A Healthier Vegas Visit Is Possible With ‘Stay Well’


Unique lodging/convention experience utilizes the latest technology to protect you from infection while infusing your mind, body, and spirit with “wellness”…

I originally wrote this article in early March of 2020 for BestOfVegas.com, but it never saw the light of day. BestOfVegas remains in limbo, but now that we’ve reopened most hotels and casinos, the piece still has relevance. So, I present it to you here in its original form. 

There’s no question that traveling can have exhausting effects, both physically and mentally. Combine that with a few days of traditional Las Vegas excess and you’re likely to feel run down…or perhaps even ill. There are many types of recovery services available to counteract these symptoms. Or, you can be pro-active by booking your vacation in a Stay Well™ room at MGM Resorts.

Created by New York City corporation DELOS, the trademarked Stay Well™ concept was brought to Sin City in 2012 when dozens of fully-equipped, non-smoking rooms were introduced at MGM Grand. Since then, they’ve greatly expanded the number of rooms, introduced a Stay Well lounge and expanded the lineup to Park MGM and Mirage resorts. A select group of Stay Well protocols are also featured under the banner of “Fresh by Stay Well” at New York NY, Excalibur, and Luxor.

What makes a Stay Well™ room different from others? Everything! From the air you breathe to the water you shower in. From the sound-dampened walls and plant-extract memory foam mattress to red-spectrum circadian lighting, Stay Well enhances your body’s ability to relax, recover, rest and reinvigorate.

A Stay Well app by Cleveland Clinic allows you to maximize the available amenities and benefits. And perhaps most important of all, dangerous germs, viruses and other microbes are given the heave-ho by using non-toxic cleaning products and UV light-cleaning tools.

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Famed alternative-medicine advocate Dr. Deepak Chopra serves as an advisory board member for DELOS. He endorses the benefits of their specialized guest rooms. “Stay Well Rooms are built on many individual features, which when combined, have an unprecedented positive health impact for the traveler. Your wellness experience has been specially designed in collaboration with leading doctors, architects, engineers, and medical institutions.”

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“Amenities like purified air, healthy lighting, an allergy-friendly environment, dawn simulation, and aromatherapy increase energy, reduce stress, improve productivity and enhance your sleep quality. Our vitamin C shower infuser reduces chlorine to help skin and hair stay soft and smooth. Stay balanced, stay fresh, Stay Well.”

With all of today’s fears of contaminants within gathering spaces, Stay Well has expanded to offer its proactive health protocols to convention guests at MGM Grand by way of “Stay Well Meetings”. Air purification removes toxins, allergens, smoke and microbes from the air. Surfaces are treated with “WELL Shield”, a self-cleaning photocatalytic coating that destroys harmful organic compounds. Cleveland Clinic provides innovative menus and online tools to combat the negative effects of travel (like jet lag and poor diets).

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Stay Well amenities are clearly identified on the booking page of each hotel’s website. Every MGM Resorts property in Las Vegas (with the exception of Signature at MGM Grand) should be offering Stay Well enhancements or fully-conceived guest rooms by summer 2020. While no single program can prevent illness or provide absolute safety from infection, it’s helpful to know that options are available. So now you can reduce risk and reap the benefits of a healthier Vegas experience at the same time.

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Photos: MGM Resorts, Stay Well by DELOS

 

 

‘Sin City’ Re-opens June 4th – Will You Step Through The Magic Curtain?


Hotel-casinos unveil post-COVID dates and plans…

Well, you’ve stuck with us through the rough times. Now will be you ready to return? That’s the question that all of us in Las Vegas are asking. Governor Steve Sisolak has given approval for casino hotels to return on June 4th, and the floodgate of information is open!

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We’re snapping off the padlocks and sweeping the red carpet to welcome Vegas lovers back to the Strip, Downtown and surrounding areas. The changes will be many, and ramping up will be gradual. For now, only three MGM Resorts properties will be opening on June 4th. But that’s okay, as this will be a litmus test to gauge customer demand and determine a timeline for moving forward.

Here’s the official MGM Resorts announcement in all it’s carefully-worded glory. It provides complete details on the “new normal” that you’re probably already sick of hearing about (sorry, not sorry).

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(Las Vegas – May 27, 2020) — MGM Resorts International (NYSE: MGM) (“MGM Resorts”) announced its planned June 4 reopening of Bellagio, New York-New York, MGM Grand Las Vegas and The Signature, following the closure earlier this year of all of its U.S. properties amidst the coronavirus crisis.  At opening, amenities at all properties will be limited. As demand for the destination builds, additional venues within these resorts will open and other MGM Resorts properties on The Strip will reopen.

“Our hearts go out to everyone in the communities where we operate, and around the world, who has been personally impacted during this time of crisis,” said Bill Hornbuckle, MGM Resorts’ Acting CEO and President. “As we plan for these openings, the health and safety of our guests and employees is at the forefront of all we do. Getting many of our employees back to work and welcoming guests through our doors once again will allow us to do what we do best – entertain. The team is ready and we can’t wait.”

Health & Safety

MGM Resorts recently released its comprehensive “Seven-Point Safety Plan,” a multi-layered set of protocols and procedures designed in conjunction with medical and scientific experts to mitigate the spread of the virus, protect customers and employees and rapidly respond to potential new cases. The full plan can be reviewed at mgmresorts.com. We will continue to evaluate and evolve our safety protocols.  Key initiatives include:

  • Employee screening, temperature checks and COVID-19 specific training
  • COVID-19 testing offered for employees as they return to work in partnership with the local medical community
  • Employees will be required to wear masks; Guests are strongly encouraged to wear masks, and in some settings where physical distancing is more difficult and/or barriers do not exist, will be required to do so.  Examples of where masks will be required include salons, certain table games where physical barriers are not in place and elevators, if riding with guests outside of their travel group. Masks will be provided, free of charge
  • A physical distancing policy will be implemented, with floor guides serving as reminders
  • For areas where physical distancing presents challenges, plexiglass barriers will be installed, or other measures will be used to reduce risks
  • Standalone handwashing stations designed by MGM Resorts conveniently located on casino floors
  • Contactless Check-In through the MGM Resorts App will allow hotel guests to go through the check-in process on their personal devices, minimizing interactions
  • Guestroom Attendants will wear masks and gloves while cleaning each room and will change gloves between guestrooms
  • In addition to increased and enhanced routine cleaning of guestrooms and public spaces based on CDC guidance, electrostatic sprayers will be utilized in many large public spaces so that disinfectant is applied efficiently
  • Digital menus will be available to view on personal mobile devices via QR codes in the company’s food and beverage outlets
  • To minimize groups congregating while they wait, restaurant guests will receive text message notification when their tables are ready
  • MGM has compiled its own internal team and processes to respond if a guest or employee tests positive for COVID-19.  We ask that if a guest tests positive after visiting one of our properties, they alert us through a special email address (covid19@mgmresorts.com).  We will immediately report any positive test results to the local health department and assist with contact tracing to support the health department investigators.

