This is the 25th edition of the Simpson on Vegas column - congrats Jeff and thanks to all of you that are reading. I love publishing this column and I hope you're enjoying it too.
Jeff hits a few topics this time out but my personal favorite is a reminder that local business media could do more when writing about the gaming industry.
Anyway, keep reading after the jump for the full low-down.
I'm going to write about a few different things in this column and I'll begin by tipping my hat to Dr. Dave Schwartz and his recent column warning about the risk to the city's tourism business if action isn't taken to reduce the recent spate of violence on the Strip. As I'm writing this there have been three Strip murders in the past couple of weeks.
Dr. Dave is 100 percent right and Strip security officials and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department need to get together and figure out, pronto, what they need to do to minimize the chances of more incidents. Sometimes these incidents are alcohol-fueled but often they are committed by a group I'll call "criminals on vacation."
We can't screen our visitors to make sure they're not on probation or parole, carrying weapons or bad intentions. Thugs and other nefarious elements have always liked Las Vegas: Parties, drinking, drugs, clubs gambling, strippers, hookers and 24-hour action don't exactly scare away the criminal element. But what we can do is spend what it takes to make sure that there are no more -- or, at least, almost no more -- murders and other violent attacks. We can make the Strip a safer place by positioning more cops on the ground, on the pedestrian bridges and on Las Vegas Boulevard. We can also boost casino security presence to the perimeter of properties and make sure that the recent statistical bubble fades into the past.
Some of you may have noticed a story last week where Moody's Investors Service warned that Caesars Entertainment Corp.'s gigantic debt load may prevent the company from being able to reinvest enough money to keep its casinos fresh enough to prevent market-share erosion. This story has gone on much longer than just during the recession, and with more companies than just Caesars. That said, it particularly affects Caesars. The company dealt with its post-privatization debt crisis by delaying much-needed refurbishing, remodeling and replacing at almost all of its properties.
One of my beefs with Las Vegas media and its coverage of the casino business is that it shouldn't take a Wall Street outlet warning to create media awareness. That's a pure business story: The risk of dilapidated hotels losing market share to better maintained properties. Hunter's ratevegas.com blog and Chuckmonster's VegasTripping board have had had countless posts on the subject for years. Reporters should know the business they cover, they should talk to people in the business who know what is going on and they should read message boards and blogs. The Caesars maintenance issue is one that was ripe a few years ago. Sure, the recession was in full swing and the company announced then that it was deferring maintenance. But where were the follow-up stories, questioning Caesars executives about when they planned to resume remodeling and maintenance? Talk to the folks on the blogs and message boards about the problems and then pose smart questions to industry executives and property bosses. Are some of these places becoming dumps? That's a problem for the thousands of workers.
Five years ago I took a lot of heat for hammering on the Tropicana and its foolish ownership for slashing staff and letting the place deteriorate. Before that I focused on the mounting financial troubles at the Resort at Summerlin, Aladdin, Binion's Horseshoe and Castaways. No one's saying that Caesars is going the way of those properties but our city's second-biggest operator needs closer scrutiny from the press than it's received. What we need in this market are fewer puff pieces (What? We have pool parties?) and more hard looks at real business issues.
On a Vegas Gang podcast a few years ago I recommended that listeners considering a trip to Las Vegas might want to take advantage of ridiculously low prices and stay at one of the Strip's top resorts. Don't use the trip to check out a bunch of different places but instead, stay at a great place, use the spa, eat a couple of meals there and generally soak up the vibe of a great resort at a bargain price.
It was good advice then and, even though rates have been slowly increasing for the past 18 months, it still is a good idea. There still are some low prices available at some of the best places in town. Value is my favorite measurement and when I can get a great place at a price I'm set up for an awesome getaway. On the other hand, mid-summer, midweek room rates are usually (along with mid-December) the lowest of the year, and a budget-conscious traveler can can get some incredibly good deals. Students, retirees and hard-core gamblers who want to save every last buck for the tables will find good options on and off the Strip. My first Las Vegas trip I stayed at the Four Queens and had a great time, taking short walks to check out all of the other downtown places. Downtown still has an awesome vibe and is a strong value. I'd recommend it.
-- Jeff Simpson, July 2011