Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

All Articles Published: December 2011

I know for some folks, 2011 can't get into the rear-view fast enough. I've certainly felt that way during parts of this past year. It's been a tough one for a lot of reasons.

I thought about writing some sort of retrospective on 2011 but after putting it off for over a week, I realized that's really not what I want to talk about tonight. Since most of you are probably out and about and you'll be reading this in 2012, I think this makes more sense. Let's talk about some hopes and predictions for this next year.

Some Vegas Predictions and Hopes for 2012

I'm not sure how much predictions from me are worth but they're fun to make so here are a few:

- Fontainbleau Imploded: This thing has been a terrible eyesore since it first began to climb above ground. Since it doesn't look like that will ever change, it's time to rid the skyline of this monstrosity. Blow it up, tear it down - whatever. Just get rid of it. I'm sure the neighbors won't mind. Oh, and pay the contractors who got stiffed and release Glenn Schaeffer from any litigation so we can interview him without him getting sued. That guy has to have quite a story.

- MGM Replaces The Harmon With Something Interesting: I think we all know that eventually, one way or another, even if Perini gets some cash, The Harmon is a goner. When the building is inevitably removed, what comes next? The biggest complaint against CityCenter is that access from The Strip sucks. Instead of expanding The Crystals with some additional warehouse-as-retail space, add to Aria: additional casino, lounge, bar and restaurant space that runs right up onto The Strip. Put a pool/club complex on the roof - something that makes the patrons at neighboring Marquee jealous. I might not ever want to go there but it's a potential cash factory. I can already see a new set of Murren PR photos taken from the roof.

- Cosmopolitan Shows Modest Gaming Improvement: The hiring of Strip Wunderkind Tom McCartney will make a positive impact on the struggling property but it won't be enough to reverse the negative trend in the casino. Despite best efforts, I would not be surprised if one year from now, either Mr. McCartney, CEO John Unwin or lender/owner Deustche Bank will be exiting Cosmo, in one form or another.

- Linq Will Underwhelm At First But Eventually Become a Hit: Caesars' new project won't open in 2012 (construction begins in earnest over the summer) but given it's status as the only major construction project on The Strip, it will be a topic of conversation. My guess on Linq is that it will open to mixed reviews but about two or three years from now will be considered an important part of both Caesars bottom line but also many Strip visitor's vacation plans. A few of the first round of restaurants will likely miss the mark but they'll of course be replaced and while calling it the Strip's 'first meeting place' is absurd, it will become a legitimate 'city center', of sorts, over time. The wheel won't reach the level notieriety of attractions like the Fountains of Bellagio but will likely occupy the same latitude as say NYNY's roller coaster - an activity that visitors may try once but not something that commands a lot of repeat business.

- Tropicana's Moment in the Sun is Over: The property engendered a lot of goodwill with it's refurbishment and for awhile there it looked like it was about to crest over into a legitimate player in the middle tier of Strip properties. Instead, an exodus of key personnel, the botched Nikki Beach experiment and some underperforming restaurants have stalled the property's momentum. The Trop may be able to command slightly higher room rates than it did previously but it will largely sit out the city's recovery until it is eventually imploded and rebuilt... and that may have been the plan all along.

The Web Site

After the mega-redesign in 2010, I've been happy with how things have been going over on the main site. The volume of user reviews is up a good bit, making it a better resource than ever. No major plans to mix things up there in 2012, though new features in the app may require additional Web components as add-ons.

Vegas Gang Podcast

Personally, one of my favorite things to do is interviews and I'm hoping we'll have some good ones in 2012. We've been talking about a few possible subjects already. In addition, expect more news analysis and plenty of new Sure Bets as we find our way with the show next year.

Two Way Hard Three

Last year one of my goals was to do more writing. I failed. That doesn't mean it's not an admirable goal.

Vegas Mate App

I don't like to pre-announce what I'm doing with the app but there are big plans for 2012. The next update for VM is coming in early January with some new features that make things even easier and more seamless. After that, the big 4.0 update will be exactly that - with a Retina iPad 3 expected, Vegas Mate will never look the same. That's all I've got on that topic for now.


Lastly, I wanted to say thanks for everything in 2011. It was a tough year for a lot of reasons and while I won't miss it, I appreciate all of the support from the readers, listeners, app users and commenters. In the moments when I inevitably question all of the time and money invested in these endeavors, the goodwill from you fine people is always heartening. Thank you and Happy New Year.

"Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever. We shall also reflect pleasantly upon how we did the same old thing last year about this time. However, go in, community. New Year's is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion." - Mark Twain

December 26, 2011

Vegas Gang #71 - December 26th, 2011

Posted by Hunter

Episode #71 is up!

