Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

All Articles Published: December 2010

Happy holidays to all!

Jeff is back with a special column, and while prostitutes and lawsuits might not be traditional Christmas fodder, I recommend reading anyway. Come on, you know you're stuck with your relatives and probably bored out of your mind right about now, right?

Enjoy... and who doesn't want an Adelson voodoo doll? Last minute gift idea!


I'm very excited and happy to announce that Vegas Mate 3.0 has been approved and is available now in the iTunes App Store. 3.0 is the biggest update to Vegas Mate since the app was first released in 2008.

For iPad users, this version is 'Universal' - that means that the single download runs on the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. If you formerly used the version of Vegas Mate on the iPad, now known as VM Classic, this replaces that. It includes all the features of the iPhone version.

For both platforms, 3.0 brings a new trip planning feature. Think of this as 'favorites on steroids' - add your hotels, restaurants and shows. Include details, confirmation numbers and anything else you might need - the app can even remind you before your big dinner so that you don't lose track of time at the craps table.

That's just a taste - there are a ton of other changes, bug fixes and performance enhancements.

Of course, I've got a list of stuff for 3.0.1, 3.1 and whatever comes after that. Right now though, I'm going to relax a little and hopefully enjoy the holiday.

A big thank you to all of the folks that did beta testing. The app is better because of your feedback and bug reports.

If you like 3.0, I ask that you please, please consider leaving a review. It's hugely important for us when it comes to promoting the app. From your device, tap here to leave a review.

Screenshot gallery:

NOTE: For users that had previously purchased the iPad version of Vegas Mate but don't also own the iPhone version, please see this page. I'd like to work with you to get you upgraded if I can.

My Trips - Vegas Mate 3.0

December 21, 2010

Last Day to Vote for The Trippies! Vote Now!

Posted by Hunter

Today is the last today to vote in the Trippies. I'm/we're nominated in the following categories:

Best Web Site:
Best Blog: Two Way Hard Three
Best App: Vegas Mate
Best Twitterer: @Hunter
Best Podcast: The Vegas Gang

I'd very much appreciate your vote!


So, here's my 4,200 word set of notes on my stay last week at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

I hope you enjoy it - please leave your comments below.

If you want to see photos from my stay, a complete gallery is located here.

Keep reading after the jump.

December 18, 2010

Vegas Gang #55 - December 16th, 2010

Posted by Hunter

Our special guest this week is Steve Friess of The Strip Podcast.

This time on the show:

* The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Opens

* Vegas Gang 'Sure Bets'

* Dr. Dave's Jay Sarno Book
* Cosmo Pizzeria
* McCarran Airport (LAS)
* The Traditional Las Vegas Sports-book
* Holstein's @ Cosmo

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

December 17, 2010

You Always Remember Your First Time

Posted by Hunter

That could almost be a headline on the cover of Cosmo, the magazine. As you might have guessed though, this is about The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, which opened this week on the Las Vegas Strip.

My two night stay was pretty bumpy and based on the experiences of others, it sounds like I was not alone.

What sort of problems?

Well, I plan to write another post with more detail on this topic but to give you a flavor: our room wasn't ready until three hours after we were told to arrive for check-in, neither of the TVs in our room worked properly (one of them could not be shut off without being unplugged and on the other you couldn't change channels), neither bathroom had a bathmat so water made the marble floor very slippery, we did not receive the turn-down service either night we were there, and the TV couldn't be used for many of the built in services such as checkout and reviewing of messages.

That's a partial list of the problems I recorded with the room. It doesn't include any of the good stuff either - that will be in a dedicated post about the room and the stay that discusses some of the great things about the design and a few things that really bugged me from a functional standpoint.

The question I want to ask is this: what should a guest expect of a brand new hotel and how should a brand new hotel market itself before it is running like a finely tuned machine? Are opening night guests asking for abuse? Should new hotels make disclaimers or offer discounts?

To set the stage for this discussion, I'd like to include a few important bits of information about this week:

* The per night rate for the Cosmopolitan this week was significantly higher than comparable rooms at other Strip resorts (traditionally this is a very slow time of the year).
* The front desk staff told us that all the rooms had been extensively checked for problems prior to any guests checking in. It's hard to imagine how this could be correct given some of the basic issues like TVs not working.
* Cosmo CEO John Unwin was quoted in several interviews saying the staff was ready and excited to open the doors and to welcome guests. If anything, I'd say expectations were raised in the pre-opening press, not lowered.
* There was no disclaimer or notice to incoming guests that kinks were still being worked out and that they may need to be patient, etc...

