My Day as a “Terrorist” at Primm’s Fashion Outlets


…or “How To Chase Away Your Final Remaining Customers”…

There’s a wonderful moment in the 1981 film On Golden Pond in which a young boy asks Katharine Hepburn’s character “Ethel” why her aging husband (played by Henry Fonda) is so prickly. “Norman’s like an old lion. Sometimes he has to remind himself that he can still roar”.

Well, imagine that you’re an aging security guard in a forgotten shopping mall where most of the stores have closed down and you can count the number of customers on one hand. Surely you’d have to find some purpose to justify your continued employment, right? Well, this Mother’s Day I found myself in the cross hairs of old Security Guard “Norman”. And I’m guessing that after what went down between us, he’s wishing he’d have taken the holiday off to be with his wife.

Back in the summer of 2013, I was a brand new writer for VegasChatter.com. After a successful trial article, I was welcomed aboard and proposed ideas for my follow-up piece. One suggestion was on taking a day trip to Primm, Nevada at the California State Line. I’d grown an affection for that little collection of casino hotels and the Primm Fashion Outlet at its center. The drive through the desert to get there was very scenic and a pleasant escape from the hustle and bustle of the Strip.

This morning, after a miserable week on the couch with a cold, I awoke feeling somewhat better and desiring to get out of the house. With families undoubtedly about to fill the restaurants and buffets for Mother’s Day brunch, I decided to hop on the interstate and revisit that place from long ago. I could stroll through Buffalo Bill’s Casino, grab a quick breakfast at their value-priced buffet, perhaps ride the spectacular Desperado hyper-coaster and pick up some bargains at those awesome outlets.

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                  Seven Magic Mountains  south of the Strip in the desert…

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                        The former Gold Strike Casino Hotel got a little TLC…

As expected, the morning drive was pleasant and pretty. Traffic was minimal and I got a nice view of the Seven Magic Mountains art exhibit along the way. I also noticed that the aging and suffering Gold Strike Casino in nearby Jean had gotten a fresh coat of paint along with a new name – Terrible’s Road House.

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                           Sorry, no valet service today…or tomorrow….

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After stopping at Terrible’s to snap some photos and check on the condition of the property, I continued onto Primm, just a short ways away. It alarmed me that the parking lot outside of Buffalo Bill’s Casino was so empty and the valet service area was blocked off. But the absence of cars made parking by the door quite easy. I strolled inside and headed for the buffet…only to find it permanently shuttered. Damn!

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                          Bye-bye, Miss Ashley’s Boarding House Buffet…

Well, I could still ride the coaster, then hop on their monorail to Primm Valley Resort, the adjacent casino where the outlet mall is. Sadly, the roller coaster was shuttered as well. A staffer told me it had been closed for about five months but was undergoing safety testing for an unscheduled (soon) reopening. Damn again.

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             Desperado roller coaster – closed for five months and counting…

Looking around the rest of the amusement area noticed that the log flume ride had been stripped of its shooting-gallery motif. All of the animatronic figures along the river were gone. There were empty places in the food court and the large ticketing area for rides had apparently been consolidated into what appeared to be a game room. The place was really barren and had gone steeply downhill.

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                 Former ticketing counter for rides and attractions….

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                     What’s left of the log flume shooting-gallery ride…

Alright, let’s roll with the punches…the excursion wasn’t spoiled, just altered. There was another buffet at Primm Valley Resort, just a short monorail ride away. Too bad that was “out of service” as well…and the shuttle bus that runs between the properties is now only available on Saturdays. “Sorry for the inconvenience” the sign announced. Don’t you love that phrase?

                            No working monorails, shuttles limited to one day per week…

At this point I decided to head to my car, forgo breakfast altogether and just drive over to the stores before the crowds arrived. Imagine my surprise when I walked into….a veritable ghost town. Shops were shuttered and papered over, the food court could barely serve a crumb. restrooms and elevators were closed “for renovations” and there was nary a soul in sight.

Strolling through with astonishment and disappointment, I snapped several photos, planning to send them back to friends who’d enjoyed our trips down here in the past. How sad. Eventually I found an open (and nearly empty) store…Old Navy…and located a rack with nice summer shirts at great prices. As I crouched down to look at a pair of shoes on the bottom shelf, a voice right behind me said “Hello”…and scared the crap out of me.

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I spun around and stood up to face a uniformed security guard staring at me with a bit of a smirk. “Why were you walking around taking pictures?” he asked me. Puzzled and caught off guard, I started to say “Well, I like this place and…”. “You can’t be taking pictures” he cut me off.

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Immediately, I was annoyed. I’d heard several complaints from my colleague Scott Roeben (of VitalVegas.com) about how he is continually hounded by security people whenever he takes photos of renovations, construction, etc. He even complained about it recently on a television appearance after stopping at SLS Las Vegas to document their improvements. It’s really aggravating to be harassed when you’re doing something innocuous, and after all the disappointments this visit had already offered, I wasn’t going to stand for this.

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There will no laughter today at Primm Valley Resorts. Sorry for any inconvenience…

“Are you kidding me?” I challenged him. “This is a tourist town. People take pictures. What difference does it make to you?”. “Well” he stammered “you could be a reporter or something, You were taking pictures of the empty stores”. “Yeah, and what if I was?”. Oh, if he only knew what was going on in my mind. This article was already writing itself.

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Officer Norman had nothing else to add, so he turned around and left me alone. I went back to my shopping, decided against the shoes and gathered my other items to pay at the register. But Norman had returned and was heading right for my face again. “Make sure you don’t take any more pictures!” he demanded, blocking me from approaching the cash register.

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“Are you kidding me?” I roared. “Why are you harassing me like this?”. And here came the answer to beat all answers: “Well, you never know, there are terrorists and…”. Okay, this just turned ugly. “You’re calling me a terrorist now? I look like a freaking terrorist? Or maybe I’m just a shoplifter who enjoys paying for their stuff” I said as I held up my merchandise on hangers.

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Norman replied that he was just doing his job and that his boss had sent him after me. “Where is this boss? I want you to take me to him. Better yet, bring him here since he’s been keeping such a close eye on me”.  Turns out that I’d caught old Norman in a lie. He fessed up that his boss was off that day and that some employee in one of the corridors had mentioned my photo-taking.