Listen here:

This time on the show:

- Some clips from Jeff's greatest hits.
- Cosmopolitan Management
- MGM Nightclubs
- Internet Gambling / Wire Act
** Sure Bets / FU **

- Paul Steelman Interviews
- Jeff's Work
- Van Halen Tour ; Dominoes Pizza App / DirectTV App / Houzz

December 23, 2011

Nevada Online Poker: What Just Happened?

Posted by daveschwartz

Yesterday, the Nevada Gaming Commission adopted regulations that will pave the way for online poker play--for real money--in the state. After the jump, I'll break down exactly what the Commission passed and what it means for gambling, both in casinos and online, in the state of Nevada.

December 21, 2011

Nighttime With Ira: Jeff Simpson

Posted by Hunter

Ira Sternberg has been doing his show, 'Nighttime with Ira' for many years. This past November, he interviewed the late Jeff Simpson.

That interview will re-run 12/22 @ 6:30pm on

December 21, 2011

Steelman's Passion for the Strip, Atlantic City

Posted by daveschwartz

Yesterday I did the second in a two-part series of interviews with Sarno Award-winning casino architect Paul Steelman. After the jump, I'll talk about what I found most enlightening in the conversation.

December 16, 2011

The purpose of casino retail

Posted by daveschwartz

Why do casinos have shops? After all, every dollar that's spent buying stuff is money that's not spent in the casino. Prompted by a recently-announced closure, I share a few thoughts about what casino shops should do for the rest of the operation...after the jump.

December 13, 2011

The New Velvet Rope

Posted by Hunter

Wynn's Tower Suites are about to make their public debut.

WTS may have opened with the rest of the property in 2005 but once the current renovations are complete, they'll come out from under their rareified shell. For better or worse.

Rewind six months. As we began to learn about the slated property changes at Wynn Las Vegas, it was hard to predict exactly how they would manifest.

Re-imagined High Limit Slots. An updated lobby. A new nightlife concept. Ok then - probably more of the same... or so we thought.

Fast-forward to today: photos of the new Tower Suites lobby. Last week, a peek at the new High Limit Slot area. When a company like Wynn - wizards of a successful, repeatable process - do something new, it's worth taking notice.

From what we now know, the changes at Wynn Tower Suites are not superficial - we're talking about a fundamental change in the boutique hotel's value proposition.

Originally envisioned as a unique hideaway, separated from the masses, the new WTS design encourages integration with the rest of the resort.

A space that was previously private has been publically 'ropified', a direct lesson from the nightclub profits earned nearby at Tryst and XS.

While Tower Suites allure used to be a dignified and detached luxury, with this update it's setup to become luxury-on-display. The new sightlines and inevitable plate glass will show off what the 'peasants' in the Resort rooms are missing. This is a new kind of velvet rope and the goal is to never have a customer wonder why they should pay extra for Tower Suites.

How will guests react? It's going to be interesting to see.

Of course, for the highest end customers, things won't change much. They already get villas, private entrances and personal butlers. But for the Tower Suites guests who inhabit most of the nightly seats at Bartolotta, Wing Lei and SW, it will be interesting to see how they react. The privacy was a selling point.

Some have previously argued that the addition of Marilyn Winn-Spiegel meant that a Harrah's attitude was taking hold at Wynn Resorts. I'd argue it's more likely we're seeing a Drai/Waits/Morton/Hissom takeover: the lessons of nightlife, spreading throughout other operations.

Ooontz-ooontz-ooontz indeed.

December 13, 2011

Celebrate Jeff's Life This Sunday @ Sunset Station

Posted by Hunter

A lot of people have been asking me about how they could celebrate and remember Jeff Simpson, who died on December 3rd. As far as the show goes, we've got a few ideas that we're working on, none of which are ready to be discussed yet.

But, if you're in Las Vegas this Sunday, the 18th, you can join us and Jeff's family for a get together @ Sunset Station. Here are the details, from Jeff's girlfriend Jazmin:

Jeff's family and I have been so touched by the outpouring of support and emotion over Jeff's passing. We would like to invite you to join us for a casual gathering to celebrate his life on December 18th, 2011, 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM at Jeff's home casino, Sunset Station. The get-together will be located in the Sunset Room, which has been so graciously provided by our friends at Station Casinos.

Thanks to Jazmin and Jeff's family for putting this together and thanks to Station for providing the room.

I hope to see you there and for those that can't make it, we know you'll be there in spirit.

December 13, 2011

Trippies 2011 Voting - We're Nominated! Go Vote!

Posted by Hunter

It's that time of year again - the Vegas Tripping 2011 Trippies are open for voting.

Last year, we were honored to win a few. Humbling.

I certainly don't expect a repeat of that magnitude but there are a few entrants I'd like to direct your attention to. For your consideration:

Vegas Gang (Best Podcast) - I'm really proud of the work we've been doing on the show in the past year. We had some great interviews with folks like DeRuyter Butler, Roger Thomas, and Anthony Marnell, as well as a ton of other great episodes. I've been listening back to some of these in the past week, making me only more proud.

@simpsonlasvegas (Best Twitterer) - This one should be a shoe-in. Once Jeff took to Twitter, he was unstoppable. Give Jeff your vote.

Vegas Mate (Best App) - I'm incredibly proud of my iOS app, Vegas Mate. From great content to user reviews to trip planning and everything that's coming in the future. I'd be honored to have your vote.

Two Way Hard Three (Best Blog) - This might seem self-serving but the real reason I'm encouraging this vote is to recognize the excellent work that both Jeff and Dave did here in 2011. They wrote more than I did - this past year this place was as much theirs as mine.

There are a bunch of great nominees in all of the categories. Congratulations to everyone.

Now go vote - you have until December 24th.

December 6, 2011

Why we'll miss him most

Posted by daveschwartz

It's hard to say much more about Jeff Simpson. Richard Velotta at the Sun recapped his professional career. Hunter gave two personal tributes here, and no one could say what Chuck said in a more heart-felt way. Seeing Jeff's picture on the VT marquee makes me smile; seeing the sign dimmed reminds me that we're not going to be hearing him talk about casino parking garages--or the complex behind-the-scenes deals that make the business go--ever again.

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to do a long interview with Bill Eadington, one of my mentors in the gaming studies field and the one guy without whom there might not be a gaming studies field as we know it. We talked for quite a while about his career and some of the personalities he's known, and as he reminisced about working with scholars like Ed Thorp, Peter Collins, Peter Griffin, and David Spanier (to mention just a few), he had a smile on his face that said, "I'm lucky to have gotten to shared my best years with these guys."

I feel very lucky that someday I'll be able to say the same about Jeff and many others. As I said on our last show together, without Jeff, Chuck, Hunter, and all of you who read and contribute, what I do would be pretty bleak and thankless. Whenever Jeff complimented my work, it meant a lot to me, because I know that he's not the kind to mince words or impress easily.

Those of us that knew Jeff on a personal level have our many reasons for missing him. But even if you didn't know him, you're a little worse off without him around.

Before a lot of others, Jeff sensed that the news business was changing. He joined the Vegas Gang back in 2008, when he was still at the Sun, and after he left the Sun he transitioned to freelance work and writing for this blog. And here he blazed a trail for me. I'd been blogging about gaming stuff since 2001 on my own, but for a variety of reasons decided I wanted to join forces with something bigger. So I asked Hunter about coming about joining the team here. That Jeff had already shown this was a great forum for quality writing made it an easy decision to make. And for too short a time we made, I hope, a passable tag team of casino commentators, with his relentless ground-based attack a great foil for my sometimes more technical and occasionally whimsical approach.

But, as Chuck mentioned in his tribute, Jeff found a real niche on Twitter. Having him dissect the day's gaming news, pointing out credit for the hard questions that had been asked and laying blame where they hadn't, was a treat. It was like sitting at the editor's desk watching the paper being put together. There once was a time when none of us in the wider public would have benefited from insights like that.

I hope that Jeff's unofficial Vegas gaming/business news ombudsman presence forced gaming writers to take another look at their work before filing it--I know that I did, because I knew that if I tried to take the easy way out, I'd have to answer for it.

That's the part of Jeff's work that I think we'll all miss the most: that, like any good editor, he made those around him better. Professionally, I don't think there's anything better you can hope for.

December 3, 2011

The Gang

Posted by Hunter

"A gang is a group of people who, through the organization, formation, and establishment of an assemblage, share a common identity."

When I first asked Jeff to join the podcast, I didn't know him at all - I only knew his writing. As the Sun's Business Editor, it was obvious he knew the industry. The occasional thought piece also made it clear the man had opinions and wasn't afraid to share them. Over the course of his time in Las Vegas news he was sued by Sheldon Adelson and had a full page ad taken out by the then Tropicana owners to refute one of his stories. Definitely the kind of guy we wanted to join up with some bloggers and a historian to create an irreverent brand of casino punditry.

I was a little surprised he said yes but he was interested right off the bat. We all became fast friends.