Based on the comments on Chuck's post and some of the stuff I read on Twitter, I get the impression that some folks believe that this is just what happens with new hotels and the first guests should just deal with it. Maybe most people feel that way - I'd like to find out.

I think it's an interesting question but for me it boils down to getting what you pay for - they promised a lot and didn't deliver on that promise, at least in terms of hotel operations. Based on that, I think that the complaints are justified, even if we're not talking about curing cancer here.

None of the problems I encountered are even close to terminal. If they pivot and fix these issues, then this will be a distant memory in no time. Early signs indicate that they're serious about raising their game. We'll see.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

December 15, 2010

Will Cosmo Common Spaces Take Off?

Posted by Hunter

On Cosmo's second and third levels, between restaurants and retail stores, the hotel has installed a bunch of furniture in walkways that would probably look pretty awful with it.

The idea is to create a sort of hotel lobby feel, but spread over the different levels instead of just in the check-in area... and not just chairs and couches - there are pool tables, foosball and a ton of other funky furniture.

It actually looks pretty cool but we'll see if it turns out to be problematic at all - there was a long period where Bellagio removed all of the furniture from their lobby due to people just hanging / snoozing there all day.

Here's an example.

The idea is that people can not only hang out and do work, meet friends, grab a quick few minutes of rest but also that they can get some take out food from the restaurants, many of which are setup to make that pretty easy.

December 15, 2010

Technology Is On Stage at Cosmo

Posted by Hunter

One of the things I've noticed as I've been touring Cosmo are the interesting uses of technology in the new resort.

As CEO John Unwin would say, as a new company, they are free of legacy tech. The result is interesting uses of the latest and greatest. A few examples:

* LED/LCD displays are everywhere, not just for ESPN but for tons of art from Chicago firm Digital Kitchen.

* The casino floor way-finding machines are not only touch based but also include a slot, video poker and table game finder based on several criteria including denomination and game type.

* Each check-in desk has an embedded iPad, tuned to a special 'guest services' app. Right now this appears to only be the Cosmo Web site but I expect this to expand over time. I was tempted to install the Aria app for kicks but I restrained myself.

* The in-room TV allows you not only to view info about the resort but also the acts appearing in venues like Marquee and Book and Stage, as well as the ability to show a personalized itinerary of your activities on property. This is a few steps beyond anything we've seen in-room elsewhere in Las Vegas.

* Much of the digital art is generative, meaning it deviates from its baseline using stimuli from the environment - for instance, the digital pillars in the lobby will animate more bubbles as you walk by, based on sensors in the base.

That's just a taste but for a nerd like me, I love this stuff. I've gotten a hint of some of the backend software they're using and I hope to bring you some detailed information on that soon.

December 15, 2010

Welcome to The Fabulous Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

Posted by Hunter

I'm on the ground this week for the Cosmo opening and today was my second chance to tour the property, this time in a more extended fashion than last week. It was great to be able to spend a little more time and really check things out.

I'm still excited. The rooms really are drop dead gorgeous and the terrace views from the upper floors are insane. They make you gasp when you step out for the first time.

I've posted a bunch of photos as well as a video. Enjoy.

I also got a chance to join a David Rockwell interview with Blackjacker1979. Rockwell had a hand in a large amount of the property design. That should be posted soon - it's only about ten minutes but was quite interesting. Thanks to Eric for letting barge in.

Hotel check-in is tomorrow afternoon starting at 1pm, followed by a chance to try some nibbles from the various restaurants. The curtain goes up for the public at 8pm - I'll be at the craps tables.

Can't wait!

December 12, 2010

Cosmopolitan Opening: Coverage This Week

Posted by Hunter

The big week is here - Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas opens on Wednesday. I'll be in town most of the week to cover the event for for my favorite Internet readers, you.

The fun starts on Tuesday with another set of tours and interviews, continues on Wednesday with a ribbon cutting ceremony and then wraps up at 8pm when the doors are open to the public.

Two Way HQ will be setup in my Cosmo suite so that I can bring you all photos, video and commentary from me and a bunch of other interesting folks too. Should be fun and it's the last one of these we'll get to do for awhile.

For those that are also in town, there are several meet-ups planned:

12/14 10:11pm Mandarin Bar - Mandarin Oriental

12/15 6:11pm Chandelier - The Cosmopolitan


12/15 11:11pm Vesper - The Cosmopolitan

12/15 1:11am Bond - The Cosmopolitan

Hope to see you there.

