Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

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.


I'm going to begin this column by taking on the Cosmopolitan opening. I wrote in my last column that "it wouldn't surprise me if it's more than 10 years after Cosmopolitan opens until a new resort premieres" on the Strip and for that and other reasons the property's scheduled opening later this month has excited many folks who keep close tabs on the casino resort business. The property looks great from the outside. I really like its signage (particularly its "THE COSMOPOLITAN" sign on the roof and its cool vertical Strip-front marquee). Photos of Cosmo's interior that have been released and leaked also look very good.

The Cosmopolitan combines with CityCenter to form a mini-skyline to the center Strip, a distinct modern presentation which I find appealing. On the other hand I've long questioned whether the architecture will appeal to Las Vegas visitors conditioned to more whimsical competition. I also am skeptical about Cosmo's ability to generate the returns Deutsche Bank needs to justify its nearly $4 billion investment. Competing with MGM Resorts, Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands for casino play will be a significant challenge for Cosmopolitan due to its lack of an established player database, and competition for higher room rates and occupancy will also be tough. Deutsche Bank has exceptionally deep pockets and can shrug off a slow start, but I can't believe long-term ownership of the property is its preferred game plan.

Another possible negative is connected to the challenge of opening a new property. Even with a couple of slow late December weeks to iron out the wrinkles before city visitation spikes for New Year's, Super Bowl weekend and Chinese New Year, opening is a high-pressure period that requires quick and smart personnel evaluations, a lot of service fine-tuning and possible significant operational adjustments. Major or lasting problems could be disastrous, so the pressure will be on Cosmo management to evaluate and adjust appropriately.

Feedback on Cosmopolitan's financial performance out of the box will be limited to room-rate surveys, anecdotal reports and whatever property management decides to publicly disclose, but consumer feedback should be readily available and will be closely monitored.

I think the property's pre-opening public relations effort has been strong and there seems to be a good vibe and expectation of success by the small slice of the public that pays attention to casino openings. My prediction for Cosmo's consumer response is qualified: I'm optimistic, but the opening shakeout is a big obstacle. On the financial side, I'm pessimistic. Very pessimistic.


My girlfriend and I stayed at Aria for the fifth time Thanksgiving weekend and I can report that we had no customer service issues. During our first two stays -- right after CityCenter opened -- we had a few minor issues with AT&T cell service, housekeeping and checkout. But the last few visits have been great with no negative issues. Service at check-in and at the Player's Club was exemplary. Our room was very clean and housekeeping service was timely and efficient. We ate one meal on property, at the buffet. The scheduled remodeling of the buffet has yet to take place, and the price was similar to past visits ($36 for brunch). The big change I noticed is that king crab has been replaced by snow crab, a significant downgrade considering that the buffet price approximated Bellagio and Wynn's buffet brunches. Buffet cleanliness and service were fine, normal for Aria.

I'm writing about our stay as a way to introduce a thought I've had recently as I read comments on Las Vegas casino-related blogs that seem to delight in slamming the hotel. Aria is a very nice property, better than every resort in Las Vegas not named Wynn, Encore or Bellagio. It's important to separate Aria's (really, CityCenter's) financial troubles from the experience it provides guests. If asked whether I'd recommend Aria to someone seeking to visit a casino resort on the Strip, I'd wholeheartedly say "Yes." I like its look. The hotel rooms are great. The casino is darker than many, and I like that. The registration area is bright and beautiful. I like its fountains, sculpture and other art. The parking garage is well-designed, expansive and bright, even if its tunnel entryway is less expansive than the wider ones at Bellagio, Wynn and Encore. The main porte cochere and entry circle is beautiful. I haven't seen Viva Elvis, but even if it is as bad as many say, guests don't have to see the show. I've criticized the hotel's placement on the property footprint, its somewhat difficult access for Strip pedestrians and its lack of a Strip marquee. But those limitations don't really matter to Aria guests.

I was reading the list of finalists for the Vegas Tripping 2010 Trippies awards (votes for Hunter's Two Way Hard Three blog and his [our] Vegas Gang podcast are appreciated) and one Aria-related option surprised me. On the positive ("Best of") side, how can any rational person justify a final five for best Strip hotel that includes Tropicana and doesn't include Aria? Tropicana? Wynn, Encore and Bellagio definitely belong. Mirage, less so, but it's not preposterous. Tropicana -- no way. My final five, in order, would be: Wynn, Bellagio, Encore, Aria and Venetian. (Palazzo, Caesars Palace, Mandalay Bay, Mirage and MGM Grand in 6th through 10th places, respectively).

-- Jeff Simpson, December 2010


Read archived comments (15 so far)
December 4, 2010 11:07 AM Posted by atdleft

Interesting. I really hope Cosmo makes it, as we desperately need more success stories here in Vegas. Well, that and I'm SO excited about the new restaurant offerings coming our way! Seriously, Cosmo's F&B put together a stellar culinary line-up that will hopefully help in luring more foodies there.

And as many of us talked about in an earlier thread, MGM needs to make pedestrian access to Aria as "user friendly" as possible for las turistas. Probably the best idea I've heard so far is to install a "people mover" (like the ones at McCarran Airport & the south entrance to Venetian/Grand Canal Shoppes) from The Strip directly to Aria. Not everyone realizes one can reach Aria via Monte Carlo, so this may help clear up the confusion and frustration.

December 4, 2010 11:45 AM Posted by Peter

Jeff, I wholeheartedly agree about Aria. My second stay last month was excellent, no service issues. In fact levels similar to that I've experienced at Wynn and Encore. And I like its dark and frill free casino a lot too. The poker room has quickly established itself as one of the best in town.

I've been admiring the expert positive marketing/PR bandwagon for/by Trop in the past year. It's a shame Aria's guys haven't been able to match their output or counter the negative commentary. Fair comment should be made, of course, but it's nice to read some credit given when due.

I can't wait to visit Cosmo in the New Year. It'll be interesting to see if their well executed buzz continues to be so, post Dec 15. And to see if its in next year's 5 'Best of'. Somewhere just above or below Aria.

December 4, 2010 4:30 PM Posted by Ted Newkirk

Because of the guest experience that many noted the first few months, it was easy to keep piling on Aria. While the good news that the service issues (both customer and cell) will get out, the entire complex won't achieve all it is capable of until they fix the accessibility (from The Strip) issues. Many of us are shocked those issues weren't realized in the early planning stages.

Per the Trippies, I also thought that the choices were limited, sometimes didn't reflect the best in a certain category, and found myself wanting to select other options in a few categories. Unless Chuck is willing to offer a write-in option, the awards really should be renamed the:

"What Chuck Likes and Who Chuck's Friends Are" Awards

Why no write-in option? Is he concerned about a Lisa Murkowski incident with a write-in candidate winning over one of his friends?

Food for thought...

December 4, 2010 6:42 PM Posted by jinx

I agree on your take on Aria, even though I haven't stayed there, I do believe some of the criticism is a bit harsh. Is it Wynn, Bellagio or Encore, no but I'd definitely put it on the level of Palazzo or Venetian at the very least.

While I'm encouraged by the Tropicana's changes, I also agree that there is no way that it's a top 5 resort on the strip. Top 5 budget resort, sure and maybe number one in that category. That's a bit of the fun and issue with the Trippies though, they have a number of categories, but there is only so far you can go to diversify them, and there is the issue of 'best' being a bit of a subjective term.

Anyway, on to Cosmo, while I love the fact they've illuminated it in an appropriate strip way (Aria/CC could gain a lot with some outside lighting that was more dynamic) and I know their initial push on the promotions has been good, I do think they are looking at a severe drop in occupancy and visitation after the initial buzz. After all where's the entertainment options is there one, any? While the NYE lineup is impressive, it's one night, and its not like those acts are going to be booked monthly there when they are competing with the Palms, MGM, and the Joint for the touring acts.

Maybe I'm thinking about this too much, but if I was Cosmo management, I'd feel comfortable that they've created a buzz and really be focusing on the next 6 months now to keep the people coming in, by that point if their experience shows to be curious and retains customers then some repeat business will help.

Maybe we'll know when things are dire, when their showroom is four walling every amateur act on the strip, ala the Riviera.

December 4, 2010 7:50 PM Posted by Hunter

Ted, I think that's a bit unfair - the nomination phase for The Trippies are totally open - anyone can nominate anything. The ballot reflects those community nominations, not Chuck's choices.

December 4, 2010 8:58 PM Posted by Jeff Simpson

I certainly wasn't slamming Chuck and his site, nor was I criticizing the Trippies. I was criticizing the nomination votes for Trop as "Best Hotel," votes I believe are patently ridiculous. And I was criticizing the omission of Aria in the category considering Trop was voted into the five finalists.
What I do recognize is that Chuck's site -- and others, including our Vegas Gang podcast -- paid a lot of attention to the Trop's makeover/white paint job, and Chuck's site even had a Trop-sponsored contest. I understand how that attention can fuel reader support (and, in this case, I believe, a misguided nomination) for a property, but an actual vote for Tropicana as the "Best Hotel" wouldn't reflect well on the judgment of the voters.

