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).

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The NFL and Raiders: Leverage.

Las Vegans are no doubt salivating today at the news the NFL is still interested in locating a team in their city.

NFL Official: Don't write-off Las Vegas as possible home for the Raiders. John Breech,

What happens if Oakland and Los Angeles both fall through?
Viva Las Vegas!
Sin City was a hot topic at the NFL owners meetings this week, and it's starting to look like Vegas is becoming a more attractive option.
"I think it would be a mistake to just write Las Vegas off," a high-ranking league official told the Los Angeles Daily News. "It's all predicated on getting the financing in order, but if they do, considering the Raiders brand and how well it could play in Las Vegas and all the various other dots that can be connected, the Raiders would have a very compelling argument to make."

More here here and here.

Now, before you get all fired up and make plans to either get season tickets or, more likely, try to decipher the NFL's scheduling algorithm to determine when your team is traveling there, please remember that the NFL has a long, long history of setting up cities who are never going to have a serious chance in order the sweeten the deal for the owner currently in negotiations.

Make no mistake about it, NFL Commissioner Goodell would rather sit in the cheap seats and share a beer with the common fan than he would have a team located in the sports-gambling mecca of the United States of America.

Goodell hates sports gambling because the NFL cannot control it.  Unlike DFS, which was an emerging industry and needed the league's participation to grow, sports gambling is already a multi-Billion dollar enterprise. It's ran, and almost totally controlled, by either casinos or off-shore betting houses, who have little reason to partner, and be controlled by, the NFL and their heavy regulatory hand.

It also doesn't help that Goodell, and most of the owners, are still living in the fantasy land of the past where sports gambling is rigged by the mafia and where cars hit transformers mysteriously when the game play is headed against a large interest. In fact, big losses on single games are expected, at times, by the sports books now. Sports gaming has become just like all other gaming. Based on theoretical formulas and based on maths.  In the old days the casinos were nowhere near as savvy at advanced mathematics as they are today.  They still overwhelmingly won, but they were also prone to panic, which is something you never see today.

What the NFL is doing is using Las Vegas for leverage. It's something they've done quite frequently in the past and it's an attempt to get Oakland, or another city, to pony up hundreds of Millions in tax incentives for their playgrounds.

While I think it's a possibility that Las Vegas ends up with an NHL expansion franchise, I don't see any way that the doddering old fools who run the teams ever allow Steve Wynn or Sheldon Alderson into the game of professional football.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Spring Trip 2016: Dinner at Craftsteak

When we were planning the trip for my Mom she had two requests:

1. She wanted to see the Bellagio (Ocean's 11 being her favorite Vegas movie)

2. She wanted to eat at Tom Colicchio's Crafsteak (Mr. Colicchio being one of her favorite chefs)

Taking the 2nd item 1st, here is the recap of our dinner at Craftseak. (In MGM Grand)

First, MiniHam decided to stop for a picture in front of Caesar's. Then he tried a little gambling at Whiskey Down prior to dinner.
MiniHam and My fat arm in front of Caesar's

No pockets, this is a problem.
After a trip down the Strip to MGM, cocktails (not pictured, although on my next trip I'm going to write more about Whiskey Down which is a great place) We finally settled into our table.
MiniHam checks the menu

He liked Whiskey Down quite a bit.
Now that we had the menu, it was time for appetizers.
The wife's: Caprese salad with hazelnuts

Mine: Warm Firsee salad with duck egg

Mom's spinach salad.
Once done with the salad course we moved on to Entrees.
The wife: Strip Steak

Me: Braised Short Ribs

Fingerling potatoes and gratin potatoes

Creamed pea tendrils and mixed carrots.
Then on to dessert..

Monkey bread - House signature dessert

Coconut and orange basil gelato
Not too bad for 4 people.

For our wine selection I ordered a Tenuta San Guido, Guidalberto 2012 which was priced at $125, when he brought the wine the sommelier brought out a 2002 Tenuta San Guido which retails at $550. When I pointed out the error to him he was more than polite.  I've had that particular wine and find it lackluster for the price. All in all I prefer the Guidalberto which is a much better wine for value.

Now that the pictures are done let's talk about it just a bit.

