Those of you who follow me on Twitter probably noticed a series of tweets from me during my recent Vegas trip expressing my displeasure with Vegas. I even implied—hell, I may have actually said it outright—that I wouldn’t be coming back to Vegas any time soon, if at all.
Did I mean it? Well, you say a lot of things when you’re in the middle of a bad run of poker. And yes, there were things happening, Vegas wise, that were pissing me off. But of course I will be back in Vegas.
But yes, when I sent those tweets, I was annoyed with Vegas, and it wasn’t just due to a bad run of poker. A couple of my readers who do follow me on Twitter even commented on one of my recent blog posts, requesting that I explain what was making me all of a sudden hate Vegas. And so, here we go.
As the title of this post says, Vegas ain’t what it used be. But before I explain that, let me take a detour to Jean, NV. This has nothing to do with anything I don’t like about Vegas, but I thought my readers might find this noteworthy. I figure that most of you read Tony’s blog. You might remember a few years back he was residing at The Gold Strike, a casino located about 15-20 miles south of Vegas in the middle of nowhere. I believe he was getting free rooms there in exchange for his video blackjack play. The casino didn’t have a poker room, and to the best of my knowledge, never had one.
The hotel/casino is about 7 miles north of the California/Nevada state line, right on the I-15. So I drive past it every time I go to or leave Vegas. By the way, there are three hotel/casinos right on the Stateline, so it’s not the first place to legally gamble when you come to Vegas from Southern California. I’ve never played anything there, but I may have stopped for a meal or two over the years. And it is a convenient stop for a restroom break, so I’ve stopped there a number of times for that over the years.
On this recent trip, I did indeed pull off the freeway to use their Men’s Room. Knowing the time I’d be hitting Vegas, I was concerned that I’d be running into heavy traffic in the Strip corridor, so why take a chance? As another aside—whoever designed the new Tropicana exit for the northbound I-15 traffic should be sentenced to life imprisonment (and hard labor too)—it is the worst fustercluck imaginable. Slows down the entire freeway, too. Just horrible.
So, I used the facilities and then as I was leaving I couldn’t help notice the casino. It was empty. This was Thursday afternoon, first day of March Madness, so it was a bit surprising. But what was even more surprising that the pit was mostly gone. Seriously, they had three blackjack tables and a roulette table in the entire casino. That’s it. At the time, there were two players playing blackjack, another blackjack table manned by a dealer just standing there, and the roulette table was not open. The back part of the pit, which I’m sure had more live games when I last stopped in, was now filled with four or five cars. Prizes for slot machine jackpots, I guess. Yes, there were slot machines, but a lot of empty space. It was really pathetic. Maybe it was losing Tony’s business that hurt their business? Based on what I saw, I have a feeling that place will be shut down in the near future. I just hope they leave the restrooms up.
Anyway, I was already annoyed with Vegas before I even got there. I’m sure you heard that MGM Resorts announced, at the beginning of the year, they were going to start charging for parking at all their casinos on the Strip.
Details were murky, speculation was rampant, rumors were wild, tempers were short. But one thing was obvious. The era of free parking in Vegas was over.
The announcement affects everyone who drives in Vegas and ever has reason to visit a Strip casino—residents and visitors alike. But poker players were especially concerned. For one thing, it is assumed that all the other Strip casinos will eventually follow suit and charge as well. I mean, even if they didn’t want to, they won’t have a choice. People will park at nearby casinos that aren’t charging and then walk to the casino that is charging. And the parking structures will fill up with other casino’s customers.
For example, if Mirage is charging and Caesars Palace isn’t, people will park at Caesars and walk to the Mirage. Similarly, if you want to visit MGM, people will fill up the Tropicana’s parking lot and walk over the foot bridge. So it’s got to be only a matter of time before they all do it.
The initial announcement said it would be like $10 or less. I’m pretty sure that the charge was going to be for each entry/exit and not per day (if you were staying at the hotel). So a day of visiting a few poker rooms via car would get expensive. Pretty sure they said that they wouldn’t validate parking if you were going to eat in one of the restaurants. So, if you live in Vegas or were visiting and staying off strip or at the Venetian, and you wanted to have dinner at the pricey Craftsteak at MGM, you’d have to cough up another $10 just to leave after you finished your meal.
They announced something vague about “earning” free parking though the use of your MLife card (the corporate rewards card for MGM properties). That might be fine for slot players, and pit game players, who get enough points with their play to move up tiers on their cards, but as poker players know, at MGM properties, you get no credit on your rewards card for playing poker. You could play poker at the Bellagio 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and never move off the basic entry level tier. But if you dumped some money in a slot machine (and I have no idea how much it would take), you can move up the tiers. Another thing they announced was that locals would have some extra grace period before they started charging them. Not that that would help your humble scribe.
