Planet Harrah's

September 14, 2009

On Friday, Planet Hollywood became the latest Las Vegas casino to slip into default, and Harrah’s wasted little time purchasing a fair amount of the outstanding debt.

The entire Las Vegas Strip has become a really bad game of Monopoly.  It’s been awhile since I played the board game, but if I remember correctly, the properties stay in the same spots, but people swap ownership back and forth, mortgage them, go broke, etc.

I was in Las Vegas in August of 2000 when the “new” Aladdin opened.  I was staying in a motel called the Vagabond Inn across the street from Treasure Island (on the site of what is now the Palazzo).  I remember the Aladdin casino opening hours late due to an inspection problem, and upset workers walking up the sidewalk shouting through bullhorns.  It was certainly the most botched casino opening I have ever been to.

The Las Vegas Strip in 2006

The Las Vegas Strip in 2006

The Las Vegas Strip in 2006

The Las Vegas Strip in 2006

Aladdin Hotel and Casino in 2006

Aladdin Hotel and Casino in 2006

Once they opened the door to the Desert Passage shops, I both loved and hated the place.

The interior was very impressive, but I could not get over the fact that it was, in fact, a glorified shopping mall.  As the owner of a pair of testicles, I hate shopping.  I will never, ever, ever understand why people come to Las Vegas for “the shopping”.  Aside from eating at a casino McDonald’s, “shopping” is the single most asinine endeavor in which tourists participate.

Unless they are Ethiopian tourists, I’m pretty sure most folks have malls back home.  Aside from the Viva Las Vegas Souvenir Shop, I’m pretty sure that people in Buttsweat, Georgia have the exact same stores that we do.

Spending time shopping in Las Vegas is like flying to the Bahamas to get a Diet Pepsi.

I digress.

Over the years I saw Velvet Revolver in The Theatre for the Performing Arts, took the kids to some shows, argued with a shop proprietor over a guitar signed by Layne Staley, saw two beauty pageants, and I played in the casino fairly often.

When they announced that the Aladdin would become Planet Hollywood a few years later, I mourned for the property ahead of time because I was fairly certain that it would become Douche Central.

Fortunately, in my opinion, this did not happen.

If anything, the Planet Hollywood owners significantly improved the Aladdin.  The external was lit up nicely, the interior looked nicer, and (again, in my opinion) the staff has always been consistently above average.

Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino

Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino

Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino

Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino

Planet Hollywood Casino

Planet Hollywood Casino

Planet Hollywood Casino

Planet Hollywood Casino

Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino

Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino

Planet Hollywood Casino

Planet Hollywood Casino

Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino

Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino

Planet Hollywood has always tried.  From the greeters at the door, to the Pleasure Pit, to a top-notch Poker “area” (I hesitate to call it a room), to the Mezzanine, to the finest topless production on The Strip … the Planet has always put forth an effort to lay down an appealing vibe.

Sure, the Prive scandal has been screaming across headlines lately, and it has put a damper on the PH image slightly … but I’ve been inside the property as recently as last week, and I like it as much now as I ever did.

So, here we are, a little over two years later, and the beleaguered casino may change yet again.

The poor Planet Aladdin is being passed around like a blunt at a Cypress Hill concert, and given the quality of the property in question, it’s a shame.

Given the painful bludgeoning death of the horse, I’ve made it a personal point to cease ranting about Harrah’s … but I would be lying if I didn’t say that their involvement makes this all the more disappointing.

Harrah's Hotel and Casino

Harrah's Hotel and Casino

Harrah's Hotel and Casino

Harrah's Hotel and Casino

It’s not so much that Harrah’s is evil (although they kind of are), it’s that they already own enough properties in Vegas.  I would probably feel the same way if the suitor was MGM.

If Las Vegas was Marilyn Monroe, crappy gambling would be chloral hydrate, and lack of competition would be Nembutal.  It’s part of what’s killing us.

As a matter of fact, lack of competition is probably the root of most of our evil.  With proper competition, 6:5 Blackjack could not survive, nor could sub-par service and 45 minute check-in lines.

It sounds patently absurd, but I swear I have had people tell me that they are staying at the Rio because they had a bad experience at the Flamingo on a prior trip.  Someone I spoke with in the Mandy poker room told me that he had been staying exclusively in the Mandalay Bay for three years after switching from the Monte Carlo because that property had refused to correct a billing error.

That’ll show those bastards!

Some of you may laugh, but you have to realize that people who read “Vegas blogs” and websites on any consistent basis are typically more educated about the city than the average tourist.  The majority of folks who come here have no idea that most of the casinos are owned by a small handful of companies.

