Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

Here's Jeff's latest 'advice' column, this time with thoughts on Monte Carlo, New York New York, MGM Grand, Tropicana, Luxor, Excalibur and Mandalay Bay.

This is the last of the series for The Strip. Read the others here.


In this column, the fifth in the series, I'll offer my unsolicited advice to the operators of the South Strip's casinos. This will be the last installment for properties on the Strip; the next-and-final installment will cover near-Strip properties including the Las Vegas Hilton, Rio, Hard Rock and Palms as well as a couple of smaller places.

Monte Carlo

I've publicly complained about Diablo's and the way it corrupted the Stripfront facade of Monte Carlo. Not satisfied with the devilish monstrosity at the southeastern corner of the property, Monte Carlo apparently plans another addition, an indoor/outdoor bar area surrounding the fountain at the northeast corner. I give up on protecting the themed design of Monte Carlo's Stripfront, but will focus on the property's interior. I should note that I've only stayed at MC a few times but have often recommended it to visitors as a low-priced hotel with a quality look. I think its tram makes it a good way for people to enjoy Aria's and Bellagio's amenities if room rates at MC's northern neighbors are too expensive. The lobby looks great and it should be maintained and emphasized. The casino is sort of boring -- an old-school rectangle -- but it has one of the coolest small poker rooms on the Strip and a decent little sports book. Other pluses are the brew pub and a close-to-the-elevator-core group of fast food outlets for budget minded folks or for those in a hurry. MGM Resorts should upgrade the property's buffet and add an updated restaurant to Andre's and Monte Carlo's rather pedestrian steakhouse. The hotel rooms should get the regular MGM treatment, with extensive refurbishing -- one of the big advantages MGM properties have over their competitors owned by Caesars.

New York - New York

MGM Resorts has always paid a lot of attention to NYNY and the property has benefited. It has a more youthful vibe than most of the company's hotels. The loss of the ESPN Zone was disappointing and I'm not sure why MGM bosses haven't given the property a full-service sports book. A good sports book with seating and a bar would be a nice addition. Rooms are small but have been refurbished and the restaurant selection is decent. I'd like to see the property add some more interesting quick-serve food options and maybe replace a poor-performing mid-scale restaurant with a new one. Themed resorts have gone out of style with the pooh-bahs of Las Vegas and the curious class they want to attract but Middle America loves themes. NYNY is one of the best themed joints in town and MGM should not try and de-theme like they did at Luxor. Embrace the New York theme -- maybe when Coyote Ugly is played out (five years ago?) bring in a new bar with a better Gotham theme. I've always thought the property doesn't take enough advantage of its Stripfront. Executives should figure some way to make the Brooklyn Bridge and fire-fighting tugboat areas more exciting -- perhaps an outdoor bar that plays into the NYNY theme, maybe some street vendors. If there is a way to add another excellent ride or two to the property it would make the venue's roller coaster more of a notable attraction.

MGM Grand

MGM Resorts executives are very loyal to the Strip's biggest resort and are quick to act to keep it relevant. The property has a lot going for it: A wide variety of hotel rooms and suites, allowing a great range of guests; a sweet collection of excellent restaurants; a fantastic convention center and big entertainment.lineup, balancing stars in the theater, huge arena events, a small burlesque show and "Ka," a Cirque mainstay. There are also some flaws: A way-too-small parking garage and a pool that forces people to walk too far through the casino and retail passage. The buffet is mediocre and overpriced compared to sister buffets. I don't think the walk to the pools can be changed but the parking garage could be expanded (or a new valet lot and employee lot could be added, freeing up spaces for self-parking). The buffet should be blown up and transformed. (A 5,000-room property needs a great buffet, not a mediocre one.) On the plus side, rooms have been regularly refurbished (another phase is going on now) and the huge restaurant lineup is often fine-tuned. Some of the retail is out of date and could be replaced. The property has had a few moderate successes with its nightclubs but probably could stand to replace them with new names and themes, perhaps bringing in some proven partners to run them. In general I think the Grand is fairly well run, a testament to how loyal the company is to its founding property.