For a full listing of amenities that will be available at each resort, please visit mgmresorts.com. Complimentary self-parking will be available for guests; valet parking will not be operational at this time.

A glimpse at what guests can expect:

Bellagio

Bellagio’s Conservatory will open with a beautiful new Japanese Spring Garden display called “Japan Journey: Magic of Kansai”. The resort’s iconic fountains will once again come to life. Food & Beverage amenities will include a variety of lounges such as Petrossian Bar, featuring its signature pianist as well as casual and fine-dining restaurants like Prime and Lago. The Mayfair Supper Club, which opened only a few months ago to rave reviews, will also reopen its doors. The lush pool will open with a selection of cabanas available. The Salon and Fitness Center also will be available.

New York-New York

In addition to a variety of bars and dining offerings including the lively Tom’s Urban, New York-New York guests can enjoy the highly popular Big Apple Roller Coaster and Big Apple Arcade, as well as Hershey’s Chocolate World. Just in time for celebrating summer, the pool will open with a selection of cabanas available. The property’s Fitness Center will be available to hotel guests. Many of the venues at the adjacent Park are slated to open, as well.

MGM Grand and The Signature

MGM Grand, known for its dynamic mix of offerings, will open a number of bars and lounges as well as casual and fine-dining venues including Craftsteak and Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill. A selection of cabanas will be available alongside a portion of the resort’s exciting pool environment. The Salon and Fitness Center will be available to hotel guests. The Signature at MGM Grand also will open with a variety of its amenities available.

Days and hours of operation at all venues will vary. For a full list of offerings, and to make reservations, please visit mgmresorts.com.

Caesars Entertainment is going a little more conservative than MGM, with only Flamingo and Caesars Palace slated to reopen at first:

We are ecstatic to announce that we will begin the re-opening of the Fabulous Flamingo on Thurs, June 4. We will offer lodging, dining options, access to GO Pool at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino and the Beach Club pool, as well as slot machines & table games in accordance with physical distancing guidelines.

We are pleased to announce that we will begin re-opening the Palace on Thursday, June 4. We are happy to offer lodging, dining options, access to the Garden of the Gods pools, as well as slot machines & table games in accordance with physical distancing guidelines.

Fees for paid self-parking will be suspended. For more information on the Company’s health and safety protocols, visit: Caesars.com/health.

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Westgate Las Vegas has set a date of June 18th for their return, but that will quite likely be moved up with everyone else doing June 4th. Click here for updated information via their own reservation site. I already unveiled the historic resort’s extensive care protocols in this piece and am currently in Florida to witness their procedures in action. I’ll tell you all about that in an upcoming series that was announced here.

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Nearby Sahara is accepting reservations for stays beginning June 4th. They’ve also released a formal COVID-19 operations plan, as seen here:

(May 21, 2020) – SAHARA Las Vegas today released a comprehensive outline of health and safety protocols under the resort’s SAHARA Cares program that will be implemented upon re-opening following the government-mandated closure of the property on March 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The outline details enhancements to the resort’s rigorous sanitation protocols along with new social distance considerations. SAHARA Las Vegas collaborated with experts to establish hundreds of additional practices to minimize risk for guests and team members. A full overview of the SAHARA Cares program may be found at SAHARALasVegas.com/SAHARACares/.
“The health and safety of our guests and team members is our number one priority,” said Paul Hobson, SAHARA Las Vegas Senior Vice President and General Manager. “In addition to the enhanced cleaning practices, we have developed new service initiatives designed with the wellbeing of our guests in mind. We recognize the ongoing need to stay informed regarding the latest recommended protocols and resources to deter the spread of the virus. We are committed to ensuring both our guests and team members can feel safe when they come to our resort.”
SAHARA Las Vegas continues to follow the orders of Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. Resort leadership anticipate a phased approach to re-opening and look forward to welcoming back team members and guests as soon as it is recommended to do so.
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The Cosmopolitan is set to unlock its doors at 10am on June 4th. The swanky hotel casino recently earned an early slot on my “2020 Year-End Naughty List” when an eagle-eyed reader discovered that the swanky resort plans to raise their resort fees. Cosmo’s PR agency sent this release out just within the hour, loaded with answers to most of your questions:

(May 27, 2020) – The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas reopens its doors to the public on June 4 at 10 a.m. PST. Following Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak’s directive on May 26 permitting gaming properties to return to business on June 4, and upon receiving approval from the Nevada Gaming Control Board, The Cosmopolitan prepares to welcome guests back to the luxury casino-resort. As health and safety remain a top priority, The Cosmopolitan has implemented strict guidelines that meet or exceed the standards set by local, state and federal authorities.

“In the past ten years, we have had the privilege of creating environments that house lasting memories for many. And while our world has changed, our commitment to the wellbeing of our guests, CoStars [Cosmopolitan employees] and community remains. As we all acclimate to this new normal, we know the travel experience our guests have grown accustomed to will be altered. However, we are committed to delivering the exceptional service, energy and dedication that our CoStars provide and our guests seek. We look forward to welcoming our guests back to the resort soon.” – William P. McBeath, President & Chief Executive Officer of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

Health & Safety Standards

Under the guidance of health and safety professionals, The Cosmopolitan created a comprehensive, internal plan, The Cosmopolitan Commitment, which builds upon existing health and safety procedures and addresses new operational and reporting processes. An extensive range of enhancements, including advanced cleaning and sanitization protocols, have been implemented resort-wide. Measures include dedicated CoStar training, social distancing guidelines, non-invasive temperature screenings, floorplan and furniture reconfiguration, signage installations, in-room sanitization amenity for guests and more.

Additional offerings that further support health and safety efforts:

·        A standout feature provided to guests can be found in the resort’s distinct room design. More than 70% of the 3,033 guest rooms at The Cosmopolitan feature open-air access from a private terrace. Guests who book a room with a terrace can easily step outside for fresh air at any time during their stay.

·        The Cosmopolitan’s chat bot and 24/7 digital concierge, Rose, provides contactless guest service and resort information through a guest’s personal cellular device. With a text to Rose, guests can get assistance ordering room service, requesting housekeeping services, making restaurant reservations, and have a direct connection to concierge, guest services, hotel room check-out and more.

·        Additionally, QR (Quick Response) codes will be utilized at various bars and restaurants as a touchless option for guests to view menus. QR codes will be introduced to additional areas throughout the resort in the coming weeks.

Further details for guests and visitors can be found on The Cosmopolitan’s Health & Sanitization webpage.

Resort Updates

The Cosmopolitan will reopen with a multi-phased approach. Hotel reservations and an initial set of venues and amenities will open with the resort followed by a slow reintroduction of additional outlets in the coming months. Reservation dates are now open for booking and a curated summer promotion is available on the Offers page of the resort’s website. Additionally, The Cosmopolitan will waive paid self-parking for all guests. Valet parking will continue to remain complimentary for hotel guests as previously offered.

The following venues and amenities will be available for guests beginning June 4. Additional information, including instruction for making a reservation and hours of operation, can be found on The Cosmopolitan’s website.

·        Restaurants: The majority of The Cosmopolitan’s Restaurant Collection will open with the resort. This includes: Beauty & Essex, Blue Ribbon, Block 16 Urban Food Hall (including District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew., Tekka Bar, Hattie B’s, Lardo and Pok Pok Wing), China Poblano, Eggslut, Estiatorio Milos, Jaleo, Holsteins, Milk Bar, Overlook Grill, Scarpetta, Starbucks, STK, The Henry, The Juice Standard, The Pizzeria and Zuma. 

·        Bars & Lounges: The Chandelier, Vesper Bar, CliQue Bar & Lounge and Race & Sports Book Bar will open with the resort.

·        Gaming: The casino floor, high limit rooms and the Race & Sports Book will be available for guests at the time of reopening.

 ·        Spa, Salon & Fitness: Sahra Spa, Salon & Hammam will open daily. The Boulevard and The Chelsea tower fitness centers as well as the outdoor tennis courts will also be open and accessible to hotel guests. 

·        Pools: The Boulevard Pool will open with the resort, with appropriately spaced lounge chairs, daybeds and cabanas, with dedicated cocktail service, available for guests.

·        Retail: A variety of retail shops will open with the resort.

Venues pertaining to entertainment, nightlife or spa remain closed for the time being. Updates and additional venue openings with hours of operation can be found on the Travel Updates page on The Cosmopolitan’s website.

Community Efforts

The Cosmopolitan is dedicated to serving the local community through a variety of initiatives, now more than ever in an effort to give-back to first responders and local charities in need.

·        Honoring First Responders: The Cosmopolitan honors first responders who have been at the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis with 25% off room bookings now through the end of the year. First responders can book their room reservation by calling 800-435-0005.

·        The Giving Module: The resort continues its efforts through the Giving Module program, which provides guests with the option to donate change from their slot play winnings to a local charity organization.  Beginning in June, charitable beneficiaries include HELP of Southern Nevada, Goodie Two Shoes, American Heart Association and Veterans Village. These are in addition to a local non-profit organization benefiting first responders, which will be announced in the coming weeks. In further support of the selected charities, The Cosmopolitan matches up to $10,000 of all donations each quarter. Organizations interested in benefiting from The Cosmopolitan’s Giving Module program should reach out directly to GivingModuleProduct@everi.com to be considered.

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My in-box continues to be flooded with similar announcements as I prepare to publish this piece, but you’re getting the gist of all of them. Clearly, major hotel casinos have been spending their down time reworking the system and waiting for an all-clear. Even the so-called “locals casinos” have sent out their plans. This one is from Boyd Gaming, parent company to The Orleans and several locations at Fremont Street:

Boyd Gaming Corporation today announced plans to resume operations at nine of its Nevada properties on Thursday, June 4, pending receipt of final regulatory approvals: The Orleans, Gold Coast, Suncoast, Aliante, Cannery, Sam’s Town, Fremont, California and Jokers Wild.

“We are excited for the opportunity to resume operations in our home state of Nevada,” said Keith Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer of Boyd Gaming. “By the first week of June, we look forward to having 19 of our 29 properties across the country back in operation, and we are optimistic that we will be able to reopen most of our remaining properties by the end of June. As we continue to return to business, we will remain diligent in protecting the health and safety of every person who comes through our doors, following strict safety protocols that meet the highest standards set by federal, state and local officials.”

Upon reopening, all of Boyd Gaming’s Nevada properties will operate with limited amenities and capacity restrictions in compliance with state and local requirements. Specific amenities and restrictions include:

Food Outlets: All properties will have select dining options open with varied hours. All buffets will remain closed at this time.

Casino Bars: All properties will have select casino bars open with varied hours.

Gaming:

· All properties will have slots and video poker available 24/7, following social distancing requirements.

· Table games will be available at Aliante, Cannery, the Cal, Fremont, Gold Coast, Suncoast, Sam’s Town and The Orleans with varied hours. Seating will be limited in accordance with social distancing requirements.

· The Orleans will offer poker with select hours. Seating at each table will be limited.

· Aliante, Gold Coast, Sam’s Town and Suncoast will offer Bingo with varied hours.

· Sports books will be open at Aliante, Cannery, Fremont, Gold Coast, Sam’s Town, Suncoast and The Orleans with varied hours.

Amenities:

· Fremont will offer valet services. Valet will be closed at all other properties.

· Pools at Aliante and The Orleans will open with varied hours.

· Bowling will be available at Gold Coast, Sam’s Town, Suncoast and The Orleans with varied hours.

· Gift shops will be open at properties that offer this amenity.

· All movie theaters, showrooms, fitness centers and spas will remain closed during the initial reopening phase.

Details on individual amenity, restaurant and gaming openings/closures along with hours of operations can be found on the website for each property.

Additionally, all Boyd Gaming properties will practice “Boyd Clean,” a set of comprehensive protocols aimed at protecting the health and safety of our team members and guests. These protocols include:

· Mandatory face coverings and temperature checks for all team members;

· Social distancing requirements and capacity restrictions across all customer and team member areas, including casino floors and restaurants;

· Enhanced cleaning and sanitation of all high-touch surfaces, including door handles, gaming machines, table games, handrails and elevator buttons;

· Increased placement of hand sanitizer dispensers throughout our properties;

· Required training for all team members on our safety protocols.

For additional information on the Boyd Clean initiative, visit http://www.boydgaming.com/boyd-clean.

Three of Boyd Gaming’s southern Nevada properties – Eastside Cannery, Eldorado and Main Street Station – remain closed during the initial reopening phase. While the Gold Coast will reopen its casino and some restaurants on June 4, the Gold Cost hotel will remain closed at the present time.