The best meal that I've ever had was eaten at Craftsteak a few years back. That meal included the same short ribs, but prepared as raviolo in a brown butter sauce. I also had the braised prime New York Strip and creamed spinach. That was the first time that I've ever had the Monkey bread and it's so good that I'll never really enjoy a cinnamon roll again. During that meal we had the perfect combination of waiter, assistant waiter and sommelier, it was the most enjoyable dining experience of my life, that I did not cook at home.

Fast forward to this trip and it was just as enjoyable. The wife and I have eaten at restaurants all over the world, from 3 Michelin star palaces to glorified dives. We've found outstanding food in all locations. Saying that I realize that there are more accomplished chefs in Vegas (Robechon anyone?) or restaurants with more status (Nobu, and several others) but when you consider service, food quality and value for money Craftsteak is just about at the top for me.  All of the appetizers, especially my warm frisee salad with duck egg, were excellent, the entrees were outstanding, Colicchio's short ribs are a destination meal, and oh that Monkey bread.

Next time you're in Vegas I suggest you get a reservation (strongly recommended, it's always busy for dinner) dress up (dress is business casual) and give it a try.

Don't forget the monkey bread.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Spring Trip 2016: Introducing MiniHam

I wanted to take just a second to introduce you to MiniHam, the unofficial, official mascot of Las Vegas Central.

Here he is ordering Bloody Mary's for everyone and saving our seats on SW during the February Las Vegas Trip:

You'll be seeing a LOT more of MiniHam in the trip reports to come.

Gambling News: MGM PGP It's bad.

Judging from the scuttlebutt around various Las Vegas Message board the recently announced MGM Profit Growth Plan is starting to cut into gambling compensation in a big way.  Anecdotal evidence, again from the chatter boards, reveals that the cuts are starting hot and heavy.

1. Reduced comp percentages:  This is the option that really seems to be getting everyone's goat, because theoretical-based compensations somewhere around 40% of expected loss has been the law in Las Vegas for a while now. Like free-parking, which we'll get to in a minute, 40-45% is almost viewed as a constitutional right by the seasoned high-roller. It's hard to tell just how far the exact rate has fallen but there are reports that it could be by as much as 10%.

2. Death by 1,000 cuts. - A poster on the VegasBoards forum noted that MGM has cancelled the Sirius XM radio service in their luxury fleet of courtesy cars, have cut the schedules of experienced dealers, as well as implemented a series of other cuts that can only be viewed as gambler unfriendly.

3. Raising comp prices.  Call it the third prong in the gambler-pitchfork that is the PGP, by raising comp prices,  (there is a good discussion on this here) In effect, MGM has decided to reward the players less, reduce how much they can get, and charge them more for getting it.

The effect of this is driving more players to less networked casinos like The Cosmopolitan or Wynn/Encore who, while still making cuts, are not doing so with the speed of MGM.Left out of consideration, for the most part, is Caesar's who really doesn't have anything in it's profile that can really cater to the modern high-end player.

MGM does have hotels that can compete however, in the form of Bellagio and Aria but the company seems content to abandon the deep-pockets gambler in return for courting the younger, clubbing crowd that both don't get, and usually don't ask for, compensation.

There are also rumors that the casinos are altering the calculations on their theoretical loss calculations downward. It's going to be difficult to determine whether or not this is actually taking place because they are treated as trade secrets and not readily available. According to one recent report, they are also loss-amount restricting the loss payback to $100K, which is awful.

In the short-run there's no reason to think that this is going to get better before it gets worse. The more casinos clamp down on the players the less revenue comes from the gaming floor. This is acceptable to the casinos because 1. They're currently making up for the lost revenue in retail (both club and store-front sales) 2. Room renovations mean that they can charge higher rates to millennials, who don't gamble as much, don't ask for free stuff, and just come to Las Vegas to party.

It's not that the millennials aren't gambling, it's that they don't do it very often, seriously.  The typical millennial gambler in Las Vegas is stopping off at a black jack table, craps, roulette or even slots for fun. They're typically with a group of friends and are willing to blow $200-$300 on a lark. The ones with a bigger bank-roll aren't any more serious, but they might think they are, and can waste thousands per night making hunch plays.  For this they typically do not get either rated, or comped for an entire weekends play.

Casinos, being managed by unoriginal people, are both struggling with this and adapting poorly to it by over-correcting the opposite way.  Back in the Aughts and during the so-called great recession, you could roll into Vegas with $4000, generate some play and walk-out, just, with a Jr. Suite and a limo ride to the airport.  Back then the resorts were selling the adventure.  High-end wine prices were reasonable, though not cheap, and high-rollers* were treated with style and panache. The dream was real.

Today, at MGM properties especially, you're thrown into a mechanical world of algorithms and theoretical formulas. For the most part discretionary comps have been removed from the discretion of the host, and upgrades are an auto-fee rather than a perk. They're cutting down on the rate you earn and making it more expensive to redeem. It's the classic vice that players are stuck in.

At the end of the movie Casino, a must-watch if you haven't, Robert DeNiro's character is bemoaning the changes that Vegas underwent in the late-80's. He finishes up by saying this: "Now a high-roller walks into a casino with a briefcase holding a Million Dollars and a pimple faced kid asks him for his ID." The problem for the high-roller is this: Where else are you going to go?

*It's not right to call high-rollers 'whales'. In fact, using that term will get you branded a 'noob' by those in the know. In fact, there are only around 20-30 true "whales" in the world.  And even they don't call themselves "whales". If someone identifies themselves as a whale, they are lying.

Spring Trip 2016: About those Flamingo FAB rooms...

For rooms that were recently renovated (except for the bathrooms) the FAB (or entry level) rooms at the Flamingo are really odd.

Water Damage on the ceiling

Dead space in the bedroom.

the 80's called
For rooms that were given a courtesy once-over these rooms really are in need of some help. Of course, the bathrooms are old, but there was at least working hot water, the carpet is industrial and the separate sleeping area, off of a living area, was just barren.  Ours had a king bed, two night-tables and the big-assed empty space in the wall that you see above.

That said, having the segregated sleeping area, with no windows, made getting some shut-eye easy. One big problem though is that they didn't vent that sleeping space at all.  Because of this it would be ice-cold in the living room/bathroom area, and sweltering in the sleeping area because of no air-flow. As someone who likes to sleep cool that was a problem for me.

From the window, we had 1/2 a view....

Bad view

High Roller View

LINQ view
Fortunately, the blackout curtains worked well, and the room would get DARK during the early morning, when we were usually sleeping. As far as cost goes, the room, for us, was comped for two of the four nights and $29 for the other two. This does not include the $32/night resort fee that we still had to pay.

Part of the reason for the bad comps is my rather anemic game play on the last couple of trips. Two trips prior, I caught the worst case of food-poisoning I've ever had and spent two days shut-up in my room, shivering, sleeping and yarfing everywhere.  On the trip prior to this one (in October 2015) I played a little more, but the wife and I were staying at the Linq and spent most of our time riding rides.  My play on this trip was much more robust this time, so I'm waiting to see if that has any impact on the offers I get.

I was in a take it or leave it mode with the Flamingo. I'm a guppy, not a big gambler, so I don't expect much in the way of offers.  My chip-porn isn't rated XXX, or even R, compared to others I'd be PG. So when it comes to gaming and service I don't expect much in Vegas when we go.

The thing is though, after about 5 years dedicated to MLife I decided to switch over to Total Rewards last year and have noticed something completely different. Whether or not you are a big roller or no, you at least get treated with something resembling customer service at the TR resorts.  Yes, the hotels/casinos are not as flashy, or gimmicky as are the MLife properties, and TR doesn't have anything that compares with Bellagio, Aria etc.  But when it comes to being treated like a damn human being they run circles around MLife, who have clearly decided that it's perfectly acceptable to plug people into an algorithm, and treat them accordingly.

My next post will be a brief introduction to MiniHam, our new travel mascot and something that the wife and I are having a LOT of fun goofing around with.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Spring Trip 2016: Pizza Rock

I had seen pictures of Pizza Rock Las Vegas pretty much everywhere online for the past few months. Specifically, good things written about their meatballs. Since I was going to be in Downtown Las Vegas with no plans for dinner I figured why not give it a try.

First, some background.  When I eat Italian food it's typically with my wife, and my wife has Celiac disease which I can tell you, in opposition to what Ted Cruz thinks about the matter, is a real problem.  If you've never been around anyone with Celiac (as Mr. Cruz clearly has not) then you've never had to deal with the issues that result from accidentally ingesting a belly full of gluten.  As an aside, Mr. Cruz, I can assure you that we will not have the strong military that you are advocating if even 1% of your soldiers is spending half their time doubled up in the restroom throwing up.

But, back to Pizza Rock.

First, the pictures:

Quail Egg Guanciale California Style Pizza


As you can see I did order the meatballs.  And, yes, they were very good. I did find that mine seemed to be slightly heavier sauced than the other pictures that I've seen of these, and that did throw off the balance just a bit.  I could have used with possible 1/4 less of a ladle of sauce and these would have been outstanding.

For the main course I had the Quail Egg Guanciale pizza which comes on a thin, California-style, crust and is topped with mozzarella cheese, potatoes, Italian chorizo, calebrese peppers, pork cheek and quail eggs. The menu also claimed that the pizza was seasoned with "Rosemary and Lavender sea salt" but it was in quantities small enough that I didn't notice it.

Despite missing the aromatics however the pizza itself was great. Especially the bites where I was able to bite into a quail egg. The warm, runny egg yolk added a LOT to the pizza. If you've never had quail egg, or chicken egg for that matter, on your pizza I highly recommend you consider it when available.

I had a Dogfish head 90 minute IPA which was good (of course) although they did have some local Las Vegas beers on offer I had been Vegasing pretty much all day and just wanted something old and comfortable to sip on while I ate. Next visit I plan on paying more attention to the drinks list.

As far as ambiance?  Pizza Rock is rock and roll, and pizza. The walls are black, the carpet is gray (I think) the music is loud-ish, but not too loud. There's a take-out counter at the front of the restaurant, a giant semi-truck sticking out in the dining room and what appeared to be a stage.

The bathrooms were dirty, one was broken, but the food was good and the beer was cold. Considering we walked in after 9PM, the service was friendly, although not overbearingly so.  The food order for 4 people came out quickly, and my wife had no issues with her celiac. (She ordered white wine with clams and the pancetta and arugula salad. My father had the lasagna while my mother had her first Calzone (The Manhattan) ever (FYI: she loved it but she couldn't eat it all).  Because I'm not a fan of reaching over the table, I only took a picture of my food. (I also let everyone else in my party eat. This is something more food critics need to realize, people are hungry)

Overall that's a pretty solid visit IMO.


Food:  A  The meatballs were good, though slightly over-sauced. The pizza was excellent.

Service: B- Overall good, but the lady that ran us our food (not our waiter) almost threw some of the plates at us rather than setting them down.

Ambiance: B+  For a place called Pizza Rock you pretty much get it as advertised. If you're looking for fancy this place ain't. It was passably clean however, which was a plus.

Overall: A- I liked Pizza Rock, a lot. Broken stalls in bathrooms, provided they are properly marked (and this one was) are not a big deal to me.  Some customers can't hold their liquor.

Price: $$ A party of two should be able to eat at Pizza Rock, including appetizer, main course and drinks, for well under $100 unless you really go extravagant. 

Value:  4/5 - Given that this is Las Vegas, land of high prices, I thought Pizza Rock was a very good value for money. The best deals were the Calzones ($13) which could easily feed two people or the meatballs (3 for $6 or 6 for $9) which could be a meal in and of themselves if you choose the larger order. Ironically, it's the pizzas that prevent PR from receiving 5 out of 5 for value. Not that they're over priced, but they're not exactly a bargain at their price points either. In other words, I think they are priced fairly.

Chance of returning: 100% If and when I get back to Las Vegas that is.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Las Vegas: Coming Soon

My first Las Vegas trip of the year is fast approaching so if you do happen to stumble across this, just wait. I'll have trip updates and other news coming up soon.

I might even have, wait for it, video content to share.

Until then....

Wait for it.....

And now, some news:

Not only paid parking on the Strip, but outsourced Paid parking on the Strip. - It doesn't get much worse than that.

