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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           Photo: Sky News

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?”

 

 

 

The Sad, Sad State of Primm Valley Resorts and Fashion Outlet


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

Several news outlets reported last week (2/13/20) that Desperado Rollercoaster at Buffalo Bill’s Casino had officially closed until further notice with only a small chance that it would reopen. Let’s revisit my own experience with the coaster, the resort and the decaying outlet mall that are barely surviving in Primm Valley…

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 crosshairs 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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                             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 Sahara (SLS at the time) 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. Sorry for the 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, massive nightclubs 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 now that 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.

 

                    

Westgate Turns Strip-side Gouging On Its Ear


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

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WestGate

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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