Plenty of other Downtown hotel-casinos like Plaza and Downtown Grand are set for a June 4th restart. The Fremont Street Experience removes the barricades one day earlier, June 3rd at 9am. Here’s their official announcement:

LAS VEGAS – Fremont Street Experience (FSE) announced today they will reopen the pedestrian mall and access to adjacent hotel casinos and retail stores when they reopen on June 3 at 9 a.m.

Leading up to the reopening of FSE’s casino partners, the world’s largest single video screen, Viva Vision, will display a 144-hour countdown that will conclude at the exact moment gaming operations restart at 12:01 a.m. on June 4.

Adhering to the guidelines put forth by the Global Association for the Attractions Industry (IAPPA), SlotZilla zipline will also reopen in downtown Las Vegas on June 4 at 4 p.m.

As downtown Las Vegas prepares to reopen, FSE will continue to employ robust cleaning procedures designed to mitigate the spread of the virus based on guidance of Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and public health officials. To ensure the safety of visitors and employees, FSE will disinfect the pedestrian mall, parking garage and SlotZilla towers twice a day with environmentally friendly and highly effective products that are immediately safe for human contact.

“The health and well-being of our guests, tenants, resort partners and employees remain a top priority to Fremont Street Experience,” said Patrick Hughes, President and Chief Executive Officer of Fremont Street Experience. “Although experiences will be altered to adjust to this new normal, we are committed to reinvigorating downtown Las Vegas and helping make a positive impact in the community. We look forward to welcoming guests back to Fremont Street Experience soon.”

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While many Strip hotels won’t be offering bar service at first, The Golden Tiki in nearby Chinatown will be ready June 5th to serve some of the best cocktails in the city. The Golden Tiki is an absolute must-do, so be sure to head over. Here’s their startup plan, naturally presented with whimsy and a dollop of “outrageous” courtesy of proprietor Branden Powers:

The Golden Tiki, Las Vegas’ world-renowned tiki bar experience, will reopen Friday June 5th from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., Creator/Co-Owner Branden Powers announced today. They will open again Saturday, June 6th and Sunday, June 7th, close Mon-Tues and reopen again Wednesday, June 10th on a daily schedule all with the same hours, 5 p.m.- 2 a.m. (until further notice).

A limited number of patrons will be seated and served with heightened service–Reservations via the goldentiki.com website are very strongly suggested. Of course, the best safety and sanitation protocols will be followed at all times.

“Now that our capacity is smaller, we’re looking to use this opportunity to offer our fans a more exclusive-style Tiki experience,” said Powers. “We want to safely transport everyone to a faraway island where the only thing we have to fear is a cursed totem. Oh, and headhunters.”

Led by Head Bartender And Witchdoctor General Adam “Fauci” Rains, the Golden Tiki team will serve the full cocktail menu plus unannounced specials, as well a menu of tasty bites. This is not your grandfather’s pandemic party.

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Branden Powers is also the mastermind behind downtown’s Evel Pie, an all-smiles Fremont Street pizza joint that reopened on May 28th.

My friends at Las Vegas Magazine just published a comprehensive list of what’s set to re-open. It includes restaurants, attractions, gaming, and much more. You can also visit the website of any particular Vegas destination to find out what plans your favorites have in place.

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So at last, Sin City is back….sorta-kinda-maybe. If you’re ready and eager to “Vegas” again, then put on your party shoes and step through the Magic Curtain. Just remember to bring a face mask and an ample supply of hand sanitizer, okay?

Banner photo: Mike Hammer Comedy Magic 

Sin City Shutdown – They’ll Never Learn


The rebirth of Las Vegas was stillborn, and it’ll be years before this city is relevant again.

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Update 8/16/20 – Well, here we are five months later and things are worse than they’ve ever been. Aside from the rollback of parking fees on the Strip, the corporations have learned ZERO about luring people back. There are still the exorbitant resort fees, $20 cocktails and nickel-and-diming practices.

Tourists have been hit with COVID-19 surcharges, mask and temperature-scan requirements, limited dining options, no live entertainment and darkened storefronts. Major casinos remain dark, thousands of staff members have been let go and even McCarran Airport has laid off almost a thousand employees.

Cirque du Soleil has filed for bankruptcy, Wynn has closed down Le Reve permanently, Human Nature tossed in the towel, and the Blue Man Group has been given their walking paper. I’d be hard-pressed to encourage people to visit Las Vegas for the foreseeable future. There’s nothing here that you can’t get elsewhere cheaper/faster/easier. If that sounds like a downer, of course it is. But if you were expecting rosy bullshit from a site named “Vegas Unfiltered”, you were mistaken.

The rebirth of Las Vegas was stillborn, and it’ll be years before this city is relevant again.


UPDATE 5/19/20 – It appears that SOMEBODY has been listening to all of us who have urged the major resort chains to make changes. MGM Resorts and Cosmopolitan have announced that they’re dropping parking fees. As VitalVegas.com reported, Caesars had no choice but to do the same. Unfortunately, nothing has been done about resort fees. In fact, Cosmopolitan will be raising theirs from $39 per day to $45.

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Venetian/Palazzo is slated to unlock their doors on June 1st. The giant resort has launched a program called “Share the LOVE” and they’re showing their appreciation with an offer geared towards essential workers. MGM and Westgate have publicized their sanitation protocols, which I’ve elaborated on here and here.

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Sadly, there have been major layoffs during the interim, and some casinos have decided to label themselves as “Permanently Closed”, allowing for the termination of thousands of employees without recourse or compensation. Among them are The Palms, Fiesta Henderson, Texas Station and Rampart casinos (read more here).

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So….it’s a mixed bag at this point. One victory. one stalemate…and plenty of casualties. But everything remains in flux, with major announcements arriving in my email nearly daily. As hotels ramp up their reopening plans, it is in your best interest as a customer to investigate the best deals, best prices and best overall plan before you decide to return to Sin City. Good luck and have fun…..we’re (kind of) back!


On March 17th, 2020, Governor Steve Sisolak shut down the City of Las Vegas, along with the rest of the state, for a minimum of thirty days. In order to slow the rampant spread of COVID-19 aka “Corona Virus”, all non-essential businesses were ordered to shutter. This included bars, hotels, casinos, indoor-dining restaurants, gyms, spas, salons, movie theaters, shows, most stores, parks, recreational attractions and much more.