One of my favorite memories of Jeff is from this past August. Random circumstance meant that Chuck and I were in town at the same time. We got together with Dave and Jeff for a few drinks at Bellagio, in the Petrossian Bar. What I assumed would be maybe an hour chat turned into a marathon session. With lots of extra color on many of the stories he had covered over the previous decade, it was the kind of gathering you're sorry to have to leave, even hours after you had originally planned to head up to bed.

For someone that grew up with and participated in more traditional media, it might not have seemed inevitable: Jeff loved Twitter. In some ways, it may have seemed a bit vexing - the guy was not known for brevity. Still, he embraced the medium and made his 140 characters (okay, sometimes it was two, three or four tweets in a row) count. As a former reporter with both the RJ and the Sun, I think he learned to relish his forced independence and certainly didn't resist telling reporters from both papers when they had done work he loved or... didn't love. You always knew what Jeff thought.

Since I heard the news and posted the note from his family, I've been personally touched by the outpouring of support, both here and on Twitter. Former co-workers, colleagues and even competitors have chimed in, all with nothing but love for Jeff. He deserves it.

Jeff had a lot of respect for Vegas casino executives but a few were definitely close to his heart. Steve Wynn, the man responsible for much of the modern casino industry and Michael Gaughan, a savvy operator who traversed rocky seas several times throughout his career, both come to mind. He loved talking with his industry sources, both on and off the record, to learn more about the city he loved.

When we originally started the podcast, we didn't know what to call it. I think I put up a few suggestions, including 'Vegas Gang', for my co-panelists to consider. It wasn't my favorite but it stuck, I think mostly because names are hard and the other ones were really dumb. It turned out to be prophetic - I didn't know Jeff, Dave, David or even Chuck all that well when we got going but after 70+ episodes, some podcast personnel changes and a complete unraveling of the Vegas economy in the meantime, it turns out we were a gang, in the simplest sense of the word. One I was and one I am very proud to be a member of.

One of his favorite gigs was Nevada Week in Review, the PBS program that included Jeff many times over the past years. From host Mitch Fox to regular participants like Jon Ralston, Howard Stutz, Steve Sebelius, Jon Humbert, Patrick Coolican, Steve Friess and others - he was in his element, debating the Silver State's issues with fellow journalists. He loved those sessions and told me so several times. He was also proud to be able to appear as a representative of a 'new media' source. I don't know if that was a first or not but I was certainly very proud to see the affiliation on a show I watch regularly.

I'll be donating the monthly stipend that I paid Jeff for his column, for the next year, to the charity he loved, the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Rest in peace, buddy. I hope heaven has good parking.

December 3, 2011

Jeffrey Alan Simpson: July 4, 1960 - December 3, 2011

Posted by Hunter

I have some very sad news to share. Our friend, Jeff Simpson, passed away early today.

Below is a statement from his loved ones:

Jeff passed away due to complications following emergency heart surgery.

According to his wishes, his ashes will be laid to rest in a private ceremony with his closest loved ones.

Jeff is survived by his girlfriend, Jazmin Casing; his brother Jon Simpson; father, Robert Simpson, his nieces Tiffany, Nina and Hanna Simpson and his niece and godchild, Vivian Salazar.

The family suggests that memorial contributions be sent to Jeff's favorite charity, the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Jeff's biggest passion in life was the gaming industry -- he loved everything about it. As an editor and reporter covering Las Vegas gaming for over a decade, he truly loved learning the secrets and intricacies of the business from people like Steve Wynn, Michael Gaughan and Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta.

On a personal level, Jeff just plain loved casinos. He really loved craps and was an avid poker player who particularly enjoyed no limit hold 'em. One of his dreams was to play in the World Series of Poker and he has won numerous tournaments at the Orleans, Venetian, Caesars and The Mirage.

He lived in Las Vegas with his girlfriend of seven years and their chihuahua, Ricky (yep, he's the one tries to crash the Vegas Gang podcasts every once in awhile :)

His family and friends thank everyone for such a generous outpouring of love and support for Jeff.

For those who want to experience Jeff's TWHT columns again, you can read them all here. Jeff was an integral part of the Vegas Gang and appeared on virtually every episode.

I recently was lucky enough to do an in-depth interview with Jeff for the show. You can listen to that here.

Jeff forgot more about casinos than most of us will ever know. His insights were sharp and always impressed me - I often I wished I had thought of them first. It was an honor to do the show with Jeff and to have him writing here. We are all significantly worse off without him.

I'm in shock - I can't believe he's gone. These few sentences are surely not all I will have to say about my friend but it's all I can muster right now.

My most sincere and heartfelt condolences to Jazmin and the rest of Jeff's family.