The Wall Street Journal is reporting to day that Trump is looking to sell the storied Steel Pier, which currently houses an amusement park.
The current incarnation of Steel Pier dates to the early 1990s. As it is right now, Trump leases the pier to a third party who operates the rides and games. When the Taj first opened, Trump used the pier as a heliport; he'd shuttle back and forth from NYC in a helicopter. I remember reading the SOPs for helicopter landings in an old security manual when I started at the Taj back in 1994.
Jen A. Miller has pointed out that this isn't the first time changes have been proposed for the site, and a little bit of googling reminds me that I let loose with a "log flume" blast when asked about a possible redevelopment 5 years ago.
Back in 2004 I wrote an AC History column for Casino Connection about the history of Steel Pier. I've reproduced it on my own site, right here, if you want to read some of the pier's fascinating history. My final AC History column was about Tony Grant, whose career was deeply intertwined with the pier.
Turning from history to current events, I want to focus on the justification for selling Steel Pier:
"We believe selling the Pier through auction is the best course of action for the company to increase the equity value for our shareholders," said Brian Cahill, a spokesman for Trump Entertainment. "We are a gaming company, and Steel Pier is not part of the casino." (bolding is mine)
Nothing could be further from the truth. The company's name is Trump Entertainment Resorts, not Trump Gaming. Though I'll point out here that, as of today, the company is still listing a casino that no longer exists as one of its fine resorts (the link gets redirected to the Golden Nugget site).
Still, the idea is that the company is supposed to be offering more than just slots, particularly at its flagship resort. People have been beating the drum for diversification of the travel offerings in Atlantic City for thirty years now. If an oceanside amusement park isn't exactly the kind of family destination that needs to be tweaked and improved to draw a bigger clientele and to take advantage of an asset that Pennsylvania (and Vegas, for that matter) can't beat, I don't know what is.
To me, Steel Pier is symbolic of the failures of the casino industry in Atlantic City. When it was being built, a bridge over the Boardwalk to Steel Pier was considered one of the marquee attractions of the Taj. This would have hosted a restaurant or nightclub offering tremendous views of the Boardwalk. I can only imagine how great it would have been to sit down for a meal or go out for a night of dancing with the lights of the Boardwalk and the ocean waves surrounding you.
Because of money problems, the "Bridge Restaurant" was never finished. Back when I was working security at the Taj in the mid-1990s, there was a little sign pointing people towards the BRIDGE RESTAURANT in the back of the house. Some wag scrawled "to nowhere" after "BRIDGE," and if it's still there I'd love for someone to snap a photo and share it with me; that little piece of graffiti sums up just went wrong in Atlantic City. Operators spent money, but didn't follow through, and as a result didn't use some of their best assets.
If there's one thing a company with the name "Trump" on it should be good at, it's real estate development and getting deals done. I'm dumbfounded that, in the past 21 years, no one was able to swing a deal that would get the bridge restaurant finished or find a better use for Steel Pier that would incorporate amusements but add a unique twist.
Add to this that the casino's already taken on the sunk costs of constructing a bridge to the pier, and you've got to ask: why aren't you making better use of the pier? It's like Harrah's not using its marina; I just don't get it.
If I was calling the shots at the Taj, I'd work on finishing the bridge restaurant and start looking for a new operator for the pier. You've got five years before the lease with the existing operator is up, so there's plenty of time. I'd look for someone who would invest some money to create an attraction that would really draw people--maybe some kind of diving bell off the pier--and would complement amusements and whatever else you want to have. That was you give people a reason to drive all the way to Atlantic City, but also have some lighter fare for whose who have already seen it.
As a gaming destination, Atlantic City has a pretty bleak future. As a resort/leisure/entertainment destination? There, at least, it has a fighting chance.
Everyone wants to feel that they're a Vegas insider. It might be something as basic as knowing that the airport connector isn't the most direct route from McCarran to the MGM Grand, or it might be something as esoteric as being able to quote, from memory, the names of all of the bouncers at every Vegas nightclub.
Basically, it feels good to know that you're doing Vegas right. There are so many rookie mistakes to be made (and hey, even locals make them all the time) that it's great to know that you didn't waste your time or get ripped off.
After the jump, I'll share a few secrets that probably won't help you save money and might not even be that fun (hey, some of them might actually inconvenience you a little), but rest assured, they will make you feel like a real insider.
I just got this press release via email:
Palms Casino Resort has appointed Joseph A. Magliarditi as President.
In his role, Magliarditi will oversee all hotel and casino operations for the 1,300-room resort destination.
"We are thrilled to have Joe as part of our team," said Palms owner George Maloof. "We look forward to him being a part of the Palms' continued success."