As far as they know, Nicholas Sarkozy owns Paris, and Sir Lancelot owns the Excalibur.

You would be shocked at the number of people who aren’t aware of who owns what on the Boulevard.

If Harrah’s does manage to take over Planet Hollywood, it will be yet another nail in the coffin of competition here locally, and it will almost certainly change the flavor of the current PH casino.  If I had to take a wild guess, it probably would not be for the better.

I don’t suppose there is much of a choice, however.  If you’re in default, you’re in default, and your choices narrow dramatically.  Planet Hollywood obviously does not have the cash to ride out the current “correction” (Jesus, I hope the yapping heads are right about it being temporary), and to the person with liquid assets go the spoils.

It should be stressed that a takeover has not yet actually happened.  Harrah’s has only begun buying up Planet Hollywood’s debt, and a true takeover may take some time, if it happens at all.

While I would personally much rather see “Anyone Else, Inc.” make the bid for the troubled property, it appears that Planet Harrah’s is a very real possibility in the near future.

I suppose it’s not all bad.

At least disgruntled tourists who have been treated poorly by staff at the Imperial Palace will have yet another place to take their business.

The free market is a beautiful thing.

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  1. Written by Gary Loveman on September 14, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    Don’t worry, be happy.

    You are in good hands, sir.

    I guarantee that!!

  2. Written by Aaron on September 14, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    Does anyone know why independent casinos seem so hard to run at a profit?… the big conglomerates buy failing casinos and continue to run them at a loss to avoid the possibility of competition? or are they just so good at running them that they can take a loser and turn it into a winner somehow?
    Is there some reason why you don’t see other hotel players enter the market?
    I’ve always been curious about this ever since I got boned-over by a big hotel there in town and wanted to “take my money elsewhere” only to find out how things really are.

  3. Written by mike_ch on September 14, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    Yet I assume you understand that not every single little detail is approved by the guys at the top of the pyramid. Many people do not like the treatment they had from a certain manager or a certain establishment, and with numerous leads and managers and executives and resort presidents in the organization you can’t blame everyone in the company for your bad experience.

    Throw in the whole club/points thing and if you’ve racked up a lot of reputation in one company, a bad pit boss or an unfriendly host or a lame poker room (cough ExcaliburRoboPoker cough) might simply send you to another place in the company lineup where you feel more comfortable.

    That said, I’ve fallen into that trap with the people at Wynn (though in my defence the Wynn “gimmick” is how personally involved the map on top is with everything), and I too had to stifle a laugh once when an angry customer at the Bellagio buffet told the pastry worker that too many things have been made dinner-only, and from here on out she will be buffeting at MGM Grand.

  4. Written by tully on September 15, 2009 at 2:32 am

    Don’t think it’s that difficult to run an indy casino; it’s just anyone who bought during the boom is now saddled with huge debt. Phil Ruffin, who sold New Frontier for $1.2B at the height, and bought TI for $775M earlier this year, is probably doing just fine.

    When I read about HET’s debt purchase last night, couldn’t muster up an obligatory rant/hissy fit either. At this point, just assuming HET and MGM/Mirage end up owning 95% of the Strip. If it turns out otherwise, will be pleasantly surprised.

    You know, I think there is more diversity of ownership DT than on the Strip, and that’s allowing for Boyd, Caudill, and Tameres owning 2 or 3 properties each. And that’s across a smaller number of properties.

  5. Written by tbruns on September 15, 2009 at 5:58 am

    To your point about independent casinos…I believe and correct me if I’m wrong Rex but the Casino Royale (prime strip location) is independent by the Elardi family. I personally like the Royale and I would have to believe they turn a tidy profit every year. Yeah, it’s not fancy and the blackjack switch is horrible odds but the cheap beer/drinks and the great odds at the Craps tables keeps me coming back.
    I would have to believe that the combination of todays market plus the rigorous process that is required to obtain a license keeps many new “players” away from the idea of ownership. Once your in your in and you can keep buying and selling.

  6. Written by ColinFromLasVegas on September 15, 2009 at 6:11 am

    Nice article, Rex.

    I suppose you are correct about Harrah’s making a move on this property. I do know the Tony and Tina’s Wedding show is soon to be discontinued and some other acts are being moved around to start fresh. Maybe this is a signal of this impending change.

    It just seems very possible though. And P-Ho does NOT seem to be helping their cause though, judging from all the incredibly bad business decisions their management has made.