I paid for my things, arguing with this guy the entire time, and as we exited the store, a golf cart pulled up with two more gentlemen inside. They’d apparently heard about our loud exchange and were dispatched from their mysterious base to put the fire out. I demanded to know their jobs (“we’re from engineering”) and I let them know how absurd this whole embarrassing scene had played out.

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“Are you guys bored? Nothing better to do than to chase away the last few customers you have? No wonder this place is dead”. With that I headed down the corridor and towards my car, Officer Norman keeping stride with me for most of the way. I told him to stop following, left the property and was absolutely furious at how this morning had turned out.

It’s really a shame that some of our fondest memories of Vegas are being chipped away by bad attitudes, poor business choices and a disregard for the courteous service that put Vegas on the map. No longer are tourists welcomed as guests, but treated more “like walking wallets” (as a colleague so eloquently stated recently)…and annoyances that have to be dealt with for a paycheck.

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TSA agents (of which McCarran Airport has the surliest and rudest I’ve ever encountered) and security teams in particular need to be held accountable for their behavior. Rarely are terrorists actually stopped at airport security checkpoints, but hundred of thousands of dollars worth of our personal belongings disappear from our luggage annually.

Las Vegas probably has more security cameras and facial-recognition software than any other place in the nation, yet there seems to be little rhyme or reason as to how it’s utilized. Roeben and I get hounded for snapping smartphone pictures around casino grounds, but a madman can hoard a stockpile of guns and assault rifles in a 32nd-floor suite and pull off the largest massacre in modern American history. Vegas has become like the S.S. Poseidon….upside-down and sinking fast.

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We’re in the midst of a well-documented decline in tourism here. Shows, restaurants, attractions and entire hotels have been shuttered, all due to the failure of today’s business model and a complete lack of sensible decision-making. It’s time that we as human beings open our eyes, step outside of the characters we play on the time clock and guide ourselves with simple common sense. Carrying out stupid or harmful acts just “because my boss told me to” isn’t acceptable anymore.

Is Sin City Determined To Drive You Away?

I’ve only lived in this city since last October, yet in that time I’ve seen massive layoffs, skyrocketing rates and predictions of the impending collapse of our tourism industry. You might think that my small incident in an outlet mall has little to do with that, but does it really? Let’s see how well Downtown’s Fashion Outlet Mall fares a year from now since they’ve decided to gouge shoppers with parking fees.

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There are plenty of places other than Las Vegas where people can go to spend their money. Those of us who reside here depend upon your continued visits to keep our economy alive. If we as locals don’t strike out, speak up and protest what’s happening to Sin City tourists when they open up their wallets, then ours will soon be empty, too.

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                      This is the face of a terrorist. Run for your lives…

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Hanging By A Thread – Sin City’s Huge Entertainment Dilemma


Fuerza Bruta’s shocking failure suggests a troubling future for large-scale productions….

Several years ago I penned a two-parter for Vegas Chatter entitled “Four Walls and a Dream”. In it I explored the difficulties involved in launching a new show in today’s corporation-run Vegas. Gone are the days when casinos supported their own entertainment. It’s up to productions themselves to “pay the rent” via an arrangement known as four-walling. And that quite simply is why most new shows are gone before you’ve ever even heard of them.

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That article was inspired by Jeff Civillico, a dynamic young entertainer whose star was already on the rise. His “Comedy In Action” afternoon show at Linq Hotel (then known somewhat absurdly as The Quad) was working hard to make a name for itself. Yet the resort where he rented showroom space had little interest in helping “Comedy In Action” to succeed.

Civillico was on the hook not only for the room and production costs, but also for supplying the advertising materials to display around the property. Yet Jeff had little control over where they’d be displayed….if at all. I’m not sure if he ever worked out his issues with parent company Caesars Entertainment, but Comedy in Action still performs once a week at Paris Hotel Casino.

I learned a lot about the current state of Vegas entertainment while researching that piece. There was plenty of response from performers, producers, directors and public relations people when it ran, too. But after the shocking announcement that Fuerza Bruta would be shuttering only four weeks into a six-month stint, I realized two valuable facts:

  1.  There is no magic formula to ensure that a show will be a hit.
  2.  The current state of Vegas entertainment is more volatile than ever before.

If you haven’t heard of Fuerza Bruta, then congratulations. I’ll pretend to make a check-mark in the air and we can continue on down the list. But first, allow me to say that less than one week ago in my rave review for Fuerza Bruta for BestOfVegas.com, I called it a “Sin City game changer”. I also inaccurately claimed that it was “poised to redefine entertainment on the Strip”. Oh, my… (click HERE to read the original review).

 

 

Just after I’d sent the piece off to the editor, I received an email from Fuerza Bruta’s public relations firm regarding the Vegas run.

FUERZA BRUTA will perform its final show at Excalibur Hotel & Casino on Sunday, April 7, 2019. The acclaimed production, which has been seen by more than six million spectators in more than 34 countries and 58 cities since its launch in 2003, will continue to impress audiences from around the world as it prepares to make the move from Las Vegas to MGM Cotai in Macau in June 2019.
Tickets for the remaining Las Vegas performances of FUERZA BRUTA are now on sale and available at any MGM Resorts International box office, online at Excalibur.com or by calling (702) 597-7600. Refunds for tickets purchased for shows at Excalibur after April 7 will be available at the point of purchase.

It took awhile for the shock of this announcement to subside. I could have been embarrassed that I’d been so far off in my predictions. Instead I was angry that the so-called “City of Entertainment” had chewed up and spit out yet another piece of great entertainment.

 

 

All but one of my friends who had seen the show were absolutely dazzled by the balls-to-the-walls audacity of it. During three separate viewings, I’d stood alongside (and chatted afterwards with) cast members from shows like Chippendales, Le Reve, Zumanity and Donny & Marie. They’d come as I had to see if the enthusiastic pre-opening buzz was deserved. And every one of them was delirious, if not downright envious, of the incredible visuals and creative sequences that Fuerza Bruta was able to pull off inside a tent erected on a parking lot.