                                Caesars Palace Forum Shops and Bellagio….both empty…

Thousands upon thousands of people are currently out of work (myself included). Very few are receiving compensation from their employers during this dark period, leaving homes and families at risk for multiple hardships. Can a town that’s already endured major drops in tourism due to 9/11, 2008’s economic collapse and the 10/1/17 massacre rebound from yet another cataclysm?

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                  The party is over on Fremont Street…at least for the time being…

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             An insider source requesting anonymity sent these astonishing photos…

Will the stuffed suits in powerful boardrooms learn from their own mistakes…ones that were already dragging our tourist industry downward? What can be done to lure people back…and will we see a return to the perception of Las Vegas as a value destination? One can only hope.

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                  A darkened Wynn/Encore offers hope to the remaining few passers-by…

The days leading up to the Governor’s declaration were filled with unbearable tension. Grocery store shelves were plundered as major Strip productions shuttered one by one. Next came the closing of buffets and restaurants, then entire hotels and casinos.  Working parents suddenly had to figure out what to do with their children when all schools closed down this week.

                                 Town Square near McCarran Airport is a ghost town…

As in other cities around the world, mundane activities like getting a haircut or meeting friends for lunch are no longer part of our lives. Everything has changed in just a matter of days. Once it became clear that this was our new normal, a friend and I entered “survival mode”. I was just laid off from two regular writing gigs (supposedly temporarily, but who knows?) and he needed a place to live, so now I have someone to share expenses with…and lean on at the same time.

Having resided for 14 years in hurricane-prone South Florida, this writer was used to disaster preparation as a routine activity. Stock the pantry, refill prescriptions, get extra pet food and litter, withdraw cash from the ATM, gas up the vehicles and charge everything that uses a battery. Then comes more drastic steps like buying plywood to board up the windows, checking/replacing fire extinguishers and having weapons on hand in case violence ensues.

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All of this may sound drastic or even dramatic, but let’s face it…if people trample each other for a TV on Black Friday, what would they do when food and supplies run out? The answer isn’t an easy one.

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Despite the seriousness of the situation, many have been working hard to maintain hope…and a sense of humor. Facebook has been a great outlet for people to offer assistance, share their talents and keep each others’ spirits high. Cirque du Soleil performer Alberto Del Campo (read about him HERE) is hosting free online pole fitness classes.

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           Sing along with Mak and the Cheese – You Can’t Spell ‘Virus’ Without ‘Us’

Talented spouses MaKenzie Fly (Sex Tips) and Colin Cahill (Atomic Saloon Show) have created “Mak and The Cheese” a Facebook page featuring witty songs and skits inspired by the “virus hiatus.” And yours truly hosted a “Sexy Apocalypse Party” at Palms Place, where shirts were optional (this is Sin City, after all).

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As we locals ride out the long month ahead in our own unique ways, it’s clear that we’ll come out on the other side as very changed people. Thousands will undoubtedly remain unemployed. Homes will be lost and crime rates will rise. Many businesses will most certainly close for good.

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                    The Bronx Wanderers toast their final performance…for now…

Entertainment offerings may no longer be the flashy, expensive productions (like Cirque du Soleil’s R.U.N) that have recently racked up millions in losses. Virgin Hotel (the former Hard Rock) and Allegiant Stadium completion dates will be pushed back. And you can forget about Resorts World and Fontainebleu/The Drew opening any time soon….yet again.

Steve Sisolak

The Governor’s announcement was like licking the stamp on a death notice that was waiting to be mailed. Las Vegas has been struggling for quite some time, mostly due to poor decisions that have turned an inexpensive, beloved retreat into a tourist-gouging cesspool of greed. The bigger the city has grown, the less forward-thinking it has become. What we as citizens saw and heard tonight will forever be embedded in our minds. But can we say the same about the big-company execs who are directing the city’s future?

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After the news conference, my new roomie and I gathered our wits and headed to the Strip to absorb the shocking reality of it all. What we witnessed were empty sidewalks, abandoned massive resorts, and shuttered storefronts. The world-famous Bellagio Fountains were dark, as was the Mirage volcano and the boardwalk along Treasure Island. Gone were the endless lines of taxis waiting to pick up tourists.

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Overhead, pedestrian walkways were void of people, and the outdoor escalators at each major intersection went silently up and down with nary a soul to ride them. Amusingly, they all seemed to be working for a change, now that there was nobody to use them. If you were looking for the company of others, all you had to do was head for the nearest dispensary, where people encircled the buildings, hoping to get their stash before mandatory shutdowns went into effect.

                  Lines at marijuana dispensaries stretched around the block…

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         “Visit Las Vegas” is airing nationwide TV promising a bigger, better Vegas…

Now that we’ve witnessed that fall of Las Vegas, where do we go from here? As I said, it will most likely be a very different place…but will it be better? Maybe the “new normal” will yield smaller-scale ideas, where charming lounge-style acts push multi-million-dollar headliner residencies out of the way.

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Perhaps we’ll see a resurgence in gaming, bolstered by better odds than visitors can get at their local casinos. And if we’re lucky, quality service by smiling human beings will shove out main offender MGM Resort‘s move toward automation and self-service. If I’m paying $50 for a buffet, is it too much to ask for an actual person to refill my iced tea?

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                                                    Found on my Facebook feed…

What Las Vegas REALLY needs is to learn a hard, definitive lesson from this punch to the stomach. Hotels must send parking charges out into the desert, never to return. People are sick of looking at their restaurant/bar tab and finding a laundry list of bogus service charges and taxes added onto their already-expensive bill. And when a hotel advertisement says “Stay here for $___”, that better be the actual rate. We’re done with $45 resort fees. Stop it…right now!

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There are only so many times that a city built on tourism can bounce back from major disasters. Las Vegas has survived at least three of them in the past two decades. If the corporations that run this city don’t push the “restart” button and bring back what made this city successful for decades, then maybe it doesn’t deserve to recover at all. Right now, the only thing we all share is hope for a better tomorrow.


 

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Click HERE to read this article’s companion piece: “Is Sin City Determined to Drive You Away?”

Photos: Sam Novak, Bobby Watson, Kevin Janison, Marianne LeMoine Phoenix, Greg C., Bill Chenowith, Vin A., Andrew Hill. Special thanks to Richard Lindblom.

Banner photo: ABC News

MGM Resorts Releases Re-opening Plans


Sin City’s biggest player announces steps to welcome back guests…

Can you smell that in the air? It’s still pretty faint, but very distinct. It’s the fragrance of hope, something that Las Vegas desperately needs. The aromas of bleach, peroxide, and other disinfectants are coming to your hotel-casino, and you’d better get used to them if you want to stay and play.

