Sheldon Adelson. A True American Success Story

Let me be Very clear on this: I could care less what you think of this man’s political dealing or his support of candidates. It was His money, He earned it and He could Spend it Any Way He Liked!

If you can match your life story to his, I may listen to what you have to say.  Otherwise, sit down, shut up and maybe you will learn something about this (still) great country of ours and about one man who helped keep it that way.

Sheldon Adelson, the founder of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. The company that gave us the Venetian and Palazzo Resorts.  The company also gave Las Vegas tourism an extra boost with the creation of the Sands Convention Center. Putting seven thousand suites in the hotels with two million square feet of modern convention and meeting space on the Las Vegas Strip. We like that!

He was one of only two Americans (the other one was Steve Wynn) to receive a license from the Chinese government to open up casinos in Macau, China. That boosted our international tourism to record numbers.  That visionary leader, Sheldon G. Adelson, passed away last night at the age of 87 from complications related to treatment for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

The Man Had a Story Like Few Others

When I tell my tour guests who this man is/was, I always explain that he is a true “only in America” success story.  As he explained in an editorial posted in the Boulder City Review: “I’ve often said the story of my career would be a true rags-to-riches story, except for the fact that my parents couldn’t even afford the rags.” – He was not joking.

Like other American success stories, he started life with no advantages except some loving parents who instilled in him the need to help others even when you need help yourself.  He had to leave school early in order to earn a living to help the family survive. Yet he ended up building a corporation that employs thousands of people around the world. And never forget the people who helped him out along the way.

I believe that to start out in life dirt poor and to end it as being one of the wealthiest (and most generous) people in the world is a story by itself.  With an estimated net worth of roughly $35 billion dollars, making him the 28th-richest person in the world and 17th in the Forbes 400. Not bad when you realize all that he had done not only in the world of business but in philanthropy.  If you can leave this world better than when you came into it, that’s a nice way to leave.

The Venetian Resort

 

Leading By Example

Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam did not just talk about things that need to be done, they backed up their words with actions.  When the pandemic struck, he tried his best to keep the staff employed. He made sure they had their wages and their benefits paid.  While encouraging other resort business owners to do the same.  In the world at large, they gave heavily to worthy causes around the world, especially when it came to Jewish causes and the human needs in Israel.

When word got out that there were two million surgical masks available in China, but they were not going to last very long.  It was the Las Vegas Sands Corporation that flew one of their 767 jets into china to get them and bring them back here. One million to first responders in New York and one million for Las Vegas first responders.  It wasn’t cheap to do and it wasn’t easy.  But Sheldon Adelson made it happen.

I often remember going to the Sands website for some needed information and seeing press release after press release announcing some large donation of money or equipment to charities of all sizes. These donations were often for Las Vegas’ needs as well as causes worldwide. In many cases, these donations were made without any fanfare or big media announcement. They just happened.

Sheldon Adelson Jets

The Las Vegas Sands Hanger at McCarren International Airport – Sometimes referred to as “Sheldon Adelson Airport”

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Enemies for Good

Here in Las Vegas, it seemed like Mr. Adelson was always in a battle with his neighbor and fellow casino mogul Steve Wynn. They argued often and publicly about some of the pettiest stuff.  From the number of parking spaces in their parking garages to the advertised sizes of their suites.  However, out of those battles came great competition and that competition helped cement Las Vegas into the destination capital of the world.

Right now, I would give almost anything to have these two champions of Las Vegas tourism back in their positions of power.  I would love to see what the two of them would do with Las Vegas and with our power-hungry governor.  How their battles for business would certainly help kickstart the rebuilding of  Las Vegas.

Yes, I know they were business advisories, but I also know they respected each other greatly. They were leaders who loved Las Vegas and they loved helping people succeed in life.

In the end, with all the other drama happening in Las Vegas, if not the world, waking up to read of his passing this morning wasn’t how I was wanting to start the day!

Las Vegas, if not the world, lost a great man last night.  His time on earth was well used and his actions changed the lives of many people for the better.  He will certainly be missed.

Mondays with Mark – The Vegas Tourist Podcast #300

What is on Podcast Episode #300

Edited script/topics for Monday’s with Mark – The Vegas Tourist Podcast episode 33

(This post is being updated and edited)

Why is it called episode number 300 if I’m redoing the show? Because it’s not starting over.  I first started the podcast with a friend, Sazzy. When we parted ways, I restarted the podcast in a different format so I started with the number 200. Did this for easy reference when you’re talking about a specific show or topic.

When I figured it wasn’t working for me, I started to reformulate the show. As I was working on updating the website for social media feeds, needing to be more interactive as we move into the new social media world of the post-pandemic tourism world.
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So I look at what is being talked about on Facebook groups what it’s been posted there as well as what is happening over at TheVegasTourist.com and our YouTube channels.

Doing t this way, I figure it will help hold me to a schedule.  Hold me accountable for getting this show created, getting the topics picked out, and getting it posted each and almost every Monday.

I’m not wanting to get burned out so I may miss one or two here and there. Thankfully I will be having just some friends of the show helping out to fill the voids in the gaps.