Magliarditi brings more than 18 years of hotel and gaming experience to the Palms Casino Resort. An accomplished senior gaming executive, he most recently served as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Before the Hard Rock, he held the position as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the M Resort and Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Marnell Sher Gaming, where he operated the Edgewater and Colorado Belle in Laughlin. Previously, he served as Vice President of Operations of the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino and was also Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer of TRIRIGA INC., an enterprise software company.
Magliarditi was pretty new at the Hard Rock when the ownership change forced his departure. I interviewed him last year for a profile in Vegas Seven. After the jump, I'll share an excerpt.
Episode #62 is up!
Jeff kinda sounds like he was calling from the moon, so sorry about that.
This time on the show:
** Sure Bets **
Will Gary Loveman expand the Caesars empire (ha ha) into the Las Vegas locals market? That's the theory that our intrepid columnist, Mr. Jeff Simpson, is putting forth in this latest edition of SIMPSON ON VEGAS.
Enjoy after the jump and leave your comments to tell us what you think about this possibility.
Now that it's open to the public, I can't say this is a sneak peak, but I know there are a bunch of folks on here who haven't made it down to the big sell-off yet, so I figured I'd post some more pictures taken Thursday, a few hours after the doors opened.
The fun really gets going after the jump.
It's a lazy Saturday afternoon and that seems like a good opportunity to comment on two stories I saw posted today online.
First off is a note from Howard Stutz in the RJ, indicating that the Maloof's ownership stake in The Palms has been reduced from 85% to 2%. George Maloof remains as property president but for all intents and purposes, the family has comparatively very little stake in the business.
In the past, I've heard Maloof referred to as a gaming operations genius (I might even have said something along these lines myself). How could anyone say that now? The guy was forced to sell off virtually all of his ownership to keep the lights on - if you read between the lines, it sounds like there weren't a lot of other options.
Making money in the go-go era of 2005 wasn't all that tough. It's the operators thriving now and through the crisis that deserve respect.
Personally, if I owned a property, I certainly wouldn't want to get Maloofed.
Second up is a VegasTripping post about the room renovation project at Bellagio, including some photos. These changes have been widely anticipated - as one of the top properties in town, Bellagio's room product should set a standard for Las Vegas luxury.
The series starts out with a hallway shot, showing off new wall coverings and carpet. I agree with Chuck that the carpet color tone change is pretty awesome - I totally dig it. From there though, things go a bit downhill as we get into the room itself.
In my opinion, the bed/sleeping area is a bit of a disaster and given the relatively dramatic change, I expect it to be the most controversial part of this re-design. The headboard/wall combo isn't particularly ugly in a vacuum, it just doesn't fit in with what I've come to expect from Bellagio.
The much hated armoire is gone (good riddance!), replaced by what seems to be a functional, if not beautiful substitute. If this was the worst part of the re-design, this crime scene would be pretty uneventful. Given that Bellagio's rooms are smaller than some of its newer competitors, the large armoire never made any sense from a usability perspective.
In general, I like the overall color scheme and as VT notes, the rooms were way overdue for a change. Still, this feels like all reaction and very little new ground being covered. How long until these updates feel old and dated?
Coming up with a room design that fits Bellagio's language and overall message but that also can delight the changing tastes of luxury customers is certainly a challenge but I'm not sure that was even attempted here. What I see is a buffet of recent design choices taken from Bellagio's top competitors. There have been many signs over the years that MGM-folk don't really get what Bellagio is all about - what makes it special. So far, this is looking like it might be another one.
I'm saying these things without having yet stayed in the new rooms. It's possible there are super-secret hidden features that aren't obvious from these photos. Who knows, maybe the bed gives out free blow jobs or something. Absent that, so far I'm leaning towards seeing this as another example of a company that's lost it's way... That said, I'll try 'em for sure.
Here's the second half of my pictures from a liquidation.
Read after the jump for more photos from the Sahara's liquidation sale. Everything--and they mean everything--must go.
Yesterday I attended the media sneak peek of the upcoming Sahara liquidation sale. The fun starts for real Thursday, at 10 AM, when the general public will be admitted. For the first four days, you have to pay $10 to get in; after that, it's catch as catch can. Today (Tuesday), industry buyers have a chance to snap up the industrial-grade restaurant and hospitality equipment.
After the jump, I'll share a few pictures inside the incredibly tomb-like Sahara as it prepares for the sell-off.
