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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Creepy Chills Lie Behind the Rose-colored Glass of “Lucky Dragon Hotel”


A surreal, eerie experience awaits those who check into the ill-fated casino resort…

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Two short years ago, the Lucky Dragon Casino Hotel was a beacon of hope for the troubled north end of Las Vegas Boulevard. With stalled projects like Fontainebleau and Echelon Place (the future Resorts World) as constant reminders and the SLS Las Vegas already stalling, this Asian-themed boutique hotel could very well have been a much-needed jump start.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Things looked even more promising when an early-December 2016 opening date got tossed out the window. To the surprise of just about everyone, Lucky Dragon‘s doors opened on November 19th, creating an avalanche of media hype, great PR…and once again, hope for this section of the Strip.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

The 203-room casino hotel offered three restaurants, a tea-garden lounge and quick-bite outlet as well as gambling that was designed to appeal to tourists from the Far East. Despite initial problems in getting the project financed and completed, Lucky Dragon was constructed around many Asian concepts of good fortune. Decor, lack of “unlucky” numeral four and feng shui were integral to Lucky Dragon’s design.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

By February of the following year, it was clear that luck had already begun to bleed away from the fledgling property. Media announcements hyped “improvements” to dining and gaming options. Dragon’s Alley food court was shut down to accommodate changes in the floor plan. High-end gaming was added to attract more cash flow.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

                      Dragon’s Alley was an early victim of “improvements”…

Sadly, a month later Lucky Dragon‘s staff underwent a massive cut, with everyone from top managers to waiters being let go. As legal and financial troubles began to mount, live entertainment was added that summer as a new draw. Nevertheless, interest in the short-lived sensation had fallen away to essentially nothing.

By the time I finally got around to visiting the property last October, it was eerie, silent and virtually empty. Interestingly, the date was October 1st, 2017, the evening of the Las Vegas Massacre at Mandalay Bay‘s events center. So you can imagine that the entire night is burned into my memory…and this was a creepy way to start it off.

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As you can see from these photos, the casino and restaurants were nearly devoid of guests. What had gone wrong? Was it the unusual location in a sketchy neighborhood? Could the theme just be too targeted towards a specific demographic? Perhaps the place just sucked.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Walking around the casino building was such a downer that I quickly departed without even taking the skybridge over to the hotel tower (they’re two separate buildings, which could also be a factor in its failure).

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

By January of this year, the entire casino and restaurant operations were shut down, leaving the hotel and lobby lounge as the only survivors. How it has continued to function in its current state is anyone’s guess. Despite this, I’ve been itching to stay at the Dragon ever since…just out of morbid curiosity. After all, it could be quite a thrill, especially after just watching a full season of American Horror Story – Hotel.

Although this writer tends to fluctuate randomly between adventure (skydiving over the Vegas desert) and playing safe (no SAW Escape Room Experience for me, thank you) the idea of spending the night in a nearly-abandoned hotel sounded intriguing. So when an offer came up on Agoda.com for $24 a night with no resort fees, I swooped in like a vampire after a nubile virgin.

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                   A view of the parking garage from the unattended valet area…

I arrived into town on the morning of June 14th, weary from lack of sleep and needing a nap before a function that evening. Phoning ahead to see what the soonest check-in time could be, the agent told me to come over now. There would be no additional fees for early arrival. Nice!

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

I headed straight over from the airport, found a parking spot in their convenient (and free) parking garage and made my way into the east structure. This is where things began to get ominous, as you can see from the photos.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

The former casino was dark, dreary and completely silent. Makeshift signs directed guests towards the opposite building via an enclosed skybridge. Access to restrooms and other areas was blocked off, not that anyone would want to explore, would they? (heh heh)…

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       Reverse angle of the skybridge and casino (in the distance) from the hotel corridor…

At this point I’d encountered no one….not a single living soul. The silence was off-putting and in sharp contrast to the bright colors and modern decor that awaited me when I entered the lobby. A short walk past the concierge’s desk (which was actually manned) and I was facing the agent with whom I’d spoken on the phone.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

It was clear from the lack of patrons why a room was available at this hour. Aside from the back of a head near the reception desk (pictured above), I hadn’t passed a single guest.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Without a casino or any restaurants, the resort was likely to be slow…but completely dead? I’d never seen a Vegas hotel this devoid of activity and foot traffic. Even the Imperial Palace at its skeevy worst had always been packed with bargain travelers. So where was everyone?

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Behind me was the deserted Cha Garden, a lounge and bar that specializes in specialty teas. The western wall is a series of glass doors that open up to a splashing pool, waterfall and garden. The decor is modern, soothing and of course, very feng shui. A small breakfast and coffee are served here each morning, included with the resort fee.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

And speaking of that resort fee, the agent attempted to charge it to my credit card, despite the “resort-fee inclusive” offer I booked under. She claimed that there was no such offer to her knowledge but my printout proved otherwise. And then came a lengthy wait as the clerk took my paperwork to an unseen manager in the back.

Upon her return, I was advised that the manager had been unable to reach Agoda and that they’d make a decision later as to whether I’d be assessed the resort fee ($28 plus tax). Or so they thought it was up to them. I’m not a cheapskate, but a deal’s a deal.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

I was finally assigned room 318 (despite being the only guest, the check-in process took nearly fifteen minutes) and headed back to the elevator. The hotel’s third floor was bright, clean and cheerful. So was the king-bed accommodations. Linens and furniture were in great shape, the carpeting looked fresh and the walls were decorated in soft, soothing colors.

In-room amenities were sparse but sufficient. TV, ironing board (iron by request), dual closets, clock radio and a digital safe are standard, as were a writing desk and easy chair. Two tiny bottles of water were stocked next to an ice bucket. There was no in-room coffeemaker, but your daily java is available for free in the lobby during morning hours.

 

The bathroom was simple but spotless and sleek. I especially liked the inclusion of a pair of insignia-branded robes. There were no toiletries provided except for a small tube of basic shampoo and two bars of soap. The walk-in shower was large and had a stationary head at a generous level, often a problem for people of my height or higher.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Aside from the unnerving quiet, I was somewhat uncomfortable with the constant pink glow that flooded my quarters via the rose-colored glass. It gave a nauseating sensation of being captive inside a strange glass cage…a suffocating, queasy feeling that was compounded by the less-than-attractive view. So the curtains were drawn closed and remained that way for the duration of my visit.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

After a nap and shower it was time to attend a function at a nearby resort. Once again, not a sound to be heard or a soul to say hello while strolling through the premises. At least this time the lighting had been turned up inside the vacant casino. That evening when I returned, the common areas were still silent…except for two somewhat rough-looking guys who seemed to have wandered in just to peek around.

With nobody to monitor things of this nature, the entire casino tower and hotel corridors are basically a free-for-all. It might have been reassuring to encounter at least some type of security presence. So I definitely don’t recommend staying at Lucky Dragon if you’re a solo female…or anyone who’s easily spooked.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

When shuffling downstairs the next morning for some caffeine, there were actually other guests doing the same. I’d literally been here for over nine hours without seeing another patron. There was only a handful of guests, but all seemed pleasant, mannered and reserved…a bit surprising given the ludicrously-cheap rates.

The same agent was manning the reservation desk again. She advised me that management had been unable to reach the third-party booking site but wasn’t going to charge me the disputed resort fee. I let her know that I’d be showering and departing very soon, so the young lady kindly processed my check-out.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

                                                               Taxi for one, please…

Without any crowds to speak of, it’s an easy in-out process at Lucky Dragon, which was a big plus to me. There are no long taxi lines, Uber/LYFT hordes or buses to maneuver around. The Sahara Avenue location just off the interstate makes it easy to get to and from the airport.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

There are plenty of reasons to stay at Lucky Dragon along with many downsides. I’ve already booked two future stays here but am almost certain it will be completely closed before year number two is up.

