Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

All Articles Published: October 2010

October 28, 2010

Podcast Weekend: Check Out Tasting Las Vegas

Posted by Hunter

So, Mike Dobranski has been doing his Web site, Tasting Las Vegas, for maybe a year or so? Since it started, I've appreciated his food commentary but the real gem is his new podcast of the same name.

In the first four episodes of the show, it's become clear that Mike is a great interviewer - fun to listen to, pulling out tons of random info.

I like the TLV show for the same reason I love VegasTripping - no nonsense, no bullshit info. Mike's not afraid to say when something sucks or when he thinks John Curtas' stamp of approval on a specific restaurant means squat.

It's pretty raw and brash but very entertaining. Check it out, I think you'll enjoy it.

October 27, 2010

Let The Bummer Years Begin

Posted by Hunter

The Fontainebleau is about to open.

A re-invigorated Plaza project has broken ground and Boyd is halfway through putting up a gorgeous red-gold glass curtain wall on Echelon Place. Jim Murren is a semi-successful investment banker in Connecticut, the Marnell's own the recently joined Rio/Palms complex and Nevada's recently elected junior senator is attending the groundbreaking of a monorail extension that will bridge McCarran Airport, The Strip and Fremont Street.

Can we fast forward to 2017? I'm sure that's what some Las Vegas casino operators would wish for. It's hard to blame them.

Things look a bit sour for Las Vegas - August numbers notwithstanding, let's be honest - some of the city's best boom-time customers don't have any more money to spend on bottle service and $500 dinners at SW. Sure, the biggest players haven't lost enough to kill their gambling habit but that mid-tier backbone - successful young people, boomers and a smaller segment of folks truly blowing the rent on a weekend in Vegas - they're still pretty fucked up from this recession.

Well, at least it's not as bad as it is in Atlantic City where the top operator doesn't even want to own the other half of their property. In my mind, AC is toast.

As someone that has spent the last ten years as mostly excited about Las Vegas and now sells a product that is inexorably linked to the city, I have to say that things look very tough for the next few years.

A CB Richard Ellis study publicized today really laid out the bad news. The market won't be able to handle the massive increase in supply for some time. Thanks a lot CityCenter. At least we don't have any more rooms coming online anytime soon... Oh, crap... Thanks a lot Cosmo.

The Cosmopolitan will be the last property for awhile, and that's almost certainly a good thing. In a way, they may end up with an advantage - they can be the 'newest property on The Strip' for five years or more. That title worked great for The Aladdin. Oh well, whatever, nevermind.

Some of the issues mentioned in the report are structural - air traffic is more difficult than ever in the era of shoe-bombers and naked body scanners. Asian baccarat is slated to increase but that alone is not a market savior. The formerly solid underbelly of Las Vegas tourism - that combination of California drive-ins along with southern and midwestern vacationers... well, they're hurting... and that's not going to change anytime soon (damn that Obama-Reid-Pelosi-Boehner-Palin-McCain cabal!)

It's easy for Wynn to charge $200+/night for a weekend night when the town is half full but when Luxor, Excalibur, Monte Carlo and Treasure Island are all offering rooms in the sub-$50 range (sans the ridiculous resort fees), those rates are harder to justify... and how anyone could feel good about a $150/night room at Aria or Vdara mystifies me. Just say no.

But it's not the Wynns of the world I'm worried about. Aside from maybe Las Vegas Sands, they're probably best positioned to ride this turbulence out. As a lover of the history of Las Vegas, it makes me a little sad to see how little of their revenue now comes from the 'Gambling Capital of the World'. In quarterly earnings today, LVS reported that barely 15% of their revenue comes from their two Strip casinos. With Singapore on the rise, LVS is again a gaming company to watch, even if their numbers don't yet match Chairman Adelson's bluster.

Why am I writing this? I dunno. For whatever reason, a few stories today sucked me in and I felt compelled.

See you Saturday.

Vegas Mate for iPhone, our beloved app for Vegas enthusiasts, will be on sale for only $0.99 starting tomorrow, until Monday the 1st.

The sale is to celebrate Vegas Podcast-a-palooza, which will be live on Saturday.


News this morning that Boyd Gaming will decline their opportunity to purchase the other half of Borgata, currently owned by MGM Resorts Intl. and held in trust. Boyd is the managing partner of Borgata.

Frankly I'm a little surprised - they only had to cough up $250MM and it's not even worth that to them? Clearly the macro trend of the city weights heavily on this decision.

This moves the process along a bit for MGM for whom the asset is tied up in a trust following action by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.

October 22, 2010

Vegas Podcast-a-palooza - One Week Out

Posted by Hunter

Vegas Podcast-a-palooza, the star-studded, action filled event of the year, is next Saturday. Seriously, if you miss this you won't ever forgive yourself.

All the details are at but, VegasTripping has some good tips for those planning on coming.

Our guest on the Vegas Gang will be Tom McCartney, the president over at the Tropicana. I'm looking forward to talking with him, hearing Rita Rudner as the guest on The Strip and then watching Tim and Michelle knock it out of the park again with Five Hundy By Midnight.

See you next Saturday @ The Flamingo.

October 19, 2010

I Was On 'This Week in Travel' - Check it Out!

Posted by Hunter

I was fortunate enough to be a guest on 'This Week in Travel' this past week. For those unfamiliar, it's a fun podcast that covers the entire travel industry.

It looks like the Web site isn't yet up to date but if you head on over to iTunes, the episode has been up for a few days in their actual feed.

The topics included roller bags, travel writing awards and Las Vegas, as you might expect. I really had a blast and I appreciate them having me.

The hosts of the show are also working on their own, interesting projects:

Jen Leo has a new 'Coffee Break' video series:

and Gary Arndt is in the midst of jetting off to Aruba - tough gig!

October 18, 2010

Dick Whitman Doesn't Know What He Wants

Posted by Hunter

** Mad Men Spoiler Alert **

Do you love furry little creatures? The Cosmopolitan hopes so.

The hotel broadcast their first TV commercial during the finale of Mad Men, the popular AMC advertising drama. During the final episode, viewers were shocked to see that Don Draper fell in love with his secretary and got engaged, all in the space of about 42 minutes.

Sure, 'Megan the Secretary' is good looking and seems to actually be capable of a real conversation but come on, Don's clearly emotionally damaged since his marriage broke up and it's hard to look at this as a long term thing. I think most viewers cringed when they watched him dial Faye Miller, the seemingly substantive woman that looked really good for Don, only to blow her off.

Will your flirtation with the Cosmopolitan be longer lasting? There's been a good amount of gushing about the property in advance of it's opening. I've said more than a few kind words myself. Will that last when the credit cards start swiping?

We're now at the point when the resort starts to go from a set of interesting concepts that are easy to appreciate into a 'why the hell didn't housekeeping show up and where the hell are my bags' potential reality.

How will the Interwebs react if Cosmo has the same sort of sputtering opening that Aria had, one year ago? Has Cosmo built up enough goodwill to get the benefit of the doubt if there are major snafus? It will be an interesting test of both the hotel and all of us that write about this stuff.

As for the commercial itself, I don't know what I was expecting but I wasn't totally sold. For me, it seemed a bit like they were trying too hard to establish their cool and edgy bonafides. The commercial felt a little like a live-action version of a nightclub half-pager you'd see in the Weekly or Vegas Seven. For a casino ad, it has resulted in a remarkable amount of commentary, which of course means they accomplished at least one goal.

This first ad didn't give us a look at the resort - none of it was actually shot on property. What we don't know is if they'll be following it up with more television advertising and what those spots could be like.

To my eye, the spot was squarely aimed at fun, taboo and youthful vitality (as well as those older folks desperately clinging to youth by any platinum card necessary). As we've seen in abundance since May 28th, when you target the Hard Rock / Palms crowd, it's very hard to filter who comes through your front door. Will this be a hotel full of Surrender patrons? Personally, I'm hoping the answer to that is no but we'll have to see - I bet some people are already planning how many rollaways they can get into a wrap-around.

My good friend Charles says he loved the ad. I certainly wouldn't say that. One place I do agree with him though, it's wayyyyy better than Aria's advertising.

October 16, 2010

SIMPSON ON VEGAS #008: Jeff's Best and Worst

Posted by Hunter

Jeff's back and this time he's started up his own little 'gaming hall of fame/shame', picking the top and bottom of Las Vegas' operators for the past decade.

Would you rate 'em different? Reply in the comments.

October 14, 2010

Vegas Gang #52 - October 14th, 2010

Posted by Hunter

This time on the show:

Podcast-a-palooza - Oct. 30th, 2010. Our guest will be Tropicana Las Vegas President Tom McCartney - all the details are available on the Web site.

* PENN Swallows M
* August Gaming Figures
* MGM May Sell Borgata ; Not Making Much Money
* Room Rate Survey Data

* Vegas Gang 'Sure Bets'

Check out the show:

Feel free to leave your comments below. If it's a question that you want asked on the show, please make that clear in your post. You can also send those to

Just a reminder that we're quickly closing in on the third annual Vegas Podcast-a-palooza - October 30th @ The Flamingo.

We're asking that those of you that are coming could indicate a yes or a maybe here on this Web site, just to give us an idea of how many people to expect.

If you are coming, you can print your ticket for free at The site also includes the info on the 3X Total Rewards multiplier.

We're doing a Vegas Gang episode on Thursday so I guess I should just say thank you and leave it at that. This is great material.

Instead, I'm going to once again report on difficulty for MGM Resorts International - profits are still a Mirage - they just can't Wynn (get it?!? I'm so clever).

When a company does an early release of their financials and it includes several bullet points and a few paragraphs of figures, always read it in reverse. The most interesting stuff is always hidden behind a smokescreen of PR-speak.

The part of the company not infected with the virus that is CityCenter continues to deflate - down 13% for wholly owned operations (it was -16% last quarter). CityCenter may be a debacle but MGM needs the other places to keep the lights on.

As for Borgata, they did get an offer but it's below the amount they've been carrying on their books for the asset so they'll be taking a write-down this quarter to align their books with... well, reality. Will BOYD also have to do a write-down? I'd say probably.

When the Borgata thing is eventually settled, they'll not only get the cash from the sale but also their share of operations put into trust since the Pansy Ho debacle. That'll be one fat quarter when it hits but that's like when the drug dealer comes to your house and opens up his briefcase. He's not moving in, don't get too excited.

Say what you want about Borgata - and Atlantic City is certainly in trouble - but it is the top property there and has been helping to fill Jimbo's bank account every month. MGM may not have had much choice when it came to selling but that cash-flow is going to leave a hole of at least some size once the post-sale hangover wears off.

Interestingly enough, the day after we get news of improved Strip numbers (up 21%) for August, MGM reports taking an almost 10% hit in casino revenue for the quarter. How is that supposed to jive? This story cites baccarat as a bright spot but MGM's bac volume was down 6%. Does that mean that September cratered? Or were all these gains elsewhere? MGM still controls a huge percentage of the high-end bac play so this seems a bit odd.

As I previously wrote in my series on CityCenter, MGM is now going back to the markets for capital - they have loans of over a billion dollars due next year that they need to pay off. It will be interesting to see how much this influx of supply will impact prices on the open market. Much to the Swami's chagrin, stock was down 6% in after hours trading.

There is some good news, something else that I hinted at in my previous series - Aria is starting to swing over to the profitable side of the fence. It's had good volumes but this time around it got the hold percentages it needed to post a number in the black. ADR and REVPAR for Aria are both improving.

So I guess everything's fine...

The iPad-only version of Vegas Mate, my app-based travel guide, is available for FREE on the App Store until Friday.

Big things are happening in the Vegas Mate universe and the product that's currently available for the iPad will be phased out of active support in the coming months. It will be replaced with a universal version of the iPhone app - that means that when Vegas Mate 3.0 for the phone comes out, it will run on both iPhone and iPad, no more separate versions. I'll be writing more about the details and how I made some of these decisions in future posts. I've put a lot of thought into all of this.

At that point, the existing iPad app will be renamed 'VM Classic for iPad' and will not receive any further feature updates. It will still be able to download and share reviews, photos and the other great content Vegas Mate users are used to.

The upgrade to the upcoming universal app will be free for existing owners of 'Vegas Mate for iPhone'. I'm aware that there may be some users that purchased only the iPad version and do not own a license for the iPhone version. I'll do my best to work with you so that you're satisfied, within the constraints of the App Store system. We'll cross that bridge when we get closer to the release.

Vegas Mate 3.0 is scheduled to be released before the end of 2010.

So, after today's sale of the M Resort debt (which will quickly be converted into equity) to Penn National Gaming, where does that leave M Resort CEO Anthony Marnell III? Of course, that was the number one question I had after reading last night's rumors and this morning's news.

Well, we finally have the answer. Sort of. Ok, not really... But Marnell did talk to the Sun about his future role. Basically, he hopes he'll have one.

Apparently, he's spoken with Carlino and seems to have the equivalent of a 'good vibe' about the whole situation. Sorry Tony, that doesn't seem like much to hang your hat on.

Realistically, how could Carlino keep him in place? My guess is that PENN's plan is to look for some significant cost cuts and while Marnell may be useful in a transitory role, he's not a PENN guy and thus it's hard to see how he would fit into that puzzle.

Sounds like it's gonna be a pretty crappy weekend for Marnell but no matter what, I am certain we'll hear from him again soon. Marnell, Inc. should just buy the Rio back and be done with it. Harrah's probably won't even notice it's gone missing.

Peter Carlino and Penn National Gaming have been flirting with a Las Vegas purchase for what seems like forever. They were most often the ones mentioned when it came to MGM selling The Mirage (as long as you didn't believe the BS about Steve Wynn taking back his old now hand-me-downs).

The Marnell's built M for a cost of $1 billion (not counting another $240MM for the land it sits on). Today, Lloyds Banking sold that debt to PENN, including a $160MM note owned by MGM, for $230.5 million. Yes, 23 CENTS ON THE DOLLAR! That's an amazing deal for Carlino and crew, buying an almost brand new property that has been well taken care of since it was opened.

M's location may still be more challenge than opportunity but that will change in time. Carlino is seizing a great opportunity here and I'm sure this investment will pay off for them in the long run.

Penn is already licensed in Nevada so I'd expect this transaction to go down smoothly.

What will happen to the young Marnell? Sounds like he's out, no doubt looking for his next opportunity. He gambled on M and lost but I'm sure we haven't heard the last of him.

I think the real question here is what PENN will do to the place - they have a reputation for.... uh... being very... uh, efficient. I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the more interesting and costly little touches at M cut to bring costs down.

Coverage elsewhere: