MGM Resorts, Westgate Announce Measures To Protect The Community


or “When Big Corporations Do Positive Things”

I’m not going to pretend that it’s been easy to continue this blog since the pandemic struck. Things are pretty bleak out there, and a never-ending flow of bad news tends to take its toll. Combine that with the fact that my freelance work has dried up….in other words “no income or unemployment”…and a positive outlook has been tough to maintain. But like so many in this position, I soldier forward with the hope that better days are ahead.

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As I was about to post my most recent piece (Station Casino closures and Miracle Mile Shops landlord demands), it was a pleasure to find upbeat news in my in-box. So I hit “publish” on that dour article and sailed straight into this one. I hope you can appreciate a little good news as much as I did.

First up is a surprise from MGM Resorts in the form of a letter to its associates:

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In contrast to the devastating termination letter that was sent out to thousands of Station Casino associates, this one offers a shred of long-term hope. MGM Resorts promises to provide health care coverage to furloughed employees through the end of August. In addition, the company is issuing grants to cover their living expenses by way of an $13 million Employee Emergency Grant Fund.

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The notification is optimistic yet filled with realistic limitations and apparently a great deal of transparency. Given the notorious and massive profit-driven layoffs this company has instituted in the past few years (including four hotel presidents) and more on the way, it’s nice to know that MGM Resorts is finally having a heart for their employees. What a shocker.

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While MGM Resorts is usually at the front of the line when it comes to games of “Follow The Vegas Leader”, it was Wynn/Encore that apparently set this precedent. As Baily Schulz of Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on March 17th:

Wynn Resorts Ltd. has guaranteed all Wynn and Encore employees payroll coverage for the next 30 days. The company’s two Las Vegas properties are set to start a two-week shutdown at 6 p.m. Tuesday, and its Massachusetts property was ordered to close by Sunday afternoon.

Wynn had previously stated that all full-time Las Vegas employees would continue to be paid during the shutdown. But a letter sent to employees Tuesday from CEO Matt Maddox shows that coverage has been expanded to include all current employees. The letter, obtained by the Review-Journal, was addressed to employees at Wynn Las Vegas, Encore Boston Harbor and Wynn Design and Development.

Tipped employees will receive an average tip compliance rate, or “distributed tips/tokes since the beginning of the year,” according to the memo.

“I need you to focus and work on a singular task: stay home and keep your family healthy and safe,” Maddox said in the letter. “In the coming days, our Company will be paying all Wynn and Encore employees to do the work of staying home and eliminating all non-essential external social contact for you and your family. I know it will not be easy to do, which is why we will pay you to do so.”

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Las Vegas Sands (Venetian/Palazzo) put forth similar measures and they’ve continued to pay associates, at least for now. From USATODAY.COM on 4/23/20:

Casino magnate and billionaire Sheldon Adelson is extending COVID-19 shutdown pay for Las Vegas Sands employees until at least May 17, according to a letter obtained by the Reno Gazette Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network.

“This pandemic is unlike anything I have seen in my business career,” Adelson wrote in the April 23 letter. “That said, we will get through it. … Until that time arrives, this company is firmly focused on the health and safety of our Team Members and supporting each of our host communities in Macao, Singapore and Las Vegas.”

While it remains unclear when the Strip will be able to re-open, Las Vegas Sands, which owns The Venetian, will continue to pay 9,300 employees through the shutdown.

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We are always incredibly grateful for healthcare workers, but especially during this time. Our resort is lit blue to honor all of the essential workers currently out there working hard to serve their communities. – Westgate Las Vegas

Westgate Resorts, which owns and operates two Las Vegas properties, has been another contributor to the “good news” department. Unlike the big three, Westgate is a very “human” company that puts their faces, personalities, strengths, and flaws out there for everyone to see. When they have problems, they strive harder. When things succeed, they share their triumphs with all who contributed.

         A personal message from President/General Manager Cami Christensen

My history with Westgate reaches back several years. Things started awkwardly when they were still a new name in town. A less-than-ideal stay turned into an open dialog of “We didn’t live up to your expectations. Can you give us a second chance?”. Since then, the historic casino/hotel on Paradise Road has become my home away from home. And their team feels very much like a family…all because they reached out and committed to striving harder.

When the pandemic situation was just starting to take hold, Westgate proactively began ramping up their sanitation procedures. They then took the bold step of shutting down some of their locations on the east coast, even before it was mandated.

Since our highest priority has always been the health and safety of our owners, guests and team members, we moved quickly to do everything possible to help flatten the curve. Before COVID-19 even reached any of the destinations where we operate, we implemented a detailed action plan to boost community safety, based on the recommendations and directives from the CDC, as well as federal, state and local health agencies.

We immediately enhanced our sanitization protocols at all our resorts, including daily deep cleaning of all public areas and back of house team member touch points. We greatly increased the number of hand-sanitizing stations at touch points for our guests and team members. We even made the difficult decision to proactively close resorts through the end of May out of an abundance of caution.

David Siegel
Founder, CEO & President

Now Westgate is extending its reach beyond resort guests and employees…to their counterparts in the hospitality industry. Westgate CARES is a new program spurred by the pandemic crisis. The initiative consists of protocols created to protect guests and associates from COVID-19…and of course, any other contaminants of concern.