So there you have it.  Giving you a peek into the new direction for this podcast. I hope you are subscribed and I hope you are ready for a wonderful journey on this new format.

My thoughts and predictions for 2020. I fed this off of what Scott over at Vital Vegas was posting on his blog.

First up in the New Year is Virgin hotels.  The old Hard Rock.  It was scheduled to open in January of 2021. That has now been postponed. I’m figuring it will open this summer.

What they need is for Virgin Airlines to start flying in here from Great Britain and England. They said they will start that in June or July of 2021.

Their primary client to Vegas and to America are those who buy what we used to call “Junkets”.  The package tours. Hotel, food, and shows for on low price.

 
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Now on to the Hard Rock. After they closed, the Seminole Indians, owner of the Hard Rock Brand, are supposedly looking to return.

I am going to stand by my prediction that by the end of this year they will either have acquired it or they will announce that they have acquired the shuttered Palms Resort.

The Palms is like the perfect place to reintroduce the Hard Rock to the Las Vegas Market. Recently updated and the current owner, Station Casinos has made it clear they have no intentions of reopening it.

So I figure they are going to want to sell it and who better to buy it hard rock

Next up, the Tropicana Resort.  It truly breaks my heart to say this but all indications show me that the Trop the Tropicana is going to be gone by the end of 2021 physically gone

I know I said you know it’s been on every deathwatch wish for as long as I’ve been here and it’s still there with everything going on South End of the strip the fact that everybody’s going broke there.

But there’s going to be a Resurgence there I just see that it is that it’s one of those situations where the land is more valuable without the structures on it I see it just going away, being shut down maybe not imploded in 2021 but at least it’s going to be gone by the end of 2021

Seems a lot of new interest is happening at the South End of the strip and that is going to bring in some new money, some new some new attention, and the Tropicana is at a killer location.  But they’re going to want the land empty so you’re going away at the end of 2021
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Just a few blocks down, before the Welcome to Las Vegas sign, you have the all-new home to the Pinball Hall of Fame getting closed in.  A much-improved location compared to its current location about a mile off the Strip on Tropicana Blvd.

The new location will be like 10 times larger than the current warehouse-style building it is in.

Look for a lot of new changes on the Strip because of the recent Eldorado/Caesar deal.

Eldorado Gaming bought Caesars. Eldorado is focused on gaming. So they need to unload a few of the Caesar properties that are not in that niche.  As well, they need to raise some cash to pay down the debt.

So look for Planet Hollywood, maybe the Paris to be sold off. Bally’s I think will become the new Horseshoe Casino Resort and new home to the World Series of Poker.

Spinning off some of these smaller ones will hopefully bring in some new blood on the Strip, some new competition as well as some new marketing.

Much like when the Cosmopolitan went bankrupt and the bank took it over. They didn’t know what they were doing, so they experimented with a new ideas. New ways to reach the customer and they were successful at it.

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Onto the Madison Square Garden Sphere, the Concert Hall going in behind the Venetian that is going to be revolutionary. Another game-changer for the world of entertainment here in Vegas.  MSG, or Madison Square Garden will compete head-to-head with Ticketmaster/Axes Entertainment. The company currently handling a majority of the ticketed venues on the Strip.

I see Madison Square Garden, just like El Dorado/Caesars is going to bring in a spark of creativity, a spark of competition, and it’s going to up the game for entertainment here in Las Vegas.

So NO! I don’t think they’re going to abandon that project. There’s just too much opportunity there/ Too much money to be made sitting there. So I don’t see them leaving.

 

New Year’s Photo Shoot

Our good friend Tom Donoghue, @photomanlv, was going to shoot the only approved (?) fireworks on the Las Vegas tourist corridor which was at the Plaza Casino Resort.  Tom asked me to go along with him because he needed help carrying and setting up equipment.

Seriously? Asking me? A movie buff who loves the movie Back to the Future!

We were going to be on top of what was Biff’s Pleasure Palace in the second movie!  The Plaza was used for those scenes in the movie.

So, Marty McFly, eat your heart out!
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I was on top of the Plaza on New Year’s Eve. It was cold and windy up there. Tom decided not to shoot from up there, but not before I could get the picture of the iconic neon sign of the Plaza and the new signage of the modern Circa Resort opening across the street.

Tom decided it would be better if we were to shoot the fireworks from the ground.  The Plaza has an outdoor arena on the south end of the property. We would capture the fireworks as well as the signage of the Plaza and the Circa Resorts. The Golden Nugget even got into a few of them!

Kudo’s to the Staff at The Plaza Casino and Resort

I’ve got to give really big Kudos, really, really big kudos to the Plaza.  To their security team.  Being there New Year’s Eve. 10:30 at night with all of the chaos, all the craziness of everything happening.  The Plaza security team went out of their way to do whatever they could to make sure we got what we needed to get.

And so I just wanted to say thank you to them all. I wanted to say thank you to the management at the Plaza for inviting us.

For everything going on, I was not expecting that kind of treatment.  As we were walking through the casino, as we were doing what it is that that we needed to do, I was watching how friendly and helpful they were as well to the guests around the gaming floor of the resort.

And it was nice to see that that level of service is still alive and well in Las Vegas.  So Again, The Plaza, my thumbs up to the staff.  You got a really good team there.  I thank you very much for your hospitality.

And yes we got some awesome photos and I hope that you enjoyed them!
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So now about what opened across the street from the Plaza. Circa Resort.

Circa is very adult-focused, primarily on sports.  Much like when the Mirage opened, I look at Circa as the game-changer, especially for downtown.

When Steve Wynn came in town and he took over the Golden Nugget.  He sparked the rejuvenation of downtown that gave us the Fremont Street Experience.

Hoping Circa can do that again for downtown.  Show the others down there the need to step up to the plate, clean up your act.  Hopefully, get rid of the buskers or whatever you want to call them.  That whole experience needs to change and I hope Circa is that spark.

Speaking of Game Changers.  Of course, on the Strip, that would be Resorts World which sits where the Stardust used to sit.

Like I wrote on my blog, this is the state-of-the-art all the way around and it is opening this summer.

Former MGM CEO Scott Siliba is Resorts World top man here.  He has eight years of MGM culture burned into his mind and I see that as a problem. He needs to shake that MGM “Stockholders first” mentality out of his mind and don’t see that as an easy thing to happen.
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I hope I’m wrong on this but I just don’t see him easily stepping out of that mind frame and being the new Steve Wynn where you put the guest experience first.  Please the guest, the guest spends money and the stockholders benefit from that.

Las Vegas Reborn

I say as much pain as Vegas is going through right now, Vegas has never been a town that stayed down very long.  The history of Las Vegas is filled with the town being down then suddenly getting a second life and coming back bigger, better and different.

From our early mining days and railroad days and the Great Depression.  Hoover Dam.  Every time Vegas fell on its face, this town has reinvented itself.

I’ve always said that Vegas is a universe all to itself. I always believed that.  People come here because this is where you come for Second Chances and New Opportunities.  Because we don’t hold your history against you.  Here, you really don’t have a history per se.

Las Vegas has always been that wild west where entrepreneurs are welcome here.  Come here and try something new.  That’s how Vegas has always worked and I see it happening again.

When I got here in 2001 and I’d talk to the people I met who came out here from other places to try something new. They wanted that second chance that new beginning.  Las Vegas was the place that would give them

Vegas gives you that opportunity. Show up, work your idea, make it happen and in a few years, you are successful.

See my interview with Smilin Joe
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Las Vegas has always been one of those towns that will give you more than what you put in.  Las Vegas will give you the opportunity to succeed and give you the opportunity to fail.

This is a town, this is a state actually, is not nice to people who don’t want to put in the effort.  You come here, you want something.  It’s here.

Las Vegas has it. It might not be in the form that you’re expecting, but it is here and you have to dig down deep into who you are and find it.

That’s what is happening in 2021. Las Vegas is not really down or if we are, it’s not going to last very long and in 2021 I see a New Vegas emerging.

I don’t know what it’s going to be. I don’t know what it’s going to be focused on yet.  I mean we went from a railroad town to a gambling town to an entertainment town. I don’t know what comes after that.

I think I’m going to have to really look at who it is right now that is profiting from this virus or whatever you want to call it.

Vegas is offering entrepreneurs, technology.  We are ahead of the technology curve. For where this little town is, we have more technology here than we know what to do with because we’re not used to having it.

That opens the doors to the entrepreneurs who dare to see that opportunity.  Examples like Switch, Zappo’s. Mom and Pop technology companies are thriving here we have this work at home revolution for those who don’t have to work at home so they’re coming to Vegas to work.

That is opening a brand new market that nobody has ever really explored deeply before now.  Like those before us.  The ones who made this into a gaming mecca.

It’s how we became a gambling Mecca.  You have this mom-and-pop entrepreneur’s come out here they set up shop.  They created something or they saw something that somebody else didn’t know and they took over a failed operation.
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I always come back to Ralph Engelstad.  Ralph came out here from my neck of the woods, Minnesota, South Dakota.  He set up shop as a carpenter.

He started a construction company.  He helped build a small Casino for someone.  If my mind serves me correctly on the story,  the guy opens the casino but couldn’t pay Ralph, so he just signed over the property to Ralph.

Ralph saw the opportunities at the previous owner did not and we ended up with the Imperial Palace. Ralph became a multi-millionaire.  When he died his wife sells out to Caesars. Caesars turns it into the Linq

Las Vegas is filled with thousands of stories like that.  People who came out here to do one thing ended up doing something else and the next thing you know they are very successful, they are very well respected and is making more money than they never knew what to do with.

As Vegas, we are in a funk,  we’re in downward.  We are not that excited “happy go lucky” town we were a year ago.  But a year from now it’s going to be completely different and it’s going to be exciting and it’s going to have a different vibe.

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Vegas never quits reinventing itself.  Las Vegas will be back on top sooner rather than later and I am going to be there. I hope you are here to join me!

I am Mark Anthony. I am known as The Vegas Tourist.

If you have a comment or question, leave them at the website The Vegas Tourist or on one of our social media feeds @thevegastourist.