December 4, 2010 10:56 PM Posted by mike_ch

It's not listed as Best Hotel because Aria cheesed a lot of people off this year. Maybe next year. Mandarin really should be up there, but isn't simply because most Trippies voters can't afford a night there. I know I can't.

But then again, I really feel that combo hotels Wynn/Encore shouldn't be listed as separate resorts for things like the Trippies. It allows a company to hog up these kinds of Best Of listings. I sometimes wonder if that's why everyone wants to make a million "brands" like Hotel32 and Sky Suites.

December 5, 2010 7:52 AM Posted by Eric

"I've criticized the hotel's placement on the property footprint, its somewhat difficult access for Strip pedestrians and its lack of a Strip marquee. But those limitations don't really matter to Aria guests."

The physical layout doesn't matter to Aria guests? Of course it does! It mattered greatly to me during my stay there last January, and in fact remains the reason I'm not looking to stay there again.

The physical inconvenience is HUGE for those of us who like to "Strip wander."

Now, the rooms are gorgeous, love the technology, staff was great, and I like the casino better than a lot of people. But the property layout is a big, big, big problem; and it's the one problem Aria has that isn't easily fixable.

December 5, 2010 12:09 PM Posted by motoman

It's true some of (OK, a lot of) CC's issues were due to the economy, but some of the early service fails are fairly and squarely on MGM's shoulders. Add the F&B borrowing so heavily from next door vs. Cosmo's originality; the parking is, I would argue, not so easy to navigate; and even if lack of easy Strip access doesn't matter to Aria guests, it's a handicap on the business end. Even WLV with its affectations of exclusivity benefits from (needs, even) the foot traffic coming in the doors--and has undeniably been hurt by all the recently vacant real estate to the north. Cosmo is much better situated, and (re)designed, than Aria to benefit from Strip foot traffic.

Cosmo's room rates will tell the tale--presumably they won't be as inflexible as Mandarin Oriental initially was--and I'll be glad to take advantage of any softness there next year.

Tropicana can be a "best" as in Most Improved, I suppose. Motor Trend magazine often makes baffling picks for Car of the Year based on the many factors they take into consideration. (And don't even get started on the Academy Awards....)

Apologies if this may have come off more negatively than intended. Let me end on a warm fuzzy by saying how much I enjoy and appreciate these columns. Please don't mistake a disagreement for lack of appreciation for the content!

December 5, 2010 12:14 PM Posted by motoman

mike_ch makes a good point that Aria did not earn the nomination, this year; and that may change going forward.

But I'd argue that splitting Wynn & Encore actually splits the votes. Counting Wynncore as one would make them a shoe-in. Do you split, or combine, the 7000-room Venelazzo "Megacenter"? I don't know....

December 5, 2010 12:24 PM Posted by Mike P.

Any poll based on reader votes is likely to have some, umm, idiosyncratic choices. One that caught my eye this year was nominating Carnevino for both best and worst meat. But, thinking about it, I can see how two people could have completely different reactions to the same piece of 9 month old dry aged steak.

Is Chuck continuing what used to be an annual tradition of "awarding" an editor's choice as worst hotel to the Venetian? That's something I've always found patently ridiculous, and it's kept me from taking VT seriously as a source of objective hotel advice.

I'm glad service and other issues are improving at Aria. We still haven't stayed there, but maybe in 2011.

December 5, 2010 2:05 PM Posted by mike_ch

Moto, I think consolidating Wynn/Encore would lead to a more likely Wynn victory, sure, but it would allow more hotels to appear in the nominations.

My greater comment wasn't so much aimed at the Trippies, as they are the diamond/snowflake hotel rating and awarding cottage industry itself. When Bellagio first won the AAA Five Diamonds, scuttlebutt around town was that it was very difficult for them to do due to the number of hotel rooms on property. The gist of the story was that it's near impossible for a very large hotel to pull it off because of how hard it is to not just treat customers like numbers, and Steve Wynn-era Bellagio only accomplished it by hiring so many workers to soak up the crowds.

