Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How to succeed in business without really trying: SLS edition

If you hang around with enough Vegas rubes, you're bound to hear somebody profess their love for Ellis Island, a small, hole-in-the-wall casino that has two things going for it: Location and affordability.

There is nothing glamorous about Ellis Island. It's reasonably clean, has a decent variety of slot and video poker machines, a few table games, a small sports book and restaurants. It would do just fine as a locals casino three miles from the strip. But tourists from every outpost of the United States will profess their love for it. Why? For starters, it's easily accessible. 

It's not on the strip, but it's a short walk off the strip. It's behind Bally's. That makes it easy for the tourist to access. I'd argue that its location is detrimental to attracting locals, as locals are less inclined to deal with the hassle of going near the strip, typically. There's no shortage of places to gamble, big and small, all over the greater Vegas area. 

But it's just offset enough from the strip that locals frequent the joint. Ellis Island has the best of both worlds, it seems. 

So it has a good location for its modest footprint. And it is a favorite with gamblers near and far for its cheap eats and drinks. 

It's no secret, the 24-hour cafe has some of the cheapest meals you'll find around, and the food is pretty good. And then there's the barbecue joint that's open for dinner only. Great meats at a good price. 

Drinks at the casino bar? Not ridiculous, because the casino bar is nothing trendy or precious. And they brew their own beers, which are always cheap. It's not my favorite micro brew, but they have decent beers, and the price is right. 

Add in frequent food and drink promotions, great incentives and kickbacks for the gamblers and karaoke every night of the week, (the appeal of which I have never understood,) and you have a hopping little casino that shows no sign of slowing down. And they're adding a beer garden.

What does this have to do with SLS? 

I've wondered why nobody with a strip property tries to cater to the downtown crowd. Yes, the Bellagio and its well-coiffed customers are dumping millions per day into the property, and who doesn't want to cater to that crowd? 

I sense that the loss of low-roller joints along the strip have helped drive people downtown. And I've said that Tropicana should find a way to offer the best of both worlds within their classic casino. It won't translate to record profits, but give people a reason to go out of their way, and they will. Brew beers and sell them cheap, a la Ellis Island and downtown's Main Street Station , and people will find their way inside the building. 

Early today the fine folks at vitalvegas.com (it's one guy) reported that SLS, formerly the Sahara, was in a position to be sold. Within hours news broke that it is indeed being sold. Changes are expected at SLS. The name may revert to Sahara, for starters. 

I started this blog in early 2015 when it was announced the Riviera would be closing. I wrote something about the fact that the north end of the strip was basically dead. The Sahara property has never been the epicenter of the strip, and yet it persevered for decades, only to shutter six years ago and re-emerge as the glitzy, isolated SLS a few years later.  

I don't spend much time on the strip, and the fancy new SLS doesn't hold much appeal to me. They put a lot of effort into making it a more upscale, younger skewing destination, and none of that speaks to me. I'm not younger, and there are plenty of places to spend more for a meal than I'd spend at Ellis Island. 

They tried offering entertainment that would attract a young crowd, and I'm not aware that they failed to do so. But that alone doesn't pay the bills. 

Vital Vegas has noted, by tweet I think, that SLS had recently started to market their gambling to locals through some sort of promotional kickback. Locals aren't the most coveted demographic, but given the challenging location, shouldn't enticing the local crowd have been part of the marketing strategy early on? 

It's unreasonable to think that you can run a major casino/hotel in Vegas and expect only the prettiest of the pretty people to darken your doorstep. And if you're on the wrong end of the strip, such as SLS, you'd better find a way to cater to multiple crowds. 

SLS is too big, and too much has been invested, to turn into an oversized Ellis Island. But it's simple economics, I swear. If you accept that plenty of plain folk, like me, don't want a celebrity chef experience while on vacation in Vegas, and can offer them something they can't get everywhere else, such as the barbecue dinner at Ellis Island, you might get them to find their way inside.

Give me, and many people like me some other incentives to spend a few hours, such as plentiful $5 table games, (which I can find off the strip at Orleans, for example,) and reasonable drinks that aren't "crafted" by a bartender, and suddenly I'll be getting discounted room offers to stay at SLS during a future trip, which I'm likely to accept. Happily. 

How do you think the Orleans earned my loyalty? 

SLS is never going to have the benefit of location. It will be decades before we see a continuous line of developed properties reaching SLS, and probably not in my lifetime. 

Without the benefit of proximity to Bally's, the solution is obvious, give gamblers a reason to show up, and give them a reason to stay, whether they're the young, EDM loving crowd (for those too old to know, EDM=noise) or the Ellis Island loving gamblers that kept the Sahara afloat during its final years. 

Bellagio ain't going to offer a $13.99 barbecue plate in any of their restaurants. And Ellis Island isn't going to serve an $18 handcrafted cocktail any time soon.

The future of SLS shouldn't be an either/or proposition. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Could Vegas casinos go dry?

