Why You Should Be Excited About The Las Vegas North Strip Soon!

Oh so much news about the North Strip! Many of you have most likely avoided going north of Wynn/Encore because there are long walks between not much. Even if you have to get up to SLS and Stratosphere Las Vegas (for whatever reason), the monorail has been the way to go. That is going to change dramatically in the next couple of years. Here’s a north-to-south overview of what to anticipate:

Stratosphere Tower Las Vegas

– The Stratosphere (and both Arizona Charlie’s) have been bought by Golden Gaming, which owns a few casinos scattered around Nevada (Pahrump and Laughlin), and more importantly operates the most dominant chains of bar and grills around Las Vegas (over 60 locations at my last count). They plan unspecified investments in the property. For now, what I’d look to is them taking all they’ve learned with their bars and non-Vegas Strip casinos and making things very easy on the wallet to lure people through the door.

– SLS(ahara) was recently sold to a Reno casino operator. Our hope was that he would bring Reno-style hospitality and pricing to The Strip. Unfortunately, that sale seems up in the air. Word is that, despite the intense renovation of the property, it still has significant problems and the price needs to come down to make the deal work. No word of what those issues are, but one has to assume they are infrastructure issues which were glossed over during the renovation. (I’m just making a guess here, not a statement). Those of you who have worked on old houses know that you can make the house look great, but that doesn’t mean the plumbing and electrical are new.

– The All Net Arena, on the old Wet ‘N’ Wild property just south of SLS, claims that financing is in place for them to build an NBA-style arena on the property. This has been in the world for years, and the principles have NBA connections. However, not so fast on this one. MGM Resorts will have none of this. If we get an NBA team, they want it in their own T-Mobile arena. So much so, that to build a relationship with the NBA, they just went out and bought San Antonio’s WNBA team and is relocating it to Las Vegas. (WNBA games will be in the smaller Mandalay Bay Events Center, not at T-Mobile. This due to the expected number of ticket sales per game).

– Nothing much new since we reported the sale of the Fontainebleau. I expect that we’ll hear something sooner than later, as the convention center expansion is slated to open in 2020. Given their proximity to this expansion, it would do them well to have the door open when that happens.

Circus Circus continues to be the red-headed step-child of MGM Resorts. However, don’t expect them to part with it anytime soon. They are just biding their time. They were instrumental in pushing the funding for the new convention center expansion, which is a stones-throw away. Just as they are remodeling, de-themeing, and upgrading the Monte Carlo, I’d expect a similar initiative with Circus around a year before the new convention space across the street comes online. The value of the property will rise dramatically in a couple of years. I find it unfortunate that MGM Resorts seems to love de-theming casino properties. However, all is not lost on the theme front…

Resorts World Las Vegas (old Stardust) has hired a construction manager, and multiple cranes are on-site and on the rise. This property will be seriously Asian themed and be the first themed casino to be built here since Paris Las Vegas opened in 1999. Nearly 20 years.

As always, we’ll keep you in the loop and continue to make you among the most informed visitors to Las Vegas.

Ted Newkirk
Founder/Managing Editor
Access Vegas

Is Las Vegas In The Wrong Time Zone?

We’re In The Wrong Time Zone! I’ve been saying this for almost as long as I’ve been living here, and local writer David McGrath Schwartz just wrote a great article about it: Is switching time zones a bright idea for Nevada?

In Las Vegas, it is pretty much completely dark by 5 PM for three months of the year. Once the sun goes down, even temperatures that are in the 60’s start to drop like a rock. Wouldn’t it make sense to give our visitors (especially since most of you sleep in and don’t need the crack of dawn to occur at 6 AM) an extra hour of light and warmth to enjoy strolling The Strip and perhaps enjoying some outdoor drinking or dining? And think about the summer. The sun starts to come up not long after 4 AM in June and July. Tell me why that is necessary?

Think about jet lag which would be reduced. Those of you coming from the East (a significant portion of our visitors) would feel much less jet lag. We all know that moving one or two time zones isn’t bad. But for some reason, bouncing three time zones (or more) really starts to screw with your body

For those who still see no merit in putting us on Mountain Time, here’s a fact: Las Vegas sits EAST of Boise, ID. Boise is in… Mountain Time.

For our Northern Nevada (Reno/Tahoe/Carson City) readers, don’t fret. You are west of Los Angeles and should absolutely stay on Pacific Time. Drawing the line would be simple: Use the Oregon/Idaho boarder and draw a line straight south to create the time zone divide in Nevada.