Now, obviously, things have changed or standards have slipped since Bellagio added more rooms since then, and Venelazzo and Aria have picked up the Five Diamonds as well. But then Tower Suites picked up the Forbes Five Stars and the game changed dramatically. Now numerous hotels on the Strip are trying this silly "hotel inside the hotel" thing, and to me the reason is obvious: to win awards a megaresort is normally isn't going to win due to it's volume.

You can't give a hotel with 4,004 rooms (Aria) a Forbes Five Star, but if you insisted the Sky Suites were it's own hotel and should be judged alone... Well, they still probably wouldn't win right now but in the future they *could*. You can't really give MGM Grand a Best Restaurants nod for everything under it's roof, but by classifying Robuchon's alone as belonging to "The Mansion," it might.

This repartitioning of the megaresort into these little institutions that should be scored irrelevant of everything else in the greater complex is blowing up, and I sense that Vegas as a whole is trying to bend the rules to put itself on as many "Best of..." lists as is possible.

December 6, 2010 3:37 PM Posted by chuckmonster

@ted it is important that you have the facts before making accusations re: The Trippies. Folks can Monday morning quarterback about the reader nominations all they want, have at it. However, calling my credibility into question is not borne out by the wealth of evidence contained on VT and is always a reflection of the accuser having sour grapes.

As we remind everyone each year, ALL Trippies finalists are culled from nominations submitted by VegasTripping readers over a month long nomination period. When applicable, nominations are "write in" - Restaurants, Act, Pet Peeve, News, Person of the Year and all of the Internet/Technology awards. The only awards/finalists/nominations for which "Chuck" is partly responsible for are the Editors Choice, which were decided after a helluva lot of debate last night by VT's 5 person editorial staff. In some instances, "Chuck" used his right to overrule the committee and make an executive decision. Why? Because "Chuck" is me and I'm the boss, thats why.

As for Jeff's point re: the Trop being nominated in many of the best categories... this is a very valid and fair observation that I was hoping someone would raise discussion on. Through the magic of paint, glossy floors and well executed PR, the Trop went from zero to hero in 16 months.

There are a lot of forces at work during the Trippies nomination phase, but the bottom line is that if Whisky Pete's garners enough nominations to land in the top 5 they will be a finalist. In the case of ties or very close heats, we opt for inclusion and let the readers duke it out. No doubt, the Tropicana has built up a lot of good will with our readers by giving us stuff to giveaway and offering Tom McCartney as VG's guest at VPP. This is how PR works and the Tropicana feels that our readers are worth PR'ing at directly. The Trop is also one of the few mid-market properties with brand new, very affordable rooms and a playable casino - a rare independent property that offers a great value in an excellent location that isn't CEC or MRI.

If Aria gave away stuff for a month on VT and offered up Bobby Baldwin to VegasGang, perhaps VT readership's view of Aria might be a little different. One can only guess. ARIA had a very bumpy first six months of operation and was served well deserved daily beatings on its social media chin. In the interim, they've addressed many of the complaints. The return on investment has been infinitely more positive word of mouth, as we have documented in various posts on VT. It is expected that some time will pass before Aria ceases to be a punching bag butt of jokes.

Whether or not Trippies measure the "objective best" or the "subjective best" is another discussion entirely. I'm guessing mostly the latter, with some of the former topped by percentage of drive by votes intended solely to support a specific nominee.

December 7, 2010 12:20 PM Posted by billyinlasvegas


It might seem silly to you but splitting up the hotel is a great idea (Thanks, Stevo!). Plus places like Wynn Tower Suites, The Mansion, etc. might as well be a separate hotel. They have their own entrance, elevators, staff, etc and by getting all of the awards like 5 Stars/Diamonds you can charge a much higher price, not that it matters because most of those rooms will be comped but you can still charge more for them.

As far as the standards slipping, that's not the case they actually get tougher every year. But then again don't think the hotels aren't paying these people (AAA, Forbes, etc) to check out the hotel before they actually rate it. Plus, they always know when the reviewers are in town (they don't know who they are, but they know when they are coming).

December 8, 2010 5:20 AM Posted by Jeff in OKC

Back to the actual column: I am using Jeff's poker analogy from the latest Vegas Gang, which was something like "poker players have to think that any money they put in the pot is gone, and they can't let that influence their decision on the current bet". So, Deutsche sees this property they have on LVB and a partially finished building, and says "2 billion is gone, but for a bil-nine we can have something that'll generate a return. Maybe not on the first 2, but, surely on the bil-nine. And that'll start in 2011. Do nothing and we might get $120 million for the property in 2016. And we'll probably have to carry it til 2030."