So the poker players who were unhappy wondered if the poker rooms maybe would be allowed to validate for parking. The consensus guess—and it was just a guess—was that they would not. Of course, I contacted all the poker room managers at MGM properties to find out if they knew how they were going to handle the issue. Hey, it was arguably part of my job. They all said that they didn’t know anything yet. I did ask one of my buddies at one of the properties—not one of the managers but someone a bit higher in the food chain than a floorman—if he thought the rooms would validate parking. He said that in the absence of any other kind of accommodation (which he knew nothing about, of course), he didn’t see how the rooms could afford to be charged for parking for all their poker players. It didn’t sound good.
I should point out that they do, technically at least, charge for parking downtown. But you can get your parking validated easily. When you buy into the tournament at Binion’s, you can just hand them your parking ticket and they stamp it. No fee to leave the garage. I recalled one of TheTrooper’s videos where he said you don’t even have to play—if you take your ticket to the security desk, they will stamp it, no questions asked.
What I’ve described above was the status of things when I was in Vegas, last month, when I got annoyed at Vegas. As it happens, while I was drafting this post, word squeaked out about how MGM was going to handle poker players when the new parking fees kicked in. You can find a link here to a post on the Two + Two Forums about it. I have extremely good reason to believe that the information there is basically correct. Note, for reasons of pure paranoia, I am not going to tell you what it says, if you are interested, please check out the link.
It would appear that the local poker regs and grinders will come out just fine. Even a non-local like me will be fine, at least. I’ve put in enough hours to qualify, for sure. But as nice as it is for me, it will still be bad news for lots of people. If you come to Vegas a few times or year (or less) for just a few days, you are not going to be able to qualify for free parking by just playing poker. This will make MGM owned poker rooms less desirable for tourists to play in and likely hurt the games themselves. Also, it might make Vegas a less desirable tourist destination in the long run.
Note: I am positive that all the poker people in the MGM rooms were not happy about decision to charge for parking. I don’t blame them at all, in fact, I give them a lot of credit for getting their bosses to accommodate poker players as much as they apparently have. The poker room managers are the good guys here. The corporate suits who made the call? Not so much.
Again, the point of this post is to explain why I was upset with Vegas back in March. My explanation for that is dependent on how I felt at the time, not how I feel now. Furthermore, I want to address how much Vegas has changed since I started visiting there, and despite any accommodation for poker players they make, charging for parking is definitely a change, and not for the better.
So as I headed to Vegas, I couldn’t help thinking that this might be my last visit to Vegas where I wouldn’t have to pay for parking on the Strip (at least at certain properties). Originally it was supposed to start in April and I wasn’t sure I’d be back before it started.
I guess it was just in the back of mind when pulled into to the NYNY parking garage for my first poker session, after getting settled in at my temporary residence. I parked there because my pre-poker meal was going to be a slice of pizza and a hot dog at Nathan’s, probably my favorite junk food place ever. From there, I walk across the bridge and am at the MGM poker room. I’m pretty sure the walk from the NYNY garage to the MGM poker room is no longer than the walk from the MGM garage to the same place.
It didn’t take me long to be reminded of the coming parking change. The ramp up the garage had been repainted, re-aligned, and there were already parking kiosks installed to either give out parking stubs or receive payment. They were non-functional for the time being. Several of the floors in the garage were closed off for the change, and for some reason, they had renumbered the floors….but hadn’t told the elevators. So the sign in front of the garage elevators said you were on a different floor than the elevator thought you were on.
But the real tip off was the lights above the parking spaces. When MGM announced the change, they tried to justify it by saying they were offering their patrons “enhanced parking.” What that meant was that they installed lights over all the parking spaces, so you could more easily find an open space. If the light was red, the space was occupied. If it was green, it was an available space. Does that seem like something ten bucks of your hard earned money? Doesn’t seem that difficult to tell if a space has a car in it without the lights.
So I saw all this, including the damn lights, and got annoyed. Rub my face in the fact that parking would no longer be free. But yes, I did see that the green light above the space I parked had changed to red when I pulled in. Super.
A few days later I had the experience I described in the post here, where I was essentially charged three bucks for asking for pickles and onions with my burger. Another twist of the knife from the city of Vegas.
It was at that point I started tweeting negative stuff, saying I was done with the town. So now you have the full picture.
And….as you can tell from the “Part 1” in the title, this is a two-parter. I’ll have more to say about parking and how Vegas has changed in the second part, coming on Sunday. Be sure to come back to check it out. (Edited to add: Part 2 is now posted and can be found here).