Thursday, March 2, 2017

Moving to The Public Money

I'm shuttering this blog and moving it over to my gambling blog:

This will better align what I want to do in 2017 which is track sports betting, Las Vegas News and other what-nots into one centralized location.

Plus, I like the name better.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Double Booking a Hotel: Is it advisable?

My first Vegas trip of 2017 is rapidly approaching and I'm again doing something that I've recently taken a liking to:  Booking one hotel off the strip and a second on.  Typically this involves me accepting a free night offer from either Caesars or one of the Downtown casinos.

Yes, I pay for resort fees (I'm not that much of a high-roller, in fact, I'm a guppy-low-roller) but for the most part it provides me a chance to not have to Uber it back downtown when I'm out in Vegas. It also allows me a place to stash valuables (room safes folks, use them) and it sure is nice to have a hotel nearby if need be.

For the most part however, I tend to stay off Strip now more often than not.  With Uber and Lyft now available you can get pretty much anywhere in Vegas for less than 1/2 the price of a traditional taxi, and you don't have to share a bus with 70 sweaty people who are often way more drunk than you. (Not always though, especially if you've been to the Cosmo).  Hence booking a second room.  At least for part of the stay.

Las Vegas is an unique city that allows you to do that due to the, still just, copious amounts of comped room offers available to player's card holders who partake in a little gambling.  As near as I can calculate, the number is somewhere around $4,000/day spend to receive a comped offer, but almost any gambling will open you up to the casino rate.

(Pro Tip: If you have a significant other only get one account, and two cards. That way both of your pay qualifies at one account. It's not like airline miles)

Yes, they are taking a lot of comps away recently in Vegas and, unless you're gambling well North of $10K/day, you're unlikely to get a comp room at either the Bellagio, Aria or one of the other high-end hotels, you can still grab a free room at a mid-tier property (say, the LINQ) or a bargain property (say, Excalibur) for relatively little spend.

Think about it this way:  If you're spending too much time in your hotel room in Vegas you're doing the city wrong.

Good Luck.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

2016 Trip 2 is imminent!

It's almost here.

Which means, things are JUST about to pick up.

Stay tuned.

MiniHam is ready.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Goodbye Riviera. And so long.

They did it!  They blew it all up!

If you visit Las Vegas any at all.....this makes you more than a little sad.

Unfortunately the cheap drink and buffet Riviera just couldn't compete with the $2 Grand bottle service/celebrity chef reality that is the Strip today.

Good video poker as well.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

48 hours by Anthony Taille. A Las Vegas Story you should read.

48 Hours on the dark side of Las Vegas. Anthony Taille,

Penthouse orgies fueled by pill-pushing hotel employees. A drug house stocked with sex slaves. Hidden homeless encampments underneath the casinos. A shockingly personal investigation shows the real Sin City is even seedier than you imagined.
Except, it's not.  The "real" Las Vegas that is.

Just as any one part of your town is not the entirety of the "real" your hometown.

But, this is certainly a part of Las Vegas, possibly even a not insignificant one. And that is why you should read the story because it's well told and provides a good, thorough, inside look at how Las Vegas is handled by both the very rich and extremely poor.

Long Story Short:  Not all that well.

Short Story Long:  Las Vegas is a place where significant amounts of money can buy you anything. And, if you read the article I do mean anything.  We've all known this, and the city doesn't try to hide it, nor does anyone really seem to care.

As you can see, you have to try to get arrested in Las Vegas if you're a tourist. Those who do are either a.) stoned, drunk, high out of their minds or b.) acting a jerk or c.) both. Pretty much if you toe the line, act cool, and don't make a fuss you're not going to run into a lot of trouble.

But that's why you should read this story.

Because going to Las Vegas doesn't mean a crazy, drug-filled orgy for most. In fact, I would argue that the crazy, drug-filled orgy crowd is an exception to the rule and not the exception that proves the rule.

Most of the 40 Million people that visit Las Vegas never stay in a suite, never buy drugs, a prostitute or even sit in a pool-side cabana. To most, the homeless that line the bridges, walkways and casino entrances are just part of the scenery.  Sure, if you have leftovers from a restaurant and your hotel room doesn't have a refrigerator you probably hand them to one of the panhandlers so they have a meal (guilty) and not money to spend on booze or to gamble away but, for the most part, you just ignore them.

You also see the partiers, but you don't imagine that you would ever want to attend their parties. I know that I don't.

That's why all of this is not as shocking as they try to make it out to be.

Because every town has drugs, and crime, and homeless and prostitutes and escorts and people like the guy in an "open marriage" trying to regain some control over his helpless existence.

You go on vacation to get away from all of that.

Which is why Las Vegas is still the best place to visit.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Strip, with few exceptions, is no longer for gamblers.

MGM is at it again.

When they first announced their "profit growth plan" (PGP) the monetary target was $300 Million dollars. This was to be achieved by choking their popular MLife Rewards plan, increasing prices at restaurants (effectively devaluing comps), lowering their theoretical calculations (further devaluing comps), decreasing payouts on slot machines and offering worse odds on table games such as blackjack (6/5 payouts on blackjack is among the worst rule changes in a decade for players) and others.  They also, famously, decided to bring paid parking to the Las Vegas Strip.

Oh sure, there were whimpers of protest. "Free Parking on the Strip is a God Given Right!" some said. High-end gamblers (not Whales, don't confuse the two) swore to never darken the doors of MGM properties again and the savvy mid-to-low level gambler relocated their tacks to Freemont Street.

The thought behind these protests was that MGM would face such an exodus of high-value patrons that they would actually lose profit instead of grow it. The result would be a financial calamity so severe that the executives in charge would be forced to resign in disgrace and the ground from which their PGP idea sprang would be salted and viewed forevermore as a place to dump refuge.

So, how is it all working out?


MGM raises profit growth forecast by $100 Million. 

MGM Resorts International said today that its initiative to cut costs and grow revenue should generate an additional $100 million annually before certain costs. 
The company had previously anticipated that, by the end of 2017, its Profit Growth Plan would result in $300 million in annual adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. That target has now been raised to $400 million.

What this means is that, for now, the know-nothing executives did a better job reading the new Vegas clientele than did the customers themselves. MGM understands that they are now a party destination that happens to offer recreational gambling for people who want free (now watered down) drinks while throwing money away at slots and table games with rules that make a positive return highly unlikely.

But they don't care.  Because gaming, on the Strip, has devolved into a short, albeit expensive, party that occurs before dinner and spending even more ridiculous amounts at clubs. The casino floor is just an excuse to get liquored up with your friends before going out and getting rejected by that hottie on the dance floor.

For the serious gambler then, the Las Vegas Strip is an increasing wasteland.

There are, however, a few beacons of hope.

The Cosmopolitan.  After initially opening with MGM's plan in mind, the Cosmopolitan was forced to reverse course after several years of failing to turn a profit.  Many observers pointed to the Cosmo's failure as proof MGM was destined to fail.  What they didn't take into consideration was the economy of scale advantage that the lion enjoyed. 

The Cosmopolitan is one resort/casino, MGM is many.  MGM has the flexibility to offer accommodations and amenities at a wider variety of price-points which caters to a wider variety of guest. Whereas the Cosmopolitan, as nice as it is, limited itself to the Millennial guest who found themselves with high-end options elsewhere, just as good and also connected to a wider variety of options.

On the Middle/South portions of the Strip the Cosmopolitan will be alone in mining their current niche. They're close enough to the Bellagio, MGM Grand and Caesar's that people can stay there and go to the other high-end restaurants and clubs, and they're upscale enough that the high-end gambler will feel sufficiently pampered.

In the early going, the strategy seems to be working. In the 2nd quarter of 2015 the Cosmo finally posted a profit and they've continued that trend in every subsequent quarter.  On my next trip to Vegas (in August) I plan on moving most of my gambling tack there.

The Venetian/Pallazo. These two casinos, owned by the Sands Group and Sheldon Adelson, have always done a pretty good job catering to the high-end gambler and, as a result, have many devotees who will not gamble anywhere else.

The Sands understand how to treat high-rollers and they have a wide variety of games available for the high-end player. They have good high-end lounges and their rewards/loyalty program appears to be fair. They also boast an amenities list that is second to none, and their properties are two of the most beautiful on the Strip.

The drawback to V/P, is two-fold.

First, Mr. Adelson himself. It is possible that he and Steve Wynn (more on him later) are two of the more odious people operating casinos on the Strip today.  Not only is Adelson seemingly a bad guy, but he also is displaying authoritarian tendencies with his online-gambling bill and purchase, and gutting, of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

His politics aside however he at least appears to not have many of the individual shortcomings as his contemporary.

Second, location. I'll expound on this a little bit more further down. But it's very clear that, in the early battles, the North end of the Strip lost.

Wynn/Encore. Casino Magnate Steve Wynn has always been a trendsetter in Las Vegas.  This is the man who opened the Mirage however and revealed that Vegas could be more than just polyester-clad weekend tourists playing quarter slots. He ushered in and modernized high-end amenities and catering to the high-end gamer on the Strip. To his eternal credit he revitalized the Vegas brand at a time when it desperately need it.

His two casinos are, in a word, opulent. They're two copper-hued towers with a soft golden interior that are a joy to play in. They have amenities that are second to none and high-end gaming that caters exclusively to the biggest players in Las Vegas. He has also built a palace that attracts the true whales*, although you will never see them.

The problems with W/E are almost identical to those faced by V/P.

Steve Wynn is, by all accounts, an odious man with few redeeming values who would think it just fine if the great unwashed stayed away from his casinos and limited their Vegas experience to MGM and Caesar's properties. To many people, giving money to Steve Wynn is as odious as making a political campaign donation to the other party.

W/E shares the same location issues with V/P. They're both located at the North end of the Strip surrounded by partially completed buildings, downscale casinos and low-end strip centers.

All that said, there is hope.

Alon, Lucky Dragon and ResortsWorld International continue to promise that they will be opening, Trump Tower is reportedly in negotiations to open a casino, and there are continued rumors that the owner of Treasure Island, Phil Ruffin, is still interested in purchasing the Mirage if MGM will come to their senses and make the price right.

Should all of this happen then the North end of the Strip could find itself positioned as the independent option to the focus-group, corporate controlled, party zone that the South end of the Strip has become.

If you're a mid-to-low end gambler of course, none of this applies.  I'll expound on that further in a future post.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Sports on TV: How to save TV deals? Look to Gaming.

It's a problem that's sneaking around the edges of College and Professional Sports. Namely, what's going to happen as Millions of viewers "cut the cord" and the dollars that have been flowing into league, team and school coffers begins to dry up?

Changing TV Viewing habits threaten Billion Dollar Deals. David Barron, ($$$)

But networks are wrestling with recent subscriber declines as millennials reject or trim back on the cable/satellite bundle pricing system that had fueled unprecedented payouts for the rights to broadcast college sports. Investors are skittish as television executives try to read - and monetize - the whims of a generation that is as happy to watch games on laptops or smartphones as their parents are to watch on 60-inch flat screens.
On the college side, athletic directors are scrambling for new money to support non-revenue sports, pay coaches, and expand stadiums and facilities as part of the athletics "arms race," while meeting NCAA demands to increase benefits for student-athletes.
Viewers abandoning TV networks is a problem but it's not THE problem, THE problem is that the schools and leagues don't really have a viable plan for what follows.  The answer to the question is expanding sports gaming, both online and at brick & mortar locations across the country. Currently, most, practically all, online gaming is limited by the Unlawful Online Gaming Act of 2006. Ironically, this act is also what companies such s Draft Kings and FanDuel rely on to justify their business models (for a primer on why this is, see the law of unintended consequences).

Sports gaming regulation goes back even further, to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. It was that act that pretty much permitted Las Vegas to operate with a monopoly on Sports gaming, especially since New Jersey (and Atlantic City) neglected to take advantage of an election to opt in within a year after the law took effect, a mistake that the state is desperately trying to undo in order to keep Atlantic City alive.

The 1992 law carved out exceptions for Dog & Horse racing and, in a nod to Florida, Jai Alai. This is why you have horse tracks in say, Texas, that offer pari-mutual wagering via simulcast.  Fast forward to today and you're seeing (again) the unintended consequences of this act.  Now we have Bodog, and 5 Dimes and a host of other off-shore based betting sites that operate illegally, but on an unofficial gray market which the Federal Government is all but powerless to shut down due to the offshore locations of most of the books.

One option is to go after the players themselves, which would result in a disaster and, most probably, the indictment and trials of some high-profile public figures, many of whom are probably on the front-lines in the "fight" against gaming. You would have Millions of people charged, tried and (possibly) incarcerated in an already over-burdened system.  Much like online poker sites, the federal government seems content to leave the players alone, and continue to go after the operators.

They are, as we know, unsuccessful.  Since the passage of the Unlawful Online Gaming Act of 2006 (UOGA) sports gaming has boomed, and not just from Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS). Traditional spread, or side, betting has never been more popular, and even mainstream networks such as ESPN, CBS and NBC frequently mention odds (or lines) in their coverage of live events, sometimes painfully but sometimes brilliantly. In fact, despite their attempts to limit it, Congress and politicians have seen the sports gaming industry boom since 2006.

What does all of this have to do with television?

As less and less people tune into to cable/satellite/content providers who provide the networks with most of their income, the revenues are falling and the anticipation is that the TV money flowing in will as well.  The Networks are going to have to find a supplement for these incomes somewhere, and an expanded gambling network should be ready and willing to act in a manner that allows them to do so.

The fact is this. People are more willing to bet on games that they can actually watch. When ESPN airs a MAC conference football game between two-smallish schools they still draw fairly substantial viewing numbers. Why? Because a lot of gamblers are watching the games.

These online sites/brick and mortar sports books and other outlets would be willing to pay a pretty penny for advertisement, and possibly become partners in broadcasting the games to ensure they have access.

Now, imagine this dynamic greatly expanded.  Because there are casinos in multiple states who are, due to UOGA, not allowed to offer sports betting. Imagine if they could?  Imagine that the illegal off-shore casinos were legitimized and taken off the gray market into a competently regulated one?

Of course, States could still vote to limit (or prohibit) gaming within their borders, but the states that already have casinos aren't going to balk, and many states have already shown a willingness to embrace online services such as Fan Dual and Draft Kings, would sports betting be that much of a reach?

Granted, this is not going to be the golden goose that saves schools or makes the States richer than the dreams of Midas, but it would go a long way to putting a salve on the open wound that are State Lotteries and might provide the leagues and universities money as well.

Yes, there are problems inherent with big-time sports at both the professional and collegiate level. For one, almost all of them survive on the backs of the taxpayer who, in many cases, cannot afford to attend the games in the arenas and stadiums that they paid for. Second, big time college athletics, as administered by the NCAA, exploits the athletes to the extreme, not even allowing them to profit off of their visage while they are "student-athletes" (a term that is, increasingly, meaningless).  The fix for this would be complex and problematic, and it would require municipal leaders who are willing to stand up to the shake-downs by professional sports teams. It would also require reforms by the NCAA. In short, none of that is going to happen barring a disaster.

Then there's the political problem. Many politicians feel that it is their charge to protect the American populace from itself. Gambling can cause addiction and is therefore listed as something that is "bad" and should be outlawed, or tightly contained. That this containment only makes people go to greater, and often-times illegal, lengths to get their fix is something lost on most.

So the proposal I'm making is certainly a non-starter, at least considering today's political and social environment.  That doesn't mean that the conversation cannot be started.  Working (not fighting!) toward a day when sports gaming is more legal. more honest and (yes) better regulated (note that I didn't say 'more' regulated) is something that will always be worth a conversation (or three).