Is Sin City Determined To Drive You Away?


Asking the tough question that’s probably on lots of minds…

Back in 2016, while editing a guest writer’s article about the de-theming of Luxor Hotel Casino, I felt a long-brewing flame inside me suddenly become a flash fire. The article reminded me of all the things I fell in love with that Vegas was so intent on removing. I felt the need to rant about the path that Sin City has headed down. This is the result of that emotional rush.

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   “Has anyone seen those talking camels?”...                       

Since beginning my own Vegas addiction in 2005, I’ve helplessly watched as some of my favorite attractions have been yanked out and tossed into that box labeled “When Vegas Was Better”. They include SPEED, the roller coaster at Sahara, the HIGH ROLLER ride atop the Stratosphere (their own roller coaster, not that slow-moving LINQ observation wheel), MGM Grand‘s Lion Habitat and the indoor white tiger pool at Mirage.

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          Rio’s “Show In The Sky” was scaled way back and ultimately removed…

Then there are the gorgeous exterior fountains at Paris and Monte Carlo, the lobby aquarium at Mandalay BayRio’s legendary Show In The Sky, moving statues and costumed Roman gladiators strolling around Caesars Palace …and on and on.

With rumors swirling of both Luxor and Excalibur getting another strip-down, that guest writer’s article really hit home. It prompted me to finally vocalize something that I’m convinced is on lots of other readers’ minds.

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         The Linq Hotel – from dump to overpriced eyesore in the name of progress…

Not only have the attractions and free shows been ripped out, but the campiness and fun of hotel themes have been chiseled away ad nauseam. Sure, Imperial Palace was a flophouse. But it was also extremely affordable, had a unified faux-Asian charm…and those unforgettable Dealertainers. Now we have The Linq – a stupidly-named, generic exercise in blandness stocked with Ikea-grade furniture, glaringly-bright interiors and a hideous exterior paint job that defies explanation.

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                                                   Sorry, SLS, but I prefer this…

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                                                                    …to this…

In an alternate universe, Imperial Palace regulars might have moved down to Bill’s Gambling Hall or up the Strip to Sahara to get their affordable room and themed surroundings. But not in THIS reality, where Sahara’s Moroccan stylings were jettisoned in favor of white-on-white at the absurdly-overpriced SLS (three letters that represent nothing, really).

Remember the Victorian-era rich woods, stained glass and gorgeous chandeliers at Bill’s Gambling Hall (originally Barbary Coast)? That stylish little hotel got put on a salt-free diet of beige, blandness and more beige. It was refitted and renamed the meaningless Cromwell a few years ago (who exactly is Cromwell…a stuffy old butler?).

Bye-bye, Victorian Rooms $4.99 steak and eggs…hello to Giada and $60.00 for a 7-oz filet. I’m sure that Giada’s dental work didn’t come cheaply, but should you have to pay for it?

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                                           $36.00 for ravioli…just because I can…

There was once a time when guests arriving at Paris were greeted with quaint French phrases. Those arriving at Luxor could take a Nile riverboat to their inclinator (an angular elevator in the pyramid). Treasure Island was alive with buccaneers and a swashbuckling outdoor show.

The mirage-themed….er, Mirage was lined with bamboo accents and staff members wore tropical shirts (the volcano erupted way more frequently, too). Now the only thing that really sets these hotels apart from one another is the amount of their respective mandatory fees.

The fact that this trend continues could mean two things from where I stand. Either people don’t really care, or the powers that be aren’t concerned with what you want. When you poke around the internet and read things like “I’m done with Vegas. I can visit shopping malls at home and gamble at my local casino without being ripped off for everything”, you have to ask yourself who is right.

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                      These prices are long gone…and so is the restaurant itself…

I still love Vegas, enough to visit at least twice a month. But you can believe that my spending habits, entertainment choices and lodging selections have been altered dramatically. At first, it was a retreat into the Downtown area. where hotels and restaurants were much cheaper, parking was free and resort fees where unheard-of. Then Fremont Street and the surrounding area got bit by the same dollar-sucking bug.

These days, the ancient and crumbling Golden Gate Hotel tacks on an additional $20 per day to your bill (for nothing, really). Mermaids and the 99-cent hot dog are both gone. Parking meters line the city streets, gates block your entrance into hotel garages until you pay up, and the Gold Spike‘s $5.99 Prime Rib special will set you back $37 at Oscars (and side dishes are no longer part of the meal, by the way).