“Like” this podcast.  Subscribe to it and I will guarantee you there’s going to be more of them coming soon!

 

Did the MGM Sell the MGM ? (video)

A question that has been popping up on the Las Vegas forums a lot lately is asking about the recent news of the MGM being sold.  So did the MGM sell the MGM, Mandalay Bay and the Bellagio? If so, what does that mean for the hotels?

[arve url=”https://youtu.be/s0f9RgEtr5w” title=”Did the MGM really Sell the MGM?” /]

The Short Answer

The short answer is “Yes” MGM sold the MGM, the Mandalay Bay, and the Bellagio Resorts. But they did not sell the MGM, Mandalay Bay, or the Bellagio. I know. Confusing? What they sold was the physical property of each resort with the idea to lease them back from the “new “property owners”. So they did not “sell” the resorts themselves.

Like most things in Las Vegas, the resorts were run a little differently then they do elsewhere in America.  Look at it like this:  When you go to your ordinary Holiday Inn, do you think that Holiday Inn franchisee owns the actual land and buildings?  Oftentimes they don’t.  It’s leased.  That’s why you may see it as a Holiday Inn one year and a Motel 6 the next. Depends on who is leasing the building.

In Las Vegas, getting the money to build a casino resort was not an easy thing to do.  The usual financial channels a business would use to loan money to build were not touching places like Vegas. That’s what helped bring in the Mob.  Corporate America was not going to tarnish their squeaky clean reputations by buying into “Sin City”.  That started to change thanks to men like Howard Hughes.
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The Las Vegas Resort

So when they built a resort, the resort owned it all. The land, the buildings, and the business. Since Las Vegas was the only place in America for gambling, the casinos were busy making huge profits and using some of their profits to fund other areas of the resort.  That how we got the 99 cent shrimp cocktails as well as the really cheap buffets.  Much of the cost for these customer catching amenities were being paid for by casino profits.

As gambling started to open up around the country in the 1990s and with tighter air travel restrictions after 2001, more people gambled closer to home instead of gambling in Las Vegas.  The casino was no longer the resorts profit center.  Each department now had to become financially responsible.

Corporate America seized control of the Las Vegas Strip and homogenization became the operative word.  One commercial piece of property had to be run like the others. The XYZ Resort in Las Vegas needed to be run just like the XYZ resort is operated in Detroit.

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Corporate Greed

We can’t forget about the other keyword in Corporate America, GREED.  The CEO’s of these resorts are making millions without much regard to what was actually happening down on the floor.  They have multi-million dollar contracts with huge stock bonuses even if the resort companies fail to make a profit.

So now they found a new tool to fill their pockets with cash. They spin off the real estate of each resort into tax-sheltered Real Estate Trusts (RET).  With them being the first stockholder of the new trust.  So even if they retire, resign, or are actually fired for being bad caretakers, they will still be making millions from the Real Estate Trust. As well as whatever they made selling off their resort shares that were part of their golden parachute.

What Spooked Jim Murren?

This is why MGM’s former CEO Jim Murren became so concerned about Steve Wynn’s gaming license when they started to create the Bellagio Trust.  MGM would be a minority owner of the trust and Steve Wynn could hypothetically buy back the one resort he wished he never sold.  The Bellagio!! And with some really good legal work, he would be able to kick MGM off the property.

In order for Steve Wynn to do that, he would need to have his gaming license.  So Jim Murren tried to get Steve’s gaming license revoked.  When he saw that wasn’t going to happen, Jim Murren resigned to go work on an even bigger scam. The King of Nevada (Governor Sisolack), called upon him to run the COVID lockdown.

The man who loved to lay people off at MGM would now be in charge of making sure Nevada was the worst in the nation for job loss.  Or would that be the best in the nation for the most jobs lost due to a politically motivated health crisis??

Final words

So to answer the question, most of the resorts on the Las Vegas Strip are run by two companies.  You have the Real Estate Trust and you have the resort company.  Example:  MGM Resorts International is the resorts company. They are the company renting you the room.  MGM Growth Properties is the landlord for the MGM Grand Las Vegas and Mandalay Bay. They own the building and the land the resorts sit on.

For you, the Vegas tourist who is staying at the Resort, it means nothing. Nothing will change except maybe the price.  Now that the resorts have to pay a monthly lease payment regardless of the occupancy rate.

Why Steve Wynn’s Las Vegas Must Die

Bellagio Las Vegas sold

Our Week Begins

Big News Story #1: This week started with leftover chatter about the Big News Story from last week when it was announced that MGM Resorts announced the possible sale of the Bellagio and MGM grand properties to the Blackstone Financial Group.

Big Story #2: That chatter was pushed aside when the news broke that “Nevada gaming regulators move to ban casino mogul Steve Wynn.
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With all that juicy news, the Vegas blogosphere went wild. As if the two stories were separate bits of shocking news involving the same players. In reality, the two news stories are actually part of one bigger, juicier story that anyone receiving advertising dollars from MGM fears to report on in order to not have that advertising revenue cut.

Thankfully The Vegas Tourist was never in fear of losing their advertising money because they never gave us any!

Now, for anyone who has lived here for any length of time knows, neither story as reported has a bit of truth to it (as reported).  But the Vegas Boggerspohere went nuts over all this “News”.  Much of it had already been dished out and talked about by the best news source you can have for Las Vegas: Vital Vegas

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Pause. Recap / Update

For those who do not pay much attention to the musings of a Las Vegas vlogger or the day to day ramblings of the city built on sin and corruption, let me fill in some of the blanks before I go on.

MGM Resorts owns about 55% of the Strip business.  In order to prevent a too hostile takeover and to possibly enrich the pockets of the major stakeholders in the MGM corporation, the company split into two separate companies.  In April 2016, MGM held an initial public offering for a new company ( MGM Growth Properties).

This would be a new real estate investment trust (REIT) with ownership of ten of the company’s casinos. The parent company (MGM Resorts) would continue to operate the casinos under a lease agreement.

Think of it like a McDonald’s.  The franchisee owns what’s inside the building, McDonald’s real estate company owns the land and the building.  Here, the property is owned by one company while a second company “leases” the land and buildings to the resort operator.

In fairness, most “non-Las Vegas” resorts and hotels operate like this.  The building sign may say “Holiday Inn” today but can change to a “Comfort Inn” tomorrow. Same building, different tenant.  This being MGM, being Las Vegas and MGM being the dominant operator in town, this makes it a little more complicated and more mysterious in its actions and abilities to influence policymakers.

For various reasons, depending on who you ask, the two crown jewels of the MGM empire; the Bellagio and the MGM Grand were not put into this trust.  They were kept intact as part of the original resort company.

The Bellagio was once owned by Steve Wynn and was reportedly his prized possession. The one resort some people say he regrets ever letting go and would want to get back if he could.

The one thread that winds through all this story is the continued battle of the egos first started in 1971 between a young and ambitious Steve Wynn and the first real king of the modern Las Vegas development era; Kirk Kerkorian (MGM) and later his hand-picked heir apparent, Jim Murren. Current CEO of the MGM Resorts.

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The Wynn Las Vegas Resort

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Looking at Story #2

So now the State gaming regulators want Steve Wynn to surrender his gaming license.  This would make it virtually impossible or financially rewarding for him to make any kind of a comeback to the Strip.

The basis for this action by our State’s gaming gods revolves around the allegations of sexual misconduct by the CEO and Vegas visionary many years ago and was revealed right at the time when his ex-wife was in an ugly custody battle over her voting shares in the company she helped him to start.

Those allegations, bolstered by the fear that the #metoo movement had instilled into the current crop of American corporate CEO’s.  This supposed revealing allegation led to his resignation from the company that has his name on the marquee.

Believable so far for some. Fair enough.  The story and reasoning seem legit to anyone living outside the Las Vegas orbit.  For those of us who live it or have lived it, this reasoning (sexual harassment) is a bit laughable and could be excused as BS, except that its consequences will impact thousands of Las Vegas jobs and upset many lives.

We know the reasons, the causes, and the story or stories behind all the headlines are. In short; Steve Wynn, along with Las Vegas as we know it, must die.

According to the Washington Post:

“The move marks the latest chapter in the magnate’s drawn-out fall from grace since the Wall Street Journal reported in January 2018 that Wynn had pressured female employees for sex and used his wealth and power to create a culture of complicity at his casinos.”

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STOP! Reality Check

Time for a reality checks folks!  A Las Vegas strip casino owner sexually pressuring a female employee for sex in Las Vegas in the 1970s or 1980s is news or even shocking?.  Really? That’s the news or is news. And that’s the reason Steve Wynn needs to lose his gaming license?

We are talking forty years ago when that was normal casino office behavior.  As an example, I remember when I was doing interviews with people who worked the Strip in those days for my podcast.

I remember one lady I interviewed who was one of the very first female front desk managers of a major resort on the Las Vegas Strip.  Her exact words about her achievement were this “I made it to be the first female front desk manager on the Strip and I did it with my skirt and my pantyhose intact!”

I get it. Sexual Harassment is never acceptable and should never happen.  I agree. However, it does and it did, a lot.  When this supposed “news” broke, most people working the Strip from that era yawned and smiled because they knew what was really going on here.

What is happening here has  NOTHING to do with sexual harassment.  It was about dethroning a kingmaker, a Vegas icon who ruled the world Jim Murren was playing in and one he thought he controlled.

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Protecting Future Employers

Members of the Nevada Gaming Board are famously known to retire from their positions of protecting the clean-cut image of Nevada gaming and go directly to work for the companies they once had licensing power over.

Their jobs as Gaming Board members are to assure the visitors to Nevada gaming establishments that they are free from corruption, undue influence and undesirable people in positions of power.

Now think about that for a second. Imagine if your job was to protect the “image” of your state’s gaming market.   One day when you are maybe not so silently debating on retirement from the position, you get wind of a rumor that one of the largest gaming companies in the state, one you have licensing authority over, is maybe talking about needing a newly created position of the administrator of worldy legal and corporate basketweaving affairs blah blah blah.

Amazingly enough, the new job description lists all of your best skill sets as job requirements.  Imagine that! The mystery job is rumored to not being made available until a date in the future that just may coincide with your not yet really announced plan to retire.

So back at the office, you still have this unannounced, rumored job offer that fits your skillset in the back of your mind. Just as the CEO of this company starts to question the suitability of their most hated competitor. A person who may be making a back door return to power.

Question: Just how are you going to handle that news?

Just for the record: I am not inferring anything here. I am just connecting some dots that you see when you read the official reports of some of the cases the Gaming Board decides on and how they often came to their judgment for the casinos and not for the tourist who claims they were wronged by a faulty slot machine or a misplaced winners jackpot for a poker game.   And how you compare similar cases yet different outcomes when you look at the ownership of the casinos in question. Sometimes ownership has benefits.

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Jim Murren’s Achilles heel

Jim Murren was basically Kirk Kerkorian’s hand-picked successor. Kirk was the founder of MGM and was at one time the owner of MGM studios (in case you were wondering why the MGM Grand is emerald green).  Murren was a Wall Street guy. That’s it. There are many rumored reasons why Kirk picked a man with no gaming experience, no common sense and no knowledge of the world of hospitality to run a gaming and hospitality-based company.  Other than he was good at making short gains for stockholders. He also grew to have an ego that was bigger than his ability to back it up. Something Steve Wynn played on often and Murren hated it because Steve would often make it a public spectacle.

Case in point.  The Stadium.  Sheldon Adelson, the owner of the Palazzo and a Wynn antagonist, was ready to push forward with a domed stadium for the University of Nevada Las Vegas football team. People in the community were starting to look for the usual signs from the casino gods on what they feel about it before publicly acknowledging their feelings for the idea. (In management, you don’t want to publicly go against your boss in Las Vegas)

Jim Murren stepped forward and in no uncertain terms said it was a no-go.  He would not support the idea and that meant no money or support from his empire.  People dependant on the MGM for their livelihood (jobs and supplies) started to emerge and said they (reluctantly) agreed. It was a bad deal, no go.  The idea of a Las Vegas domed stadium was now dead in the water.

Steve Wynn was silent for a little while longer. But when finally he spoke, the world, as usual in the Las Vegas universe, changed.  He said it was a great idea and its what Las Vegas needed now.  Guess what? Public opinion for the idea suddenly changed.  The movement was not dead in the water anymore.  As the news spread that Steve Wynn thought Vegas needed a domed stadium,  Jim Murren suddenly announces he too believes a domed stadium would be a killer idea for the Las Vegas tourism economy!

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Enough is Enough

I believe it was at that point that Jim Murren had enough of being upstaged by the older master of Las Vegas politics and needed to finally get him out of town.  I think it was he who somehow got to Elaine Wynn who was desperate for a powerful Las Vegas ally who would publicly support her and together orchestrated the overthrow of Steve Wynn’s empire. The key to their success was literally handed to them by the democratic party.  They found a willing stooge to push it front and center of the world’s media in the #metoo movement.  Putting the #metoo movement front and center came with a lot of free press that was coveted by the world champions of what we now call “fake news.”

Once they had their stooge/victim willing to go public, they were ready for the blood of Steve Wynn to pour over the streets of Vegas and Jim Murren would now be the absolute king of the town.  They never looked for any other “victims” and anyone coming forward claiming to be a victim was quickly shown the exit because they weren’t needed. The coup was started and they found what they needed to feed the media.

Walked Away

Steve Wynn, for all his faults and his secret connections to people of questionable characters, was a showman.  He loved the attention and would seek it when he could. However, deep in his soul, I always saw a love for what he created and for the people he employed to work there.

So when all this news of “sexual harassment” hit, Steve’s sudden departure to supposedly save the company and the people it employed, I believe he was genuine and was concerned about that, about them.  Not to say retiring at his age with a billion dollars in the bank and a hot former British model wife to snuggle up with isn’t a good reason to cash out and stay out of the limelight.

I’m just saying he did something few people expected. I know Elaine Wynn and Jim Murren were certainly not expecting that to happen!

If you have read any books on Steve Wynn or any reports or exposé on him, you know he has a dark side. Mysterious connections, friends, and confidants in places you don’t want to know about. So I just have a feeling it was not so much a goodbye, so long as it was a smile and a nod saying “Don’t count me out yet”.  Jim Murren, I’m sure was not sleeping well after that.

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Build, Buy, Vegas Changes

In 2000, MGM bought the Mirage companies. Steve Wynn’s empire including the Golden Nugget, The Mirage, Treasure Island, and the coveted Bellagio. Most people were in agreement that MGM didn’t know what they were doing when they assumed management of the empire and they ruined the experience of working for the resort.  They said that Steve Wynn always talked about taking care of the employee better will result in the employee taking better care of the guest.  MGM never saw the value or the truth in that statement.

When I was a chauffeur on the Strip (2001 to 2006) and I would talk to the staff at the former Wynn properties, they always stated he loved what he did and what he built. Including the people who worked for him.  Many were staying where they were, waiting to move on to whatever Mr. Wynn’s next project was going to be. They would be the first in line to be hired.

Some I talked with and worked with told me how they moved up the ladder. Starting out at the Golden Nugget, then moved to the Mirage when that opened, then moved to Treasure island than onto the Bellagio. Never once thinking of working anywhere else.

As I said, they were all waiting at a formerly Steve Wynn owned property for a chance to easily score a new job at whatever Mr. Wynn was going to be building next.

Jim Murren liked to take over projects and properties but he has no idea how to create anything that would attract consumers.  He has no idea how to make MGM respectable in the world of tourism and gambling except by being the biggest bully in the market and making others follow his path.  He was there to make the money as quickly as possible in any way possible. That’s all.

Almost from day one as CEO, he started to make the MGM properties more of a leasing agent of a retail establishment and less of a resort for attracting tourism.  Removing the things that made each resort unique and replacing it with a leased retailer or entertainment attraction. Some had great ideas that matched that resorts original theme and prospective guests while most stores were just stores that are used to being in shopping malls and were willing to pay a rental fee to be inside a world-famous hotel.

Steve Wynn is the exact opposite. He knows how to build things that attract paying clientele that will want to return and that’s where you make the money. In the returning guests.  He also believes that when one does well, the feeling is spread and that everyone can do well.

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With MGM being the biggest employer in town, they try to run the show, and under Jim Murren, the idea of marketing to a guest so that they want to return to Las Vegas is a foreign concept.

Jim Murren’s operating plan seems to look like this:
1) Get people in the door anyway possible
2) Empty peoples pocket immediately
3) Reward stockholders
4) Repeat

Jim Murren’s vision for Las Vegas is to be a four-mile-long version of the Mall of America shopping experience. A retail complex where the land is owned by one company but everything else is open to whoever can pay the lease payments.  Nothing more, nothing less.

The problem always was Steve Wynn’s vision for Las Vegas as well as his need for publicity. So when Jim Murren would try something that was against the normal Vegas operating plan, Steve always publicly called him out on it.  This was not anything new, He did the same thing when Kirk Kerkorian was at the MGM helm and their battles were legendary as much as they were public.

Looking at Story #1

That brings us back to story number one. Selling the Bellagio land and building and leasing it back to the MGM resorts to operate.

Remember two things. The Bellagio is the MGM’s crown jewel. It’s what keeps MGM’s high rollers and wealthy old-timers coming back.  It’s is also a huge piece of free marketing for the MGM Resorts company with the dancing fountains and the conservatory.  It’s also been rumored to be the one thing Steve Wynn would give almost anything to get back into his portfolio.  Ok, there are three things to remember.

Jim Murren’s time is almost up at MGM. He is heading to the exit either voluntarily or by Board member revolt.  To go out with a bang and hopefully erase the bad feeling some have from his fumbling of major projects like City Center, he needs to raise cash quickly. Murren claiming this cash would be better used for some upcoming deals he has in the works. Not to mention hoping to build up the stockholders quarterly dividends as he exits.

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Here are My Hypothesis and Opinions

Selling the crown jewels to Blackstone and company solves one problem (cash flow). Yet creates another one for Murren personally. Controlling the actual property. Not having it in the MGM real estate trust he helped create, means he doesn’t have any way of controlling the true owner of the property.  MGM will only have a 5% stake in the new trust.

You now have Steve Wynn, through a proxy company, buying a mansion really close to the Strip.  You have Steve Wynn with a few bucks in the bank he could easily use to buy, influence or make available to others who could make some giant transactions involving beloved properties.  He has some great connections in the world of real estate wheeling and dealing if he ever decided to buy some property on the strip that may become available for the right price to the seller who doesn’t mind making a hefty profit for a quick turn no matter what the current tenant of the building thinks.

Question: What would stop the man most credited with creating the modern Las vegas from acquiring a large stake in a company that owns the one piece of property it is rumored he loves the most and wished to have back??

Answer: The lack of a gaming license.

So let’s ask again why would the members of the Nevada Gaming Board want Steve Wynn’s license to operate a casino in Nevada revoked?

Do You Agree?? 

What’s your opinion?

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I’m Still Mad at Derek Stevens

 

Recently Miss Debbie and I were downtown taking care of a little traffic court situation and we went to the Golden Gate Casino for some breakfast. While sitting in the diner, I was reflecting on how that used to be one my all time favorite places to go and to tell my tour guests to go for dining and gambling.  Then came Derek Stevens and company and the changes he brought.  At first I was a bit pissed off at what all he changed but now that the dust settled and he has moved on to other projects, you can see the beauty and the charm of the place has returned…. Almost.

Before I start, I want to be clear, this post is in no way meant to take away from all that Derek Stevens and his brother has brought to downtown Las Vegas and the Fremont Street Experience.,  I love the new energy and optimism they have generated and see them, Derek mostly, as the new version of Jackie Gaughan or maybe even a modern version of Steve Wynn.   No, I am still mad at Derek about other things that I will explain here shortly.