Other people have already discussed the LA Times piece that featured "vintage Vegas" attractions, but I want to focus on a very narrow part of the set-up for the list of attractions, particularly this quote:
"It was better in the old days when the mob was still here," said Aiko Shono, a 35-year resident of Sin City. "Everyone had a job, everyone was friendly [and] people were not rude." (read full story here)
Coupled with longtime Golden Steer server Fernando Camacho's description of Anthony Spilotro holding court at his private booth ("Anybody who came through that door had to kneel and kiss his ring"), it creates quite a disconnect.
On one hand, it was an earthly paradise of full employment and universal civility. On the other, grown men had to literally kneel and grovel before a man whose only claim to power was his brutality. Demanding that kind of servility of his underlings shows a side of Spilotro that makes it difficult to consider his reign an enlightened one; after all, there was a reason General Zod (he of the cool accent and kneeling fetish) was the villain in Superman II.
Besides my knee-jerk revulsion towards the spectacle of retainers being forced to publicly abase themselves before self-appointed mob kingpins, I'm amazed that a journalist would take claims that "things were better when the mob ran the city" at face value. The woman who he quotes on the superiority of mob-era Vegas was about seven years old when Boyd Gaming took over the Stardust, the most convenient reckoning of the end of the mafia imperium in Vegas. What makes her an expert on when Las Vegas was better? She wasn't in the job market then, and when you're in first grade people are generally pretty polite to you whether they've made their bones or not.
I'm sure the small business owners who mafiosi like Spilotro preyed on have a much different view. Having your shop burglarized, being shaken down for protection money--these don't make the kind of warm-and-fuzzy memories that are the low-hanging fruit of "I remember when" Vegas stories.
When you look at the track record of Spilotro and his associates--murder, extortion, and grand theft for starters--you don't really see the work of nice guys intent on building a better city.
I'm not going to claim that I was keeping an eye on things in the Dunes soft count or sitting in the Sands steam room divvying up sphere of influence, but in my considered opinion--based on historical evidence including law enforcement files and interviews with many people who were active in the gaming industry when the mob was supposedly running everything--things might have been better for a few people--namely, those at the top--but weren't so good across the board.
For one, if you happened to be black you wouldn't even be allowed inside a Strip or Downtown casino until 1960, a point that's often lost in the nostalgic backwash. And if you weren't juiced in you could have a hard time getting ahead. There were just as many petty rivalries as there are today, just as many good people passed over for promotion and less-talented but better-connected schemers who got ahead.
It's also worth saying that most of us wouldn't have been on the inside, splitting up the skim and enjoying the run of the Strip--we'd have been the people organized crime was terrorizing to maintain its grip on power.
That's why it irks me when people just nod their heads and agree whenever they hear old-timers--or even newcomers--reminiscing about how much better things were when the mob ran Vegas. It's just a complete lack of critical thinking and basic logic--by definition, organized crime's power rests on the threat of brute force and is an affront to the idea of rule of law. Bobby Kennedy attacked it as an "enemy within" that rivaled the threat of communism, and it's unfortunate that, just like the very real presence of Soviet-funded organizations on American soil in the postwar period has been minimized by the US's ultimate triumph in the Cold War, the menace that organized crime posed to average Las Vegans has been airbrushed away and replaced by a cartoon history where the mob had no victims.
Unfortunately, there's the perception that laundered mob memories are profitable. Between the Mob Experience at the Tropicana, the forthcoming publicly-funded Mob Museum, or even the El Cortez using the likeness of Bugsy Siegel in its 70th anniversary promotions,championing a mobbed-up past is becoming common. Back in 1965, publicly embracing known organized crime figures would have cost you your gaming license (it cost Frank Sinatra his). Today, there's even a Godfather-themed slot machine in Las Vegas casinos. That movie (well, the sequel, but lets not split hairs) depicts the ongoing corruption of public officials by organized crime interests. You've got to wonder if people in the industry have a wicked sense of historical irony, or they're not really looking at the message they're sending out. It's OK to celebrate white collar criminals and embezzlers in the past? Even though you're paying tribute to notorious rule-breakers, we're still supposed to believe that your own business practices are above reproach?
Organized crime, which, contrary to the final scene of Casino, is still with us today, is no laughing matter, and celebrating its past excesses while turning a blind eye to its current ravages strikes me as the worst kind of myopia. It's one thing to remember and even laud the work of men and women who, though they worked in the old regime, weren't defined by violence the way out-and-out mafiosi like Spilotro were. It's another to surrender our history entirely to the carte blanche glorification of organized crime, particularly when there are plenty of people still around who can tell us just what was going on back then.
It's not that we should forget that episode in our history--it's that we're doing a disservice to those who lived through it by remembering it incorrectly.
CityCenter has now been open for about 18 months.
This time around, Jeff looks at how things are going for MGM with their gigantic project.