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Top 10 random observations from a week in Las Vegas

23 April 2018

Spend an extended amount of time in Las Vegas and you always come home with a notebook full of nuggets and observations. Here are just 10 of the hundreds of random thoughts that struck me during a visit to Sin City last week as I made multiple journeys up and down the Strip, and beyond. 10. Remnants of tragedy remain This was my first venture back to Las Vegas since October, when my trip for the annual G2E tradeshow coincided with the tragic events at Mandalay Bay. Being just a few miles away from an incident that ended up being the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history was a jolting experience for sure, but six months later it appears the entire city has responded gallantly. While there isn't the heavy, somber cloud hanging over the Strip that one might expect, the tragedy has certainly not been forgotten, either. It will come up occasionally during conversations with locals, Uber drivers and bartenders. And when it does, there is still a tinge of disgust as well as an abundance of honor and respect for those who perished, were injured or were affected in any other way. This is especially evident when you drive by the actual scene or enter Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, which I did a couple of times last week. You can’t help but pause and reflect on the heartbreaking and senseless events that took place. Being from Boston, the underlying atmosphere in Las Vegas reminds of what it was like in my hometown in the months following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Both cities have valiantly rallied and persevered, while at the same time they haven’t forgotten or overlooked the enormity of the tragedy. While a city will never fully recover from an event like this, Las Vegas is still as vibrant and exciting as ever, which was refreshing to witness firsthand. 9. Previewing the Raider stadium site One of the reasons for making my way to the South end of the Strip was to check out the site of Las Vegas Stadium, the future home of the NFL's Las Vegas Raiders. The project broke ground in November and work is well underway on the 60 or so acres that sit west of Mandalay Bay and Interstate 15, with an expected opening in 2020. While I have zero experience in project management, from my view the area doesn't look like it's nearly spacious enough to handle a $1.8 billion stadium with more than 70,000 seats. Currently, there will not be enough parking spaces to accommodate people on-site, and the team has until September to present their solutions to the problem to the Clark County Commission. No matter what they come up with, it's a leap of faith to think that anything but creating enough space for on-site parking will be ideal. But the problem is that there simply isn't enough land, so some sort of shuttle service or another alternative plan is in the making. Also, since upgrades for the infrastructure surrounding the stadium aren't expected to be completed until a year or so after the Raiders are scheduled to start playing, there are most certainly going to be some growing pains upon the grand opening. Nonetheless, the prospects of a state-of-the-art stadium adjacent to the iconic Las Vegas Strip with retractable doors and a domed roof, offering an "outdoor feel with a comfortable climate," is beyond exciting for this diehard football fan and Las Vegas regular. 8. Coming soon: Park MGM A few miles south from the future site of Las Vegas Stadium, the finishing touches are being made on another much-anticipated project. Monte Carlo Las Vegas Resort & Casino is pretty much gone and will be replaced by Park MGM. The property remains open during the transformation, and while that makes things a bit confusing and hectic right now — much like staring at the site of Las Vegas Stadium — you can envision just how spectacular the new property is going to be when it's finalized this fall. As an added bonus, special "preview" room rates for the 300-room NoMad Las Vegas, a "hotel-within-a-hotel," are available through the end of October. The interior part of MGM's $500 million renovation is nearly complete. The Moneyline Sports Bar & Book opened in March, and just last week a new cocktail bar called Juniper, "inspired by a garden pavilion," was unveiled. There will be three new pool areas, and an Eataly section that will offer a “vibrant marketplace with cafes, to-go counters, and sit-down restaurants interspersed with high-quality products from sustainable Italian and local producers,” plus pasta dishes, pizza and a bakery. Other new restaurants will include Bavette's Steakhouse & Bar, Primrose and Roy Choi's first Las Vegas venue. Of course, the property sits directly next to The Park, an outdoor entertainment venue that opened in 2016 with bars, restaurants, games and waterfalls that lead directly from the Strip to the new T-Mobile Arena. Yes, put us down for a definite visit to Park MGM this fall. Stay tuned. 