As promised, Mike Shackleford's WizardOfVegas.com site has launched. It took a while to get the bugs worked out, hence my review of Scarlett & her Seductive Ladies of Magic didn't appear until after the show had closed. However, to the best of my knowledge, you can not only read about but still see all of the following ...
Or maybe the question should be, What was Steve Wynn smoking before he told CNBC "Money Honey" Maria Bartiromo that Wynn Macau was making more than all other 30 Macao casinos combined? Perhaps he meant his joint is the single-highest-grossing casino in the Chinese protectorate, but his phraseology is misleading:
Wynn's remarks on the importance of staffing and customer service are, as usual, on point. However, he starts sounding like a puppet of Peking ("One thing about the Chinese government, I think they get it right."), praising the steadiness and thoughtfulness of its policies. Here's an example of Peking's steady, thoughtful policymaking in action:
Wynn's comments that infrastructural improvements don't help at tourism-dependent (casino) industry make him sound naive -- doubly so if aforesaid projects put disposable income into consumers' pockets. Still and all, Wynn is far more reasonable on CNBC -- and immeasurably less obnoxious -- than during his obstreperous Fox News Sunday rants.
Although Wynn clearly fancies himself the new political pundit on the block, he's got but one string to his bow: bellowing "Tax policy" over and over. Which translates as "Tax cuts (for me)!" Yup, if Big Guvmint would just stop collecting taxes from Big Bidness, everything would be hunky-dory, economically speaking. We'd have new jobs coming out the ass.
Here's the problem with that line of argument: We're fresh off eight straight years of tax cuts, tax holidays and corporate loopholes big enough to encompass every square foot of CityCenter. How did that work out for us?
More to the point, given a tax-averse administration and Congress, how did Wynn's casino colleagues handle their newfound largesse? Did they invest it responsibly? Hell to the no! That "bundling of the Strip" which Wynn has decried is the poisoned fruit of companies that were awash in capital and easy credit, who then used it to try and eradicate the competition. (Similar phenomena occurred in the regional casino markets and in the slot industry.)
Having cannibalized their main rivals, casino companies then began to devour themselves, in the form of insupportable debt levels and insane LBOs. And if Wynn really believes that government spending has never improved anyone's lot in life (he must have forgotten the New Deal, for starters), then how many standards of living are raised by merger-and-acquisition orgies? For the average worker, it means jobs are "consolidated" out of existence. Heck, not even executives are immune. Just ask some of the Mandalay Resort Group or Park Place Entertainment higher-ups who are now enjoying involuntary retirement.
Should the current administration hand out the kind of tax vacation Wynn is demanding, would the casino industry A) buy new and shiny objects, B) retire debt or C) create jobs? B & C would probably finish a distant second and third to A.
Just look at Harrah's Entertainment: It can't repay its creditors dollar for dollar but thinks nothing of snapping up 16% of Planet Hollywood. If there's degenerate gambling going on in the casinos, the worst of it can be found in the executive suites. If these guys ever took to playing Russian roulette, they'd probably leave at least five bullets in the revolver.
This just in: The two-week run of A Bronx Tale at the Venetian has been extended to a third weekend. A spoken-word play in a Strip theater seemed like a dicey prospect so this is very good news indeed.
Quoth Spectrum's e-mail blast: "With the recession battering gaming jurisdictions from Connecticut to Nevada, a new sector of the industry has come to the fore: distressed operations. Investment firms now have funds that specialize in distressed gaming assets, regulators are being asked to deal with situations they never considered, and operators are turning to outsiders to either right their operations or provide interim management services. In this session, experts will discuss the benefits and risks to distressed Gaming M&A, and how regulations and bankruptcy court can impact a successful takeover. They will also discuss how to properly apply multiples, and how EBITDA can be enhanced by skilled operators."
Maybe Penn National Gaming CEO Peter Carlino should attend this before he goes all in on Fontainebleau. His spokesman says Penn "is evaluating other Las Vegas opportunities." They may have "evaluated" Planet Hollywood right out of their grasp and passed on God knows what else. But F'bleau? That's a keeper. Yeah.
Mayor Oscar Goodman sounds increasingly motivated to run for governor next year. He's angry, which is good: Nevada needs someone who's nettled about our sorry -- pardon the pun -- state of affairs. (I tried umpteen times to embed the KRNV-TV video but had to admit defeat; sorry again!)
As to Goodman's fear that a governor couldn't make a difference, recent history is a poor guide. Both Gov. Jim Gibbons and predecessor Kenny Guinn developed reputations for doing as little as possible to move their legislative agendas through Carson City. The rap on both was that they'd issue their budget and then basically take the phone off the hook. One cannot imagine such passivity from Goodman.
On the issue of why we need an irate candidate, just replace "Somalia" with "Nevada" and this is where we're headed, fast:
We don't have cholera yet but we had a dandy hepatitis outbreak recently. And our assembly-line endoscopy centers will be happy to literally rip you a new one. (Remember, it was Goodman who took action during the hepatitis crisis, while Gibbons dithered. Even the Gibbons-adoring Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial page likened Midnight Jim's crisis response to a kitten trapped in a paper bag.)
Peepshow 3.0: The R-J's Mike Weatherford goes back for the band-less, Aubrey O'Day-augmented version and finds that this addition-by-subtraction thing is working pretty well. He also makes some trenchant points about the dainty approach that has ill-served the show from its inception.
Just yesterday I was lamenting the dearth of possible fallback positions for entertainers bounced from this or that casino. Heck, even the formerly volatile V Theater is enjoying its first stable lineup of shows since forever.
Hopefully, somebody else can find a spot for Scarlett and her red bikini. Or she might take a cue from Bobby Slayton, who's literally getting out of town. So might Barry Manilow. However, we ran this down for a Question of the Day last week and the smart money has him taking up residence at the long-empty Paris-Las Vegas showroom. If Manilow can't break the jinx on that theater, nobody can.
I hope WizardOfVegas.com gets my Vintage Vegas review up before the show becomes history, because this Zowie Bowie extravaganza is an act of the so-bad-it's-good variety. It has the potential to go into posterity as one of the great Strip trainwrecks of all time.
Despite not having seen Vintage Vegas, Steve Friesschannels the experience uncannily well: "I missed, for instance, what must have been a pretty disastrous opening night at the Monte Carlo for Zowie Bowie and its Vintage Vegas act ... even our most obsequious of entertainment scribes trashed them ... the idea here is that a major theater on the Strip is now given over to the alleged romance of Old Vegas. When it fails, I wonder, will anyone (else) suggest that maybe it wasn’t the execution that flopped, but the fact that people are bored with the effort to relive a bygone era?"
Having witnessed the completely pointless Rat Pack covers of spicy-as-mayonnaise Matt Goss, I'm inclined to agree. The 'retro' shows that work best -- like Rick Faugno's once-a-month showcase at South Point -- are ones in which the artist takes familiar material and makes his/her own. For Faugno, the songs associated with Frank Sinatra or Fred Astaire are as fresh and vital today as 50 years ago, and it comes through in his performance.
Much the same could be said for the Motown covers of Human Nature, a fantastic act that's literally crimped by management's determination to pack the absolute maximum number of tables into the Imperial Palace showroom. Memo to Rick Mazer: If you take 8-12 tables out, people will actually get up and dance, instead of merely wishing they could.
Speaking of showrooms, is there a smaller, crappier one than that at O'Shea's? You have to feel sorry for the performers who are relegated to this broom closet. Given the general disrepair evident at the Irish-themed casino, my best guess is that Harrah's Entertainment has decided to just let the place to go to hell until such time as they're ready to gut it and make it an anchor of their proposed off-Strip retail/restaurant mall.
It's official: "Pit Bull of Comedy" Bobby Slayton has snarled his last at the Tropicana Las Vegas. Thus endeth a brief, inauspicious reign by Anthony Cools over the Trop's upstairs showroom. A well-placed source advises LVA that Beatles tribute show Penny Lane was pulled after EMI hit it with a cease-and-desist letter. In any event, it left as invisibly as it arrived.
Trop CEO Alex Yemenidjian still has three shows he inherited from predecessor Scott Butera but it's pretty clear that he's going to put his own stamp on the property. As for Cools, well, he'll always have O'Shea's.
Movement at Cosmo. Buried in the Review-Journal (six items deep) is the news that the Cosmopolitan has wooed John Marshall Andrew away from Las Vegas Sands to be its CFO and hired Station Casinos refugee Marshall Andrew as chief information officer. Deutsche Bank looks serious about making that September '10 opening date.
Will the economy have improved sufficiently to have absorbed most of the CityCenter rooms and the Planet Hollywood Westgate ones by then (and maybe, but not very likely, Fontainebleau)? Boyd Gaming is betting otherwise. The Echelon cranes have been seen coming down, marking an additional hiatus in the project, which reportedly will not be resumed until 2012.
Las Vegas Sands: Execs overboard!
Andrew is just the latest exec lured -- or chased -- away from Sheldon Adelson's employ. Former Venetian veep Paul Pusateri (who helped launch Paris-Las Vegas back in the day) was just nominated as president at The Palms and ever-helpful Sands spokeswoman Mindy Eras has gone to Preferred Public Relations. Whether these moves are part of Adelson's promised cost reductions or are a winnowing out of perceived William Weidner loyalists, it must be getting lonely at the top.
• Steve Wynn is accelerating his timetable for developing on the Cotai Strip™. If Wynn continues to learn from his early miscalculations (and I see no reason to expect otherwise), a gaming-centric Wynn Resorts property on Cotai is a far better bet than Sheldon Adelson's retail- and hotel-heavy business model.
• While the unpredictable Aubrey O'Day is the ostensible focus of this Peepshow update, she's not the main point of interest. Rather, it's the spate of cheesparing moves made by BASE Entertainment.
The show's band has been thrown overboard and the cast has been reduced, requiring some performers to double in other roles. This explains the disappearance of Katie Webber, a strong vocalist whose big number has now been reassigned to Ms. O'Day. At some point, I'm going to be obliged to revisit Peepshow but I can tell you right now I'm not looking forward to it.