Ted Newkirk
CEO/Manging Editor
AccessVegas.com

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Las Vegas “Linqing” Up Hotels With New Shops, Dining (Say Goodbye, Imperial Palace)

Project Linq Now Official – Caesars Entertainment (the company) has announced their 1/2 billion dollar project to convert the smelly side-street (glorified alley) between The Flamingo Las Vegas and O’Sheas into an entertainment district anchored at the rear by a “biggest in the world” observation wheel (think London Eye) called the High Roller. Restaurants and bars will make up about 70% of the project with retail and entertainment rounding out the rest.

Like the Imperial Palace? Bummer for you. No, they are not blowing it up. But it will get a completely new look, new casino area, new name, and open up to create a passage between Carnival Court and Linq.

O’Sheas is going bye-bye. Kind-of. The present O’Sheas location will be turned into part of Project Linq (which we assume means more Strip-front dining and roof-top nightlife which has become so popular). O’Sheas itself will be integrated into the “new” Imperial Palace (which has no announced name yet). This actually makes sense. If you’ve been coming to town for a while, you’ll remember that (what is now) Rockhouse — the separate area of the IP fronting The Strip – was once a bar and casino area. This would be a very sensible spot for the O’Sheas relocation.

The winners and losers? Obviously too early to tell. Ceasars Entertainment (CET) is noting that the prime demographic Linq is reaching out to are 21-46 year olds. The average age of the Las Vegas visitor is 49 and even CET noted that only 52% of Las Vegas visitors will fall into this category over the next few years. The Riviera is banking hard on the over-50 set and if they can hang on during their bankruptcy, they may benefit from some of the migration. As most likely downtown will. If the “new” O’Sheas is too “uppity” then they’ll see the migration of their customers to Casino Royale (who would be well-served to knock out part of their front wall to create an open-to-The-Strip atmosphere, and immediately figure out where they can put beer pong).

My concern? Visitors tend to not walk away from The Strip. It is almost like a phobia. It is one thing to walk into a hotel, but down a side area between two hotels that takes you “off” The Strip? Will the lure of looking at the High Roller be enough to get them walking that direction? Or is part of the “bet” on this project a hope that CET will get the taxpayer support (read: special sales tax) needed to build an arena on the rest of the land they own back there? We all know that sports/event arenas do wonders for nearby restaurants, bars, and retail. I’m surprised that no one has asked about how important of a cog this is to the CET plans.

Ted Newkirk
Publisher
AccessVegas.com

Closing Of The Sahara Las Vegas – The Real Story

When I heard that The Sahara was going to make a major announcement last week, I figured one (and only one) thing: They were announcing investments and improvement in their property. It only made sense. New hotel construction is out of the question given the current saturation of Las Vegas rooms. But a number of mid-level (similar category) hotels to the Sahara have been in the process of upgrades and renovations. With Las Vegas tourism numbers on the upswing, I figured The Sahara would be jumping on that bandwagon.

OOOPS (on my part). The actual announcement was that come May 16, 2011 the hotel would be shuttered.

This simply made no sense. Other similar properties were holding their own and reinvesting despite the economy. For The Sahara to hold on through the worst of the recession and then simply shut just as things were picking up signaled a big JDLR in my book. (JDLR is a Las Vegas term used mainly by casino surveillance and stands for Just Doesn’t Look Right).

Let’s look at examples of The Sahara’s direct competitors and others in the mid-level hotel market:

* The Stratosphere Las Vegas – This hotel (known as Vegas World when I moved to town) just spent $20 million dollars in upgrades. Both to the casino and to the rooms. Their upgraded rooms are going for more money and we hear are quite popular. While people note that The Sahara is isolated (a possible reason for it struggling), The Strat is even more isolated.

* Palace StationWhat? Ted… that is a local’s casino. Yes it is. I agree. It happens to by MY local’s casino (I can see the Palace hotel tower — and also the Strat Tower — from my front yard). But when I cruise the parking garage at Palace, you know what I see? License plates from California, Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico, and beyond. These very people exit the I-15 and instead of turning east toward The Sahara, they turn west towards Palace Station.

The entire Station casino chain has recently hired 1000 people, some of which to boost the staff at Palace. Another Sahara competitor upgrading, not cutting.

Side Note: You can tell quite about about a hotel’s occupancy and clientele simply by observing their parking garage.

* The Riviera – They have re-opened their buffet, opened the new Queen Victoria British Pub, and are re-doing their gaming tables.

* Circus Circus – Did not close anything down even during the worst of times and in fact have added Rock ‘n Ritas bar/restaurant. They still the worst buffet in town (you have that hospital food taste in your mouth after eating there). But at least they kept it open!

* The Plaza – Not in close proximity but a direct competitor in terms of class of property. The Plaza is in the middle of a top-to-bottom upgrade including all newly remodeled rooms.

* The Tropicana – Just concluding a $100 million upgrade. Incredible. The rooms are nice, the new marble and carpet in the hotel makes you feel like you are in a swanky place, the South Beach theme has been needed in Las Vegas for a long time, and one look at the new Nikki Beach and Cafe had us swooning.

In the meantime that all of the above happened, The Sahara has closed two hotel towers, closed their buffet, and severely limited both their food offerings and hours of food outlet service. (Side Note: This was a boon to local pizza companies as late-night, drunk-and-hungry hotel guests called out for pizza delivery). No wonder people were staying at Palace Station instead of on The Strip at The Sahara: Palace has numerous, nice quality, reasonably priced food options including a 24 hour cafe.

So exactly what the hell was going on with this closure? I set out to find out.

The Saturday night after the announcement, I took the arduous 2 mile drive from my front door to The Sahara. The place was mostly full and very lively (partially thanks to Spring Break and March Madness) I listened to employees talk among themselves. I listened to what appeared to be former employees who had come down (after hearing the announcement) talk with their former co-workers. I talked to employees.

I found out something interesting. I assumed that they would have it in for current Sahara owner Sam Nazarian. The ones I talked to didn’t. They instead cited the terrible management that Nazarian put in place. Not a management vs. employee beef but simply how badly the place had been run.

For the uninitiated, Nazarian is a nightclub mogul from Los Angeles who bought The Sahara 2007 with plans to completely refurbish it into a trendy, upscale property. The economic downturn put his plans on hold.

Now it all started to come together and the closing (from his standpoint) made sense:

1. He needed to clean house with the management team. Yes, they could be replaced. But if they were previously people involved in his nightclub group or that he otherwise has present business relationships with (outside of The Sahara), that can get sticky.

2. He needed to clean house regarding Sahara employees. The majority of Sahara employees are legacy employees with long tenure earning top union wages. And they are older. Las Vegas values youth and looks when hiring. If Nazarian kept the hotel open, he’d have to keep these employees which don’t fit in with his trendy vision of what he wants to do with the property. So, now he’ll get to hire fresh, young faces at significantly lower wages. (Don’t shoot the messenger here. If that bothers you, leave a comment below).

3. Summer is pending. For Las Vegas hotels, this means they have to charge some of the lowest hotel rates but pay obnoxiously high electric bills to cover the air conditioning. The prospects of making a decent profit over the next few months wasn’t promising. The heat also cuts down on the number of people staying at Strat, Riv, or Circus who will attempt the trek to The Sahara. And yes… people make the walk When the weather is not too hot or cold, you regularly see people on the sidewalk headed toward The Sahara. Remember, hotels here look a lot closer than they really are!

Hence, Nazarian pulled the plug.

Final late-breaking note: Local gossip monger Robin Leach (yes, the “Rich and Famous” guy) has teased that “The modern makeover of a legendary Strip hotel is back on the drawing board” and the executive who was holding it up had returned to Hollywood.

We looked at the scenario involving every legendary local property. They were all either remodeled (Trop and similar) or highly unlikely to see any work because of the financial condition of parent companies (Circus, Imperial Palace). Only one property is in position to go through this: The Sahara.

Plus, the makeover is being teased as a very unique concept. Which reads “trendy” and upscale. Fitting Nazarian’s original vision.

Additionally, an executive who had come in and has now returned to Hollywood fits the bill of someone associated with Nazarian. Hotel executives usually don’t otherwise come in from (nor depart to) Hollywood. Perhaps things would be different if Nazarian had hired someone from Las Vegas who knew how to run a casino. (Ed Deline comes to mind).

If the above turns out to be more than conjecture, I’m going to campaign hard that the new project retains the historic Sahara name. You can reposition a property while maintaining the name. The Tropicana did. Real Las Vegas casino people were hired to remodel and run the place. Let’s hope they indeed do the same with The Sahara. People from out-of-state who “think” they know Vegas often end up falling flat on their faces here. When it comes to the gaming and resort business, Las Vegas is its own separate beast and has very little in common with the hospitality industry in general.

If you subscribe to our free Las Vegas newsletter, we’ll keep you up to speed. If not, go subscribe now so you don’t keep missing out on the latest about Las Vegas!

Ted Newkirk
Founder/Managing Editor
Access Vegas

Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas $100 Million Expansion Details

The Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas has completed their expansion, dramatically improving and upgrading the entire resort. They have added 320 new rooms and suites, the Rock Spa, Baby’s nightclub (a subterranean dance club that is a visual assault of purple, yellow, and metallic blue) and four new restaurants. They have also expanded and enhanced our world famous pool and Beach Club with a bar, grill and swim up casino.

Most notable are the addition of four new restaurants, including: NOBU, PINK TACO, AJ’S STEAKHOUSE and THE COUNTER. Along with the Hard Rock Hotel’s two original restaurants, MORTONI’S and MR. LUCKY’S, the hotel finally has the kind of variety offered by other major resorts. Here’s the rundown:

NOBU – Already open in New York and London, the opening of Nobu in Las Vegas represents one of the more interesting additions to Las Vegas’ ever-burgeoning culinary landscape. Nobu presents an unusual brand of Japanese cooking with Latin American influences. (Reader reviews are welcome — as noted, we aren’t much for Japanese cuisine).

PINK TACO – Combining Mexico and East L.A., this contemporary take on Mexican classics also features a Tequila Bar as well as an open-air taqueria adjacent to the exposed kitchen.

AJ’S STEAKHOUSE – Every casino has one. We prefer the Binion’s $3 steak special or Carver’s in Green Valley if you plan to break out the credit card.

This article originally appeared July 7, 1999 in the Access Vegas Insider Vibe

Ted Newkirk
Founder/Managing Editor
Access Vegas

Should I Bring My Kids Children To Las Vegas?

Bringing children (kids) to Las Vegas has long been an intense debate among both Las Vegas tourists and tourism professionals. In the early 90’s, casinos thought it would be a great idea to build theme parks and try to turn the town’s image from “sin city” to “family-friendly” for the kids in Las Vegas. Then they realized that they GOOFED. Mirage Las Vegas Resorts started instituting “no stroller” policies, and hotels like the Riviera and Tropicana started advertising slogans like “Rollers, Not Strollers”. The word got around that catering to families is stupid because they use the cheap rooms, eat the cheap food, and are too busy with the kids to gamble.

While we aren’t concerned about the casino’s bottom line (our income is derived from booking rooms and rental cars), every trip to the Las Vegas Strip or downtown — made often in this line of work — we see tortured-looking parents with the mommy pushing the stroller and the daddy dragging along the 5 year old, neither of whom should have been subjected to miles of walking through this adult playground.

I’ve seen happier faces on gamblers who just lost 5 straight $100 hands at blackjack than on these parents faces, who undoubtedly have to be envious of all child-free tourist couples whom look like they are having the romantic vacation of a lifetime. And these kids that young won’t remember their first visit to Las Vegas.

If your children are old enough that you feel comfortable letting them run around an amusement park, checking in every few hours, then they will find plenty to do here. Just give them the cell phone, you keep that SkyTell pager, and have a great time. And if they are old enough to perhaps remember a supervised vacation and you can resist the temptation of parking them in the hallway or stuffing in the room while you take just one more pull or play just one more hand (let’s face it, winning seems to always happen when you don’t have the time to keep playing), then you might do fine.

But you will be happiest leaving them with the grandparents for the weekend and really enjoying your stay without your kids in Las Vegas!

This article originally appeared June 24, 1999 in the Access Vegas Insider Vibe

Ted Newkirk
Founder/Managing Editor
Access Vegas

Ride The Free Las Vegas Tram Between Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur

FREE LAS VEGAS MANDALAY BAY TRAM – The free Las Vegas Mandalay Bay trams connecting the 3 Mandalay Resort Group properties (Mandalay Bay, Luxor, and Excalibur) run a very interesting configuration worth noting before you hop on board. Running side-by-side, the east tram runs one-way from from the corner of Tropicana and L.V. Blvd. (the Strip) to Mandalay Bay. This tram makes no stop at Luxor and a return trip from Mandalay to the street intersection is not offered at this time (it runs empty).

The westbound tram stops at Mandalay Bay, Luxor, and Excalibur, but does NOT serve the intersection. In addition, the tram only makes the Luxor stop northbound, which means that a ride from Excalibur to Luxor necessitates riding all the way to Mandalay and staying aboard for the ride back to Luxor.

This crazy scheme was carefully crafted to feed people from the street down to Mandalay Bay and designed to encourage you to use the walkway from Excalibur to Luxor through the (surprise) new shopping areas.

On another Mandalay Bay note, the Las Vegas wave pool is functioning properly now. It is available only to hotel guests at this time, but there is word of pending construction of a second wave pool that will be available to the general public.

This article originally appeared June 24, 1999 in the Access Vegas Insider Vibe

Ted Newkirk
Founder/Managing Editor
Access Vegas