It’s hard to believe, but today marks the third consecutive day that I can publish good news. On Sunday I told you about Westgate CARES, a nationwide protocol in which the Orlando-based resort company shared their research and programs freely with the hospitality industry. Then yesterday came news of the reopening of Esther’s Kitchen, spearheading a wave of similar announcements.

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Vegas Unfiltered Blog reader “Dolores” had a question about Sunday’s piece, for which I had no answer. But today I offer a converse response regarding MGM Resorts‘ measures to address sanitation and operational procedure changes. Here it is as presented courtesy of Jenn Smulo of Kirvin Doak, the Vegas-based public relations firm that represents MGM Resorts, Westgate Las Vegas, Cirque du Soleil, and several charities in the valley.

(May 12, 2020) – MGM Resorts International (NYSE: MGM) today released a report outlining the comprehensive health and safety protocols the company is implementing prior to re-opening its domestic properties and resorts which were temporarily closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report details MGM Resorts’ “Seven-Point Safety Plan” – a multi-layered set of protocols and procedures designed in conjunction with medical and scientific experts to deter the spread of the virus, protect customers and employees and rapidly respond to potential new cases. The full report can be found HERE.

“Preparing for the moment we can re-open our doors, MGM Resorts focused on developing a plan that puts health and safety at the center of everything we do. Our ‘Seven-Point Safety Plan’ is the result of months of consultations with public health experts and outlines our comprehensive approach to welcoming guests back safely,” said MGM Resorts Acting CEO and President Bill Hornbuckle. “Our properties will not look the way they used to for a while, and that’s not only okay, it’s critically important. We will continue providing the hospitality experiences we are known for, but we must do so safely. We will continue working with experts and following guidance from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and government officials and regulators as we evolve these protocols based on the latest information.”

EXPERT GUIDANCE

MGM Resorts Lead Health and Safety Advisor: Dr. Shannon Magari, Vice President of Health Sciences for Colden Corporation 

MGM Resorts is working with Dr. Shannon Magari, ScD, MPH, MS as its lead health and safety advisor for this process. Dr. Magari is the Vice President of Health Sciences for Colden Corporation, an occupational health, safety and environmental firm. Dr. Magari obtained her Master of Science from the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College and received her doctoral training and served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health – specializing in Occupational Epidemiology. 

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OVERVIEW: MGM RESORTS’ SEVEN-POINT SAFETY PLAN

The full report, including detailed protocols, procedures and operational enhancements can be found HERE.

These protocols and procedures focus on balancing the customer service guests have come to expect from MGM Resorts with the urgent need to apply knowledge about COVID-19 and adapt environments accordingly. This plan is being implemented at MGM Resorts’ properties throughout the United States, with additions and changes being made based on local jurisdictions.

MGM Resorts’ Seven-Point Safety Plan is as follows:

  1. Screening, Temperature Checks and Employee TrainingMGM Resorts has implemented employee-screening measures to assess signs and symptoms of infection and whether the employee resides or cares for someone who has recently been diagnosed with the virus. Employees are currently and will continue to go through temperature checks before entering properties.

Guests will be asked to abide by a similar self-screening protocol prior to arriving and during their stay. Guests who have reason to believe they may have been exposed to the virus are strongly urged to follow CDC guidelines for self-quarantine and not travel. We will look forward to welcoming those guests once the self-quarantine period is complete.

  1. Mandatory Masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)All MGM Resorts employees will be provided and required to wear an approved mask when on our properties. We will also strongly encourage guests to wear masks in public areas and offer masks to any guests who need one, free of charge. Gloves will continue to be worn by employees who require them to do their jobs, such as food handlers and employees who clean public areas. Additional categories of employees required to wear PPE will be identified by medical experts.
    • Drink service: We will ask guests to minimize the amount of time masks are removed when drinking on the casino floor.
    • Eating: We will ask guests to refrain from eating on the casino floor to minimize the amount of time masks are removed.
  1. Physical Distancing: Six-foot physical distancing policy will be in place, wherever feasible, with floor guides serving as reminders throughout MGM Resorts properties. From time-to-time, six-foot distancing will be challenging – and in those cases, reasonable mitigating protocols will be implemented, such as plexiglass barriers or eye protection for employees. Plexiglass barriers will be installed in areas throughout casinos and lobbies, where appropriate, for the safety of guests and employees. Signage will be installed throughout properties to guide employees and guests on how to safely practice physical distancing.
  1. Handwashing and Enhanced Sanitization: Prior to property closures in March, MGM Resorts implemented increased and enhanced routine cleaning, based on CDC guidelines, with a focus on high-touch surfaces in common areas. We will continue using proven cleaning products in accordance with EPA guidelines for coronaviruses, bacteria and other infectious pathogens. Electrostatic sprayers will be used in many large areas to allow us to apply disinfectant more efficiently.

In addition, custom-built handwashing stations with soap and water, along with hand-sanitizing stations, will be readily available in high-traffic areas and with a visible presence. Signage will be installed to guide and remind employees and guests of the importance of proper handwashing protocols.

  1. Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Controls and Air Quality: MGM Resorts has always placed a high priority on air quality for our guests and has reviewed the operation of HVAC systems to identify additional opportunities to enhance their effectiveness. Rigorous measures in accordance with established guidelines to help mitigate the risk of virus transmission have been taken throughout our properties.

As scientific information becomes available about the virus, and as additional guidance from state and local authorities and our medical experts evolve, we will continue to review and adjust the operation of our HVAC systems, fully recognizing the important role they have in keeping employees and guests healthy and safe.

  1. Incident Response Protocols: MGM Resorts has protocols in place aimed at reducing the chance infection will spread. In the unfortunate event a guest or employee tests positive for the virus, we will activate incident response protocols to ensure the infected individual has access to medical treatment, exposed areas are thoroughly sanitized and, when possible, notify those who may have come in close, prolonged contact with the infected individual. MGM Resorts has medical and security personnel on staff to respond quickly in the event of an incident.
  1. Digital Innovations: MGM Resorts is reimagining several aspects of the guest experience through technology to transition current processes into contactless options for guests that eliminates or reduces the need for waiting in line.
    • Contactless Check-In: Guests will have the ability to complete the check-in process entirely themselves through the MGM Resorts mobile app. This includes the ability to process payment, verify identification and obtain a digital room key, all through a mobile device. If preferred, physical keys will be available through self-serve key encoders. Employees will be available for guests who prefer check-in without using their mobile device, while still maintaining a line-reduced environment.
    • Food & Beverage: Digital menus will be available to view on personal mobile devices via QR code. Virtual queues will be in place for guests when immediate seating is unavailable. Guests will receive a text message notification when their table is ready.

 

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

Photos: MGM Resorts

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7:19 PM – 23 Mar 2019

He followed that up with an even more troubling tweet:

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

12:48 PM – 31 Mar 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Westgate Turns Strip-side Gouging On Its Ear


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Photos: Sammasseur

Feeling the Love for PALAZZO


Searching for elegance at Bellagio and Wynn but finding it quietly tucked away…

UPDATE 5/19/20 Venetian/Palazzo just announced plans to reopen their resort on June 1st, 2020. Here is their official press release:

The Venetian anticipates that we will be opening our doors to guests beginning Monday, June 1st. With the reopening, we are excited to announce the launch of Share the LOVE, a program to donate 50,000 free nights to essential workers and first responders who have provided crucial services in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

For every night you stay at The Venetian through the Give LOVE offer, the resort will donate a suite night on your behalf to someone who has selflessly given of themselves. The Get LOVE offer provides the opportunity for those first responders and essential workers to receive a complimentary night at our iconic resort. As we open our doors, we can all honor the people who have carried us through this tremendous time.

Click here to learn more and how you can support the “Share The LOVE” program.


 

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8/8/17 – Once upon a time, this writer spent two weeks experiencing the pleasures of three top-tier resorts – Bellagio, Wynn and Palazzo. All are established, respected and great at what they do. Each of them is a 5-star property catering to similar demographics, yet they’re distinct in style and flavor.

Palazzo is the sister property to Venetian. Opened in December of 2007, it’s listed by Wikipedia as the second-largest building in the Western Hemisphere, yet its presence on the Strip is as understated as the clean lines and Earth tones that make up its superstructure.

Inside, two cavernous domes oversee your entrance from either the main lobby or through the waterfall atrium connecting Palazzo to Venetian‘s Grand Canal Shoppes and Restaurant Row. These days the two resorts operate more as a single entity than two separate hotels, but I’ll be focusing on the Palazzo side for this article.

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Both Bellagio and Wynn sprang from the mind of legendary Steve Wynn, so of course they are essentially kindred hotels. Both have ornate decor, colorful seasonal displays, art collections, water-themed production shows created by the same man (Franco Dragone) and outdoor fountains synchronized to familiar musical standards.

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                     Deja-view….                             

For better or worse, Bellagio’s ownership and operations now rest in the hands of MGM Resorts International. That’s the money-grubbing corporation which introduced universally-reviled mandatory resort fees to the Strip, along with parking and valet charges. Their now-notorious profit-growth plan was designed to suck every last dollar out of the consumer’s pocket.

The results are even apparent in a luxury resort such as this, where you pay $12 a day to park while risking damage to your undercarriage. Some have even lost their tires and wheels (check out this mind-bending incident from April 2017), so clearly those extra fees aren’t going towards additional security, which is odd for a casino that has been robbed time and again.

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Wynn/Encore initially resisted resort fees but caved when they became the new normal. I truly expected them to continue offering free parking and valet services, but that is no longer the case. One could argue that all Strip resorts should be on equal footing in respect to their parking arrangements, yet Wynn/Encore is far removed from the core of those affected.

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“Let’s put an ATM next to the garage payment kiosks and see if anyone gets the message”….

There is little to no chance of drivers using Wynn/Encore garages to visit other properties, especially with neighbors like Treasure Island still offering free parking. Installing gates and kiosks reeked of yet another money grab…and an insult to valued guests. They’ve rolled back their policies a bit since charges were instituted, but still…

Fortunately for those of us who rent cars on our trips, the garages at Venetian and Palazzo are well-maintained and free of charge. In the case of Palazzo, conveniently-located escalators and elevators bring guests directly into the lobby, center of the casino or near the showroom. Even when not staying at Palazzo, I frequently dine at wonderful Grand Lux Cafe, in part due to the ease of access (the food, service and free Wi-Fi rock, too).

But, I digress. Let’s delve into the resorts themselves, and why I favor Palazzo over the other two. For me, it all comes down to atmosphere…how I’m treated as a guest and whether I felt comfortable and relaxed in my surroundings.

While Bellagio is the oldest of the three, its rooms remain in tip-top shape and have recently-refreshed decor. Furniture, bedding and fixtures are all lovely, thanks to excellent maintenance. Unfortunately during my three-day stay, the room rumbled throughout the daylight hours until 7 pm with the sound of jackhammers, thanks to renovations above me.

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Bellagio Fountain-View King…          

A complaint to the front desk resulted in a $100.00 food/beverage credit being added to my account. It was willingly offered after my complaint – not something I was soliciting, as I was trying to write and needed to know when the pounding would stop so I could work. Nevertheless, the incessant noise tainted my stay and rattled my teeth loose. It would have been nice if they’d alerted us about construction prior to check-in, but they didn’t.

Noise can also be an issue at Wynn/Encore, especially if you’re hoping for a restful night. With its beach clubs and nightclubs, a constant thump-thump-thump rises up the sides of both towers. It’s a frequent complaint on travel sites for those who are accustomed to the elegance that Wynn initially offered in its early days.

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       Wynn Tower King, Strip View…                

These days, Wynn/Encore has shifted from sophistication to the trendy club scene. It lures in a rowdy crowd that carries on loudly throughout common areas, casinos and elevators, in stark contrast to their expensive, classy surroundings. The effect is very off-putting and a disappointing about-face.

It wasn’t that long ago that trouble-making celebs like Paris Hilton and bad-behavior rappers like Lil Wayne were barred from Wynn/Encore. Now their kind seem to be openly courted. The type that this element attracts make Wynn/Encore the most money…yet are openly mocked by Steve as he collects a hefty share of their trust funds…and their snickers from his supposed sexual-predator history.

           Take care not to collide with a stroller while reading Wynn’s “No Stroller” signs…

Along with “club kids”, the corridors and casinos at Wynn are inexplicably jammed to the max with real children, too. Despite a “No Stroller” policy posted at each and every entrance, there is nothing done to enforce this rule. The dreaded sound of screeching children at all hours of the day and night does nothing to convey the atmosphere of a luxury hotel…unless your idea of opulence is a cuticle trim at the Wal-mart nail spa.

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      An unattended child parties down at Wynn’s “Parasol Up” casino bar…              

Earlier a few years back, the outspoken Mr. Wynn took heat for saying “nobody likes being around poor people”. One would assume, then, that he avoids visiting Bellagio these days. My biggest gripe about that Strip-center showpiece is the massive crowd that continuously flows through the lobby and into the Conservatory and Botanical Garden.

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Bellagio is one of the most expensive and well-regarded hotels in the city…yet the masses choking its heart tend make the lobby resemble a redneck State Fair. Thousands of flip-flops, cargo shorts, pajama bottoms, tank tops and yard-long drinks shuffle beneath a $10,000,000.00 Dale Chihuly ceiling every day, having no idea what it is or why it’s unique.

These everyday gawkers are in stark contrast to the multi-million-dollar surroundings, carrying their bad behavior, lack of manners, beer coolers and overflowing strollers with them. Call me snobby (I prefer the term “outspoken”, which is why this site is a one-man operation) but if I’m staying at a palatial resort, I want to be around a classier group of people.

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Palazzo Luxury King Suite (standard), Golf Course View…  

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            Every Palazzo room is a spacious suite with sunken living quarters and desk…     

That’s why I enjoyed my stay at Palazzo so much. Venetian‘s sister property has the right level of vibe, elegance and excitement to check off every box on my wish list. It has somehow managed to achieve the proper balance between fun and classy…and draws in a pleasant and appreciative crowd…minus the throngs that lug ice chests and beer koozies with them.

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Palazzo‘s porte cochere is absolutely gorgeous, but you wouldn’t really discover it unless you were a guest. Indoor attractions like the massive waterfall and spectacular atrium fountain don’t draw in nearly as many sidewalk gawkers as Bellagio‘s conservatory, either.

Palazzo hasn’t always been devoid of nightclubs, but that clearly isn’t their focus. Lavo continues to operate, but now as a restaurant and lounge. Their nightlife offerings were shuttered after a few years, allowing the focus to shift back to long-running Tao at Venetian.

A short-lived stint of The Act Nightclub on the upper floor of the shopping atrium was deemed too outrageous by the operators of Palazzo, who found nudity and shocking activity to be against the otherwise-conservative nature of the resort. The Sands Corp. forced its closure. The space will be getting a new life this fall when SPIEGELWORLD opens their new ATOMIC SALOON SHOW in September.

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The rowdy Bourbon Room at Venetian was replaced by The Dorsey, an elegant affair featuring unique cocktails by famed Sam Ross in an atmosphere that evokes the sitting room and library of a stately mansion. Somehow the shelves of books and fireplace manage to feel hip without being stuffy, again reflective of that delicate balance that Palazzo and Venetian carry out so well.

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The pool scene at Palazzo is also lively without wallowing in vulgarity, especially at the adults-only Aquatic Club. That day club offered throwback-style, super-cool server costumes and a slick intimate party atmosphere with retro sass. The service is impeccable and Wolfgang Puck makes a pretty mean turkey burger! The format is reportedly being tweaked for the 2019 season, so we’ll put that venue on hold for now.

Just like Cirque du Soleil’s “O” and “Le Reve” reflect Steve Wynn’s fondness for water acrobatics, BAZ – Star Crossed Love represented the style and sensibilities of Palazzo. Hip, classy, bold and unique, the movie-musical mash-up BAZ dazzled the eye and put a song (or thirty) in your heart.

Its attention to details wass rich without smashing you over the head…just like the hotel it called home. Too bad the final performance was July 29th 2018, but hey, it had a great run!

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     BAZ: Star Crossed Love wass sass, class and flash…               

Head clearance is another pleasing element of Palazzo. Both Wynn and Bellagio have very low ceilings throughout their casinos, which accentuate an already crowded atmosphere. The vertical height of Palazzo‘s casino is easily double that of the other properties, offering more natural lighting, fresher air and a spaciousness that compliments the nicely-spread slot machines and table games.

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As for the check-in areas, the less said about Bellagio‘s, the better. While the gardens behind the reservation desk are gorgeous, the lines are chaotic and smack dab in the middle of that human tide of fanny packs. No matter what time of day or night that you arrive, you’ll feel like a silver orb inside a pinball game.

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Wynn‘s check-in area for the original tower (there’s a separate entrance and desk for Encore) underwent its own embarrassing problems. A brand-new arrival area, immediately to the right of the front entrance, lasted about a month before an onslaught of guest complaints (cramped quarters and a sloggy queuing system) shut it down.

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          Guests weren’t the only ones confused by the constantly moving reservation desk…

The backlash prompted a reopening of the original reservation desk and dismantling of the new one during my stay. For a resort that prides itself on impeccable attention to detail, this must have stung! Then again, the Strip-facing entrance to the Encore tower was dismantled mere months after its debut….to be replaced by Encore Beach Club.

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No such problems exist in the elegant and cathedral-like Palazzo reservation counter, which is as glorious as it is spacious. Despite the enormity of the property and its 3,000+ rooms, the check-in center is a model of efficiency…and once again, class.  The same could be said of the staff that I encounter whenever walking through Palazzo. Everyone I speak to is friendly, helpful, and comes across as genuine.

Perhaps that’s why I am writing this article. It’s easy to fall under the spell of gorgeous surroundings, and Bellagio, Wynn and Palazzo are indeed palatial resorts. But once you’ve “been there, done that” with back-to-back stays at each of the Big Three, you begin to notice the differences. You realize that one of those places stood out in ways you never noticed before.

My takeaway is that the deterioration of decorum has rendered the notion of luxury resorts to be rather pointless in most cases. Despite their beginnings as palaces for the more affluent traveler, Bellagio has now devolved into a pseudo Mall of the Americas and Wynn/Encore version 2019 is essentially douche-bag central.

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Thank goodness Palazzo remains everything a five-star resort should be. And it continues to undergo improvements to lighting, decor, casino layout and flow, lounge and dining offerings and more. No amount of glitz and glamour from Wynn’s current or former properties can replace the high-end experience of staying at the big P. It rises above the others by staying true to its purpose…and makes Palazzo my favorite luxury hotel on the Strip.

Photos by Sammasseur, Palazzo via Facebook, TripAdvisor, Expedia

Featured image courtesy Scott and Ryan Lyons

A side note:

There’s a widely-held misconception that critics and bloggers give favorable reviews when the object of their analysis has been comped. That notion is so common that even a former editor suggested that my scathing review of Magic Mike Live stemmed from not being invited to the media premiere (it’s a nauseating stink-fest no matter the circumstances).

As purveyors of our craft, it’s our responsibility to offer truthful opinions. That being said, when we’re invited guests, we’re likely to receive over-the-top service and perks galore. But as professionals, we can sift through the glitter and judge objectively.