2018 Events, Trends & Moments…Cosmic and Controversial


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

GREATEST SIGHT IN THE SKY – Angels of the 2017 Massacre

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                      I witnessed it on Sahara Avenue near Palace Station…

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

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                       Courtesy of Michal Furmanczyk, Absinthe acrobat…

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

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                                  Courtesy of performer Kim Lange…

ROLLING BACK THE PARKING FEES

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

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

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

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

LADY GAGA IS THE NEW QUEEN OF THE STRIP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOUGH YEAR FOR VEGAS RESORT EXECS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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             Gordon Prouty and Cami Christensen raise the bar at Westgate…

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

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

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

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

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                                                     Photo via KSNV-TV

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

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

Banner photo by Jim Gisclair of Serenity Helicopters

 

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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

Is Sin City Determined To Drive You Away?


Asking the tough question that’s probably on lots of minds…

UPDATE #2: This week at SLS’s The Sayer’s Club, I ordered three small vodka/tonics from a cocktail waitress. What should have been served was “well liquor” was charged as top-shelf (big difference in price) and came with a request to tip TWO individuals. I added 15% to the base charge and didn’t dispute the bill (if well liquor is not available, it is the responsibility of the server to state “We carry ______ brands only, is that okay?”. Nevertheless, speak with your wallet and refuse to patronize establishments that knowingly gouge their patrons.

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UPDATE: This Saturday, after attending the Black and White fundraiser at Mandalay Bay, I stopped at Dick’s Last Resort inside Excalibur for a quick bite…and to get re-hydrated.

Being charged $33.98 for an appetizer and salad was bad enough…but I was also slapped with an insulting fee for the glass of water that I asked for. Yes, it’s only 75 cents. But if you don’t see what this means for the future of Vegas tourism, you need to read on.

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That makes this article as timely as ever. Blatant gouging of guests will continue and grow worse as long as Vegas visitors shrug it off. MGM Resorts is at the forefront of this practice. Speak with your wallet and refuse to be ripped off. 

Back in 2016, while editing a guest writer’s article about the de-theming of Luxor Hotel Casino for another website, I felt a long-brewing flame inside me suddenly become a flash fire. The article reminded me of all the things I fell in love with that Vegas was so intent on removing. I felt the need to rant about the path that Sin City has headed down. This is the result of that emotional rush.

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   “Has anyone seen those talking camels?”...                       

Since beginning my own Vegas addiction in 2005, I’ve helplessly watched as some of my favorite attractions have been yanked out and tossed into that box labeled “When Vegas Was Better”. They include SPEED, the roller coaster at Sahara, the HIGH ROLLER ride atop the Stratosphere (their own roller coaster, not that slow-moving LINQ observation wheel), MGM Grand‘s Lion Habitat and the indoor white tiger pool at Mirage.

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          Rio’s “Show In The Sky” was scaled way back and ultimately removed…

Then there are the gorgeous exterior fountains at Paris and Monte Carlo, the lobby aquarium at Mandalay BayRio’s legendary Show In The Sky, moving statues and costumed Roman gladiators strolling around Caesars Palace …and on and on.

With rumors swirling of both Luxor and Excalibur getting another strip-down, that guest writer’s article really hit home. It prompted me to finally vocalize something that I’m convinced is on lots of other readers’ minds.

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         The Linq Hotel – from dump to overpriced eyesore in the name of progress…

Not only have the attractions and free shows been ripped out, but the campiness and fun of hotel themes have been chiseled away ad nauseam. Sure, Imperial Palace was a flophouse. But it was also extremely affordable, had a unified faux-Asian charm…and those unforgettable Dealertainers. Now we have The Linq – a stupidly-named, generic exercise in blandness stocked with Ikea-grade furniture, glaringly-bright interiors and a hideous exterior paint job that defies explanation.

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                                                   Sorry, SLS, but I prefer this…

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                                                                    …to this…

In an alternate universe, Imperial Palace regulars might have moved down to Bill’s Gambling Hall or up the Strip to Sahara to get their affordable room and themed surroundings. But not in THIS reality, where Sahara’s Moroccan stylings were jettisoned in favor of white-on-white at the absurdly-overpriced SLS (three letters that represent nothing, really).

Remember the Victorian-era rich woods, stained glass and gorgeous chandeliers at Bill’s Gambling Hall (originally Barbary Coast)? That stylish little hotel got put on a salt-free diet of beige, blandness and more beige. It was refitted and renamed the meaningless Cromwell a few years ago (who exactly is Cromwell…a stuffy old butler?).