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                Those talking statues have left Caesars Palace for parts unknown…

After Downtown and the Strip both nickeled-and-dimed me to the point of defeat, I scoured the outlying areas in search of new haunts. And what did I find? Themes! Value! Free attractions! Yes, they’re still out there, waiting for you die-hards to discover. There really aren’t many remaining, and even the resorts that offer these beloved relics of yesterday’s Vegas have been affected by money-grubbing, albeit to a much lesser extent.

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                            Eastside Cannery – new, gorgeous, affordable…

We’re talking the likes of Sam’s Town (excellent cheap Firelight Buffet and lovely Mystic Falls attraction and show) and Eastside Cannery…one of my favorite Vegas hotels with no resort fees until very recently, extremely reasonable rates, free Wi-Fi and Strip-quality rooms on Boulder Highway.

 

Stations Casinos dot the entire valley, each one offering a different personality with plenty of attractions and dining options that won’t break the bank. They’ve also taken ownership of the faltering Palms Casino west of the Strip. My favorite of their value-geared locations is Texas Station for its atmosphere, cheap dining and movie theaters.

Palace Station, which is currently undergoing a major renovation, is my go-to for Feast Buffet. There, weekday dinners are only $10.99 and breakfast is $7.99 Monday-Saturday. Sunday brunch is $11.99 vs. $23.49 at Excalibur and $25.99 at Mandalay Bay, making it totally worth the drive for quality basics. And parking is still free…as it SHOULD  be.

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     Serene Hotel on E. Harmon Ave. offers a nice alternative to Strip gouging…

Let’s not forget the wide array of smaller boutique hotels, like SereneArtisan, aging Royal Resort and Tuscany Suites that offer a lot more style and personality than the Aria “office complex” ever could. Unfortunately, most of these have tacked on mandatory fees like their Strip counterparts, but are far less expensive overall than the big boys. And you won’t have to stand in line and be subjected to a pat-down just to take a dip in the pool.

It’s no secret that Vegas casinos have seen a drop in revenue, resulting in actions to make up that money elsewhere. Bottle service, admission fees, higher show prices, fewer free drinks for casino players, rationed complimentary cocktails using less alcohol and cheaper spirits, cutbacks on Player’s Club rewards. Maybe if they never rolled out the universally-hated 6:5 Blackjack odds, a bottle of water wouldn’t cost seven dollars?

I know that there are those of you out there, reading this now, who say “Things change. Vegas moves forward. The days of old Vegas are over”. To you I respond “That’s true if you accept it”. But why have we as a collective group of Vegas-goers allowed this to happen?

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                                 Sorry, Holly…we’re not buying into your lies…

Can you really state, with total honesty, that it’s fair for this city to tack on Resort Fees, Parking Fees, Energy Surcharges, Live Entertainment Taxes, Customer Facility Charges, Concession Recovery Fees, Concession and Franchise Fees, Room Preference Fees, Telephone Call Convenience Fees, Ticket Convenience Fees, Credit Card Usage Fees, Live Reservation Operator Surcharges, Early Check-in Fees, In-room Safe Usage Fees…and many more…to your visit?

How soon before they install machines to collect quarters before you can use the casino restroom? When I was a writer for VegasChatter, we learned that some restaurants were starting to tack on an extra charge to serve you a glass of tap water along with your meal. Yes, tap water! Of course, their response was the typical “to serve our customers better” nonsense.

Isn’t it outrageous to you that free in-room coffeemakers, continental breakfast and wireless internet (things that are standard in just about every basic motel around the nation) are not provided in Las Vegas? Apparently not, because thousands of people shrug it off every day.

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Stratosphere has attempted to counteract “Today’s Vegas” with an ad campaign that has wonderful intentions. Called “Take Vegas Back“, Stratosphere is running commercials and filling the city with billboards and print ads. They plead for a return to the days when average Joes and Janes could enjoy themselves in Sin City without having to be super-rich or super-gorgeous. Too bad the hotel itself is a bit hypocritical by charging a $32.99 plus tax Daily Resort Fee…and a bacon double-cheeseburger is $15.99 in their casual Roxy’s Diner.

Once this city is completely consumed by blandness, fraudulent extortion charges, soaring prices and declining customer service, this writer may reach the point where Vegas becomes the rare once-a-year destination. After all, there are plenty of other places to visit where you can get bang for your buck. You know…like Vegas USED to be.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Things could revert if we stopped being so docile towards this nonsense and actually spoke out/fought back/refused to go along. Perhaps we’re seeing signs of this already, at least in regards to MGM’s parking fees, where rumors of show closings and dramatically-dropping retail sales quickly surfaced.