7. Goodbye, Wynn Golf Club Staying with the construction theme (and, trust me, there are bulldozers and dirt being moved all over the city right now), the golfer in me was broken-hearted to actually see the demise of Wynn Golf Club with my own eyes. Even though the course officially closed back in December, this was the first time I had actually seen the partial destruction in person. It was even more disheartening because the portion of the once-exclusive course that hasn’t been torn up looked as vibrant, green and plush as something you'd see on Sunday afternoon during a televised PGA TOUR event. Of course, the land the course sits on is being transformed into Wynn Paradise Park, a $1.5 billion development that will include a 38-acre lagoon, meeting and convention space, a new 1,000-room hotel tower, a casino and a roster of dining and nightlife venues. If it's anything else like Wynn Las Vegas and sister property Encore Resort, it's sure to be spectacular. But it still hurts to see the demise of a pristine golf course, especially since I never had the chance to tee it up there — much like when a musician who you never saw play live passes on. 6. 'Al fresco' drinking and dining Did you notice the common ground in the items above? Yes, the number of options for outdoor drinking and dining in Las Vegas is on the rise, with the recent openings of LINQ Promenade and The Park and the anticipated openings of projects like Wynn Paradise Park. It was also interesting to read in a recent visitor study done by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority that 57% of the people who visited Las Vegas in 2017 made their way to Downtown Las Vegas (that number was 32% just two years ago), and two-thirds of those Downtown visitors cited the Fremont Street Experience, the sprawling, five-block area in DTLV with outdoor bars, casinos, restaurants and music, as the main reason. This all makes sense, since nongaming amenities now drive more revenue to Nevada coffers than gaming does (57% to 43% in 2016). Yes, Las Vegas remains the gambling capital of the world, but visitors are increasingly getting out and experiencing much more, including yours truly. 5. Traveling on the Las Vegas Monorail I was able to get a birds-eye view of the Wynn Golf Club while riding the Las Vegas Monorail, the seven-stop, 3.9-mile track that snakes behind the Strip from a station at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino Las Vegas all the way to SLS. The monorail, which first opened to the public in 2004 and uses a track that is the equivalent of 162 miles of sidewalk, is clean, punctual, easy to use, eco-friendly and, most importantly, cost efficient. So, it's puzzling to me why the venture hasn't been more successful. The transit system reported more than 4.81 million passenger boardings in 2017, which is about 124,000 less than 2016, and ticket sales fell millions of dollars short of projections. Obviously, ride-hailing companies have taken their toll on the usage of the monorail, but this system was struggling long before there was such a thing as Uber. It's also not very convenient if you're staying on the Bellagio-CityCenter-Mirage side of the Strip. However, if you’re traveling the other side of the Strip, or staying at one of those properties, the monorail is a great option. I stayed at the Westgate last week and used it multiple times. The station is located less than a 100 yards from the resort's main entrance, so it was easier and cheaper ($5 for one ride; $13 for a 24-hour pass and options all the way up to a 7-day pass for $56) to get to the Strip. Despite the financial struggles, the Las Vegas Monorail Co. has proposed a $100-million, 1.14-mile extension on the south end that would go from MGM to Mandalay Bay and take advantage of the new stadium. Here's hoping they get approval and survive until 2020. 4. Westgate SuperBook better than ever While it was my first time staying at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, it's a property I'm very familiar with thanks to the SuperBook, which is the premier sportsbook in Las Vegas. The venue is better than ever after the recent addition of some new food options and a refreshed poker room, and it was fun staying at the property during an NHL/NBA playoff cycle. During one of my many visits to the book last week (it's not my fault you have to walk through the SuperBook entrance to get to the ride-hailing area, which led to some impromptu stops and wagers), I ran into Jay Kornegay, vice president of race and sports operations and one of the best in the business. We chatted about the pending Supreme Court decision in New Jersey that may very soon provide great news for the industry and pave the way for legalization and regulation in as many as a dozen U.S. states within the next year. While there are some out there that think this will hurt the businesses of places like the Westgate SuperBook, Kornegay said that plans are already in the making for an expansion of the SuperBook brand. "People don’t think of us as a William Hill or the kind of company that would expand to other locations, but that's something we'd love to do and we're already looking at doing," Kornegay told us. Well, speaking for all sports-betting fans up here in the Northeast, a SuperBook Foxwoods in Connecticut has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? 