• Despite Sen. Harry Reid's juice job on the Sig Rogich Victorville Flyer (akaDesert Xpress), backers of an alternative maglev project are fighting back. Given that the most difficult part of the SoCal-to-Vegas drive is past once you reach Victorville, why anybody would park their car in the broiling sun and hop aboard Sig's Choo-Choo to Nowhere remains a mystery.
Five dimes worth of damage, $40,000 bail -- and all to wrest a measly two grand from some vending machines at Harrah's Atlantic City. That's the losing bet made by two security guards. Couple this with the floormen who destroyed their careers for a comparably picayune sum of money they allegedly scammed from Planet Hollywood, and we're seeing a level of desperation in casino crime the likes of which I can't recall.
City of Dreams. Voters in Ohio haven't approved casinos in any form yet, but that's not stoppingCleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who's already had a design executed. Gilbert has lined up critical support by promising to forego hotel rooms and restaurants (though he's left himself a little wiggle room there).
But don't be fooled: Phil Satre used the same Trojan Horse strategy to get an onshore casino in the heart of New Orleans. A few bankruptcies and legislative showdowns later, Harrah's N.O. has a hotel and a couple of restaurants. (Like it or not, Satre was brilliant.) I'll be so not surprised if Gilbert gets his casino, then discovers the numbers don't pencil out at a 33% tax rate, and starts waffling on his non-aggression pact with hoteliers and restaurateurs.
Damn that vox populi! Seems that Harrah's Entertainment had a bit of contractual noblesse oblige written into its pact to purchase Thistledown Racetrack. If the issue of racinos has to be put to a vote of the people, all bets -- so to speak -- are off. Which means that Harrah's can take its $89 million and skedaddle, leaving bankrupt Magna Entertainment holding the bag. For the moment though, Harrah's is playing the issue down, saying talk of a pullout is "premature" and hasn't been given much thought.
Even Las Vegas Sands appears to be feeling disappointed with early results from Sands Bethlehem. A massive, 2,000-slot expansion, slated for November, has been scaled back by 88%. Even so, Pennsylvania casinos are busy planning for the addition of table games (although the Lege hasn't approved it yet). The price of table games will probably be higher (18% tax + $15 million upfront) than casinos want, but at least they've been successful in battling back an expansion-sapping 34% tax rate on tables. For slots, they still have to pay a usurious 55%, one of the worst rates in the nation.
But if Sands wants to maximize its drawing power, it might want to think about finishing the hotel and other amenities that got shoved onto the back burner when Sheldon Adelson's coffers began to run dry. At least Sands has gotten a temporary reprieve from sliding to sixth place because -- even with financing in place -- Neil Bluhm is taking a go-slow approach to his $355 million Philadelphia casino, out of deference to historical preservations. (Funny how Bluhm can build a Philly casino complex for half of what Adelson blew on his unfinished Bethlehem resort.)
Fortune favors the bold, which means it won't smile upon Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who apparently caved to pressure from increasingly useless and counterproductive Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV). It looks like Hapless Harry is behind Wyden's craven withdrawal of an amendment that would have taxed Internet gambling to help pay for health care reform.
Incidentally, an amendment that would have authorized $100 billion to close the infamous Medicare "doughnut hole" was voted down yesterday. Jeez, those 'Net-bet taxes could have come in handy as an alternative means of plugging the hole. (Oh, and fuck you too, Max Baucus.)
And that goes double for you, stock-picker Jim Cramer, whose spam rips through our LVA filters like Japanese torpedoes through the hull of the U.S.S. Oklahoma. It makes me sorry I ever said anything nice about you, Jimbo.
Do you think that Peepshow's producers are just maybe beginning to regret hiring loose cannon Aubrey O'Day? The former insta-band member canceled her second-ever performance of Peepshow because somebody (surprise, surprise) snapped a photo of her, topless, and posted on -- where else? -- the Internet. And don't bother Googling it because Ms. O'Day's lawyers have done a very efficacious job of banishing said photo into cyber-Siberia. The lady's apologia pro tantrum sua is a doozy:
O'Day's finger-wagging might carry more authority were it not coming from someone who flaunted her birthday suit in Playboy magazine (where she actually looked much less attractive than in the supposedly sans-makeup video confessional). Also, if you're going to show your "naughty bits" to the public and charge good money for the privilege of seeing them, one's physical appearance becomes fair game. (And, besides, name one intelligent person who cares what Perez Hilton thinks.)
Anyway, Ms. O'Day might want to enjoy Las Vegas while she still can, because in three months (or less) she's going to be Aubrey O'Who?
If you want to see a good show, skip the trainwreck at Planet Hollywood and head on up to CSN, where -- for the next two weekends -- Reefer Madness: The Musical is the best entertainment money can buy.
If you are on Twitter, you're unlikely to find a feed more entertaining than that of Richard Abowitz. He's been lobbing a series of verbal artillery shells at new Peepshow headliner Aubrey O'Day. For instance, the Fidel Castro-admiring Ms. O'Day had her picture taken -- and published -- next to where the Planet Hollywood backstage entry code is posted. Clearly, she's not the sharpest tool in the shed and Abowitz is having great fun pointing this out ... frequently.