The Trop survived its brief period of control by the casino industry's stupidest owners, the Yungs and their Columbia Sussex (and that's saying something, isn't it, Donald Trump? Or Sam Nazarian?), as well as a bankruptcy. The new owners bought the Tropicana and its excellent location at a sweet price and have invested enough to keep it competitive in the lower-to-middle tier of Strip properties. Refurbishing the rooms was a necessity as was cleaning up the property and the $180 million or so has been mostly money well spent. The casino looks great as does the sports book and poker room. Trying to get into the high-end daylife game was a mistake. An already excellent pool should have been expanded and modernized without the DJs and the bottle service. Entertainment has been a failure. The comedy club may be a small exception, but isn't a big enough exception to matter much. The Mob Experience was a ridiculous idea (as I've said all along), a cheap attempt to steal thunder from the Mob Museum being built downtown (not that I think the downtown museum will be a big success, either, just that it will be a legitimate museum run by professionals and academics -- as opposed to the clowns who run the Trop venue). The Trop needs to accentuate its vibe by adding a good tropical-themed show and possibly feature some live Caribbean music in and around the casino. There don't seem to be enough dining or retail options. A fun, affordable nightlife option is also needed -- something that fits with the property's customers, not with the customers executives wish they had (Nikki Beach and Club Nikki). I've harped on this for a while, but no property of Tropicana's size should have a parking garage as lame as the Trop's. The hotel is in a tier that appeals to drive-in customers more than fly-in, and no matter how much its owners may wish it were different, that's not going to change. Build a new garage.


Another property that needs to remain true to its theme, the Excalibur has so far done just that. A ridiculous newspaper column in the middle of the last decade suggested MGM, after buying Mandalay Resort Group, planned to close, implode and replace Excalibur -- a laughable idea given the company's yet-to-be-developed Strip land assets. This property has at least another 20 years left (ask Circus Circus). As with all lower-tier properties, keeping rooms and amenities fresh and clean is critical, and MGM has proven it understands that need. I rarely go to Excalibur but I have played poker there and I once ate at its steakhouse. The property seems to have a lot of younger customers so I'm not sure why it hasn't opened a low-priced nightclub. I don't know enough about Excalibur and its amenities, entertainment or rooms to offer much advice; perhaps readers can help me out with their own ideas in the comment section at the end of the column.


I've stayed at Luxor a couple of times, the last time in 2010. I've always thought the de-Egyptifying of Luxor was a mistake, and my last stay there convinced me the property was neither fish nor foul. How do you minimize the Egypt theme of a pyramid-shaped hotel with a giant Sphinx out front? There weren't enough restaurant options and the property had a weird mix of older Mandalay-era customers and younger Criss Angel fans. MGM should make sure the property gets its fair share of refurbishing and remodeling dollars, and emphasize its Mandalay Place connection to Mandalay Bay. The main hotel tower (the pyramid) has weird elevators -- called inclinators -- that travel up the pyramid's spines. They are slow but there's not much that can be done about them. The two auxiliary towers are horrible looking from the outside (architectural abominations) and a long trek from the property's amenities, but not much can be done there, either. The property needs to fix its restaurant lineup by adding some variety and prepare for the day that "Believe" can be replaced. Blue Man Group was a good fit for the property a decade ago; some cool act needs to be found and developed for Luxor. The pools on the property's west side could use some imagination and refurbishing, as could the spa. The funky shows on the property's second level need to be cycled out (they were stolen from the Trop, in its bad era, and that says something) and replaced with something cool.