In addition to the opening coverage, I'll be performing a final round of 'boots on the ground' testing for Vegas Mate 3.0, which is about to be completed.

December 10, 2010

UPDATED: Cosmopolitan: Different That Matters?

Posted by Hunter

I'm writing this post several hours after getting my first look at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas with my good friend Chuckmonster, following an interview with CEO John Unwin. Let's be honest - the hype machine surrounding the opening has been running overtime for the past few weeks. Cosmo has been getting a lot of ink, most of it positive, even if tentative. I won't be coy: I was impressed with what I saw. In some cases, very impressed.

Given that, when discussing this new property I think it's useful to turn back the clock a year. When I first toured Aria in November of 2009, I found a few things I liked there too. Based on my glance today, there's more to appreciate in the design and innovation of Cosmo than there ever was at Aria but it underlines a fundamental truth: without great service, no hotel will matter very much to any customers that matter very much.

We saw a lot today and to be honest, I'm still processing everything.

One thing though, stood out so dramatically that I can't stop thinking about it - the views, from the terraces in the tower to the restaurant patios to the windows overlooking the lake at Bellagio from the Identity Lounge - they are stunning... beyond stunning.

The Cosmopolitan appears to be embracing it's place on The Strip and reveling in it - personalizing it and making it an integral part of it's identity. Doubling down on it even. Unlike CityCenter, where designers seemed almost ashamed to be part of the legacy of their neighborhood, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas seems to be all about providing a window to the excitement that's both inside and outside it's doors.

I had a lot of fun on our tour today. I love the little details like the varied light fixtures and chandeliers (not THE chandelier, though that is stunning as well), the Japanese soaking tubs (again, with great views), the huge suites with their wine fridges and complete cocktail gear, the varied and interesting restaurant designs, the at-first-seemingly-random but at closer-examination-definitely-not collection of LP covers leading the way down to the now not-so-secret pizza place, and one gaming innovation: casino cabanas.

That last item is a simple but unique idea and I'll be very curious to see if it plays - table games, separated via beaded curtains, allowing you and your buddies to have a semi-private experience without running afoul of state law.

In our interview, Mr. Unwin repeatedly gave us the phrase 'different that matters'. It appears that's something of an ethos for the new resort - change and challenge the operational and design status quo but not just for the sake of doing so - it has to be done for a reason. I like the sound of that philosophy but it's too soon for me to judge if that's just a catch-phrase or if it means something tangible.

I'm back here next week and I'm looking forward to it. It will be a lot more fun to write about this stuff when I have photos and tales of customer service to share. Right now the place is all promise.

I hope that promise is fulfilled because that would be a lot more fun than the alternative.

UPDATE: We got permission to post a few new, blurry photos of the joint - the lobby, part of the casino and the Vesper bar, which is right off the lobby. We'll have full-on, real, non-blurry photos and video in a few days.

December 9, 2010

Vegas Gang: "Unwin-terview" - December 9th, 2010

Posted by Hunter

This time on the show:

* Special Edition - Hunter and Chuck interview John Unwin, CEO of the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

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

December 4, 2010

SIMPSON ON VEGAS #010: 3-2-1 Cosmo

Posted by Hunter

The esteemed Mr. Simpson is back with his latest column. This time around the bend, he'll share his thoughts on the opening of the Cosmopolitan as well as discuss a recent stay at Aria.


A surprising headline - it seems that Macau decided not to grant a land concessions for two parcels to Las Vegas Sands. This was land that the company was expecting to be granted to develop an integrated resort. This PDF from 'Top Builders Group' shows some renderings of proposed LVS buildings for that site.

The company can appeal the decision but has a very limited time window to do do.

This is interesting. We've of course seen rumblings from the Chinese government indicating that they want to slow development of new resorts in Macau but this is a significant development.

In September, SJM indicated that it wanted to take over the parcels for its own development.

December 1, 2010

Slot Gaming For The Facebook Generation

Posted by Hunter

You just lined up three diamonds.

Along with the traditional bells and whistles, the machine illuminates a small LCD and offers to snap your photo via the built in camera. If you accept, it will be posted to your Facebook account along with a message letting all your friends know just how lucky you are (with or without jackpot totals, based on your preference). The machine will have access to all of your social networking profiles, via your slot club account - you linked them via the club Web site.