    Like you mentioned… The Prive/Opium/P-Ho debacle is one. They are screwing that up so badly that the county commissioners have no alternative but to give 30-day temporary liquor licenses. The latest episode of imbecility was about 2 or 3 weekends ago when Las Vegas Metro PD tried to respond to a call there and were prevented from entering for awhile. When Prive tried for a 90-day liquor license, they were refused outright because if Metro PD, who is their eyes and ears to check compliance, is refused entry, then their hands are tied. That same weekend, it don’t help their cause neither after Paris Hilton was reported to be in Prive drooling shitfaced puking drunk (which is no big deal…she does that in Las Vegas all the time). So, any and every way possible they are screwing up. They might as well hang it up and turn the place into a sushi bar or something (no sake though, just soft drinks served).

    Then, they hire a headliner for Peepshow. Aubrey O’Day to replace Soshanna Bean. Before she starts with the show, she shows up on ClusterFox News and when asked a question, she answers brainlessly about how Hitler and Fidel Castro are extremely smart people who both command vast amounts of wisdom. When asked to clarify, she spouts out more stuff in defense of these two despicable people. It was so bad that the idiot Mr. Hannity was even scratching his head in befuddlement. And this is a headliner for a show at P-Ho?

    And lastly, just last week, four casino employees were arrested for finagling money that was to be paid off for gambling wins. They basically created customers who won money, but then they pocketed it. They were arrested by gaming people and the take was only a little over two thousand dollars.

    And now, they are in debt.

    So, there’s this incredible string of bad news that has brought bad press. And this makes this place ripe for a takeover.

    One question though…. Even back in the days of Aladdin and now to P-Ho, I read an article about how gamblers don’t like to play table games there (poker, blackjack, etc.). And they stated it was because of one reason: The ceiling is too high. In this article (forget where I read it), it said that gamblers like to gamble in a cozy place, sort of confined. That they don’t like high ceilings and get edgy and uncomfortable when they gamble.

    If that is the case, that’s probably why Aladdin/P-Ho property has never been successful.

    You got any thoughts about that?

  7. Written by Rex on September 15, 2009 at 8:55 am

    Most Strip ceilings are reasonably high, such as Palazzo, Caesar’s, Mandalay, etc.

    The lower places like Slots-A-Fun, Golden Gate, etc are also perfectly cool to me.

    To be honest, I’ve never noticed a difference in my betting habits at one or the other, but maybe it’s subconscious thing.

    Visually, I kind of prefer high ceilings. I’m a somewhat big guy, but I don’t know if that has anything to do with it.

    Whether a ceiling is 10 feet tall or 30 feet tall, it probably feels the same to a 6’3″ person as it does to someone who is 5’6″ since there is more than enough clearance either way.

    For me, it’s more about the ease of getting around. I’m 190-ish pounds, and I rarely play the Bellagio Poker Room because it is too claustrophobic for my tastes. I don’t like to have to walk sideways and bump into people to get around.

    For this reason, the Venetian is my high-end poker room of choice.

    Horizontal spacing is far more important to me than vertical spacing, but much like a lack of clocks and sunlight, there may be a psychological edge to low ceilings. I’ve never explored the hypothesis, but it has piqued my curiosity a bit.

  8. Written by philipj on September 15, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Concerning the difference between high

  9. Written by Steve on September 15, 2009 at 11:47 am

    Great. Harrahs gets to ruin another perfectly good casino.

  10. Written by AKQJ10 on September 15, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Great article.

    There was a time where I enjoyed seeing who could absorb more of the Strip, obviously as an outside observer and not one who could enter the race. I am now, however, more of the individualist having seen Disney City, FL. Now there’s a company with evil intentions, and they get ‘em young to boot. I like the fact that there are Corporations running a few Properties, but not all of them. Even in LV, where’s the variety in the overall grand scheme of things when only 2 Players are in the game? Might as well circle back to Atari Pong with only 2 players like that.

    As far as the ceiling height, I am short in stature, but greatly appreciate the awe of the taller ceiling. Gambling under a lower ceiling just makes me feel like I’m in my pal’s garage sitting in a metal chair at a fold-out picnic table because the wife won’t allow cigars in the house. So, yes, it is probably true in human nature to want to be surrounded by comfort, and since the vast majority of the “general public” are sheeple, it only seems fitting that the “popular demand” is for lower ceilings.

  11. Written by Shoedogbob on September 16, 2009 at 6:57 am

    Who needs casinos when you could have invested 3k in EGT just a few months ago and sold it all yesterday. Thanks Rex.

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