Mandalay Bay

I love Mandalay Bay and always have. It has great pools, decent restaurants and great entertainment venues, ranging from the Events Center to its theater to poolside to the House of Blues. It has excellent boutique hotel elements (Four Seasons and The Hotel) and an understated yet palpable -- and attractive -- theme. It has a great convention center. Mandalay generated more cash flow than any of MGM's Strip properties except Bellagio in the last quarter and I believe the property is hitting its post-recession stride. A few quibbles: The parking garage elevators nearest the casino are almost always overcrowded -- a major irritant. Las Vegas locals know to avoid the crush by using the middle-of-the-garage elevator bank, but the property should add another elevator core with another four elevators near the east side of the garage to reduce crowding. I can't think of an upscale Las Vegas property that has allowed such a major irritant to remain as long. The buffet needs to be remodeled and significantly upgraded. The ground floor lobby of The Hotel needs an update to add energy. I'm not a Michael Jackson fan but I expect Cirque's MJ show to take up residence at Mandalay Bay and end the company's two-show losing streak. The House of Blues has receded as a significant player as competition from bigger and newer venues at the Hard Rock and Palms have poached acts that otherwise might have played the venue. I like the House of Blues and hope the property will try and keep the place competitive. MGM should also try and find some better retailers and food and beverage outlets for Mandalay Place as the economy improves. One thing I miss about the Mandalay Bay of a decade ago is the mid-morning live tropical bird demonstrations they used to have in the hotel lobby. Bring back the birds -- they were terrific.

[ed: Mandalay's parking garage is the WORST.]

-- Jeff Simpson, October 2011


Read archived comments (16 so far)
October 3, 2011 6:37 AM Posted by Bryan Mayer

Excalibur should be imploded. The carpet is sticky, the dealers are rude, the restaurants cause stomach pain....Easily the worst strip casino right now by a landslide

October 3, 2011 12:55 PM Posted by jinx

I love this recap, just as I have with the others.

Monte Carlo, you make some excellent points on this place, I've never been one to be in love with their strip facade, I figured anything they do there was bound to help as the property was so generic, so I'm looking forward to the outdoor venue. The problem I have and I thought Ignite would solve this is the property still needs energy. Ignite provides it, but by putting it in the front of the property all they did is make the casino floor less relevant as it draws people to the front from the floor and no one outside can see it anyway, horrible location choice, for a casino floor that is dying for some energy in the middle of it.

I've been impressed that MGM seems to keep Excalibur moving right along, They seem to have left it alone outside of either finishing or doing the wide screen remodels. And every time I walk through it has a great crowd. It's not for everyone, but I think it definitely has it's place on the strip. Just too bad it's so associated with families, as it's the low tier big property that this end needs.

Luxor, in my opinion MGM has completely messed up this property. Under MB/CC management it had some life, whether it was Ra or Blue Man Group. Under MGM it's by far their most mismanaged property.

Most of the restaurants that have been put in here have failed, Believe is a train wreck that MGM and Cirque are waiting for contracts to expire or at the point when monetarily getting out early makes some sense, the rooms haven't been remodeled. During one stay I mentioned to the clerk that I'd like to 'downgrade' from a Tower deluxe to the pyramid, as I wanted to stay in it, her look of horror and violent shaking of her head told me all I needed to know (and the tower deluxe rooms aren't really that special either).

Luxor's always was a bit of a challenge in that it's difficult to get to from the strip (walking) MB is actually easier and definitely easier to consider as a destination. In my opinion there is no reason for someone to go to the Luxor, and that includes people staying at MB or Excalibur.

House of Blues needs a re-invention, I think it can still be viable venue, but the promotion of it and what they do when there aren't any acts playing needs to change. I think the Metal cover act they had on Fridays for a while was a good step in the right direction, but they need things more regular and more of them.