3. Golden Nugget sportsbook in interesting spot for NBA playoffs Also made a stop at Golden Nugget - Las Vegas and my favorite sportsbook in the Downtown area, where the poolside lounge and blackjack tables, with a perfect view of the shark tank slide, is also a must-visit. Sportsbook Director Tony Miller, another one of the many great, old-school bookies in town, is in a unique position as the NBA playoffs unfold. Since Golden Nugget owner Tilman Fertitta bought the Houston Rockets last year, the book cannot accept action on the team's games, or on future bets. That means if you're holding a ticket on, say, Golden State to win the Western Conference from the Nugget and the Warriors make it to the Western Conference finals against the Rockets, your ticket will cash no matter what happens in the series. Same goes for the NBA Finals. If you have the winner of the Eastern Conference to win this year's championship and they happen to face the Rockets in the finals, that bet will cash regardless of the outcome, since there is no action on Houston. 2. Farewell, Dave Malinsky One more note from the sportsbook world, and it's a sad one. The body of professional sports bettor Dave Malinsky, 57, was found Friday afternoon after a six-day search through the Mount Charleston area. Malinsky, a true legend in the sports betting circles, was also an avid hiker and had been missing since 14 April when he failed to return from a hike. While I never met Malinsky in person, his death stung because I was a regular reader of his sports-betting column and listened to his interviews on radio stations and podcasts hundreds of times over the last five years or so. Malinsky's nickname was The Professor, and if you ever read his column or heard him break down games, you know why. To say his words were always insightful, eloquent and educational is an understatement. Take it from someone who regularly gets his hands on as much sports betting content as possible: Malinsky was a master of his craft, and there's really not a close second when it comes to overall knowledge and thought process. What's more, Malinsky was also a foodie and huge music fan and would very often weave in recommendations and personal favorites into his work. I will sorely miss his classic YouTube finds of all kinds of musicians, and I simply have to visit Lotus of Siam the next time I'm in Vegas, as it was a Malinsky staple and he called it the best Thai joint in the world many, many times. On top of all of that, by all accounts, he was a great person, as well. My morning coffee will never be the same without Dave's daily "Point Blank" column in front of me on my computer. RIP, Professor. 1. The Knights are kings Lastly, Vegas Knights pandemonium is running wild in Sin City right now. Simply put, this city is crazy with a capital "C" about its new hometown NHL team, and the fandom is palpable everywhere you look. The mock Statue of Liberty on the Strip at New York-New York Hotel & Casino is adorned in a giant black Knights sweater. Before the playoffs began a few weeks ago, the Bellagio Patisserie bakery at Bellagio Las Vegas wheeled out a life-size sculpture of star goalie Marc-Andre Fleury that took five weeks to build and is made up of 20 pounds of Rice Krispies, 90 pounds of chocolate and five pounds of sugar. Knights hats, jerseys and other merchandise are everywhere you look, and it's not uncommon for "Let’s Go Knights" chants to randomly break out at bars, even on non-game days/nights. The Knights were the surprise team of the NHL this season, breaking numerous records for first-year expansion teams while winning 51 games, fourth-best in the league, much to the chagrin of local sportsbooks — who are in line to take a major hit if the team goes all the way, since opening odds on the Knights winning the Stanley Cup were as high as 300-to-1 before the start of the season. In the first round of the playoffs, Vegas swept the LA Kings in four games. I happened to be in town for Game 4, which was played on the road in LA, and there was plenty of spirited pre- and post-game parties up and down the Strip. In speaking to numerous locals, this is something the city hasn’t seen since the glory days of the UNLV basketball team in the early 1990s, but some say the Knights are even hotter and more popular than the Rebels. "This is our team," said one of my Uber drivers, who was wearing a Knights sweatshirt and baseball cap. "I'm not from here, but like all of the other transients here, we've adopted this team. We love them." Once again, going back to my hometown of Boston, this is very reminiscent of the 2013 Red Sox that rallied along with the rest of the city in the wake of a tragedy to go on to win the World Series. The Knights' first season began five days after the shooting at Mandalay Bay. The city was looking for something to wrap its collective hands around and the Knights provided that proverbial "hug," honoring first responders and victims' families at home games. The deeper this team goes in the chase for the Stanley Cup, the crazier it will get. My next trip to Vegas isn't scheduled until July, when the World Series of Poker Main Event begins, but the presence of Stanley Cup Finals series there may make it a near requirement to get back sooner.

Top 10 random observations from a week in Las Vegas is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Best of Gary Trask
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