Derek and his brother Greg started building their Las Vegas empire back in 2011.  They came from their hometown of Detroit with the family fortune and bought into the minor league baseball team, the Area 51’s.  They bought a small stake in the historic Golden Gate Casino, then set their sights on the fading clover of the Fitzgerald’s Casino.  Derek is the majority stockholder and Greg the minority.  It’s been Derek being the Benny Binion/Steve Wynn of the duo, always in the public eye and always doing something to get the positive attention of the media and the tourists.

The cool thing is that he never really seems to single out his properties in any promotion, he invites you to his places while also inviting you to come see what else is down under the canopy.  Figuring it needs to be a joint effort for everyone to succeed downtown.  Something you just don’t see too much of anymore.
Gambling at the Golden Gate in Las Vegas
It wasn’t long before Derek saw the light.  He sold their share in the 51’s and plowed everything into buying the Golden Gate.  Then onto the Fitzgerald and finally last fall, the Las Vegas Club.  The Golden Gate was the first to feel the wrath and the love of Derek.He announced many new changes and upgrades as all new owners do.  Trying to get that buzz back downtown and get people to book the rooms and plan to stay in the newest of the oldest.  In most cases, this is more talk than it is action.

But Derek took it one step further and announced an expansion of the oldest hotel in Downtown.  That sparked some fear in the minds of locals and Vegas lovers.  You can’t expand, modernize it all while claiming to want to maintain the charm and the old Vegas flavor that radiates from the Golden Gate.  Can You?

Well, Yes and no.  They closed the deli bar with the promise of restoring it when done.  They went in the back and built out and up.  With larger and modern rooms and suites.  He closed the famous Bay City Diner and leased the space to a Los Angeles landmark called Du-Par’s Restaurant & Bakery. Of course, that meant no more affordable (cheap) dining and death to a classic downtown experience that many frequent Vegas tourists counted on as part of their excursions to Sin City.

I was one of those who mourned loudly the loss of an institution like the Bay City Diner.   It was one of the few reasons I would encourage my tour guests to travel down to the canopy as the Fremont Street Experience started to become home to the dregs of our society and a walled gauntlet of hobos and panhandlers mixed in with a few artists and casino properties.

Golden Gate Slot Machines

But I was to be proven partially wrong.  Derek and his team were able to maintain a majority of the historical charm the property held while adding a bit of modern conveniences to its offerings.  I have never stayed in any of the rooms, (it’s on my to-do list) but from what I have heard directly from guests who have stayed there, the older rooms are still cramped throwbacks to a time when convenience and comfort wasn’t a travelers priority (you were in Vegas to gamble or wait for the train, not sleep).  They were described to me to be charming and unusually comfortable for those seeking the nostalgic experience while the new rooms in the rear were up to their modern tastes and expectations of a 21-century traveler.

I have always loved walking through the casino.  Thankfully that has not changed.  It is a trip through western history with visual aides.  The dark woodwork with the fine detailing, the low ceilings, and the table games all give it that 1930’s feel.  You see the photos on the wall that are a mix of the 1906 San Fransico earthquake (the original owners were from the Bay area and the hotel opened at the same year as the earthquake).  They even have some old room ledgers and the first phone to be installed in Las Vegas was there.  (phone number was “Ring 1”).  You also have a few photos of Vegas during the Rat Pack era and other moments in Downtown neon history.

No More Bay City Diner

Knowing how crappy Du-Par’s is at the Farmers Market in L.A., I was worried when they took over Bay City Diner. In the beginning, they tried to be like the mother-ship;  “Hey, Look.  We are famous, people love us in L.A. and now we are here.  Sit down and be happy we even serve you”  was the attitude as they immediately set out to reinvent the place.  Again, a business that thinks Las Vegas works just like any other major town gets a rude awakening.   This Aint L.A.!!

Now they have closed themselves off from the casino, expanded the seating area past the etched class of the original cafe while maintaining that old look and feel of the original Bay City Diner.  The classic red leather booths, the old soda fountain style counter, and the friendly service has also returned.  The menu is now all Du-Pars with a more reasonable price structure then they first tried to pass off.  The food is actually delicious and well presented with attentive service like before it was Du-Par’s.   You can sit down, have a conversation, meet new people next to you and enjoy a meal in relative peace and comfort and not break the bank.

There really isn’t much under the canopy that I can say I enjoy or would encourage me to go down there as often as I used to.  But now that peace and sanity has been restored to the Golden Gate, I can say this is one of the reasons you need to go down there and visit.  Derek Steven has done downtown Las Vegas proud with his first venture here.

So why am I still mad at Derek Stevens?

It may be silly, but it’s that he took away the 99 cent/$1.99 shrimp cocktail with the promise of bringing it back after all the construction.  And hasn’t!  That was a “Vegas only” institution!  A deal that was talked about world-wide.   I loved that offer.  Everyone loved that deal.  Plus the whole deli bar experience with the piano man just made you want to go downtown and want to go to the Golden Gate specifically.   It was the shrimp cocktail at the Golden Gate and the deep fried Oreos at Mermaids that my guests always raved about on the bus back to their hotels after my night tours!

Otherwise!  Love what He Has done to the place and look forward to one day staying there just to say I was there (I’m strange like that!) plus seeing what he has planned for the old Las Vegas club…