The Las Vegas Raiders? This shit-show of a disaster would be fitting for Davis and Co.

Of COURSE Nevada should take the lead on DFS. - They're really the only State that gets gambling correct.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

When in Vegas....Avoid the taxis.

Whatever you do, don't take a cab if you can help it.

Las Vegas Cabs are Massively Overcharging Riders. US News And World Report

Las Vegas-area cabs are overcharging customers to the tune of $47 million a year, according to an audit released Tuesday of the Nevada Taxicab Authority, which regulates the rides in Clark County.
Auditors for the governor's finance office blamed a $3 credit card processing fee that they say is much higher than in other cities and probably shouldn't exist. They also criticized a decision to increase a fuel surcharge even as gas prices are tanking, saying having the surcharge at all is unique among the 12 major Western cities that the taxi board tracks.

For years now I've made it a practice to ignore Las Vegas taxi cabs at all costs, even buying an umbrella and walking in the rain when absolutely necessary.  When I arrive at the airport I use a hired car. Not only do they pick me up in baggage claim but, since you have them for around an hour, they'll stop by a store to let you pick up water etc. for your stay.

Getting around town I either use the bus, or just walk. You can get a 3-day transit pass in Las Vegas for $20/person. The Deuce route alone will take you pretty much everywhere you need to go.

If you do need to take a taxi then Google Map the shortest route to where you're wanting to go in advance, and ensure that the taxi driver understands very clearly where it is you are going. Pay cash whenever possible (don't pay that credit card fee). 

If you have to take a taxi from the airport it is NOT OK if they ask you to take the Freeway. You're being long-hauled which will cost you $10-$20 more.

Also of interest, was this:

Auditors were so critical of the Nevada Taxicab Authority that they recommended abolishing it and turning over its duties to another agency.
Ron Grogan, chief of the authority, said the taxi board would have to discuss the recommendations before making changes. But he acknowledged that his agency had probably outlasted its usefulness and struggled amid complex regulations.

You almost never hear a bureaucrat admit that their agency is a drain on taxpayers and worthless. Credit to Mr. Grogan for admitting the incompetence that his organization is exhibiting.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Las Vegas and Light Rail: A Rush to World Classiness.

As a Houston Resident, I've seen all of this play out before.

A group of local Dims look around and realize that other cities have something. This is met by shrieks and gasps from those who care about World Classiness, more locals repeat the same arguments as fact (despite the fact their claims are wholly unsupported) and Bingo, an instant, ready made, transportation challenge that can only be filled by very expensive, taxpayer-funded light rail.

Now, the local media jumps on board, making it obvious that any coverage in their rag is going to be slanted toward the idea of light rail and any opposition to it will find their voices muted. This is not media, it's advocacy.  The Las Vegas Sun should be required to register as a lobbyist.

But, it won't.

And light rail in Las Vegas is going to happen, because in today's society bad ideas never truly die. The supporters of light-rail, and of expanding government are much, much more dedicated than those against. They do not stop, they will not accept no for an answer.

They will persist despite the fact that cost/ridership projections will be shown to be impossible to attain, that problems with construction will threaten to put small businesses out of business altogether and reams of data will show that this light rail system will do nothing to prevent congestion or alleviate Las Vegas traffic problem.

It won't foster the sense of community that many are so desperately yearning for and it won't move Las Vegas away from the automobile as a primary means of transportation.  Even worse, it won't go where the pie-in-the-sky New Urbanists in Las Vegas want it to go. 

Instead, this is Las Vegas. It's going to run from the airport to the Strip, and will probably have as it's terminus something close to Freemont street. There will be calls for it to service neighborhoods and "connect people" but all it will end up doing is more efficiently connect casinos to gambler's money.

Oh sure, the taxi lobby will complain but, let's be clear here, they have brought this upon themselves due to their inability to rid Las Vegas of the practice of long-hauling. That's why people want Uber and it's why the once-powerful Las Vegas taxicab is taking a back seat.

These things are going to happen because that's how light rail works. It's never been about moving people or building communities. What it has always been is a way for rich folks to travel to bars and other recreational areas without having to hop on busses with the poor.

Viva Las Vegas.