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Top 10 new experiences I tried in Las Vegas - Fall 2019 edition

2 December 2019

By Gary Trask
I love the city of Las Vegas for many, many reasons.

Above all, however, is the fact that Sin City is ever evolving. It doesn’t matter how much time passes in between trips west to the desert, every time I return there are always new and different experiences to see, touch and feel.

Below are the 10 new things I tried out on my latest jaunt to Las Vegas, and if you’ve read previous installments of this type of column, it will come as no surprise that we have a heavy dose of food, drink and sportsbooks found below.

10. “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign
Hard to believe that despite dozens of trips to Las Vegas over the last decade, I’ve never actually stopped and visited the iconic "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign.

Yes, it’s corny, contrived and “touristy.” Having said that, I’m glad I finally made it there. I’m a sucker for history and this historic landmark sign certainly has plenty of that.

Located about four miles south from the actual city limits of Las Vegas, the 25-foot sign, powered by solar energy since 2004, celebrated the 60th anniversary of being constructed this year and is, without a doubt, one of the most photographed locations in the city. The white neon circles at the top of the sign that spell out “Welcome” were designed to represent silver dollars, in reference to Nevada's nickname as "The Silver State.” Another cool tidbit: The star at the top left of the sign is the secondary logo of the Vegas Knights NHL team and can be found on the shoulders of the team’s game jerseys (more on the Knights later in the column).

I will always remember the sign as a spot that spontaneously became a makeshift memorial and place of gathering in the hours and days after the tragic Las Vegas shooting that took place in October, 2017 at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, which is less than two miles away. Following the shooting, 58 crosses were placed around the sign as a memorial to the 58 lives lost that night.

9. New sportsbook at Park MGM
I was never a fan of the former Monte Carlo Resort and Casino on the Strip and was happy to see MGM Resorts rebrand the property a few years ago and replace it with the Park MGM. While the transition was a bit awkward, I’ve come to really enjoy all that the newly refreshed casino has to offer, most notably the new Eatly section.

As for the new sportsbook that opened earlier this year, I almost hesitate to call it that because it’s more of a sports bar with betting windows, rather than your traditional Las Vegas sportsbook, along the same lines as The Book at The LINQ Hotel + Experience that opened last year, or Lagasse’s Stadium at The Venetian Las Vegas.

Called the Moneyline Sports Bar & Book, the venue is 9,000 square feet and has seating for 250 people with 61 televisions and a pool table. The menu is classic sports bar fare, although it does offer a unique, self-service “weigh-and-pay” option where you can order items such as nachos, chili and wings for $12.99 a pound.

Again, if you prefer a sports bar feel over the more massive sportsbooks found in Las Vegas with giant LED screens (Hello, SuperBook at The Westgate), this is the place for you, especially if you’re heading to an event at the T-Mobile Arena, which is a close walk next door.

8. Circa Sportsbook
While the new Circa Sportsbook at Golden Gate Hotel & Casino may be small in stature, this newcomer to the sportsbook operator space is doing some innovative things that have avid sports bettors like yours truly very excited.

First things first. The new sportsbook venue here is tiny at a shade under 1,300 square feet. There is a very cool video wall with vivid and easy-to-read LED boards displaying betting odds and two betting kiosks. This is definitely the kind of place you come to place bets and take advantage of the creative offerings being posted, rather than a book you would come and spend the entire day at.

Of course, when Circa Resort & Casino opens down the street in December 2020, it will feature a multi-level, stadium-style sportsbook, with what is promising to have the “biggest screen in sportsbook history.”

I’m not afraid to admit that I get downright giddy when I see the renderings of this place. Wow.

As for Circa Sports as a whole, they are most certainly making waves in the sportsbook scene in Las Vegas, which is refreshing since so many of the sportsbooks throughout the city are now operated by huge companies like William Hill, Caesars and MGM.

Over the summer, they introduced the Circa Sports Million Pro Football Contest, with a $1 million payout and a custom Circa Million champion’s blazer going to the eventual winner. Circa Sports has also been releasing the world openers for college football every Sunday at 11 a.m. with point-spreads and totals. It’s a rarity in the business for an operator to take a stance and release these lines so early in the week, especially when you consider the limits are generous at $2,000 in person and $1,000 on the mobile app.

The team at Circa also makes the power ratings of their sportsbook directors public each week and they are not afraid to post creative prop bets.

7. Running Rich Reels slot game
The main reason for the most recent trip to Las Vegas was to attend the Global Gaming Expo, otherwise known as G2E and one of the biggest industry shows on the annual calendar.

Every year, the conference floor at the Sands Expo Center is jam-packed with some of the newest casino innovations and this year I was lucky enough to give a few of them a test ride, which, in the case of the Running Rich Reels, is the perfect way to describe it.

The game is the brainchild of Keith Winters from Competition Interactive and has been a work in progress for a few years. After initially being released in Las Vegas last year as primarily a skill game, Winters and his team took all the feedback they got and took it to heart. They went back to the drawing board and “reimagined” the game so that it is now a hybrid between skill and slot game.

“We learned a lot, not only about players, but operators,” Winters said. “What makes the operators hesitant is when their players are hesitant. We took that part out of the equation and the new version is a game that people are really enjoying.”

The 3x5 reel slot game now gives players the choice to receive a random payback or grab the steering wheel and play the video game to win a race from one of three levels (Bronze, Silver or Gold). It has been a huge hit since it was introduced at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut earlier this fall where the win results beat all expectations, and in the coming weeks it will land at The LINQ and The Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, as well as Valley View Casino & Hotel in Southern California and the Hard Rock Casino properties in Florida.

6. Virtual horse racing
Virtual horse racing by Virtual Media Group will be popping up at sportsbooks at MGM properties in Las Vegas.

Virtual horse racing by Virtual Media Group will be popping up at sportsbooks at MGM properties in Las Vegas.


Full disclosure: When I first heard about the Winners Circle virtual horse racing game that you can bet real money on, I was skeptical.

But after seeing the vivid graphics and hearing more about the game and the wagering options from its team of developers from Virtual Media Group, I was more than intrigued and apparently I’m not alone.

After receiving approval from the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association, the game will be available this month in race and sportsbooks at nine MGM Resorts International properties across Las Vegas.

What sets Winners Circle apart from the popular electro-mechanical horse racing games like Sigma Derby or Fortune Cup is the fact that the winner for pari-mutuel pools is not decided by dumb luck or a random number generator. There are actual racing sheets with a speed rating, stamina and histories for all the horses, meaning you can actually “handicap” the races.

“What’s great about virtual horse racing is that horses run to form,” said Virtual Media Group Chairman and CEO Jonathan Strause. “So, if you’re a good handicapper, you’re going to do well.”

The game will be placed in the sportsbooks with the goal of filling the gaps during downtimes in between the “real” races, but the potential for handicapping tournaments and privately held contests is real.

“It’s the type of game that will satisfy both the handicapper and the non-handicapper,” added Strause. “The people that bet the horses on a regular basis are an older population, but this game will also attract a younger generation. We really think it will be something that helps push new customers to the sportsbook. The ideas are endless on what we can offer.”

5. The future of casinos
While visiting the massive Scientific Games area at G2E, we received a heavy dose of what the future may look like on the casino floor and, well, it was downright scary.

Call me old school (you won’t be the first to do so!), but the thought of sitting down at a blackjack table and having facial recognition technology pick up on my ugly mug and let the casino immediately know who I am, what my average wager is and what on-property restaurants I frequent is a bit creepy.

Yes, I realize that the multiple Player Cards I carry around already do this for the casino. And I’m fully aware that certain airports and ATMs are utilizing similar technology.

But that doesn’t make it any less frightening.

But, trust me, it won’t be long before your favorite casino is using the SG Vision’s object recognition for chip and biometrics, or a “unified wallet” system that allows you to sit down at a slot machine and instead of inserting cash and your Player’s Card, you simply scan your phone, or punch in a personal PIN. Also not too far in the distant future, SG Vision table games will be using augmented reality to count your chip stack, see if you’re playing a progressive wager, or pick up on hand gestures for when you want to hit, stand or fold.

Like most new technology, I think these new features will eventually become the norm at casinos and they'll provide convenience for both the player and operator, which is always a good thing, even for dinosaurs like me.

4. Drinks at SkyBar at Waldorf Astoria
Over the years, the Eiffel Tower Bar at Paris Las Vegas and the 107 SkyLounge at The STRAT Hotel, Casino and SkyPod have become regular stops on every trip to Las Vegas for sunset cocktails and now there’s a third venue high atop the Strip to add to this list.

The Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas, formerly the Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas, is a high-end hotel and condominium building that’s part of the massive CityCenter complex smack dab in the middle of the Strip. SkyBar is located on the 23rd floor and it’s well worth the trip up the elevator if you’re looking for a classy place to grab a few drinks and some apps.

The view is unforgettable, as you gaze directly over the Bellagio, with the Eiffel Tower and the High Roller to the right, and the Wynn Las Vegas, Encore Resort and iconic 148-foot STRAT “needle” off in the distance.

3. CASBAR Lounge at The SAHARA
In August, when the former SLS Las Vegas officially introduced its rebrand back to the SAHARA Las Vegas name, Rachel Hunt, the property’s VP of marketing, told me that the new CASBAR Lounge, is “modern and more in style with the kind of lounge area you used to see in casinos all over Las Vegas.”

“There’s no cover charge,” she added. “Just a great place to have a drink, meet up with friends and watch the world go by.”

So, it probably comes as no surprise that the CASBAR was on my punch list of places to visit and it did not disappoint. Hunt’s description was spot on. The lounge is named after the original Sahara’s infamous music venue and it’s centrally located and elevated off the main floor, so it’s a great spot for people watching.

There is live evening entertainment Thursday through Saturday and since we love Las Vegas Happy Hours, we must mention the daily specials here. Every day from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., the CASBAR has half-price featured cocktails; buy one beer, get one free; and $5 shots of Fireball, Jack Daniel’s Apple and New Amsterdam Pink Whitney.

Whiskey Liquor Up is a 6,500 square foot venue that overlooks the Fremont Street Experience.

Whiskey Liquor Up is a 6,500 square foot venue that overlooks the Fremont Street Experience.

2. Whiskey Liquor Up at Binion’s
Let’s stay with the cocktail lounge theme and head to one of the newest bars in Downtown Las Vegas.

In addition to opening a new hotel, the legendary Binion’s Gambling Hall recently unveiled Whiskey Licker Up, described as a “full-service saloon.”

The 6,500-square-foot venue overlooks the Fremont Street Experience, directly above the First Street Stage, where there is frequently a live band playing, so, needless to say, this is now one of the best spots to grab a drink and watch the kind of craziness you can only see in Downtown Las Vegas. Adding to the unique atmosphere is the fact that the seats at the countertop bar overlooking the street are directly parallel to the Slotzilla Zoom Line, so you feel like you could reach out and touch the brave souls zipping by.

The centerpiece of Whiskey Licker Up is the rotating bar that sits in a fish bowl-like dome. The bar takes about 15 minutes to slowly rotate, but keep in mind that if you’re watching a game on TV, like I was, the screen does not move with you, which can cause some confusion.

There is also a spacious indoor section of the bar with tables, a stage for live entertainment, a mechanical bull and a sports-pub-type menu. Yes, we will be back.

1. Vegas Knights home game
When you arrive in Las Vegas, especially if it’s during hockey season, it doesn’t take long to realize that this is a city that loves its hometown, home-grown Knights.

The Knights burst onto the scene as an expansion team in 2017 when they won the Western Conference and fell just a few games short of taking home the Stanley Cup. Ever since then the city is filled with everyone from bartenders and Uber drivers to residents and tourists wearing black and gold Knights hats, jerseys and other merchandise. "Let’s Go Knights" chants will randomly break out at bars, and, as I found out when I attended my first game at the T-Mobile Arena, game days are an event, not just a game.

When you arrive in Las Vegas, you realize how much the city loves its hometown Knights.

When you arrive in Las Vegas, you realize how much the city loves its hometown Knights.

It would be hard to fathom any other NHL city going all out for a regular season game at the start of the season the way the Vegas Knights and their fans do it. Hours before the game, people begin gathering in The Park, the outdoor promenade of restaurants, sculptures and water fountains that leads from the Strip to the arena. They bring lounge chairs and start camping out and about an hour before face-off a parade, complete with a marching band and cheerleaders, enters to a huge ovation.

The T-Mobile Arena is completely filled before the game starts and the pregame ceremony is straight out of the Medieval Times restaurant scene in Jim Carrey’s “The Cable Guy.”

Once the game starts, the crowd is enthralled by every shot and hit along the boards. Visiting players are berated with a “Shame! Shame! Shame!” chant when called for a penalty and everyone from Shaq to Donnie Osmond to Siegfried & Roy welcome you to the game on the video board.

A few more things struck me from attending a Knights game. First, the amount of women fans. I don’t have any factual data to back this up, but it seemed to me the crowd was at least 30% to 40% female and most of them were donning some sort of Knights paraphernalia.

Secondly, I remember a time not too long ago when cellphones weren’t even allowed in a sportsbook. But we have come so far as a society here in the U.S. when it comes to sports betting, even in Las Vegas, that I was able to sit back, and wager on the action on my phone as it unfolded live in front of my eyes. While this has been going on overseas at soccer games for decades, it was a refreshing first for this long-time sports bettor.

Finally, it will be interesting to see if the city embraces the NFL Raiders next year when the team officially moves to Las Vegas. I have no doubt the NFL will be a success here, but the fact that the Raiders are not homegrown like the Knights may mean it’s going to take a while for them to unseat the NHL team as top dog, if they ever do.

Either way, now that I have checked off going to a Knights game on my Las Vegas Bucket List, it’s time to come back during the playoffs to see another game when the already fevered pitch will be turned up even more.
Top 10 new experiences I tried in Las Vegas - Fall 2019 edition is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
 

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Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT