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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2018 Events, Trends & Moments…Cosmic and Controversial


A lot has happened in the past 12 months. Today I look back on large-scale events…

GREATEST SIGHT IN THE SKY – Angels of the 2017 Massacre

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                      I witnessed it on Sahara Avenue near Palace Station…

This one is emotional and unforgettable. If you were there to witness it, you couldn’t have helped being shaken to the core. As friends and loved ones gathered to commemorate the victims of 2017’s mass shooting one year later, the sunset brought a phenomenon that was seen throughout the entire valley.

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                       Courtesy of Michal Furmanczyk, Absinthe acrobat…

While some were quick to explain it scientifically, many of us felt it was a sign from a greater power…or perhaps a message from another plane of existence. Whatever your take on the matter, there’s no denying that the sunset on 10/1/18 was one we’ll never forget.

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                                  Courtesy of performer Kim Lange…

ROLLING BACK THE PARKING FEES

So many people want to sling buckets of rotting fruit at the money-grubbers of MGM Resorts for instituting parking fees on the Strip. As usual, copycat CAESARS Entertainment followed, the same way they did with resort fees. But unlike those dreaded mandatory surcharges, many of their competitors have held off…or even rolled back…charging their guests to park.

To my recollection, Wynn/Encore was the first to rethink this strategy by offering validation to shoppers, show attendees and hotel guests. Cosmopolitan began including parking as part of their mandatory daily fees just this month. Of course, they had to spoil a bit of the satisfaction by RAISING the resort fee another four dollars per day.

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       Caesars couldn’t resist sticking it to their guests one final time in 2018…

Tropicana, Treasure Island, SLS, Stratosphere, Venetian, Palazzo and a few others still offer parking to everyone without cost. Then there’s the Caesars properties, who dropped a stinkbomb during New Year’s Eve weekend by introducing a flat-rate “surge price” of $20 per day. Keep on gouging, guys. You’ve learned nothing.

LADY GAGA IS THE NEW QUEEN OF THE STRIP

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It seemed really odd when MGM Resorts decided to spend $170 million to rip out their new-ish and gorgeous Aria Theater in favor of “more lucrative” convention space…and then spend millions more to expand/rebrand the adjacent Monte Carlo theater for…get this…more live entertainment. Mmmm kay….

The gamble seems to have paid off, though, as Park Theater just celebrated two years of hosting such high-profile acts as Cher, Ricky Martin, Queen/Adam Lambert and Stevie Wonder. Reports have surfaced that the unwelcome return of faux entertainer Britney Spears has suffered underwhelming ticket sales. But Lady Gaga’s ENIGMA residency came to the rescue by swooping in during the last few days of the year.

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Initial reviews have been stellar. Entertainment Weekly wrote “Enigma the show is a damn good time, and it’s admirable in its attempts to elevate a greatest-hits gathering into something striving for more, something that perhaps even galvanized an artist in the peak of her career to take a Vegas residency in the first place.”

A local media publisher, who shall remain unnamed, confided a different take with me: “Gaga was great. Everything else about the show was a disaster.”

There’s no question that Lady Gaga’s profile has risen substantially since she signed her Park Theater contract. She’s sure to get an Oscar nomination for A Star Is Born…and might actually win. Her credibility as a performer, humanitarian and cultural icon are unquestioned. So having her as a fixture on the Strip (for a planned two years) is a major coup for Park MGM. Britney who?

UPDATE: Mere minutes after I published this piece, it was announced that Britney had cancelled her Las Vegas residency, citing “family health concerns”. That’s PR-speak for “My sales suck and they want me out”. What a wonderful bit of news for lovers of genuine talent. Buh-bye, Brit Brit. Don’t let the door hit-hit.

https://www.ktnv.com/news/britney-spears-cancels-las-vegas-residency

TOUGH YEAR FOR VEGAS RESORT EXECS

The past twelve months have seen a surprising upheaval in upper management at major hotel casinos. It all started with an ominous event as embattled former Caesars Entertanment CEO Gary Loveman was shown the door in January…from his replacement job with Aetna. Loveman had never previously worked for healthcare companies.