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                 HEXX and Budweiser Beer Park – two levels of scamming…

Why stop there? Let the hoteliers, restaurateurs and politicians know that you’ve had enough. Scott Roeben of VitalVegas.com put it beautifully when he exposed the CNF Concession and Franchise Fee at HEXX, Budweiser Beer ParkCabo Wabo Cantina, Senor Frogs and others:

Vegas visitors have long bemoaned the fact hotels charge resort fees, but Cabo Wabo Cantina and a few other Strip restaurants charge this concession fee, and it’s far worse than a resort fee because you get nothing whatsoever for it. It’s just a fee tacked onto your bill.

The CNF charge is, in fact, worse than a resort fee, because guests typically don’t learn about the gratuitous fee until their bill arrives, when it’s too late to choose another restaurant.

Adding to the outrage of the CNF charge is the fact it’s added to your bill before the sales tax is calculated, so you’re paying tax on a tax.

What can you do if you’re presented with a bill that includes a CNF charge you didn’t know about? Refuse to pay it. Talk to a manager, demand the charge be reversed and raise holy hell. Tell everyone you know to stay away. E-mail. Tweet. Comment on Facebook. Rant. Rail. Fight back.

Let these venues know we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it in the cornhole anymore.

Scott has also gone on camera and used his site to expose other customer-gouging practices, particularly at MGM Resorts.

And then there’s Branden Powers, the man behind Golden Tiki and the new Evel Pie pizza joint in Downtown, who wrote this beautiful treatise on the “old ways” for Las Vegas Review Journal:

Because of my history with this great city, I want to make sure that its past is not forgotten. We need more Las Vegas. Nightclubs, arenas and professional sports teams are all great. But we need places where people can go talk to each other, share a cocktail and dine on a great steak while watching a classic performer.

People want to experience the Las Vegas of yesteryear because they love its history as much as I do. We need to make sure that is protected. Our history like all things in the desert is slowly evaporating. We never should have lost JUBILEE, the last classic showgirl revue. We should have rallied around it, supported it and funded it as a community.

It’s important that places like The Golden SteerFrankie’s Tiki RoomCasa Di AmoreHugo’s Cellar and The Peppermill Lounge, just to name a few, live on.

I intend to carry the torch and not only protect our legacy but also rebuild it anew with places like The Golden Tiki that seem as if they’ve always been there. Las Vegas Review Journal, August 12, 2016

If more folks had the fortitude of Scott Roeben and Branden Powers, Las Vegas could actually return to the days of being affordable. And it would be lots more fun than it already is.

 

Photos: Sammasseur, Stratosphere.com, Caesars.com.

Excerpts by Scott Roeben and Branden Powers used with permission

Update #1

This Saturday, after attending the Black and White fundraiser at Mandalay Bay, I stopped at Dick’s Last Resort inside Excalibur for a quick bite…and to get re-hydrated.

Being charged $33.98 for an appetizer and salad was bad enough…but I was also slapped with an insulting fee for the glass of water that I asked for. Yes, it’s only 75 cents. But if you don’t see what this means for the future of Vegas tourism, you need to read on.

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That makes this article as timely as ever. Blatant gouging of guests will continue and grow worse as long as Vegas visitors shrug it off. MGM Resorts is at the forefront of this practice. Speak with your wallet and refuse to be ripped off. 

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   Outrageous prices, a mandatory gratuity and a service charge on top of that?

UPDATE #2

This week at SLS’s The Sayer’s Club, I ordered three small vodka/tonics from a cocktail waitress. What should have been served was “well liquor” was charged as top-shelf (big difference in price) and came with a request to tip TWO individuals. I added 15% to the base charge and didn’t dispute the bill (if well liquor is not available, it is the responsibility of the server to state “We carry ______ brands only, is that okay?”. Nevertheless, speak with your wallet and refuse to patronize establishments that knowingly gouge their patrons.

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Author: Sam Novak

Fitness buff, outspoken critic/blogger. Enjoys writing about shows, restaurants, events and performers in Las Vegas. Staff writer for BestOfVegas.com. Former contributing editor for VegasChatter and former deputy editor for VegasBright...

18 thoughts on “Is Sin City Determined To Drive You Away?”

      1. Thanks, George. I miss Vegas Chatter as well. Had just been offered a promotion there during the same week that our closure was announced. Ouch! I hope you visit my solo site from time to time. I do my own thing now, but perhaps there will be an article or two that will catch your interest. Have a great week!

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  1. Great article. I’ve been feeling the same way for a long time now. The Vegas podcast and blog community has wasted an opportunity to rally the troops in their outrage and make their collective voices heard regarding the direction Vegas has been heading imo. Certainly they are under no obligation to do so and I understand it may be counterproductive for their overall success in some ways. Still, it feels like a wasted opportunity to keep our former favorite destination from doing itself dirty in the long run.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, James….and an excellent point about other sites. I actually had an article or two turned down for publishing because the sites were strictly “Come to Vegas and spend your money” without any real analysis of how guests are being fleeced. It was that situation that prompted me to launch “Vegas Unfiltered”….because I’m not afraid to share an honest point of view, even if (or especially if) it goes against the current lemming way of thinking. Thanks for your comment.

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  2. You are on point. Very sad, but all true and it’s only going to get worse.
    Gaming paid for all these free attractions that made Vegas. That’s why these locals/off the strip hotels you mentioned still have some of that.

    There has to be a reason people from all over the world want to come to Vegas and it cant just be for rip off food and eventually sporting events.

    Between millennials not caring about gambling and so many other states making some form of gaming legal, I don’t see how Vegas won’t continue to deteriorate.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hopefully Laughlin takes note of this article. I remember the days where the casinos gave you incentives to spend your money. Cheap rooms, cheap eats. Now I have to carefully budget myself to the penny of how much I’m going to spend. Parking fees, resort fees, expensive meals, expensive rooms, I’m more worried about stretching that dollar than having a good time. Now 9 times out of 10 I chose Laughlin. They still seem to “get it” and realize they can get me to spend all that money while still having a good time and actually wanting to come back. It’s becoming complete madness and I hope the rich are able to supplement the middle because I just don’t think 1 rich person will supplement the loss of 500 middle people. Oh well. As Vegas adapts and changes so will I and I will find other ways to spend my money and have a good time. Cheers Vegas! It was a good run. On to the next!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You have no idea how right you are about SLS/Sahara Front drive. We (employees) wish it was left the way it was and had the roller coaster. Have you stood out there in the late afternoon? You’ll go blind and at opening the sidewalk was painted white 🤦‍♂️

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s a tragedy I now live in the city I once loved. But no more. I can’t go anywhere anymore unless I pay to park my truck. If I do decide I want to eat at a buffet on the strip I’m out 7-10 bucks before I’ve even parked my car. The buffet prices have gone through the roof, show tickets while some shows seem appealing I avoid because I don’t want to pay the outrageous parking fee not to mention the prices of said shows are ridiculous. If I didn’t live here I certainly would NOT visit here anymore. There are much better places to spend my money that don’t nickel and dime me to death.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m a native to Vegas – my family has been here since the 50’s. This was spot on. It’s sad. It makes me cringe to read. And, I would really love to have the Vegas I know and love back. I don’t go out to the Strip ever and on great occasion – Downtown. MGM just plain sucks. I hope this articles gets to people who really care about our beautiful city.

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  7. We have a show in town, the 1st Ladies of Las Vegas Entertainment with Elisa Fiorillo who shared a stage all over the world with Prince and the amazing Kelly Clinton who emulates Carol Burnett but is prettier. The General Admission charge for this funny variety show that also has Dennis Blair who opened for George Carlin for 20 years is only $49 and VIP Booths are $59. You come to Vegas to see shows and Yes you are going to the shows that cost $500 pp but you can’t do that every night. Why not include our 75 minute show in your schedule every Saturday night?

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  8. Paul Eegland I love vages been 6 time but the extra charges are pure greed will have to think long and hard before can afford to come again. Shame.

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  9. I agree. Your article hit the spot just plain ole greed How is there a resort fee there are no indoor year round pools to swim in colder months yes it just not the same anymore and your right I hope Laughlin stays the same