As far as I know, no slot manufacturer has announced this sort of integration but I have to believe it's coming someday. It only seems natural as younger players, reared on video games and smart-phones, start to enter the eager marketing cross-hairs of the casino industry.

What Other Innovations Will We See?

I'd also expect more video type games that involve multiple coordinated players and network based achievements. Again, taking a cue from video games, these players are used to playing against their friends on networks like Xbox Live where they are able to achieve levels based on amount of play and skill. These achievements could move with you from machine to machine and maybe even casino to casino - imagine a sort of meta slot club for certain games that recognized your play no matter who owned the machine you were playing on. I think that some manufacturers have already talked about this sort of thing arriving soon.

Will we start to see significant games exclusive to a certain casino or multi-property corporation? Could we ever see a gaming company purchase a manufacturer in an effort to get exclusive access to the hottest games? This is not an uncommon pattern in video gaming, as manufacturers like Microsoft and Nintendo have purchased companies like Bungee and Rare in an effort to lock up the best titles as exclusives. What if you could only get Wheel of Fortune at Las Vegas Sands properties?

IGT's market cap is only $4.65B - not unsubstantial for the debt ridden gaming companies but not so high that it's outside the realm of possibility. Let's also not forget that Kazuo Okada is one of the major investors in Wynn Resorts - his company is a device manufacturer in Japan.

Come On, Most Slot Machines Really Are Pretty Boring

It's interesting to see what seems like the relatively slow pace of game innovation on the slot floor. In other industries, companies like Zynga have proven that there's a huge market for different types of social games (i.e. Farmville) that, if you explained them to someone before they became popular, you'd be laughed at because the idea sounds so dumb. My gut instinct is that while some of the traditional double-diamonds-with-cheese type games may continue to draw for some time, eventually these game makers will need to come up with something more compelling. I can tell you that generally speaking, I find slots a bore and not worth more than a few minutes while waiting for someone, etc...

How about a game where winning money is just part of the draw - something that has other compelling qualities as well? I'm not suggesting that we somehow turn Halo into a negative expectation slot machine but there's got to be some way to meld these two concepts so that they can start to look at the future.

One hurdle is regulation. In NRS 14.040, the "Minimum standards for gaming devices" states that games "must use a random selection process to determine the game outcome of each play of a game". That sounds like any game that uses skill is out but it's not quite that simple.

The Gaming Control Board's 'Technical Standards for Gaming Devices and On-Line Slot Systems' deals with extended features and bonus games, which *are* allowed to incorporate skill into the outcome, though they are severely limited in the amount they can contribute to the overall return to the player - no more than 4%.

"Oh, they tried skill based games and they didn't take off."

Yeah, you know what kinds of games they tried? Crap like Battleship. I can't imagine anything more boring. The recent 'Pong' slot machine also had a skill based bonus round. I give them nostalgia points and it's a little closer to what I'm talking about but still, it's a half-assed attempt at doing something interesting.

The regulation is extremely important - they ensure a fair game. That said though, they may need to be reviewed and expanded in coming years as consumers tastes change. It's not like games of skill aren't already wagered on daily in the casino - from poker to twenty one to the sports-book. Unfortunately, change will probably be a very slow process.

People spend a lot of discretionary income on other forms of game based entertainment ($20B on video games annually) - the casino game manufacturers should be working more aggressively to steal some of that market. Make casino games and specific 'gaming devices' a reason to go to a specific property, not just something to do once you've already arrived at the casino.

Will server based video slots in any way lower the barrier to entry for game creators? Again, regulation still stands as a significant obstacle but imagine if manufacturers like IGT could draw on talent from multiple, smaller game 'studios' that would then partner with a licensed manufacturer to bring their games to the market. This model has been very successful in other forms of entertainment production and potentially could result in an explosion of new and interesting ideas for gameplay.

I don't follow the gaming manufacturing industry as closely as I follow the hospitality side - any slot experts care to comment on the above? I'm specifically interested in folks that love slots AND love Facebook.

December 1, 2010

Trippies 2010 Voting - We're Nominated! Go Vote!

Posted by Hunter

Happy to say that this blog, along with my app Vegas Mate, the recently re-done Web site, the Vegas Gang Podcast and my Twitter ramblings are all nominated for awards in the 2010 Trippies.

I'm honored to once again be nominated and I hope you'll consider voting for the above as you cast your ballot. Voting only takes a few minutes.

Vote Here: