Sin City Shutdown – Is A New Era Ahead?


Las Vegas is poised to flip the power switches back ‘on’. Will it rise from the ashes and learn from its mistakes?

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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.

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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.

                         Terminal 1 at McCarran International Airport 3/18/20, 10am

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.


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!

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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

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