October 3, 2011 8:16 PM Posted by Wrinklebottom

I'm glad to finally read someone else saying that they love Mandalay Bay! (so much what I read online hates on this place, especially over at other sites like VegasTripping) I've always thought it was a great energetic property with just the right amount of luxury without being over the top or pretentious like Wynn or Bellagio and it's great that MGM has freshened it over the years without removing the great tropical theme as much as the have over at the Mirage. If it weren't for the location like if you put this place where Harrah's is it would probably be the greatest & hoppinest place on the strip. I wonder though how does Mandalay Bay compare to other top casinos on the strip in doing high-roller business it always seems to me there aren't as many asians dropping big bucks in there as there seems to be at Bellagio Caesars or Wynn but maybe Im just there at the wrong times I think they used to do a good high roller business there years ago but I'm not so sure as about now. I hope they dont downscale the place though as they seem to slowly be doing with the Mirage as the joint is a good upper middle classy place the hits a sweet spot between the bellagio & Wynn and the rest of the middle of the pack plus having Four Seasons and THEHotel there really help class the place up too. And one more thing they should really bring back is Fleur de Lys that was a great restaurant Im not feeling the new small plates concept of Fleur as much and I think to stay competitive with the top tier places the bay needs a top tier fancy French place like Fleur de Lys was and its also such a pretty room I think Wynn's getting rid of Alex was a mistake and I think getting rid of Fleur de Lys was too.

October 3, 2011 10:26 PM Posted by Sam

Hey Jeff,

As always, love your write-ups - just got back from a weekend stay at Mandalay myself, so this part of the strip is fresh in my mind.

Starting with the Trop, I remember my first time seeing the redone casino - the place was beautiful, and was channeling the tropics and what I felt was 1985 Miami beach luxury. The music was the best part - I remember them playing some Alejandro Sanz, or some other young sultry latin music, and it was just like, "yes, this is exactly where I want to wear a linen suit and act like an idiot". Later that same day, Elton John's "don't let the sun go down on me" comes on...needless to say, three shooters in a row crapped out. Bottom line, love the vibe, just hope the embrace it completely.

Side note before I go on, this is something that baffles me - how none of the casinos seem to have a true genre of music that fits their style. Cosmo is the only real exception I can think of, as they hunt the curious class. Bellagio should be restricted to a blend of Rat Pack standards coupled with "time to say goodbye"...and Trop should be all latin heat. Just a thought.

Okay, now let's finish with the MB/Luxor/Excal group. Excalibur does have their own cheap drinking hole in Dick's Last Resort - I think that adequately gives kids their cheap booze. If I were in charge of the property...well, suffice it to say that Medieval garb and speech patterns would be de rigueur (down to cocktail wenches, oh yes).

Luxor, you are 100000% right on. Ruined the place. De-themed, sad rooms, no reason to go. If only the Arab Spring could take hold here like it did in Egypt...

Finally, Mandalay Bay, you are again exactly right. Had an amazing stay this weekend, rooms are still spacious and wonderful (especially the bathrooms). Casino has always been great, especially enjoy the mini-high-limit asian games pit. Good sportsbook (although those chairs are impossible to sit in with the desks), good casino, good rooms, and like you said, very good food. Got to treat myself to an express comp lunch at Fleur one day, was a real treat (as always). Can't say enough, and just hope to be invited back soon.

Love the writings, Jeff, keep it up!

October 3, 2011 11:35 PM Posted by Duffman

I stayed in NYNY a few years ago, when they were detheming their casino. I thought it was a mistake. I loved the central park theme and the green iron canopies and trees made the place seem small and cozy, not the big 3 story cavern it's casino is. I just hope they don't mess with Sirrico (sp?) the pizza place across from gallagers, good pizza, and not too expensive.

October 3, 2011 11:35 PM Posted by Mungroo

Great analysis as usual, Jeff. I agree with the Luxor comments. How do you de-theme a giant black pyramid? Mystifying decision by MGM.

The parking garage minutiae is terrific - even though I have never self-parked in Vegas.

October 4, 2011 3:31 AM Posted by Dan Short

I repeat. Why is t he MB Excal Luxor tram not joined with the Monte Carlo Aria Belleagio monorail?

October 4, 2011 8:56 AM Posted by socalduck

Jeff, you forgot to mention Shark Reef! It's a tad expensive, but really, really well done, and definitely worth a visit.

