Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

August 1, 2011

SIMPSON ON VEGAS #027: Advice For the North Strip

Posted by Hunter

This time around, Jeff offers up some free advice to casino owners and operators for some of Las Vegas' most iconic properties.

This is the first in a series.

Continue after the jump...

In this column, the first in a series, I'm going to set up my little Las Vegas lemonade stand, except that I'm going to try something a bit different. Sort of like Lucy's psychiatry stand in in the Snoopy comic strip, I'm going to offer advice to casinos. Except that my advice won't cost 5 cents -- it will be free. And worth every penny.

I'm going to start at the north end of the Strip in this column and I will work my way south in the multi-part series. Las Vegas newspaper editors will disagree and tell me that the Stratosphere is downtown and not on the Strip but I don't care. I'm starting with the Strat.


The Strat has a lot of potential. Its owners paid too much for it by the standards of today's market but that's already water over the dam. The property is pretty far from the nearest open casinos: Circus Circus and the Riviera, so it can't rely on foot traffic. The Stratosphere's biggest asset is the tower itself. It needs to leverage the observation deck's awesome views and its cool rides by lowering the price of visiting the deck and maybe making it free for hotel guests. Give people who get 25 points on their slot cards a free visit to the top and maybe one free ride once they get there. Spend more on marketing the tower, deck and rides.


Now that Sam Nazarian has closed and stripped the Sahara there's not much advice I could give that would help its future. It was never one of my favorite properties: It smelled, was dirty and had a crazy combination of Moroccan architecture and a NASCAR-themed appendage. I always believed that Nazarian bought the place as a real estate play and thought his idea of redeveloping the Sahara was a ruse. And, if it wan't a ruse, it was dumb. So, my advice to Nazarian holds true to that belief: Keep the place closed and hope you can find some entity to buy the place (before your creditors take it from you), hopefully in combination with the neighboring Wet 'n Wild site and maybe even the Fontainebleau site, allowing the development of something really cool.


The Fontainebleau tower pains me every time I see it. Such a colossal waste. I can't imagine Carl Icahn ever finishing and opening it. At the price he paid for it, it will pencil out even as a land play. Supposedly it would cost about $1.5 billion to finish and most seem to think that there's no entity that would buy it from Icahn and spend that much to complete it. If that's true, and it seems like it is, maybe Icahn will eventually implode it. My advice to Carl: Change your philosophy and your entire way of doing business. Throw caution to the wind and stop worrying about every nickel. You can't take it with you. Hire Glenn Schaeffer and give him the money he needs to finish the project the way he dreamed he would. Even if it's $3 billion -- it's only money (your money --easy for me to say).

Circus Circus/Slots-A-Fun

The place still makes money and it has an indoor theme park. Make the carnival attractions a little cleaner but keep them fun. Carnival games are how we train youngsters to enjoy gambling: Sure it cost $20 to win that $3 stuffed toy, but we had FUN! Circus-squared should spend a little more on cleanliness and maintenance and try to leverage its position as a family friendly, affordable property. Slots-A-Fun should always (or at least between noon and 4 a.m.) keep its sidewalk-side dice game open; it's one of the cooler craps venues on the Strip.


The Riv is really the last old-school, old-style casino on the Strip, now that the Sahara has closed and the Trop remodeled. Embrace the reality. Quit changing shows every couple months and come up with some cool, retro entertainment. Keep the focus on the quirky conventions (billiards, roller derby, military unit reunions) and spend as much as you can to make the place as clean and as fresh as you can.


I'm regularly amused by the folks in and outside of Las Vegas who gripe about Boyd Gaming's failure to complete Echelon. If they had tried the company would have gone broke and halting it saved the company. I think the time is coming near where Boyd needs to accept that there is no likely intermediate-term need for additional room or gaming capacity on the Strip and that when there is the prospect for new demand any new project would be a lot different than Boyd had originally planned. It will be painful to tear that Echelon skeleton down but I think Boyd should bite the bullet and do it, soon. Perhaps Steve Wynn will quit complaining about Barack Obama someday (maybe after 2012) and will contemplate building in Las Vegas again. Maybe he could buy the Echelon site (or the Plaza site) and save redeveloping his golf club for later.


Steve Wynn and his team should work harder to come up with more entertainment options to go along with Le Reve and the intermittent shows of Garth Brooks. They do have other occasional acts like Beyonce but there's no reason why they can't bring in even more big acts as well, using them the same way Caesars Palace uses Jerry Seinfeld. The two hotels are big enough to support a more robust entertainment lineup. Also, there was no need to tighten up the slot machines and the table game rules, despite what Marilyn Spiegel thinks. The Wynn casinos do very well and their perception as a place where a big gambler can do well if he gets lucky is much more valuable than the few million every quarter that can be gained by squeezing an extra percentage point out of the slot players.

Plaza site

You made a bad deal but there's not much you can do about it now. Take your medicine and exit, stage left. Sell to Steve Wynn. Or Sheldon Adelson. If you sell to Adelson, make sure your lawyers are very good.

My next column in this advice series will be on the center Strip. That means you, Sheldon.


Read archived comments (7 so far)
August 1, 2011 2:36 PM Posted by Phil

Enjoyed your comments Jeff.

I agree with you on Wynn. As a part time resident of Vegas for over 3 decades I somewhat consider myself a local. And as all locals, I learned long ago that you don't play on the Strip. However, there was definitely a local crowd who still went to Wynn for one reason beyond all its offerings, it was the slot play. To spend a day at the classiest joint in town and come out with more than you came in with or simply lasted a long time with our dollars was incredibly fun, my wife and I had luck there a pretty fair amount of times. We ate well, shopped there, enjoyed the surroundings and simply had fun at Wynn. The past few visits its obvious the machines tightened up. Last month on our visit, we ate at Stratta and left, we simply have no desire to play there anymore. Not sure what percentage of locals that carry their slot cards are showing less activity, but its pretty obvious to us at least that their actions have taken a lot of fun out of the place. On the entertainment front, I would love for Steve to do at least once a year a celebration of old Vegas, big time lounge acts for free. I know Wynn wiped out the lounge very shortly after it was built near the high roller area, but if there is a will there is a way to pull it off. Just one time, I'd love to walk into Wynn and see Harry Connick Jr. or Michael Buble playing the lounge with drums, an upright bass and a piano. Do it for a week, 10pm, 12pm and 2am shows all for the price of a drink. I think it would be a huge hit. Wynn did it for the opening of Bellagio with Michael Feinstein playing the Fontana.

I agree too that Riviera needs to be cleaned up. Its the last old school we got and polishing the marble, brass, cleaning the carpets and windows constantly go a long way to preserve what it is. Marketing wise, It seems a lot of the older hotels don't have any desire to embrace their past for fear of being seen as old and tired in the tourists eyes. Certainly there is a smart way to market your history, whether they'll do it in a smart topical way is another story. Old school service should also be a priority at the Riv to differentiate themselves, you have to pay employees anyway, make them unique by training them to go the extra mile in service. I don't think service is that hot these days in Vegas. I have to go to Mandarin Oriental or Four Seasons to get service I got at every hotel 40 years ago.

I have to agree with the Stratosphere. However I don't frequent that place that often. I always felt that King Kong ride idea they had many years ago would be worldwide hit and draw people to that place just for the iconic factor, everyone knows King Kong and his rise up the Empire State Building and now they would have a chance to experience it up close, but it never happened.

Circus Circus like the Riv, just needs to be kept up. I don't like the rock-n-roll coffee shop or whatever they call it. Keep in family oriented and clean. Would like to see the the mechanical sky horses come back that ran on a track along the big top.

August 1, 2011 5:47 PM Posted by Jeff in OKC

Great column, as usual. Thank you sir.
I have a couple observations and ideas. I think the Riv should have a Classic Strip gaming pit, using recreation gaming tables from all the old Strip casinos that are either closed or are bona fide legends. Sands, Stardust, Desert Inn and Flamingo. Hell, even Westward Ho and Hacienda, I guess. Maybe they should become the guardian of the Classic Strip legacy. And put the Liberace slot machines back out front!
I still wonder why Wynn trades off of the Sinatra name on a daily basis, yet when Frank Sinatra Jr. plays 6-8 shows a year in Las Vegas it's always at Boyd properties?
I wish Steve Wynn would buy the Hilton.

August 2, 2011 5:16 AM Posted by BigHoss

Keen observations, Jeff. The Plaza/New Frontier site would be a natural for Wynn's Ovation when the time is right, maybe a decade from now. I'd also like to see Boyd scale back Echelon to a resurrected Stardust with the entire project designed around the iconic logo and sign - basically an over-the-top neon wonderland. A new Stardust could be the ultimate retro property, a step away from the sleek, sterile monstrosities of late and something to get excited about on the Strip.

August 2, 2011 6:50 AM Posted by jinx

Outstanding points and I can't say I disagree with any of them, except perhaps with Fbleau. I think that ship has sailed and the structure needs to be put down. Far too long with no work on it.

I completely agree with your thoughts on CC, Riv, and Strat. The Riv and Strat have started moving in positive directions, but they do need more and those would be good ways to go about moving their properties into the average travelers visibility.

Not knowing the rules of development, is there a chance Ruffin could buy back the Plaza site, build a casino building and connect it to Trump through some long passage, to satisfy the need for hotel rooms? I know Trump has issues with getting a Nevada Gaming license (or did before small ownership in Riv) but I wonder if just some small development on the North side might spur some creative ideas to remove the wasteland that exists there.

August 2, 2011 9:54 AM Posted by detroit1051

Phil is right about Wynn's slots. They used to be the loosest on the Strip, and until this year, the overall payback percentage was stated on the Quarterly earnings reports. Wynn was usually more than a full percentage point better than the Strip average as published in Dave Schwartz's reports. I assume Marilyn Spiegel is responsible for the change.

Since Encore has become the daylife and nightclub center of Wynncore, it sure would be great for the Wynn side to have its own version of Bellagio's Petrossian offering afternoon tea and quiet music.

I agree with Jeff in OKC that it would be wonderful if Steve bought the Las Vegas Hilton and LV Country Club and restored both to their former glory. I know that Steve was unsuccessful at least once in trying to buy the Country Club.

Finally, Jeff Simpson talked about land on the Strip. Will we ever get back to the day when Strip land will be in demand again? Echelon, Fontainebleau, Plaza, Sahara, CityCenter North, Wynn's golf course. Imo, it will take generations to happen, if at all, due to the big players' focus on Asia.

August 2, 2011 12:46 PM Posted by socalduck

Wynn has to do something to generate some energy in the Encore casino. Even on weekends, excluding the club goers moving between Surrender and XS, it seems very quiet compared to the Wynn side of the building. I had high hopes for the dueling piano act in the Eastside Lounge, but I don't think that is the answer. No more DJs, how about a good cover band like they have at the La Scena lounge in the Venetian? Of course, guest appearances by a Michael Buble or Sinatra Jr. would be great, as well.

August 2, 2011 3:19 PM Posted by romaman

If I were a rich casino owner and owned the Riviera, I would demolish everything on that property except for the original 9 story tower and pool and rebuild the casino, restaurants, lounges, etc. exactly how it was from when the place first opened in the the 50's and sort of make it like a museum of how Vegas was. Next, I would build a whole new Riviera mega resort right next to the original Riv, all to way to Convention Center drive. Ah, woops, there goes me dreaming again.