Attempts to make additional reservations on their website result in error messages, no matter what date combinations I entered. Also, a few third-party sites now offer this troubling type of message:

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

                                                            Lastminutetravel.com

The north end of Las Vegas Boulevard may or may not be undergoing a renaissance, depending on whom you ask, but it’s unlikely that Lucky Dragon Hotel Casino will be part of its rebirth. Despite all the excitement this little place once brought to the city, its future looks anything but rosy.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

If you’re curious, adventurous, unafraid and would like to try a stay at Lucky Dragon, give them a call at 702.889.8018. Or you might have more success than I did booking at their website. The address is 300 West Sahara Avenue, adjacent to the Golden Steer Steakhouse.

Lucky Dragon Hotel is currently the best lodging bargain in Las Vegas. It’s new, extremely comfortable and very, very strange. Give it a try! Just don’t wait too long…the flaming breath inside this weird, unlucky little dragon will most likely be extinguished very soon.

And one more failed north-Strip resort will sit amongst the others in the dark.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Photos: Sammasseur, exterior shots by Greg C., American Horror Story: Hotel still from FX 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palace Station Rises Rapidly From The Rails


The frequently-overlooked locals hotel is climbing to the sky…and back into relevance…

Sure, sure….all the north Strip talk continues to center around Resorts World. And whether Fontainebleau will ever open. And if SLS will  have its name restored to Sahara….or totally close. Nobody talks about Lucky Dragon anymore, because….ZZZZzzzzz…..

But if you peek over the interstate, just a stone’s throw from the legendary Golden Steer Steakhouse, you might see a little action worth paying attention to. That’s because the scene of OJ’s crime (no, the other one) is getting a lot more than a fresh coat of paint. Palace Station on West Sahara Avenue is getting an infusion of some big bucks…and a brand spanking new hotel tower.

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         The train is pulling into the Station with a few more sleeping cars…

If you’re an infrequent visitor to Sin City, you might not even be familiar with Station Casinos. The railroad-themed chain has destinations sprinkled throughout the valley, carrying such catchy names as Sante Fe Station, Sunset Station, Boulder Station, Texas Station. And of course Palace Station, the original and very first stop on the line.

Locals casinos such as this are usually pretty low on the luxury stylings, offering great value and lots of casual entertainment and food selections. In more recent years, the chain has gone upscale and shaved away the choo-choo theming, erecting more modern palaces (sorry, couldn’t resist) like Green Valley Ranch and Red Rock Casino.

Not all of them succeeded (bye bye, Aliante Station) but the ones that did raised their profile, and apparently their bottom line, allowing for the acquisition of Palms Casino in 2016. Now they’re looking backwards and refreshing those themed resorts of the past.

How do they do that, exactly? Well, in the case of Palace Station, it’s so long railroad theme. And the removal of outdated motel-style “Courtyard Rooms”. In their place is a new 27-story, 600-room hotel tower, rising from the ground at a pretty epic pace (take that, Resorts World). Those will be in addition to the existing 576 rooms and suites.

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                           Above photos taken on September 2nd, 2017

With a new porte cochere already in operation for arriving guests, updating taking is place inside as well (new Bingo Room and restaurants, modernized look and an impending re-do of the lowest-priced buffet anywhere). There will be a new multi-screen theater coming with the expansion.

While all that construction activity may not currently be the best atmosphere for a stay, you might want to check things out once construction is completed (nobody enjoys the sound of jackhammers with one going on in our heads already – thanks, Mr. Bartender).

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PalaceStation

    Pics from October 22nd, 2017 demonstrate the speedy progress being made…

With conventions being the future hot ticket for Vegas, it isn’t surprising that Palace Station is erecting a new meeting space as well. Again, they’re way ahead of the announced expansion of Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority aka the Vegas Convention Center. Those plans flattened my beloved Riviera Hotel more than a year ago, with nary the slightest evidence of new construction activity. Not even a hammer.

It will be several years before Resorts World greets its first guest, so enjoy all those photos of construction cranes on other sites. In the meantime, I’ll be marking my calendar for a stay at the reborn Palace Station.

The project is slated for completion in late 2018. But don’t be surprised if they beat that deadline by a wide margin. All aboard!

Photos courtesy of Greg C.