In an open letter, Chief Operating Officer Mark Waltrip laid out the program, which will enable their resorts to operate smoothly and safely.

On behalf of the entire Westgate Family of Resorts & Team Members, we want you to know that when you are ready to celebrate life again, we are fully prepared to provide you a safe and enjoyable experience. From the very beginning of this crisis, we organized a dedicated team of professionals to rapidly develop and implement comprehensive procedures to protect our resort guests and Team Members.

These include advanced cleaning procedures, strict personal hygiene protocols and a long list of operating procedures necessary to mitigate the risk of this virus as much as possible. Every decision we made was based on one simple premise: do whatever it takes to protect our Team Members, guests and our local community, regardless of the impact to our business. – Mark Waltrip, COO

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The Westgate CARES initiative goes into a great amount of detail, broken down into categories. Common spaces, guest rooms, restrooms, pool/spa areas, offices, shuttle buses, and administrative areas are all addressed. Methods of disinfection are elaborated on, including the use of safe ultra-low-volume disinfectant foggers and sanitizing solutions.

Changes to common operations such as check-in/check-out, housekeeping, vendor screening, repairs/maintenance, laundry, bell service/bag storage, child play areas, and food/beverage service are all spelled out within individual documents. Every procedure is posted in its entirety and can be examined/downloaded by clicking here.

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All major resorts have been ramping up their safety protocols in recent weeks, so why am I focusing on Westgate? Simply because the company has freely shared its investment and research with every colleague, counterpart and competitor in the hospitality industry. It’s a move that’s indicative of their many programs that honor patrons and the public in general.

While Westgate is fortunate to have the resources to navigate this challenge, we also recognize that our local communities are only as strong as the weakest link in our chain. There are thousands of small businesses in our community who may not have the know-how and resources to put together a plan that helps them successfully and safely operate their business as the country emerges from this pandemic.

Therefore, in the spirit of helping our communities, we are sharing in its entirety, all of our plans, procedures, and protocols that outline exactly how we intend to keep our Team Members, guests and communities safe, including the procedures for our resorts, hotels, restaurants, spas, fitness centers, water parks, call centers, and offices.

These documents…represent hundreds of man-hours of research and intellectual capital from some of the hospitality industry’s most skilled leaders, and we hope that local businesses find them a helpful resource. – Mark Waltrip, COO

It’s also worth noting that the primary Vegas location on Paradise Road is one of twenty-nine destinations in the Westgate family, yet their only one with a casino. When the resort reopens on June 18th, it will follow Westgate CARES protocols in addition to stringent casino-specific guidelines as mandated by Nevada Gaming Control Board. You can learn more about those requirements by heading here.

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In last week’s column, I described devastating corporate decisions during this crisis that will define their role in Sin City’s future. MGM‘s choice to extend employee benefits won’t undo the heartache they’ve unleashed in recent years, but it’s a start.

As for Westgate, offering their COVID-19 program for free exemplifies the company’s history of goodwill. You’re free to spend your discretionary income wherever you choose, but I know who’ll be getting my money going forward.

As a valued guest in the Westgate Resorts family, I want to thank you for your patience, understanding and loyalty during this difficult time. We look forward to the day that all our communities can return to good health, and we can welcome you back home to a refreshed Westgate Resorts that’s even better than before. – David Siegel, Founder, CEO & President

Do you know of any positive actions being taken by Vegas-centric corporations related to the pandemic shutdown? Feel free to tell us about it in the “COMMENTS” section or drop me an email – Sam@VegasUnfiltered.blog. Be safe. Be smart. Be strong – Sam Novak

Sabotaging Sin City’s Return


Miracle Mile Shops and Stations Casinos deliver crushing blows to the local economy amidst relaunch efforts…

Our entire nation continues to endure a seemingly endless pandemic lockdown. Weeks have turned into months, and quarantine extensions get added as our bank accounts dwindle. The world will be a very different place when all of this has passed. Only the strong, smart, and very lucky may come out of it relatively unscathed.

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The economy of Las Vegas seems to be most in jeopardy of total collapse. No other city depends so greatly on a daily influx of tourists. Our locals form a giant hospitality team, ready to host, serve, and entertain the world. If and how that will happen again has become an aggressively-debated subject, as a cringe-inducing exchange between Anderson Cooper and Mayor Carolyn Goodman recently demonstrated. So while casino execs and politicians huddle over their laptops, hashing out plans through virtual meeting apps, it’s the “little guys” who are about to suffer the most.

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This week, a series of letters was sent out to business owners and employees that will put thousands of Vegas residents permanently out of work. Those dedicated staffers and smaller-scale entrepreneurs are being erased from the chalkboard with the flick of a wrist. It’s a crushing blow delivered at time when people couldn’t possibly be more vulnerable, an ugly tactic we should remember with our wallets long after the doors to Las Vegas have been unlocked.

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Letter number one comes from Robert Buchanan, Vice President/General Manager of Miracle Mile Shops. Sent to tenants of the busy Planet Hollywood-based mall, the letter requires an agreement to pay the full amount of rent accrued during shutdown. Business owners must sign off on this legal agreement prior to reopening, despite the fact that their businesses have been unable to generate a single dollar of income since mid-March.

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The multi-page document, of which I have a copy, offers the option to defer payment of rent and spread it out over twelve months (without interest or penalties). Failure to pay the rent would result in a monetary default of lease terms. Recipients have been instructed to keep the terms confidential and not to discuss the matter with other occupants of the mall or any third parties (oops…too late).

While an interest-free rent deferral might sound generous on paper, the amounts in question can literally be hundreds of thousands of dollars per tenant. These are staggering sums that will more than likely cripple and/or close a significant percentage of Miracle Mile‘s shops and restaurants.

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The tenant that contacted me about this situation explained that rental rates are based on a monthly average of the mall’s total annual foot traffic. Nevertheless, no adjustments have been made to reflect a period of ZERO customers. No pro-rating, no discounts, no rent forgiveness, no exceptions. The store owner, who asked to remain anonymous, noted that his business was already struggling to break a profit.

Hard to share too much without giving away _____ (name of business) but I’d been trying to talk to them since this (the pandemic) started. No response, vague replies to emails. I kept asking a week leading into it. No guidance, no direction.

Finally we were given 24 hours to vacate. To get access we now have to schedule a meeting with a Miracle Mile security guy to walk us there. Total lockdown. They still want full rent. So ironic.

At Miracle Mile Shops, as in many other malls, a tenant’s rent is only one part of their financial responsibilities. They also have to pay their share of marketing, insurance, trash, water, security, facilities maintenance, and much more.

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In other cities, landlords have taken pro-active steps to offer assistance. They are so concerned about losing valued tenants that they’re asking what can be done to assure that shops will reopen. But in corporate-run Vegas, nothing matters except for pleasing the stockholders.

How is this legal? It’s insane! It will take Vegas at least a year to recover from this so how can the landlord do this to its tenants? Multiple tenantss are grouping together and with one voice seeking legal assistance to fight this greed.

It just simply breaks your gears when you’ve worked so hard for something and been paying big dollars to this landlord for them to rip out our hearts during a crisis like this.

I’ve already mentioned Mayor Goodman, whose “Open up Vegas and see what happens” stance has garnered an enormous amount of ridicule. At the opposite end is Governor Steve Sisolak, who put the statewide shutdown in place. Sisolak supports a slow and organized approach to restoring our daily lives, which has received its own share of protests and demonstrations.

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I’m not interested in delving into political arguments here, as I see logic in both approaches. The reason I bring it up is to emphasize that everyone has a stake in the decisions. Nobody has a perfect list of answers, so we wait, sacrifice, obey the rules (or protest) and watch those bank accounts dwindle down to nothing.

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In the meantime, everyone seems to be asking the same question: when will MGM Resorts open? The same with Caesars Entertainment properties and Sands Corp. (Venetian/Palazzo). And while we focused our gaze on the big three, a lesser-known chain called Station Casinos swooped in and drove a dagger through the hearts of thousands of its own employees.

Vegas-based Station, which operates ten local establishments including Sante Fe Station and Palace Station, has gotten pretty powerful in recent years. Bolstered by the success of Red Rock Hotel and Green Valley Ranch, Station plunked down a cool billion to buy and renovate the once-popular Palms Casino Resort. An undeniable failure, the “new” Palms bled massive amounts of money, mostly through the catastrophic disaster known as KAOS Nightclub.

Station Casinos rested their billion-dollar Palms investment on the shoulders of a vulgar rapper-felon…and a grown man dressed as a marshmallow…

On May 1st, Station Casinos sent out letters to full-time Palms employees, announcing their terminations…effective 5/16/20. Similar letters were mailed to employees of Fiesta Henderson and Texas Station, both operated by Station Casinos. What makes this letter particularly ruthless is that they’re referring to the shuttering of the three hotels as a “temporary closure”, which in actuality took place two months ago. What this means is that when Palms, Fiesta Henderson and Texas Station reopen (if ever), they will be treated as new entities.

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              Palms Casino is the latest tombstone monument dedicated to overreaching ambition…

In the meantime, Station is off the hook for protecting their own employees. The company will grant certain benefits through September, then the labor force is on its own. The letter also stated that their will be “no bumping rights”, meaning that terminated individuals would have to reapply for their previous jobs, forfeiting any earned seniority if they return. This also means zero opportunities to transfer to other Station locations to maintain that seniority.

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Some people out there may be inclined to say “Corporations have to do whatever is necessary in order to survive”. But what about right now? Unleashing a bloodbath in the current economy is simply catastrophic. I’d rather see a company dig in for the moment and take its chances later. Much later.

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So what is a struggling employee or business person to do in the current climate? We certainly can’t rely on the government to help. Very few people have had success in collecting unemployment benefits, judging by the daily posts I read on social media. Sadly, numerous businesses have announced that they won’t be coming back, either. Friends of mine from every walk of life are considering moving away and some have already begun the process.

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Performer Andrew Hill, who entertains audiences at Station Casinos, shared these hard words regarding the closure of Fiesta Henderson on Facebook:

Well looks like our contract at the Fiesta is done and dusted ! Yep, for all the clueless fools sprouting Vegas is gonna bounce back!! ….Can you all Please stfu!

If anyone quotes the most idiotic destructive statement of “Vegas always reinvents itself” or “ we’ll be bouncing back in no time” …. can you please punch them very hard in the face!