Bye-bye, Victorian Rooms $4.99 steak and eggs…hello to Giada and $60.00 for a 7-oz filet. I’m sure that Giada’s dental work didn’t come cheaply, but should you have to pay for it?

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                                           $36.00 for ravioli…just because I can…

There was once a time when guests arriving at Paris were greeted with quaint French phrases. Those arriving at Luxor could take a Nile riverboat to their inclinator (an angular elevator in the pyramid). Treasure Island was alive with buccaneers and a swashbuckling outdoor show.

The mirage-themed….er, Mirage was lined with bamboo accents and staff members wore tropical shirts (the volcano erupted way more frequently, too). Now the only thing that really sets these hotels apart from one another is the amount of their respective mandatory fees.

The fact that this trend continues could mean two things from where I stand. Either people don’t really care, or the powers that be aren’t concerned with what you want. When you poke around the internet and read things like “I’m done with Vegas. I can visit shopping malls at home and gamble at my local casino without being ripped off for everything”, you have to ask yourself who is right.

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                      These prices are long gone…and so is the restaurant itself…

I still love Vegas, enough to visit at least twice a month. But you can believe that my spending habits, entertainment choices and lodging selections have been altered dramatically. At first, it was a retreat into the Downtown area. where hotels and restaurants were much cheaper, parking was free and resort fees where unheard-of. Then Fremont Street and the surrounding area got bit by the same dollar-sucking bug.

These days, the ancient and crumbling Golden Gate Hotel tacks on an additional $20 per day to your bill (for nothing, really). Mermaids and the 99-cent hot dog are both gone. Parking meters line the city streets, gates block your entrance into hotel garages until you pay up, and the Gold Spike‘s $5.99 Prime Rib special will set you back $37 at Oscars (and side dishes are no longer part of the meal, by the way).

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                Those talking statues have left Caesars Palace for parts unknown…

After Downtown and the Strip both nickeled-and-dimed me to the point of defeat, I scoured the outlying areas in search of new haunts. And what did I find? Themes! Value! Free attractions! Yes, they’re still out there, waiting for you die-hards to discover. There really aren’t many remaining, and even the resorts that offer these beloved relics of yesterday’s Vegas have been affected by money-grubbing, albeit to a much lesser extent.

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                            Eastside Cannery – new, gorgeous, affordable…

We’re talking the likes of Sam’s Town (excellent cheap Firelight Buffet and lovely Mystic Falls attraction and show) and Eastside Cannery…one of my favorite Vegas hotels with no resort fees until very recently, extremely reasonable rates, free Wi-Fi and Strip-quality rooms on Boulder Highway.

Stations Casinos dot the entire valley, each one offering a different personality with plenty of attractions and dining options that won’t break the bank. They’ve also taken ownership of the faltering Palms Casino west of the Strip. My favorite of their value-geared locations is Texas Station for its atmosphere, cheap dining and movie theaters.

Palace Station, which is currently undergoing a major renovation, is my go-to for Feast Buffet. There, weekday dinners are only $10.99 and breakfast is $7.99 Monday-Saturday. Sunday brunch is $11.99 vs. $23.49 at Excalibur and $25.99 at Mandalay Bay, making it totally worth the drive for quality basics. And parking is still free…as it SHOULD  be.

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     Serene Hotel on E. Harmon Ave. offers a nice alternative to Strip gouging…

Let’s not forget the wide array of smaller boutique hotels, like SereneArtisan, aging Royal Resort and Tuscany Suites that offer a lot more style and personality than the Aria “office complex” ever could. Unfortunately, most of these have tacked on mandatory fees like their Strip counterparts, but are far less expensive overall than the big boys. And you won’t have to stand in line and be subjected to a pat-down just to take a dip in the pool.

It’s no secret that Vegas casinos have seen a drop in revenue, resulting in actions to make up that money elsewhere. Bottle service, admission fees, higher show prices, fewer free drinks for casino players, rationed complimentary cocktails using less alcohol and cheaper spirits, cutbacks on Player’s Club rewards. Maybe if they never rolled out the universally-hated 6:5 Blackjack odds, a bottle of water wouldn’t cost seven dollars?

I know that there are those of you out there, reading this now, who say “Things change. Vegas moves forward. The days of old Vegas are over”. To you I respond “That’s true if you accept it”. But why have we as a collective group of Vegas-goers allowed this to happen?

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                                 Sorry, Holly…we’re not buying into your lies…

Can you really state, with total honesty, that it’s fair for this city to tack on Resort Fees, Parking Fees, Energy Surcharges, Live Entertainment Taxes, Customer Facility Charges, Concession Recovery Fees, Concession and Franchise Fees, Room Preference Fees, Telephone Call Convenience Fees, Ticket Convenience Fees, Credit Card Usage Fees, Live Reservation Operator Surcharges, Early Check-in Fees, In-room Safe Usage Fees…and many more…to your visit?

How soon before they install machines to collect quarters before you can use the casino restroom? When I was a writer for VegasChatter, we learned that some restaurants were starting to tack on an extra charge to serve you a glass of tap water along with your meal. Yes, tap water! Of course, their response was the typical “to serve our customers better” nonsense.

Isn’t it outrageous to you that free in-room coffeemakers, continental breakfast and wireless internet (things that are standard in just about every basic motel around the nation) are not provided in Las Vegas? Apparently not, because thousands of people shrug it off every day.

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Stratosphere has attempted to counteract “Today’s Vegas” with an ad campaign that has wonderful intentions. Called “Take Vegas Back“, Stratosphere is running commercials and filling the city with billboards and print ads. They plead for a return to the days when average Joes and Janes could enjoy themselves in Sin City without having to be super-rich or super-gorgeous. Too bad the hotel itself is a bit hypocritical by charging a $32.99 plus tax Daily Resort Fee…and a bacon double-cheeseburger is $15.99 in their casual Roxy’s Diner.

Once this city is completely consumed by blandness, fraudulent extortion charges, soaring prices and declining customer service, this writer may reach the point where Vegas becomes the rare once-a-year destination. After all, there are plenty of other places to visit where you can get bang for your buck. You know…like Vegas USED to be.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Things could revert if we stopped being so docile towards this nonsense and actually spoke out/fought back/refused to go along. Perhaps we’re seeing signs of this already, at least in regards to MGM’s parking fees, where rumors of show closings and dramatically-dropping retail sales quickly surfaced.

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                 HEXX and Budweiser Beer Park – two levels of scamming…

Why stop there? Let the hoteliers, restaurateurs and politicians know that you’ve had enough. Scott Roeben of VitalVegas.com put it beautifully when he exposed the CNF Concession and Franchise Fee at HEXX, Budweiser Beer ParkCabo Wabo Cantina, Senor Frogs and others:

Vegas visitors have long bemoaned the fact hotels charge resort fees, but Cabo Wabo Cantina and a few other Strip restaurants charge this concession fee, and it’s far worse than a resort fee because you get nothing whatsoever for it. It’s just a fee tacked onto your bill.

The CNF charge is, in fact, worse than a resort fee, because guests typically don’t learn about the gratuitous fee until their bill arrives, when it’s too late to choose another restaurant.

Adding to the outrage of the CNF charge is the fact it’s added to your bill before the sales tax is calculated, so you’re paying tax on a tax.

What can you do if you’re presented with a bill that includes a CNF charge you didn’t know about? Refuse to pay it. Talk to a manager, demand the charge be reversed and raise holy hell. Tell everyone you know to stay away. E-mail. Tweet. Comment on Facebook. Rant. Rail. Fight back.

Let these venues know we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it in the cornhole anymore.

Scott has also gone on camera and used his site to expose other customer-gouging practices, particularly at MGM Resorts.

And then there’s Branden Powers, the man behind Golden Tiki and the new Evel Pie pizza joint in Downtown, who wrote this beautiful treatise on the “old ways” for Las Vegas Review Journal:

Because of my history with this great city, I want to make sure that its past is not forgotten. We need more Las Vegas. Nightclubs, arenas and professional sports teams are all great. But we need places where people can go talk to each other, share a cocktail and dine on a great steak while watching a classic performer.

People want to experience the Las Vegas of yesteryear because they love its history as much as I do. We need to make sure that is protected. Our history like all things in the desert is slowly evaporating. We never should have lost JUBILEE, the last classic showgirl revue. We should have rallied around it, supported it and funded it as a community.

It’s important that places like The Golden SteerFrankie’s Tiki RoomCasa Di AmoreHugo’s Cellar and The Peppermill Lounge, just to name a few, live on.

I intend to carry the torch and not only protect our legacy but also rebuild it anew with places like The Golden Tiki that seem as if they’ve always been there. Las Vegas Review Journal, August 12, 2016

If more folks had the fortitude of Scott Roeben and Branden Powers, Las Vegas could actually return to the days of being affordable. And it would be lots more fun than it already is.

This article previously appeared on another website in a different form.

Photos: Sammasseur, Stratosphere.com, Caesars.com. Excerpts used by permission of Scott Roeben and Branden Powers

Feeling the Love for PALAZZO


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

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.