October 4, 2011 1:01 PM Posted by Jeff Simpson

There are many amenities at these properties I didn't mention and you're right -- I should have mentioned Shark Reef. Shark Reef is a great example of a fun and interesting attraction that brings people to the property and generates revenue from an admission charge. I should also mention the MGM Grand's Lion Habitat as a free attraction that is worth taking a look at. When people on a tight budget -- or those who have lost their budget already -- ask for good places to check out I always recommend the lions.

October 4, 2011 6:13 PM Posted by james higgins

M.B. s location really stinks..its just to far out of the way, shark reef is cool, but kinda seeing steel panther at the house of blues. overall a very nice property, just inconvienent...its never going to arttract a fun crowd, just people who dont really want a vegas expierence...they go there for a convention and never leave the property...
Luxor is a disaster, no theme, no fun, and falling apart...
Excalibur is a good cheap place to stay if you request the remodled rooms, dicks last resort is not a night club and needs to be eliminated, the buffet should be condemmed, the whole place need to be cleaned up...getting rid of the fresh krispy kreeme store was a mistake, nothing better than a hot dougnut at 4 am.
NYNY, probably the best of the mid priced casinos, never should have gotten rid of the live music on top of the sunken bar venue, the pizza place is pretty good, the steak place is all show, no go, clubs are a little lame, arcade kinda rundown, it should just be closed down,location is pretty exterior, would be better if interactive...
Monte Carlo, i got married there 10 years ago, decent pool, buffet not the worst ive seen, rooms ok, , brew pub is booring, diablos is a strange addition, overall the property is bland , it really needs something new and exciting..the best part is it is connected directly to aria...
Trop...missed the boat trying to go up scale, agree they should go after mid level club market and keep the tropical feel. no bottle service needed ...
MGM..never have a good feeling when im like the feeling of the seemingly lower 54 is ok...just never have liked the property...must be me!

October 4, 2011 9:49 PM Posted by Sam

@Wrinklebottom I too share your love for the old Fleur de Lys, so while grabbing lunch at Fleur, I asked the waitress about the change. Turns out, they still can prepare much of the old menu, and have a separate Fleur de Lys menu you can ask for that they don't usually give out. I didn't press further (I wish I had), but apparently the good stuff is still there. Fleur de Lys was my first great French meal ever, so I too would love to see it come back.

October 4, 2011 10:30 PM Posted by Duffman


That is an excellent question, Why not put a station at NYNY and then connect it at Excalibur? I guess the logistics of it may not of worked with the design of NYNY. The only MGM properties that would not be connected would be MGM and CC.

October 5, 2011 10:46 AM Posted by Sam

Dan and Duffman,

I would imagine the powers that be on the Strip would be opposed to a free monorail that ran any significant length on the strip. The Las Vegas Monorail is struggling enough as it is...the last thing it needs is a free alternative across the street.

October 5, 2011 6:40 PM Posted by bigdaddyj

I read somewhere before that the real problem with Luxor, why the rooms in the pyramid have never been redone, is that someone didn't think ahead when planning it, and that the only elevators in the pyramid are the inclinators (i.e. no service elevators?), and that it makes trying to renovate the pyramid a logistical nightmare that would require closing down practically all the rooms in it to renovate it, and that even then it would take an incredibly long time to do it logistically, though I wonder if that's just a cop-out, I mean they could probably keep the towers open and the pyramid closed while they renovate it and still do just fine, but I have to agree, de-theme-ing a building with such an obvious theme was just a horrible was never a great place, but at least it used to have a selection of half-decent appropriately themed restaurants, attractions and retail, what they've turned it into is really a shame...

Excalibur might not appeal to people with taste looking for a 4 or 5 star resort experience, but I think it does fill a need in the market for middle and lower middle class customers, families on budgets, and (hate to sound snobbish) but just less sophisticated Vegas visitors overall, as long as the maintain it as needed, it will continue to draw huge numbers of people, particularly vegas newbies and those who don't care about aesthetics, fine dining and high-end retail. It is what it is, and there's a market for it, I think those of us who obsess over Vegas and casino design just aren't its target market and never will (or should) be...