When ever the wonderful PR word “ reinvent” is used …. it is code for cost cutting, slashing entertainment and figuring out how to screw people to make more money…

For those who stick it out and hope for a successful recovery, things look bleaker every day. Think back to the long-term effects that 9/11 had on the airline industry. In order to offset dwindling profits, nearly all airlines began charging mandatory fees for checked suitcases and eventually, carry-on bags. Yet once air travel rebounded, those fees remained. They now generate more profit than actual ticket sales.

Las Vegas Hotels closed own to COVID-19 Virus.

As you read this, Las Vegas is virtually a ghost town. Every action taken by those in power during the days ahead will undoubtedly become a new standard. If the events of this week are any indication, the citizens of this city are in for for years of serious trouble.

Many of us have been hoping that Vegas will use the shutdown as an opportunity to undo damaging decisions of the past decade. Former Vegas Mayor Jan Jones Blackhurst is among them. We’ve urged the Big Three to toss out resort fees, eliminate paid parking, send “celebrity chefs” packing, dump those $20 cocktails down the drain and make Las Vegas appealing to the masses once more.

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Las Vegas may be your playground. But it’s also our home. The future of this city depends on it being recognized as a community of flesh-and-blood people. But nobody seems to be listening.

Banner Photo: Palms Casino via Facebook


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Click here for the article’s companion piece “Vegas Goes Dark – The Beginning of the End…or a new Beginning?”

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Click here for my related article “Is Sin City Determined to Drive You Away?”

 

 

 

‘Virtual Hosting’ – Workshops and Conferences With Sin City Flair


Vegas entertainers transform your online events from drab to fab with professional results…

If you’ve participated in online meetings at sites like ZOOM, Skype and Messenger Desktop, you know that they can sometimes be dry and clunky affairs. If that’s the case, perhaps you or your employers should consider a professional host.

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Virtual meetings are a burgeoning field that will continue to grow in this era of social distancing. Fortunately, two entertainers with Sin City backgrounds have already mastered the techniques of this platform and can transform your conference into a fun-filled yet productive affair.

Jeff Civillico

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Jeff Civillico has been thrilling Las Vegas audiences for about a decade. Energetic and charismatic, the “action comic” has been a staple at corporate functions for the majority of his career. Quick-witted and gifted with flawless audience interaction, he knows how to capture and hold your attention.

Civillico’s experience on the Vegas stage has given him a unique perspective when it comes to emceeing. He’s hosted his own Vegas-based talk show and a pilot for Travel Channel. Throw in some tech-savvy ingenuity and it’s clear that Jeff is already at the forefront of virtual hosting.

 

Initially, I was skeptical of virtual events, thinking “so much of what I do is based on connecting with the audience… how could this possibly work?” I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the virtual events I’ve hosted so far. There’s emotion, laughter, spontaneity, even real applause… you just have to unmute everyone to get it! Is it the same? No. Is it as good? If we’re being honest, no. But does it still work in a different way? Yes, I believe so. – Jeff Ciillico

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So how does having a host boost the success of web-based meetings? It’s all in the flow. As Jeff explains it:

A professional host has gone from being a nice add-on feature for your in-person event to an ESSENTIAL piece of your virtual event. Virtual meetings are going to be a little bumpy and potentially disjointed, especially in the short term. It’s going to be more difficult to get and keep attendees’ attention. You need someone who can pull all the event elements together to create a cohesive conference experience that is still engaging and impactful. You need a professional.

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The difference between virtual and real conferences is similar to the “movie theater experience” versus watching something on television. It’s easier to be distracted or lose interest when you’re on your own turf. A professional host utilizes his or her unique skills to draw attendees in and capture their focus. For Civillico, team-building exercises and comedy seem to work best:

People are loving these shows/team-building workshop combos! It’s common knowledge that the attention span of a virtual event is shorter than an in-person event… “squirrel!” … so I’ve been combining my clean comedy show with a juggling workshop and it’s proven to be very successful.

One of the basic principals of performance art is “Know Your Audience”. That rule applies to corporate functions as well. Civillico tailors each hosting gig to maximize participation, engagement, and positive response from attendees. That leads to more productive meetings and greater long-term results.

These workshops can be more “corporate” for employees and reinforce themes of connection, trust, and teamwork. Or they can be more “entertainment-based” for families of employees. Regardless of how you want to customize them for your organization, these events are high energy, interactive, and FUN!

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Win-Win Entertainment is a not-for-profit organization that Jeff spearheads. Based in Las Vegas, Win-Win Entertainment creates opportunities for professional performers to share their time and talent with children in need. They’re 100 percent volunteer-based, have no paid staff, and all performers donate their time for every event.

Win-Win has gone virtual during the pandemic, too, making it possible to continue its mission using the power of technology. Click HERE to learn more about how the organization has “pivoted” during the COVID-19 crisis.

We’re not going to let the coronavirus stop us from bringing smiles to children who need them. That’s our mission. That’s what we do. So for the time being instead of our regular in-person talent visits to children’s hospitals, we’re arranging “virtual visits.” After testing these virtual visits with several of our hospital partners, we’re rolling them out to our entire performer community.

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Jeff gave the final performance of his Las Vegas residency last December, but his work with audiences and charities is far from over. Visit jeffcivillico.com or call (702) 777-2782 for more information.

Jay Jay –

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Jay Jay is another virtual host with Sin City DNA. Like Jeff, he’s a high-energy, outrageously funny, and an absurdly handsome dynamo. The Australian entertainer/motivational speaker/model/TV show host has traveled the world, fronting gigs of every size with a level of expertise rarely seen, especially at his young age.

Constantly I hear from clients that a company has been using one of their internal staff to MC their conference. Usually the rationale is that the person
“can talk well on a mic” or “can tell a few jokes”.  This may be true but what clients don’t understand is that being good on the mic or telling a few jokes is far from what a professional MC actually does.

A great MC should be facilitating the event, getting your guests involved, and interacting with each other, plus really pushing the key messages and main themes. So when your guests do leave, it’s an event that they will talk about for years to come. – Jay Jay

Jay also draws his hosting skills from the world of entertainment. His comedy and crowd engagement abilities are unforgettable. He’s also quite a magician, as you can see from this clip:

Sin City audiences were stunned when Jay stepped up to the mic last year for an interim hosting gig at Aussie Heat. Not only did he whip the crowd into a frenzy, but he got into the act and ripped off his shirt to flaunt a stunning set of abs.

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Jay is at the top of his game when it comes to emceeing your function. Better yet, he can turn the reins over to you…AFTER teaching you how to become a more powerful public speaker. And what that boils down to is having a plan of action for when the pandemic shutdown passes.

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I work with people who are in control of their own boat. What are we doing now? And what are we doing post-COVID? What’s your plan? This is the time to deal with it because there are no distractions now. It’s my plan to get you out of your head and give you accountability.

I never care about what level you’re at. I care that you listen, you take action and you get your “wins”. When you get your “wins’ it feels amazing. I’ve heard all the excuses – I’ve made half of them. But it’s not about me. Most people have never had anyone in their corner. I want to speak to your soul and move you straightaway.

What Jay promises is a guaranteed success for you and your business. His methods are targeted at booking more clients, achieving greater financial opportunities, and delivering highly-impactful messages. To help, he’s offered free online motivational-speaking classes that emphasize support for COVID-19-affected individuals. Once you see what Jay can do, you’ll want to be a regular client, too.

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You’re itching to get back out on stage so you can impact millions! But hey – remember your stage isn’t only physical. You can now be on stage virtually. Want to be BOOKED out on virtual stages globally? I’ve made my chess move, it’s your turn. DM me and we can set up a call and make that happen for you! – Your Success Wingman

Contact Jay Jay by following this link

Photos, Jeff Civillico, Win-Win Entertainment, Jay Jay

 

 

 

 

Cirque du Soleil Marches Forward with ‘One Night for One Drop’


Clean-water benefit show gets reinvented amidst the pandemic shutdown…

The annual One Night for One Drop has become quite an anticipated event. For just one evening each year, acrobat, artists, and alumni from several Cirque du Soleil productions come together for a spectacular gala. The purpose is to raise money for One Drop Foundation, an organization whose goal is to provide “sustainable access to safe water and sanitation for the most vulnerable communities through innovative partnerships, creativity and the power of art.”

While that mission statement is quite a mouthful, what it boils down to this: a reliable source of clean water for regions desperately in need of such. One Drop Foundation makes that happen by raising funds through performance arts, most notably Cirque du Soleil.

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It seems only fitting that Las Vegas, a haven in the middle of the desert, would focus this amount of intensity on the importance of water resources. So each year the entertainment community of Sin City rallies around One Drop Foundation to draw attention to that vital necessity.

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Since its inception in 2013, One Night for One Drop has raised over $40 million. While prior entries had assembled talent from the various resident Vegas productions under one roof, 2020 was slated to be a bit different. Instead of a uniquely-created event, the organizers decided to showcase R.U.N (Cirque’s abominable new production at Luxor) with a special performance. Alas, a critical drubbing and anemic ticket sales of the now-shuttered stunt show jettisoned those plans.

December 5, 2019 – One Night for One Drop is not a traditional fundraising event. The evening begins with an intimate pre-show cocktail reception followed by a blue carpet filled with celebrities and guests. Prior to the R.U.N performance, a live auction spotlighting once-in-a-lifetime experiences and unique luxury items will be presented in the R.U.N Theater.

R.U.N‘s moment in the spotlight was chased away in favor of a single-night edition of The Illusionists. That existing product was acquired by Cirque through a 2019 purchase of The Works Entertainment. The plan was for The Illusionists to use R.U.N‘s theater at Luxor, a choice that hinted at the permanent closure of their mega-flop a short while later. And now that all theaters are shuttered thanks to the pandemic, The Illusionists had to retreat with their rabbits and top hats as well.

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Undeterred, Cirque and One Drop are soldiering forward with a virtual offering of their annual event. Previously-filmed footage has been edited into a one-hour presentation that will be available for you to view at home. (Click THIS LINK for my article on other Vegas-inspired virtual offerings.)

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Here is the official press release with details on how you can experience the spectacle of Vegas-style Cirque du Soleil from the comfort of your living room:

On May 1 at 12 p.m. PDT / 3 p.m. EDT,  the One Drop Foundation and Cirque du Soleil will premiere a 60-minute special featuring unforgettable moments from previous editions of One Night for One Drop, the annual fundraiser to benefit international water foundation One Drop™ showcasing Cirque du Soleil artists alongside celebrity guest performers.