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His successor Mark Frissora, who assumed the position from Loveman in summer 2015, will be departing his role in the next month or so. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Frissora was accused in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing by his former company, Hertz Global Holdings, of “inappropriate accounting decisions and the failure to disclose information to an effective review” three weeks after he took over at Caesars. Ouch!

Gary Loveman wasn’t the only former resort exec to have a bad year. Longtime MGM Resorts‘ Felix Rappaport was found dead in his home this summer. Current MGM CEO Jim Murren issued the following statement: “We are saddened by the news of the passing of our former colleague and friend, Felix Rappaport. Felix was a member of the MGM Resorts family for more than two decades and is remembered fondly by many. Our condolences and prayers go out to his family at this difficult time.”

Also at MGM, it was announced in October that Bobby Baldwin, Chief Customer Development Officer of their resorts and President/CEO of CityCenter on the Strip, will depart both positions soon…without explanation. The press announcement was extremely brief and offered no details, which stirred up plenty of rumors. Hmmm…

During that same month, they welcomed George Kliavkoff as the new President of Entertainment and Sports. He took over for legendary bushy-maned Richard Sturm who had held that position since 1993. Sturm shocked many when he announced his departure from MGM five weeks earlier. He was leaving to form his own entertainment consulting firm that would work exclusively with…MGM Resorts (insert facepalm here).

VitalVegas.com reported on a number of departures and managerial changes this summer at Westgate Hotel Casino. The most noteworthy that I personally can report on was the promotion of Cami Christensen into the position of President and General Manager. I happened to be there on the evening of the announcement and was honored to offer congratulations.

Christensen has been with the property for over seventeen years and assumed the responsibilities of former GM Geno Iafrate, who reportedly departed to help launch a new franchising concept for Westgate’s Superbook. Oddly, Iafrate’s LinkedIn account currently shows him as having left the property and looking for work.

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             Gordon Prouty and Cami Christensen raise the bar at Westgate…

I was also excited to meet Gordon Prouty while covering the annual Mr. Olympia Weekend this summer. Gordon had just accepted a position as Westgate’s Director of Public and Community Relations. This dapper gentleman has an extensive background in media and community relations throughout the country.

Here in Vegas, Gordon’s been involved in several organizations and Greenspun Media Group. And as the best-dressed man in all of Las Vegas, he served as inspiration for my article on STITCHED Men’s Haberdashery. Only good things can happen at Westgate with Gordon Prouty behind the PR wheel.

There’s nothing like a sex scandal to ruin a man’s legacy. Just ask Kevin Spacey….or in this case, Steve Wynn. The super-successful businessman, whom many credit with the mega-resorts of today, had one really tough year. Allegations of sexual misconduct forced the magnate to sell off his shares in Wynn Resorts this past March. Just before that he’d stepped down as CEO of his own company while denying the claims being made against him: “The idea that I ever assaulted any woman is preposterous.”

The founder of one of Las Vegas’ most luxurious resorts was also forced to depart the on-property villa he called home, as well as to forfeit his healthcare and severance pay. To add insult to injury, Wynn’s final pet project, the Paradise Park Lagoon, was scuttled. It would appear that Wynn West, an expansion on the opposite side of Las Vegas Boulevard, has also been put on ice.

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                                                     Photo via KSNV-TV

This is the third project to fall apart on the former New Frontier Hotel space. Perhaps it’s just as well. Somebody is apparently building Wynn West just a little farther down the street anyway. Unfortunately they’ve named it Resorts World, which doesn’t quite have the same ring. But it certainly looks familiar…

Tomorrow I’ll conclude my year-end wrap-up with the things that made Las Vegas 2018 a deeply personal affair.

Banner photo by Jim Gisclair of Serenity Helicopters