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  10. Let’s not forget a few other things…. like 25 cent craps at the Horseshoe which killed down there every weekend or even the 12 to 6 in the morning specials of prime rib double cut and you’re right the Follies Vegas is a city of excuse my language but sex gambling drinking is what this city was built on a place to get away a place to not have to be mom and dad for a day a place to fantasize and in the end not have it cost a fortune and it always has been that go-to City to do just that. I worked at Sassy Sally’s lot of people don’t probably remember that i even wore the big ten gallon hat i passed out flyers to get people to come in and gamble it was an incentive and on top of it if you put the time in gambling even losing you can get a complimentary meal somewhere at one of the other casinos we have gotten so commercialized so sad to say but man I miss the gangster days at least they looked out for both sides of the field you know we pay valet $5 and they took care of your car and your car was pulled right back up you didn’t have to pay.by hour or a parking fee even if you were a local you got special treatment if you family or friends in town.. the word validation is like a foreign historical word anymore and I miss how they used to take care of locals you know everybody comes in here and everybody has a good time but we don’t live and breathe the strip or Fremont and it should be noted that the locals are still as important as the tourist because you still have a down time and we still want to enjoy certain things like for instance when we wanted to go see a concert we were responsible and we got a hotel room so we didn’t drink and drive but who wants to pay the fee after fee after fee after fee the fees are absolutely insane …. and I have a super super super big b**** because I am born and raised native in the city, the city can venture out into new Ventures and build new casinos and have new stuff that I understand the economy changes and money has to increase in areas but we have lost track of everything because we feel we need to change it all the time I shouldn’t say we I should say whoever runs the city instead of listening to the locals and tours suggestions or ideas remember they used to be a suggestion card in the room I don’t even see that anymore that always helped for improvements or change back to something if there was enough people that wanted it, its ike our voices dont mean ANYTHING … they want to put in professional athletes and teams that’s fine still don’t agree with it I think it’s a conflict of interest but I can take that what I can’t accept changing everything just for money did they forget about FUN…??? but when they messed with our expressive saying it’s ours has always been ours “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” why would you change it to “What happens here only happens here” that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of and if you were going to come up with a new one how about what happens here can only happens here twice.. I mean I prefer to stay with it the original, I mean who voted that in,?shouldn’t that have been put on a ballot? Tradition is important to this city it was born bread and stayed on tradition and things worked and progressed just fine we have rodeos that come in every year we have conventions that come in every year we have festivals that we do the Santa runs we have all kinds of things that we do because of tradition I remember working at the Horseshoe and I remember the poker tournaments I remember watching Doyle Brunson walk in with handcuff suitcase ready for the tournament of the year and now we’ve even gone and let that go so blown out of proportion that you don’t know which channel to watch are you don’t know I mean how long it’s going to take to get to the final table it was tradition every year at the Horseshoe change it make it bigger venue fine but don’t change the tradition of it I say and plead stop trying to change everything I mean I believe in the denomination machines you don’t have to get up and move that’s great but I miss the sound of the coins again tradition I cant stand the fact that people hush you at a crap table it’s Vegas baby I miss seeing Frank Sinatra look-alikes walking around the casino I miss local bands getting recognized I missed the club’s being outside of the venues and not inside of the hotels I see it through a whole different set of eyes than some of the things you mentioned I miss cruising down Fremont love it the way it is now it’s cool and all but I miss it there’s something about keeping things nostalgic and that’s why people came here the topless shows you know the the voyeurism of pushing the envelope and it’s only here that it happens you can make it a family town but you can’t make it a family City because everything that pays our livelihood in this city comes from drinking sex and gambling and you need to be 21 to do it it’s been another downfall of people coming here they don’t want to see kids at 12 at night walking the streets with their strollers we don’t want to have to worry about what we say and what we don’t say because this is where you can let loose and yes this is a rant cuz we are the only city in all of the demolishing things that have happened in the United States of America besides California the state that was able to pick ourselfs up when pushed on our butts by disasters and we have always self preserved our dignity and we’ve always kept a certain amount of respect and we always in the past listen to what the locals and tourists had to say now it doesn’t seem to matter unless you have money!!!! I have never experienced in my time in this city it taking so long to get from one end of town to the other, i think its important to always show and keep showing we dont discriminate that having new people here and Venture into experience that thrill thats so many stories start with and having the diversity brings in a mass amount of freshnesss…its shows the rest of the country no matter gender no matter race no matter financial status come here to experience What You Won’t experience in any other city in the whole world ever in a lifetime or even enjoy it so much that you decide to plant roots here for the next generation I never thought in my lifetime I would ever see the gaming commission shut things down sad to say but we didn’t even take that seriousness of precautions in 9/11 and that is mind blowing, give me I see there’s no difference we had attacks throughout the USA on airplanes and in different locations of cities and they probably would have kept going had we not put our foot down with the Patriot law act but casinos in airports didn’t shut down completely for that the lives that were lost… so I plead STOP all these changes AND come back to the roots because the roots of all ways worked let’s not lose track of what made this city fun exciting andAdventureous cuz this is where you could let your hair down…… forget about your mundane life for just a momenT…
    SINCERELY A VEGANITE

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