services by placing them under the supervision of the Nevada Transportation Authority.

It's worth noting that the bills also impose a 3% tax on all rides regardless of whether you take them in a taxi or in a ride share vehicle. Yep, fares are going up again.

The reaction from the taxi drivers was swift, with a small protest last week of about 100 cab drivers on The Strip. It had no impact on visitors to the city as the roughly nine bajillion other cabs kept running.

Uber is expected to launch its service in Las Vegas sometime around July 1 but there are still a lot of questions on how and where it will operate.

When it first started back in October, Uber operated in the residential areas of Las Vegas. They were not making pickups at the airport or along The Strip but they did drop off to those areas. Their plan was to eventually expand to be able to cover the entire city but they may have to negotiate with hotels for dedicated pick up/drop off space on their private property. The state shut the service down before they could get that far.

So should you use Uber? I'm on the fence. On the one hand, I think competition is a good thing and hopefully it will have the same effect in Vegas that it has had in other cities wherein the cabs have to improve their level of service to compete. I also think the rates that taxis charge in Vegas are pretty obscene. But on the other hand I believe in level playing fields and Uber's argument that they aren't really a taxi service and therefore shouldn't have to play by the same rules strikes me as the kind of thing they say publicly but then laugh about as soon as the door is closed. There are also the very real concerns about how often the drivers are screened, how often the cars are inspected, and how up-to-date their insurance is.

And you can't ignore the questions about how much money it actually saves and how effective it will be in a place like Las Vegas. Most studies have shown an average savings of at most 20%, meaning that $20 cab ride from the airport would cost you at least $16 in an Uber vehicle.

Plus there's the convenience factor to consider. You can pretty much step outside of any building on The Strip and there will be a line of taxis waiting to take you wherever you want to go so the idea of logging on to an app and waiting for a ride to show up just to save a couple of bucks may not make a lot of sense. Then again, the lines for those taxi stands can sometimes take awhile so it might all shake out in the end.

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Getting Around Las Vegas Today

With all this talk of the impending launch of Uber and the pie-in-the-sky dreams of a subway running under The Strip, I thought it would be useful to talk about the ways you can get around Las Vegas now.

If walking is not an option - and let's face it, who wants to walk when it's 110 degrees outside? - then your other choices are fairly limited.

Taxis

Taxis in Las Vegas are about as common as slot machines - you'll always be able to find them near the entrances of the hotels, at the airport, and cruising the tourist areas of town. The price for all cab companies is the same: $3.45 to get in (unless you are getting in at McCarran Airport, where there is an additional $2.00 surcharge) and then $2.86 per mile. If the taximeter senses that the cab is moving less than 8-12 mph, an additional pro-rated charge of $32.40 per hour will be added for wait time.

Prices are good for up to 5 people in the cab. Be sure that the prices are posted before you let the cab move!

You should also make sure you know where you're going, the best way to get there, and the rough estimate of what your fare will be to avoid getting ripped off. Read more about knowing where your cab is going.

Shuttles

Several companies offer shuttles from the airport to all the hotels and back again. You don't need to make a reservation in advance - just go outside from where you pick up your luggage and you'll see them cruising the driveway. Prices usually range between $6-12 depending on where you are going and they are shared services, which means that the chances of you getting to go from the airport directly to your hotel without a bunch of other stops along the way is pretty slim.

Many of these companies also offer limousine service ranging in price from $25 for a sedan to a Strip hotel on up. Those must be arranged in advance.

Las Vegas Monorail

The Las Vegas Monorail is a privately run system that operates several trains on elevated tracks from the MGM Grand on the south end of The Strip to The SLS on the north end. There is no service to the airport at this time.

It's convenient if you are going where it goes but not so much if your final destination is somewhere off the route. For instance, if you are going from the MGM Grand to the SLS there is no better way to get from point a to point b. But if you're going from say, Luxor, to The Mirage you're better off just walking or grabbing a cab. The monorail stations are located at the very back of most of the properties they service so getting to and from the platforms can take just as long as hoofing it whatever direction you are going.

The Las Vegas Monorail has seven stops:

The system operates Monday through Thursday from 7am until 2am and Friday through Sunday from 7am until 3am.

A single ride ticket is $5.00, a 1-day unlimited pass is $13.00, and a 3-day unlimited pass is $28.00. Prices change often so be sure to check the website below for the latest information on fares.

Tickets are available at each station from automated vending machines that accept bills or coins or can be purchased online. For more information, visit the official Las Vegas Monorail website at LVMonorail.com.

Buses

The city buses in this town are notoriously overcrowded and late. However, if you are on a strict budget and can't afford taxis or a rental car this is your only true alternative at this point as there are no other mass transit systems.

The primary bus you will be dealing with is called The Deuce, a double-decker that trolls The Strip and Downtown constantly. It's nicer than a normal bus and they do a better job of keeping up with things than they used to but they still have to sit in the mind numbing traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard and are often very crowded. The cost is $3.00 one way or $7.00 for an all-day pass with as many on-and-offs as you want.

City bus fares are as follows:

  • All routes are $1.75 per ride except for the one that cruises The Strip, which is $3.00 one way or $7.00 for an all day pass.
  • Senior citizens (62+) are 75 cents for one ride except for The Strip route, which is $1.50
  • Children 6-17 are 75 cents except for The Strip route, which is $1.50.
  • Persons with disabilities/medicare are 75 cents except for The Strip route, which is $1.50.
  • Children 5 and under ride free with an adult

You can also buy passes online and have them mailed to you ahead of time on the Citizens Area Transit website

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