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That positive word-of-mouth alone should have been enough to bolster tickets sales. If performers from some of the top shows in Vegas loved it, then it was a must-see, right? Not so fast. Depending on who you ask, it turns out that paid tickets for the show were averaging 50-80 sales per performance with the rest comped (freebies). But if all of those people love it, then they’ll recommend it to friends and attendance will build, right? Well, that would take time….which the powers that be weren’t about to grant.

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Fuerza Bruta was located just outside of Excalibur, which is owned by MGM Resorts. MGM runs nearly half of the major resorts on the Strip. So why weren’t they supplying the capital to help fund operations and allow for attendance of this remarkable show to grow? Four-walling, of course! If Fuerza Bruta failed, all Excalibur would have to do is pull down the advertisements and sweep away any remaining evidence of where the tent had been.

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Realizing that readers and friends who’d planned on seeing the show would never get that opportunity to do so made me angry. I took to social media to vent my frustrations. “What the Hell is wrong with Vegas? Nothing worthwhile stands a chance anymore!”

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Well, thank goodness for the reach of Facebook and Twitter, because my steam-valve post brought out lots of sensible responses from performers in and around the Strip. Mike Hammer of Mike Hammer Comedy Magic at Four Queens was the first to chime in:

You can blame it on this city all you want but they didn’t understand the fundamentals of running a show in this town. It comes down to poor marketing strategy. First of all the show has a name that is not memorable. I live here and can’t even pronounce the name. No way most people from the Midwest are even going to know what the show is. Also, it’s pretty hard to sell a show when you can’t even describe it. Everyone I know that has seen it, including has never described it in one sentence. They didn’t even leave enough time to build up a buzz.

Bad timing of when they opened too. Slower time of the year with March madness and spring break. Again, this a producers decision. They weren’t even selling 50 tickets so how can you blame it on this city?

Again, people that don’t get the VEGAS market. If they didn’t plan enough money to survive six months of marketing, they just were not ready. I wish the best of luck elsewhere where they know what they’re doing. I love VEGAS and it’s been a home to me for 16 years. I’ve seen shows come and go and most of the time it’s the producers or management fault.

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Enoch Augustus Scott, host of long-running hit Zombie Burlesque at Planet Hollywood’s V Theater also took exception to my finger-pointing at Vegas:

There are a million possible reasons besides fat Americans to account for this. Injury. Bad accounting. Or it could be the standing up. People stand and walk around Las Vegas all day along. Sometimes the only chance they get to sit is dinner or a show. Also the Las Vegas show demo skews older. Also people from all over the world come to Vegas. Cirque has been able to grow as big as they are by catering to and attracting an international market base. So you really can’t blame fat Americans on a show not running. Clearly the producers did not understand the landscape or have enough capital to go the 6 months. Happens all the time. Producers come here with a hope and dream and without a business plan or the necessary investment to run a show long enough for it to become a success. It is poor craftsman who blames his tools and even poorer performer who blames his audience. Literally.

While I agree on much of what Enoch says, he also had added “It was always meant to be a limited run. Calm down everybody.” Correct, but that limited run was for six months with the hope of an extension. Four weeks was clearly a failure with deeper implications.

 

See, that’s the problem with having so many choices in one city. Without brand recognition, a famous headliner or a simple-to-explain concept, your middle-American Vegas visitors just won’t make the time for it. Hence we’re inundated with magic shows, impersonators, topless revues and lots of “Circus Day Solay”.

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It’s interesting to note that Fuerza Bruta played in New York City from 2007 through 2016. That’s over 3,000 performances! But we’re talking about an entirely different demographic over there. Visitors to NYC book their tickets to Broadway hits months…and sometimes a year or more…in advance. They’re also a more sophisticated crowd that makes Broadway entertainment part of an elegant evening that includes fine dining while wearing tasteful and carefully-selected outfits.

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But in Las Vegas we’ve got 1) no backing from the host hotels, 2) no opportunity to build brand awareness….and 3) a group of visitors not exactly looking for high art to go along with their yard-long daiquiris.

I went poking around other social media outlets to see how people were reacting to the news of Fuerza Bruta’s sudden shuttering. Always-reliable VitalVegas.com had quickly published an article announcing the closure, and it was a comment from reader ExVegasLocal that caught my eye:

I was “this close” to buying tickets to see Fuerza Bruta for an upcoming trip. It looked like a really cool show, but I was on the fence because I wasn’t sure I wanted to be jostled in a crowd from one side of the room to the other for an hour. In the end, I decided not to bite.

No matter what Vegas thinks about itself, it’s not really that forward thinking/avant garde. Neither are its visitors. Hence the constant replication of one thing that works until it’s completely overdone. Another Cirque show/night club with one syllable name/shopping arcade in front of a hotel/pool party/CVS pharmacy anyone? Now that’s more like it.

Vin A., one of The Bronx Wanderers, had a humorous reaction to my post…one that was also deeply insightful:

Well THAT was obnoxiously fast 😢 i didn’t even get to see the freaking thing! Wtf? Need a low low overhead to survive out here. Why all the one man shows live on forever and a few small cast things barely squeak by. It’s tough as hell out here. You play here for the prestige, and you tour for the money that carries you through your losses out here. That’s the future.

Raja Rahman of the musical magic duo Jarrett and Raja added his own thoughts to the situation:

It’s never about the quality of the show. It’s the $$$ behind it. Ugh. The cycle continues. After our experience, I’m convinced this business model is crap. Any business needs time to ramp up.

“Our experience” no doubt refers to the troubles Jarrett and Raja encountered at various showrooms throughout the city. They’ve had to deal with four-wall scenarios and abrupt closures at downtown’s Plaza Hotel, Hooters Casino and Stratosphere. Even though these gentlemen are residents of Las Vegas, they often find it sensible and more lucrative just to take their talents on the road.

Actually, it’s a pretty common thing for Vegas shows to go on tours. And often they never return. A few years ago I shadowed a production as it searched for a suitable venue on the Strip. After months of meetings and hassles, they decided on a major casino with a troubled showroom history. Sadly, their production would just be another casualty in a long list at the historic south-Strip hotel.