Taking place annually since 2013 around World Water Day, One Night for One Drop imagined by Cirque du Soleil and presented by MGM Resorts International recently had to be canceled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The unparalleled livestream episode, available on the CirqueConnect platform, will highlight the impressive collaborative work between One Drop and Cirque du Soleil over the years and will feature surprise guest appearances.

United by the power of art, One Drop and Cirque du Soleil are proud to connect their creativity to provide entertainment when it may be most needed, while making a commitment towards a better world. Moved by a desire to stay connected, the CirqueConnect content hub provides a source of high-quality entertainment for fans to enjoy from the comfort of their homes, as safety measures to combat the Coronavirus (COVID-19) have suspended live entertainment across the globe.

“As we face this unprecedented pandemic, One Drop’s mission of providing access to safe water and sanitation has never been more critical,” said Marie-Anne Tawil, Chief Executive Officer of the One Drop Foundation. “The world may seem to be apart right now, but coming together to safeguard the vulnerable communities on this planet where water is scarce has never been more important. Everyone should have access to water, soap, and adequate conditions for a healthy life, but also to properly prevent and reduce the spread of COVID-19 on a global scale.”

This One Night for One Drop 60-minute special will be the sixth edition of the CirqueConnect weekly series, and will remain available after its premiere at cirquedusoleil.com/cirqueconnect.

 How to watch the special?  

On May 1 at 12 p.m. PDT / 3 p.m. EDT, tune in to the 60-minute One Night for One Drop special at cirquedusoleil.com/cirqueconnect.  

So, despite a number of hiccups and obstacles along the way, One Night for One Drop will make its mark on 2020 after all. With Vegas live entertainment facing a frightening and uncertain future, this is a golden opportunity to witness the marriage of Cirque du Soleil and Sin City in a unique format. So, be sure to tune in and contribute if you can.

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Learn more about One Drop’s safe water access and sanitation projects and how to support here: https://www.onedrop.org/en/events/special/. To bid on an amazing item/experience on their online auction, visit Charitybuzz at http://www.charitybuzz.com/onenightonedrop

Photos: Cirque du Soleil, One Night for One Drop via Facebook

Get ‘Portnoyed’ With Sin City’s Philanthropic Artist


Famed caricaturist Neal Portnoy donates talent and funds to furloughed Las Vegas performers…

For many entertainers, the benchmarks of success are seeing their name in lights and perhaps, someday, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But you’ll know that you’ve really made it when your likeness has been “Portnoyed”.

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Neal Portnoy is a successful artist who specializes in caricatures (or “cartoon portraits”) of famous performers and sports figures. His Portnoy Gallery in Las Vegas is a veritable shrine to pop culture and the entertainment world. Its centerpiece is the Wall of Honor, a collection of Portnoy’s most revered work.

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Once a year, the Gallery holds a red carpet induction ceremony that’s attended by public figures, prominent athletes, celebrities and one very special doggie. Neal’s background as a baseball player and sleight-of-hand entertainer gives him a unique insight that few artists possess. His portraits, most often created with felt markers, capture the dedication of his subjects along with their humor, talent, and charisma.

Working with felt markers is a unique and challenging medium. As Neal explains it:

Markers…unlike oils, unlike acrylics, unlike water colors…is a stain. You can change colors in water colors, acrylics and oils, and kind of put what you want down. But with marker, every line you put down, stays down.  If I make a mistake, I make it into something else…’cause every line is an expression.

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When it comes to being charismatic, the Massachusetts native exudes a wonderful degree of warmth and confidence. It’s easy to understand why some of the most powerful names in entertainment have entrusted their images to Neal. From members of the Las Vegas Raiders to Barry Manilow, Freddy Mercury to Aretha Franklin, each work of art is timeless and unforgettable.

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My first opportunity to chat with Neal was earlier this year. It was at the Summerlin birthday party of influential power-player Mark Messina, where I shared a table with the artist and his charming wife, former New Yorker Dorothy Cannata Portnoy. During our conversation, Dorothy told me that she is the gallery’s Director. She also tirelessly assists her husband in his efforts to support the local community.

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The Portnoys invited me to their studio to check out Neal’s collection. Alas, a certain pandemic became headlines soon after, placing my visit on a to-do list for when life returns to normal. In the interim, I’ve researched the gallery via websites and social media. There I learned about a heartwarming effort that the couple and Mark Messina have created to assist out-of-work Vegas entertainers.

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As you may recall from last week’s article on the Mondays Dark Live Stream Telethon, the residents of Sin City are unparalleled when it comes to taking care of their own. That’s why Portnoy Gallery has decided to donate 50 percent of sales from Portnoyed.com:

Las Vegas has been hit particularly hard due to quarantines and venue closures.  Our entertainers have been among the hardest hit.  We would like to give back to the community, by providing our out of work entertainers 50% of proceeds from our current online products.  Please browse our store for your favorite Las Vegas entertainer, and together we can help them get through this period.

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Up for grabs are 76 uniquely-designed coffee mugs, each featuring a beloved Vegas celebrity. Musicians like the Bronx Wanderers, Niki Scalera, David Tatlock, Mark O’Toole, Michael Shapiro, and Zowie Bowie can join your coffee break, along with comedians Carrot Top, Mike Hammer, and John Di Domenico. Even Messina and my colleagues Gabe Ginsberg, Chet Buchanan and Johnny Katsilometes have their mugs committed to a mug.