I think with Monte Carlo, on the other hand, they should've gone the opposite direction they went in, maybe more upscale, stuck with the theme, and maybe ratchet up the service-level and amenities a notch (its relative "small" size could probably allow for above-average service), and marketed it towards the older crowd that is always lamenting the new, club-oriented Vegas, but alas, they seem to be going in the exact opposite direction with Hotel 32 - personally, if I'm staying at a resort called "Monte Carlo", I'd be expecting lavish, old-europe themed accomodations, not generic ultra-modern ones...and Andre's is a great, classic French place, it's just a shame it is at the MC, as I believe it gets overlooked by being there, they should really move it to the Mirage or Steve Wynn should steal Andre to replace Alex or something, the man (Andre) is a Vegas legend and deserves a better venue than one of the blandest, most middle-of-the-road places on the strip...

Despite the great restaurants, the Mansion & skylofts, I agree with the poster above who said he just doesn't like the MGM...never worked for me either, just something about the place I don't like (that hideous casino carpet maybe?)...the Mirage is often pointed to as a place where the total package is greater than the sum of its parts, I believe the opposite is true about the MGM, it has so many great parts, but the sum of the place somehow just leaves something to be desired...

See my comments above about Excalibur, and it's kind've the same way I feel about New York New York, it's a good middle-of-the-road place that appeals to tourists & newbies who aren't vegas regulars, vegas obsessives, or looking for a high-end experience, and as long as they keep updating it every few years and don't kill the theme-ing any more than they already have, it should continue to be a solid middle-of-the road success as it has been since it opened, just maybe one that doesn't appeal to those of us who read and comment on blogs like this one...

October 5, 2011 6:40 PM Posted by mike_ch

The past few times I have been at Luxor, the place has been a ghost town. Few people are gambling, and the feeling of being around there isn't helped by TV arrays that are either faded to hell and gone (upstairs) or often just left off and forgotten about (the entrance). Putting the timeshare people throughout the property indoors felt very cheap, most other hotels make them operate outside.

Excalibur is much busier and packed than Luxor, for what it's worth. I feel the amenities there have fallen below Circus Circus in the past couple years, but it looks like they're about to turn that around.

October 5, 2011 7:20 PM Posted by bigdaddyj

Also, I agree with Wrinklebottom that the trend towards closing high-end, formal french restaurants (Fleur De Lys at Mandalay, Alex at Wynn) is a mistake long-term; True, formal, expensive french dining doesn't appeal to everyone, or maybe even turn a profit (I don't know), but in terms of attracting "premium" players, whales and sophisticated global travelers, having a star chef and a true gourmet experience is a draw, and by not having one, places like Mandalay & Wynn that hope to compete for this crowd could very well be driving their top players to Guy Savoy at Caesars or Joel Robuchon at the mansion for a night, and who knows, once those whales & top-tier guests see the mansion, maybe that's where they'll stay the next time...I know Vegas isn't (allegedly) as oriented towards the casino anymore, but I have to imagine that drawing the big players is still important, and that kind of over-the-top formal & expensive dining is still the kind've comp that makes a big player feel better after dropping six or seven figures at the tables if you ask me, and beyond that, if you want your resort to be world class, having that kind've restaurant should be standard. I never actually ate at Fleur De Lys but would have liked to, and I did eat at Alex and it was spectacular, and although it wasn't the focus of this column, I will say that I think the closing of Alex was just the beginning and that the restaurants at Wynn have been slipping over the last few years, the closing of both Alex & Daniel Boloud really reduced the "firepower" of his restaurant line-up, and is it just me, or do so many of the restaurants left at Wynn seem to offer very similar food/menus? I really don't see the variety in restauranat offerings there that there was just a few years ago, the restaurant line-up at Wynncore is actually now somewhat bland & uninspired when compared to the variety of offerings at MGM, Mandalay, Caesars or Venelazzo...I mean really, how many different restaurants at one hotel need to offer the same selection of shellfish towers, steaks & side dishes? It seems like if you're Wynn, the answer is "practically every one"...