An opening date was chosen, tickets were sold, sets were constructed and advertisements went up throughout the casino and outside. But after being frustrated by resistance and lack of support from the hotel’s regime, the producers abruptly decided to throw up their hands, walk out the door and take the show on the road without doing a Vegas residency.

It makes no sense. It’s like they don’t want you here. Why should I put up money and then fight with the people who I’m paying rent to? After all that, if I’m lucky I’ll sell two hundred tickets a night in Las Vegas. We could take this show to other places where entertainment like this isn’t available and sell out two THOUSAND seats a night. And those places roll out the red carpet for us.

And that’s exactly what he did. A show designed for the Vegas Strip had to leave the city in order to survive. And the showroom they walked away from still remains empty two years later.

It doesn’t have to be that way, but greed always puts short-term profit ahead of long-term goals. Let’s use BAZ as an example. That innovative musical was brought to Mandalay Bay from Los Angeles by none other than Cirque du Soleil. The launch occurred during an awkward time frame in which ownership and business models at Cirque were being radically altered. Cirque abandoned BAZ in no time and without their support it closed after only six weeks.

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      BAZ was the perfect blend of sass, class and contemporary pop culture…

That’s when the Sands Corporation stepped in. Recognizing the many benefits of having a fantastic and unusual show on their property, they forked over the money to retro-fit the Palazzo Theater and supported BAZ’s run for two years. BAZ was never going to be a huge hit, but it was a prestigious project that brought a great deal of class and pride to the Venetian/Palazzo family.

So on one side we’ve got performers stating from personal experience that the four-wall business model doesn’t work. And on the other we’ve got these huge corporations that just don’t care. Working within the confines of the current system, what can be done to help a show succeed?

Well, if there was an answer to that, then at least a few of the dozens of shows that died in 2017 and 2018 might still be around. And that theoretical answer still wouldn’t apply to an existing property like Fuerza Bruta. So should it have been the responsibility of the PR firm to suggest “Hey, your show isn’t going to work here without a bit of overhaul”? Unlikely….they’re a third-party agency being hired by the show to spread awareness and buzz….nothing more. And who tells their boss on the first day that people might not even want their product?

Besides, public relations firms work mostly within the industry, reaching out to people like yours truly and much larger outlets such as TV networks, magazines and newspapers. They can tailor an existing ad campaign to make it Vegas-centric, but a risky top-to-bottom re-do for one stop of a tour? Not gonna happen…and we’ve already decided that there’s no magic formula for success, so why even try to change what’s worked everywhere else on the planet?

Should the PR firm have at least suggested a name revision for the show? Again, that would have understandably been met with resistance from a product that’s already a worldwide brand. And yet, a temporary re-naming to “Fuerza Bruta – Brute Force” might have eliminated some confusion and put a few more arses in those non-existent seats. Even the wise folks at Wynn eventually decided after several years to officially change the name of  Le Reve to “Le Reve – The Dream”. Because, you know, French is hard!

So just how much is in a name? Maybe the folks at the Strat should be asking that question right about now. No doubt they are sweating, because their delayed-delayed-delayed tent show Celestia, which was supposed to open on January 30th, is suddenly looking at an even more troubled future.

Celestia, now set for a May 1st debut (even though tickets are still not up for sale), may have an edge over Fuerza Bruta simply because it’s a show created specifically for Vegas. But we can justifiably counteract that advantage with the simple fact that it’s way at the troubled north end of the Strip and not the heavily-traveled Excalibur/MGM Grand/Tropicana/New York NY intersection where F.B. failed.

Celestia can also boast having some Cirque du Soleil DNA in its genes….and a few years ago that might have mattered. But now it’s time to recognize something really scary: Cirque du Soleil is facing genuine trouble here in Las Vegas. I’ve been told by people behind the scenes that MGM Resorts is quietly preparing to shut down all of their Cirque shows by the end of 2020.

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                             It’s my blog, I’ll be dramatic if I want to be…

While that might sound like absurd conjecture, there is plenty of evidence to back this rumor up. For one, huge productions like KA, ZUMANITY and Beatles LOVE are now advertising on Groupon. Yes, Groupon…the place where you go to buy discount Botox treatments and personalized make-up bags.

 

 

In my Vegas Chatter days, Groupon was a clear indicator that a Vegas attraction was struggling badly and would soon be gone. If you don’t believe me try to visit Eli Roth’s GORETORIUM. That’s not always the case anymore, but with must-see shows like LOVE, it’s an embarrassing way to put butts in seats.

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Hundreds of empty seats during a Friday performance of Cirque’s “Beatles LOVE” 

I recently attended a Friday-night performance of LOVE and was shocked that the massive auditorium was perhaps 40 percent filled. Hundreds upon hundreds of empty seats. And that’s apparently been the case for most of the Cirque shows for awhile now.

Vital Vegas stated in May of last year that Cirque’s 2017 capacity had been running at around 50 percent. With the removal of free parking to Nevada residents and a continued drop in tourism, that number would look even bleaker in the first quarter of 2019.

MGM Resorts numbers bear out rumors Cirque shows running at 50-60% capacity in Vegas: 3.6 million Cirque tickets sold in 2017, 9,890/week avg. per show. At 10 shows per week, that’s 989 sold with avg. capacity of 1,700.

Vital Vegas was also one of the first to report that Cirque Vegas was undergoing huge layoffs behind the scenes as part of a massive cost-cutting measure:

As they say in show business, “Holy crap!” Cirque du Soleil has reportedly informed all their Las Vegas shows (excluding “Mystere”) all department heads (lighting, sound, wardrobe, etc.) will be let go Apr. 17.

7:19 PM – 23 Mar 2019

He followed that up with an even more troubling tweet:

Hearing at least one well-known Cirque variety act was spotted auditioning at another (non-Cirque) show in town, presumably due to safety concerns related to Cirque layoffs.

12:48 PM – 31 Mar 2019

So, department heads have been axed, individual shows are being consolidated under one umbrella and performers are supposedly jumping ship to save their own skins. Does that sound like Cirque du Soleil will be around much longer to you?

In November I visited the Vegas Cirque du Soleil headquarters for a profile on Kim Scott, their Senior Manager of Sourcing and Partnerships. In her twelve years with the company, Scott had spearheaded shows like KA, Beatles LOVE and Criss Angel Believe.

During the interview, Kim had proudly spoken about being “responsible for maintaining our position in the industry as a leader in live entertainment safety standards, and position(ing) Cirque du Soleil as an employer of choice.” Yet one week after the article was published, Ms. Scott notified me that she was leaving Cirque to start her own consulting firm. I was astonished…and a little concerned.

Scott had also mentioned at the time that Cirque was busy creating a new show for Luxor in the theater vacated by Criss Angel’s Mindfreak. Raise your hand if you’ve heard anything about that one….I certainly haven’t.

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          Wanna go gaga over Gaga? It’ll set you back about a grand….

If a major brand like Cirque is struggling, new shows can’t afford to open and dozens of existing productions have disappeared, what will the future of Las Vegas entertainment look like? I have three answers: pricey headliner residencies, sports teams and celebrity DJ’s.

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       This….person…was just hired by Palms Resort to the tune of $60 million…

I don’t think anyone’s unaware of the Golden Knights or the new Raiders stadium. And who isn’t buzzing about Lady Gaga‘s two new shows at Park MGM Theater? Katy Perry, Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Aerosmith and more are settling in for extended gigs. Throw in Marshmello/Calvin Harris and their ilk for the club kids and that’ll probably cover nearly every major kind of entertainment in the city.

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           1.8 billion dollars is the projected cost of the new Raiders stadium…

Oh, those little one-man shows will probably survive. And the strippers most likely will never run out of poles to swing from. But for productions shows, you’ll just have to head Downtown to the Smith Center. That venue for the performing arts will continue to host nationwide touring productions for short-term runs. Las Vegas will just be another stop on the schedule…no longer unique.

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               “Closed. Refunds will be available at the point of purchase.”

Clips and photos by Sam Novak. Except for a few from…wherever….

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Events, Trends & Moments…The Personal Side


Sharing some of the more intimate moments and thoughts of 2018 as I bring this year-end retrospective to a close…

THAT WONDERFUL HELICOPTER RIDE

There were a lot of changes in my personal life during the latter half of 2018. The biggest began during a fortuitous flight from my home in Salem Oregon to Las Vegas. A conversation with my seat mate and his wife, who was directly in front of him, led to a new friendship. And that friendship yielded one of the most (if not THE most) spectacular events of the year.

It’s quite common to see helicopters slicing through the skies of Sin City, but only one offers the experience as a luxurious jaunt over Hoover Dam to the Grand Canyon. I could go on and on with words, but this one deserves a visual. Thanks to Trina Larmony, Jim Gisclair and all the wonderful folks at Serenity Helicopters for making my heart soar. Read about the full experience here.

GONE AND FORGOTTEN – Vegas Bright

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VegasBright.com was an idea that had so much potential. The brainchild of a fan of VegasChatter.com (the site that got me started in this industry), VB could have been an enormous success. I was approached by this particular reader with a proposal to gather former VC contributors, regroup and carry on the tradition. And I’d get to work (sans compensation, mind you) with wonderful photographer and friend Greg C. once more.

Alas, there was no direction, organization or cohesive path from the very start. Writers left with abandon and those who stuck around offered pedestrian pieces like the painful series “My Halloween Visit to Fremont Street” (that began the first week of November and carried on for ten insipid chapters into June of the following year), endless burger joint reviews (which earned our site the nickname “Burger Bright”) and week after week of fluffy reader-contributed “Must-do” filler.

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If I sound bitter about this matter, I most definitely am. There was no excuse for such a wasted opportunity. My attempts to bring our team to a unified whole were consistently met with resistance by the founding editor. In fact, our writers never actually gathered a single time. Articles that I penned about fresh and exciting events were set aside for dusty reviews of long-running shows (that had nothing new to report on) and restaurants that had been around forever. It became a predictable and boring snooze fest, nothing at all like the site we’d set out to emulate.

After I departed in frustration to start this blog, a replacement editor came in. This guy subsequently put Vegas Bright on hiatus…not once but twice. That didn’t stop him, someone whom I’ve never actually met, from slandering both me and my brand-new page on Twitter (several times, actually). Not cool, dude! He mocked my readership and writing abilities (“You write? I’ve never heard of you”). Such childish behavior, despite the fact that dozens of my articles continue to fill the archives of his now-dead site.

Sounds an awful lot like our current White House regime, doesn’t it? When you feel inferior or threatened, it’s easier to insult than to up your own game. All bluster, little logic, zero action.

I feel pride in having an intimate and discerning readership (thank you all) and for not churning out the same recycled news bits as others do. What’s really cute is that, despite ripping my page apart, there were at least three separate incidences where Vegas Bright cribbed my headlines, articles, layout and photographs.

The most recent…or final…Vegas Bright piece was published on June 8th, 2018. It, too, was a knockoff of my ongoing series on Sin City oddities hiding in plain sight. Thanks for flattering me….yet again.

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There’s been no explanation for the continued inactivity, no official “farewell” and no reason to believe that Vegas Bright will ever return. What a nice way to disrespect your loyal readers. Not that anyone actually cares. If a website utters its dying gasp in the virtual woods, does it make a sound?

MOVING TO LAS VEGAS

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The biggest personal event I have to share is the decision to relocate from Oregon to Las Vegas. To say that frequent flying between the cities is trying would be an understatement. Southwest Airlines, the primary carrier between the two cities, has yet to master the art of an on-time departure. Competitor Alaska Airlines, my preferred airline by leaps and bounds, has unfortunately scaled back the number of non-stops between the two cities.

To make things more frustrating, an incident at McCarran International Airport last November had me deeming their TSA checkpoint “the worst in the nation”. Then there are all the recent changes that make staying in a hotel on the Strip much less pleasant and affordable than just a few short years ago.

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      A typical morning view from my home in the Mountain’s Edge community…

Surprisingly, life for Vegas locals is quite a pleasant affair. Homes are newer, cheaper and slicker than you’d expect. The cost of groceries, gasoline and dining out are lower than where I came from (which is why so many locals see the Strip for the ripoff it is), and there are many outlying attractions and activities that tourists never know about.

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       My four-level home has a rooftop deck with a view of the entire valley…

After making the decision spontaneously, I contacted Jeff Desruisseaux, a realtor whom I’d recently met at Leon Spinks’ birthday party. We arranged to meet and I headed down here to go house-hunting. Within 24 hours I had an offer in on my dream home, a four-level beauty, which was accepted immediately. Some things are meant to be.

                                     I’ve made a lot of fantastic friends in this city…

In no time I was back in Oregon, packing the SUV with my rescue cats and getting on the road. On board was my orange tabby Sunny, who had lymphoma and was about to begin chemotherapy. Sadly, he passed away on January second. But the time we spent together on the highway was unforgettable.

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My little buddy stayed hidden for most of the trip, but when the sun began to break the horizon, he came out of his carrier and watched the beautiful sunrise with me. As we drove along the lake, the warmth of the sun hit both of our faces and I knew it was a special moment never to be forgotten.

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It was hard to start 2019 by saying goodbye to my little pal. Thank goodness he was treated with loving care by the staff and oncologists at Las Vegas Veterinary Specialty Center right up to his final moments. Amazingly, both Branden Powers of The Golden Tiki and Chef Bruno Morabito of Sid’s Cafe at Westgate have offered to make tributes to Sunny at their respective businesses. This community has a deep soul indeed.

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Life in Sin City has taken some adjusting to but there are no regrets….only new opportunities. This valley is packed with wonderful, giving and talented men and women. I look forward to telling you about them in the weeks and months ahead. And why, despite all the things that make Vegas less than perfect, it’s still a wonderful place to call home.

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Thank you for being a loyal reader and friend. Happy New Year.

 

 

Lost Vegas – When Your Favorites Are Gone Forever


The decision-makers of Vegas may want you to forget all about what “used to be”, but not me…

Everyone knows about the ever-changing face of Vegas. While the publicity machine churns out NEW! BETTER! BEST! in the hopes of grabbing your attention (and getting a fair share of your travel stash), they fail to mention that, in the process, you might be losing your favorite Vegas “whatevers”. Most times they’ll disappear, with no hope of returning and never to be mentioned again. In today’s round of “Lost Vegas”, I’ll share some of my own fond memories…and perhaps a couple of tears.

Chef Kerry Simon passed away in 2015 after battling MSA disease, a form of Parkinson’s. His death was preceded by the closing of two Vegas restaurants, Simon’s at Palms Place and KGB Burger Bar inside Harrah’s. While I was fond of Simon’s for its location and ambiance, it was the food at KGB that drew me back many times.

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My favorite item there was the Thanksgiving Turkey Burger, a one-of-a-kind holiday celebration on a bun: big juicy turkey patty, stuffing, cranberry relish and sprouts topped off with a layer of turkey gravy. That belt-buster was even better when washed down with a Captain Crunch milkshake.

My favorite KGB server, Chris, used to offer his own variation of the Crunch shake, topping it with strawberry syrup. All the better to evoke memories of morning cartoons with a bowl of Crunch Berries, the best variety of Captain Crunch.

Kerry’s legacy will live on at Carson Kitchen, his final culinary offering to Sin City. We’ll miss you, Mr. Simon…and those fond recollections of Thanksgiving and Saturday mornings in front of the TV.

From there we move to Neonopolis, the troubled downtown shopping/entertainment complex which has been mired by a history of failures. The biggest one-two punch came with the simultaneous closings of Krave Massive and Drink and Drag.

Both businesses catered primarily to the LGBTQ crowd, but Drink and Drag was much more of a progressive mix of gay and straight. This nightclub/bowling alley was the epitome of Vegas oddities, mixing lip-syncing drag queens, pool tables, tasty food and muscular shirtless bartenders into one wild ride.

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Always a blast, especially for those with an open mind, Drink and Drag quickly became a hit. The former Jillian’s location offered big entertainment–and a very unusual evening on the town…for chump change. Unfortunately, there was more behind-the-scenes drama than a truckload of divas sharing a dressing room. Management and liquor-license issues ultimately closed the doors, taking sister club Krave Massive (one level up) with it.

The final incarnation of Strip mainstay Krave never really took hold downtown, despite a temporary life at Rio, which kept the brand in circulation during the construction phase. Promising to one day become the biggest gay venue in the world (complete with a rooftop pool) Krave Massive was more like Krave Minor…it lasted only four months. Most sections of the club were never completed, and those that were accessible lacked…a lot.

The former occupant of that third-floor space didn’t fare much better. Galaxy Theaters at Neonopolis once offered mainstream movies to downtown visitors and residents. What started off as a 14-screen multiplex was later downsized to 11. The theater complex was poorly maintained and drew a frequently rough customer demographic. It even operated without air conditioning (unthinkable in the desert heat) for the last several months of its existence.

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The theater was closed abruptly on the eve of the new Star Trek reboot on May 7th, 2009. Neonopolis frontman Rohit Joshi explained that without digital projection upgrades, Galaxy Theaters would need to “maintain its competitive edge” by shutting down. With logic like that, it’s no wonder that Neonopolis continues to sit mostly empty.

Speaking of Star Trek, the former Star Trek Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton continues to garner mentions at the annual Trek convention at Rio. Offering rides, character experiences, weddings, dining, a mock-up of “Quark’s Bar”, gift shops and a museum, Star Trek Experience drew visitors from all over the world. For many, it was the only reason to visit the otherwise-floundering Hilton (now a more successful Westgate Hotel Casino).

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At one point, Rohit Joshi (him again) promised to reopen Star Trek Experience at Neonopolis, in conjunction with a new Star Trek film on May 8, 2009. Obviously that didn’t work out so well. These days, the casino portion of the Star Trek space is being used by Westgate timeshare sales people as a presentation room. A curious end to an otherwise-legendary exhibit.

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In the 1990’s, it seemed like every casino wanted to have thrill rides – IMAX simulators, roller coasters, sometimes even an entire amusement park. A few remain, but two of my favorites are long gone. The first I experienced, on my inaugural trip to Vegas, was the High Roller. No, not the observation wheel at the Linq, but a roller coaster that once wound around the top of the Stratosphere. That slow-moving train was more about the height than the dips, but I’ll never forget stepping into the car, looking over the edge and saying “I must be insane to do this”. High Roller was closed and dismantled in December of 2005.

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Sahara Hotel was home to Speed: The Ride, a fast-moving coaster that shot riders from inside the building onto the Strip. It turned them upside down, then sped up even faster for a jaw-dropping vertical climb. Once the train came to a stop, it ran backwards and returned to the station through a cool misty fog, all in a very rapid 45 seconds.

Speed was dismantled with the closure of Sahara and was slated to be rebuilt near Mandalay Bay under the shadow of a second planned giant observation wheel called SkyVue. Years later, the pylons for that stalled project remained unfinished and the property has a “For Sale” sign on the corner of the lot. Was Rohit Joshi involved in this venture? We can’t help wondering…

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Free attractions were once a popular way to lure people into the casinos…and hopefully to keep them there. Now that gambling is no longer the hot ticket, every available space seems to be destined for retailing. Hence, the removal of the white tiger pool at Mirage for a burger joint, the lions at MGM Grand for a sports pub, the Sirens and Pirates at Treasure Island for a CVS Drugstore, and on and on.

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Many others are removed due to costly maintenance and staffing expenses, like Rio‘s Show In The Sky, the Gods of the Festival Fountain (moving statues) at Caesars Palace Forum Shops, the lobby aquarium at Mandalay Bay and the Roman centurions that once strolled through Caesars Palace. Some attractions just yield to the times, like Merlin’s Dragon Battle at Excalibur…and the Sphinx water/laser show and Nile River Ride, both at Luxor.

What favorite attractions, features or offerings do you miss in today’s Vegas? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Photos: Sammasseur, Greg C., Banner photo via Cuningham Group Architecture

Westgate Turns Strip-side Gouging On Its Ear


Find out why I’m constantly fawning over Westgate Las Vegas…

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It’s worth noting that, since this article’s original publication nearly two years ago on another website, I have stayed numerous times at Westgate during non-peak/non-convention periods. During those visits, the gates were conveniently open..and so were the opportunities for free (and hassle-free) parking without even the need for ticket validation or a room key. Apparently the resort is enforcing controlled access only when the situation demands it…to enhance the experience of their own guests.

The following section, although a re-publishing, has been updated and revised with current information.

Ever since MGM Resorts instituted a complex and ever-rising parking charge at their Strip properties, it was only a matter of time before others like Caesars properties, Cosmopolitan and Wynn/Encore followed suit (let’s call it “resort fee deja vu”). But while these insulting fees basically stick it to everyone (excluding certain levels of play and resort-branded credit card holders), Westgate Las Vegas has a parking policy to protect and reward their guests.

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That statement might initially sound like the infamous public-relations nonsense issued by Caesars Entertainment Corporation when they instituted resort fees “because the public demanded them.” Not so at Westgate, where the intent is clearly to ensure that their lots aren’t being jammed by drivers who are actually heading elsewhere.

You see, Westgate Las Vegas is in the sticky position of being both 1) adjacent to a convention center that charges hefty parking fees, and 2) located on a monorail line that takes riders all the way to MGM Grand and other properties along the way that now charge parking fees.

When I met with reps from the Westgate marketing team a while back, the subject of parking policies came up. Rumors had been swirling about MGM’s plans and Westgate was already considering their options to address the ramifications.

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Soon after, both my friend (photographer Greg C.) and I separately discovered that the multi-story garages and open-air lots had been secured. Automated ticketing kiosks had been installed and a ten-dollar daily fee was now in effect.

But….this is important….the fee was reimbursable for hotel guests, restaurant diners, attendees to Westgate shows and those who come to visit the casino and sports book.

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The “To Serve You Better” double-talk that’s usually issued in these situations is actually genuine here. Westgate patrons won’t have to be concerned that conventioneers and monorail riders are using up the available parking spaces.

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Signs are liberally posted throughout Westgate to show where to get your ticket validated. Naturally, you’ll need to present your dining/show ticket/betting receipt/player’s card as proof of your patronage.

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Then you simply insert that validated ticket into the automated exit gate at the lots and garages. Hotel guests have it even simpler, as their room key operates the exit gates as well.

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In addition, Westgate charges $20 to utilize their valet service during events and conventions, especially those at the adjacent Las Vegas Convention Center. But once again, this fee is reimbursed for hotel guests.

While walking the property to photograph the lots, gates and kiosks, I noticed several circumstances where cars approached the gates, read the new policy signage, then backed out and left. This is only conjecture, but I have to assume that these persons weren’t actually Westgate customers, meaning the intent of the fees is working.

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If this program turns out to be successful, perhaps we can eventually expect other resorts in similar situations (think Tropicana, Venetian/Palazzo and Treasure Island) to try their hand at customer-friendly parking programs. And once again, this could work in their favor to take on the money-grubbing bigger chains.

The policies and practices in Las Vegas are ever-evolving…and they’re rarely designed to truly improve the Vegas visitor’s experience. So, while MGM and copycat properties are using parking fees as a blatant cash grab, more guest-friendly resorts will be protecting their own.

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That’s why I’ll be booking more stays at Westgate. You should consider them, too.

Follow this link for a current list of Westgate Las Vegas discounted room rates, packages and promotional specials.

 

Photos: Sammasseur

“Racy Magazine” Protest Exposes Sin City Parents as Hypcocrites


Outraged residents object to publication’s presence near libraries…

You know, there are certain subjects that push my buttons…REALLY HARD. Judgmental parents with conveniently-fluctuating standards of morality is certainly one of those matters. Something of that nature was brought to my attention recently. I want to tell you about it. And why I feel the way I do.

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My frustrations regarding this complaint are actually two-fold. On the surface, my skin crackles at the behavior of parents who feel that having children somehow grants them the position of Moral Compass Overseer. And deep down, my stomach knots up at the notion that anyone would find sexy material unacceptable in a place known as Sin City.

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Last evening I attended a performance of Zombie Burlesque with a friend who recently moved here. During a striptease number, he leaned over and commented at how odd it was that ladies were required to wear pasties during the show. He clearly was under the impression that “anything goes” in Las Vegas. But that is far from the truth, which he’ll continue to learn as he settles into the community.

In 2018’s corporation-run Las Vegas, you never know when the next “adult” behavior will be frowned upon, restricted…or eliminated altogether. For instance, a 2014 law was passed to prohibit drinking booze from open cans and bottles on the Fremont Street pedestrian mall.

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The move was made to supposedly protect everyone from injuries related to fights and such. But would this really have come to pass if so many parents hadn’t decided in recent years to bring their little ones to “Glitter Gulch”? You can still get drunk and dance in front of the stages, but now you’ve got to watch out for those four-year-olds who are right there by your knees at one in the morning. Because, you know, every tourist destination has to cater to children.

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You may recall how incensed I was recently when Palms Casino deemed it unacceptable for a group of athletic male show performers to gather at their poolside cafe for lunch…because they’d be shirtless most of the time (for photos and such). What a ridiculous stance, especially in a town that promises sin, smut, excess and discretion for all types of adult activities. #LasVegasHypocrisy, if you will.

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Don’t promise debauchery then pull your panties high and tight, Las Vegas. That statement is targeted at specific residents of the city…those who choose to raise their children here. There are fifty states in our Union and thousands of cities and small towns across the nation.

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But YOU chose to raise your little ones here. You know, the place where mobile billboards offer women directly to your room. So why are you suddenly so prim, proper, conservative and offended when an adult-skewing magazine is found on the racks in public places?

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“I’m shocked. It shouldn’t be here. There’s a school right across the street”. So says Phillip Castillo, a resident speaking on-camera to KTNV, the local ABC affiliate that’s stoking the fires on this non-controversy. Joining him with her expressions of revulsion was Angelica Torres, whose seven-year-old comes to the library to learn about life on this big blue marble.

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Well, Ms. Torres, your little daughter is in luck. The issue you’re so worked up over hails the talents of Noel Dahl, a highly-respected local photographer. If your child happened to be scouring, unsupervised, through the racks of magazines near the door of the county library and picked up that January issue of Las Vegas Night Beat, she might have learned all about this amazing man and his philanthropic work for the community you live in.

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      Noel Dahl (in tuxedo) is inadvertently at the center of a controversy….

While I researched the TV segment for this article, Mr. Dahl was in the process of donning his tuxedo to host a fundraiser for Golden Rainbow. That’s an organization providing housing, education and direct financial assistance to men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS in Southern Nevada.

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          Photographer Noel Dahl and others serving food to the homeless…

No doubt Mr. Dahl’s heart was a little heavy after having been metaphorically dragged through the mud right before bedtime on his own television set. Nevertheless, the day after the fundraiser, he was back to business as usual. While those parents were probably rinsing out their offspring’s eyes with peroxide and painting picket signs for a protest march at the library, Noel was spending his Valentine’s Day distributing meals to the homeless in one of the city’s parks.

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I myself am no stranger to Noel Dahl’s work. Last year I purchased and proudly displayed a calendar that he annually photographs and distributes to raise funds for AFAN (Aid for AIDS of Nevada). Noel donates 100 percent of the proceeds to this cause.

Throughout my years as a photographer, I have had the privilege of shooting countless men for my own portfolio, but I have always strived to find a way of utilizing my photography skills to give back to the Las Vegas community. I hope to make a change with this project. I hope to bring together local talent, the photographer community, and with the help of a few graciously supportive company sponsorships, I hope to rally support for the HIV/AIDS community and unite the LGBT community in Las Vegas.

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Here’s the kicker – it features sexy men in provocative poses. And that’s what these up-in-arms parents aren’t taking the time to absorb or acknowledge…that sex appeal can be channeled for great purposes. While Ms. Torres was on camera exclaiming “I see a lot of nudes. And flesh…skin…crack!”, she was simultaneously suggesting that the human body is something to be reviled…and completely misses the point.

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      A Vegas parent readies “Bobby” for an afternoon at the local playground…

I can’t help wondering if Mr. Castillo, the outraged father, ever visits Erotic Heritage Museum where the Golden Rainbow fundraiser was held this week. Does he drive around town with his daughter in the car? What exactly do Vegas parents do with all of this provocative material facing them from every direction? They’re even on billboards that line the roads and highways.

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Or should I scratch even deeper to ponder whether these frazzled mothers and fathers…and KTNV-TV by extension…are really just upset that these magazines are geared towards the LGBTQ community? If so, that’s just another form of judgmental, bigoted behavior being justified under the guise of “protecting our little ones”, i.e. suggesting that homosexuality is synonymous with pedophilia.

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I’m not sure what makes people think that, because they’ve procreated, they’re immediately granted a higher position in society. It takes no special gifts or skills to make babies. If it did, there wouldn’t be over seven billion of us on this planet. Creating offspring doesn’t make you smarter, more educated or a more worthy person. In fact, it shouldn’t entitle you to anything that parent-free people don’t have.

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It can get unnecessarily ugly when folks protest the freedoms of others within their own community, especially when they do so in public forums like television. We’re living in dangerous times, my friends, and you never know when something you say or do will be misconstrued or used against you down the road.

Thank goodness that the people at Las Vegas-Clark County Library District maintained their heads. A spokesperson addressed the complaint in a fair, professional statement that should hopefully bring this non-issue to a close:

The Library District collects, gathers, and makes available a wide variety of information and we understand that some people may occasionally find these materials offensive or inappropriate. The public library is a First Amendment public institution.

Yes, the Library District is aware of various magazines that are displayed in our lobbies. Our Display Policy, adopted by the Library Board in 1999, allows for free community-based publications that contain news and feature articles relevant to either segments of a district-wide population or to smaller geographic areas within the Library District to be circulated.

The presence of these materials in the Library District is not a form of endorsement. We encourage individuals to form their own opinion about what they choose the read or view.

In this case, the simple act of recognizing the talents and contributions of a gifted photographer has put an entire subculture under the microscope. I have no idea if Noel Dahl and his models are homosexuals…and it’s none of my business. But before citizens of this community…and the media outlets who cover it…decide to vilify other members of society, it might be worth their time to do some research. And a whole lot of self-examination.

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One final thought…if you’re so worried about what your child might pick up around the public areas of Sin City….then keep a better eye on them. It’s YOUR job…nobody else’s.

Photos: Sammasseur, Noel Dahl Studio, Oscareando Vegas, KTNV.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 for another website, 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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