UPDATE – On 5/17/20, Neal messaged me to let me know that my oversized mug had been “Portnoyed”, too. The honor is overwhelming…and I’m thrilled that he made the decision to include me in this illustrious collection.

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Hey, I’m on a mug! Get one by clicking here

To obtain one or more of these uniquely Vegas collectibles (while simultaneously fueling the movement to keep Las Vegas entertainment alive) visit this link. Until the gallery reopens, you can browse and purchase prints of Neal’s creations by clicking HERE.

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Portnoy Gallery is located at 1537 W Oakey Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89102. Phone 702.685.2929 for more information.

Photos: Neal Portnoy, Dorothy Cannata Portnoy, David Orlov, Dianne Davis, Jonathan Scott

 

Bring the Excitement of Vegas to Your Home with ‘Virtual Experiences’


‘Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition’ and ‘Chippendales’ are just two of many Sin City favorites to enjoy under your own roof…

So, you’ve binge-watched every Netflix series and reruns of “FRIENDS” are making you want to hit the “unfriend” button. What’s a quarantined Vegas junkie to do? Well, if you saw yesterday’s article on the Mondays Dark Live Stream Telethon, you know that Sin City is doing its best to make you happy…while keeping its own artistic muscles in shape for an eventual ramp-up.

As efforts to assist furloughed entertainers are underway, you’re undoubtedly going through your own form of Sin City withdrawal. Now you can gather your fellow Vegas fans (following social-distancing guidelines, of course) and organize a virtual party for honest-to-goodness Las Vegas experiences. They’re brought to you by the same people who make your in-person visits so memorable.

TRAVEL BACK IN TIME AT TITANIC: THE ARTIFACT EXHIBIT

Followers of my contributions to Las Vegas Magazine and BestOfVegas.com know that I’ve penned several articles on TITANIC: The Artifact Exhibition. This self-guided attraction is the biggest collection of recovered articles in this world. Inside are splendid recreations of the decks, staterooms, cabins and more. Immersive special effects allow you to experience the freezing air, feel the throb of the massive engines, and listen to voices from the past.

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TITANIC: The Virtual Experience, is a newly-launched 3-dimensional tour of Luxor‘s 25,000 square foot attraction. It’s accessible on computers, tablets, and mobile devices. The virtual experience is available at two price levels – the Light Version for $5 and the Full Version for $15. Both price levels are accessible for one week and can be renewed at the point of purchase. Options include these benefits:

Light Version – $5

  • Virtual walkthrough of the 13 galleries inside the 25,000 square feet exhibition
  • Detailed information and photos of each artifact on display
  • View what life was like aboard the “Ship of Dreams” through full-scale room re-creations of the Grand Staircase, Promenade Deck, Veranda Café, and more
  • View the largest piece ever recovered, a 15-ton portion of the Ship’s hull
  • Learn about conservation and recovery efforts of the artifacts recovered from the ocean floor

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Full Version – $15

  • All offerings of the basic tour experience
  • Audio tour available in multiple languages
  • Exclusive video content
    • Dive Expedition 2010 – Video of artifacts as they are being recovered from the wreck site at the ocean floor
    • Dive Expedition 2010 – Video of curators on board the recovery ship discussing the artifacts immediately after they were pulled from the ocean floor
    • Dive Expedition 2010 – Video from Titanic’s wreck site, including underwater footage of the Ship’s bow, stern, vast debris field, and more
  • Animated timeline of Titanic from the point of striking the iceberg to the sinking
  • Additional facts and information about Titanic, the wreck site, artifacts, personal stories of her passengers and crew

For more information, visit Titanic.live.

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If you’re looking for something a little less “educational” and a lot more “titillating”, then perhaps you might want to investigate Chippendales@Home, a new interactive virtual experience. Chippendales@Home allows you and your squad to hang out and party with the world-famous hunks live in your own homes.

Chat, flirt, play games, get or give a virtual lap dance – you’ll get to know the Chippendales performers in your own intimate group setting as they host your party making sure your night is special and memorable. Each 30-minute party will feature at least two Chippendales cast members and utilizes the streaming platforms ZOOM, House Party, FaceTime, and Google Hangout.

In addition to Chippendales@Home, the brand has been cranking out online experiences as people are urged to stay inside. Recent digital offerings include at-home workouts with cast members, Instagram Live chats with alumnus of the brand, and light-hearted digital content such as one of its current cast members performing a lap dance for a 12-pack of toilet paper.

As a limited-time thank-you to those who are keeping us safe and healthy, Chippendales is offering Chippendales@Home free to health care workers and first responders. Ticket-holders whose shows were postponed also receive the experience free of charge. For more info or to arrange your own virtual party, visit this link or call 866-CHIPP999.

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If you’re a fan of the long-running SUPERNATURAL series on CW Network, you were probably excited for the annual convention at RIO Las Vegas in March. Sadly, the virus was just beginning to spread and some of you might have opted to avoid the crowds and wait for next year’s star-studded gala.

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Now in an innovative move, Creation Entertainment has scheduled a virtual SUPERNATURAL convention with the participation of three fan favorites. Beginning Saturday, April 18th and running through Saturday, April 25th, director Richard Speight, Jr. and stars Lisa Berry (Billie) and Ruth Connell (Rowena) will host a series of Q & A sessions, chats, tarot card readings, invocations and more.

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What makes this event unique is that a portion of proceeds will go to charities and non-profits like Meals On Wheels, St. Michaels Hospital (Toronto) and Random Acts. For some sessions, participants are asked to pay what they can. Auctions will be held to join in on events designed for a limited number of fans.

To register for the SUPERNATURAL Virtual-Con, click HERE. Participants should create user accounts on the platforms ZOOM and StageIt in advance. Creation Entertainment also brings the official Star Trek Convention to Rio Las Vegas each year.

Whitney Phoenix Strikes a Chord at Bellagio Las Vegas

In addition to these large-scale offerings, there is a wide variety of concerts, intimate performances and live chats being broadcast, as well as the at-home workouts and dance classes I told you about right here.

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Bellagio‘s beloved lounge pianist Whitney Phoenix and singer/actress/comedienne wife Marianne LeMoine Phoenix (50 Pounds From Stardom) shared this marvelous evening recently.

Whitney also took to the keyboard for a solo set while Marianne fielded requests from viewers:

The smooth and classy Craig Canter has been giving regular performances from his own virtual lounge that he calls  “The Piano Room”:

Westgate‘s favorite crooner Mark O’Toole brought us some big band highlights. He sent video clips and updates from the cruise ship he was “stranded” on for an extended time, hoping for a port to disembark at and return to the States. Combine that with canceled flights and missing luggage, and it’s safe to say that poor Mark endured the kind of adventure that movies are made about.

Despite weeks of madness and uncertainty, Mark took a break from relaxing to assist in beloved artist Neal Portnoy‘s efforts to raise funds for out-of-work performers. Portnoy created a collection of custom mugs, each featuring a local entertainer immortalized in the artist’s unique style. Get yours by clicking here, and check out this extremely funny video:

The marvelous David Goldrake, whose IMAGINARIUM magic production at Tropicana garnered my “Best New Show of 2018”, has been entertaining internet audiences with a series of tricks and lessons:

If you know of any other Vegas virtual experiences, online entertainment or events that you’d like to be added to this article, please leave a comment or email me: Sam@VegasUnfiltered.blog

‘Mondays Dark’ to Host/Stream Telethon for Vegas Entertainment Community


UPDATE 4/21/20 – The official entertainment line-up was released today and is posted immediately below. Expect even more performers to be added in the days leading up to the event.

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“When Vegas goes dark, the Stars come out.” That statement takes on a deeper meaning in our harsh, new reality. Now thanks to the team at Mondays Dark and The Actors Fund, Sin City’s entertainment community will be on the receiving end of founder Mark Shunock‘s charitable organization for the first time.

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Mondays Dark variety show at The Space has donated to dozens of charitable organizations since its inception six years ago, raising over one million dollars in total. Every event benefits a different organization/cause and presents a unique theme. Performers from all over the city have gathered on a bi-weekly basis, offering their time and talents. Now they’re the ones in need of assistance.

      Perpetually shirtless Colin Cahill will join wife Makenzie Fly for “Mak and the Cheese”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, all performance venues in Las Vegas have been shut down. Thousands of entertainers, artists and support crew are without work, and very few are receiving temporary compensation to get by. The Actors Fund, best known in Los Angeles and New York City, has partnered with Mondays Dark to help raise money for the Vegas entertainment community during this desperate time.

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                                     Mark Shunock and comedian Brad Garrett…

With all of the joy that these special people have given us, along with the pain and sacrifices inherent in their profession, now is the best time to show our appreciation and support. Beginning 5pm PST on April 27th, local and national entertainers will take to the virtual stage. The six-hour event features Brad Garrett, Joey Fatone, Dot Marie Jones, Jon Taffer, Clint Holmes, John DiDomenico, Bucky Heard (The Righteous Brothers), Colin Cahill & Makenzie Fly (aka “Mak and the Cheese“), cast members from Cirque Du Soleil and more. A complete lineup of entertainers for the evening will be announced in the coming weeks.

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The Live Stream Telethon will be broadcast free of charge on the Mondays Dark website and all their social platforms. Mondays Dark will donate 100 percent of funds raised to the local entertainment community through The Actors Fund.

In addition to the telethon, Mondays Dark has been selling the FUCOVID hat, an extremely unique baseball cap to benefit the same effort. So far the project has raised more than $5,000.00 for struggling entertainers. Hats are just $20 and proceeds go to the Mondays Dark Performers Fund – dedicated to helping performers who have been affected by the pandemic. Get yours by following this link.

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President Trump” aka John Di Domenico, tells you how to get yours in this amusing clip:

It’s clear from events of the past decade that when people of Las Vegas are hard-hit, they come together and push back with twice as much force. Sin City will rebound…it may take a long time and there will be tough moments along the way. Please show your appreciation for the people who’ve made our lives so joyful and contribute to this special cause.

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Members of the Las Vegas entertainment community seeking assistance are encouraged to visit The Actors Fund website at www.theactorsfund.orgThose interested in donating may visit www.mondaysdark.com. If you’d like to send funds in advance of the telethon, you can do so by clicking on this link

Photos: Mondays Dark, The Actors Fund, Mark Shunock, The SPACE via Facebook, Vin A., Andrea Dupper, Jim McCoy