It seems unlikely that we'll see a day when comped cocktails at Vegas casinos are no longer a thing. But the booze doesn't flow as easily as it use to. 

We are in an era where casinos are using technology to monitor your gambling and dictate when you are permitted a comped drink. Some folks have shared stories suggesting that it's not a big deal if you're serious about gambling. 

We're also in an era where most comped cocktails are made with cheap, generic liquor rather than quality products you buy at the liquor store. 

And to top it off, people are increasingly willing to pay obscene amounts for craft cocktails from bartenders who allegedly have an art degree of some kind. If people are willing to fork over more than a McDonald's employee earns in an hour for one single-shot mixed drink, why not bleed everyone and his sister when it comes to passing out drinks around the bar? 

Perhaps the day will come when gamblers will pay the low, low price of $2 for a beer at the blackjack table. I'm not entirely convinced. 

The following is an edited version of a comment I made on Facebook regarding the suggestion that free drinks may be drying up in Vegas casinos. (I have a bad habit of writing short novels when I contribute to a Facebook discussion. I need to stop doing that.)
I can't imagine all free drinks being cut off for all gamblers any time soon. The casinos will become more stingy down the road, but c'mon, that "Captain" they're serving to the $5 blackjack player downtown ain't costing the casino much money, especially since they're serving Admiral Nelson in place of the Captain. 

If they ever get to the point where they stop serving free booze, the casinos might as well pull out the gambling and start offering more beer pong for the millenials. Plenty of people don't drink when they gamble, but the end of complimentary cocktails will essentially be telling gamblers in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and everywhere else not to bother bringing their gambling dollars to Nevada. 

The end of free drinks will be the nail in the coffin people profess is coming. Paid parking isn't helping drive traffic, fake fees and taxes at bars on the strip aren't helping drive traffic and the erosion of modest, low-cost meals at casinos isn't helping drive traffic. For every person who wants to pay extra for everything on vacation, including $50 a plate for dinner, there are two other people who won't. 

Can Vegas price out the low roller and survive? The strip properties seem determined to find out. (I keep trying to tell the folks at Tropicana that they need to counter this mentality, but they won't listen.)

And by low roller, I don't mean cheap people who won't spend a buck. I spend plenty in Sin City when I travel, but I'm not interested in paying $18 for a precious cocktail "crafted" by a millenial, or being gouged other ways just because I'm on vacation and I'm not supposed to care about money. 

There's a reason why business is as good as I've seen it downtown during the past 20 years, and it ain't that awful Imagine Dragons skit high above the pedestrian mall that's putting asses in the video poker seats.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The evil that is the timeshare industry

This isn't about Vegas, but if you're a regular Vegas visitor, you can relate.

I've been to my share of timeshare presentations in my life. I don't remember how many, but too many. I feel as if the gifts are better nowadays than they were two decades ago. Perhaps it's my imagination.

I had no business going to an Orlando timeshare presentation in October 2000, but it seemed like a good idea. I was there with my friend and her sister and niece, and I was going to get a Disney admission ticket for giving up a couple of hours of my morning. I gave up a few hours of my morning, and ended up donating $10 to some charity, but I did get a Disney admission ticket out of the deal. I didn't ruin or change any plans of my friend, but I didn't feel as if it was worth it.

A few years later I was about as poor as I could be, and I wound up signing up for a timeshare presentation here in Minneapolis. It started innocently enough, I spun a prize wheel in the parking lot of a minor league baseball game. That turned into an invitation to the timeshare pitch, including a two-night trip to Las Vegas, airfare included. I should have been ecstatic about a free trip to Vegas, but I had no business spending $100 on a vacation at that time. I suffered through my timeshare presentation, received my gifts, including a $20 gas card, and was on my way.

In order to use the trip I would have had to put a deposit down and book the trip two months in advance. I couldn't afford to tie up $150 at the time, and there were too many unknowns about the free trip. What time would my flights be during the weekend I wanted to go? Would I be forced to connect, and endure a long layover, for my two-night trip?

I only had a few months to use the free trip, and couldn't justify doing so. At least I received a nominal gas card out of the deal. But it wasn't worth my time in the slightest.

I'm sure I had been to a timeshare presentation or two beyond those incidents, but I'm not recalling them at the moment.

By the time I received my free Vegas vacation via a timeshare pitch, I was done with pitches for good. That Vegas vacation might have been a nice freebie had I not been so poor, but for the most part I was convinced that the gifts weren't that valuable to me, even if my time wasn't worth a dime to anyone else, including myself. Nice gifts weren't worth the charade. Sitting at home playing video games would have been a better use of my time, I reasoned.

Somehow I've managed to avoid sitting through a Vegas timeshare presentation. I've been to Vegas more than 30 times during the past 20 years. I've been approached occasionally, but I've managed to avoid being suckered into one. Occasionally I see a nice gift being touted as enticement, but I haven't come close to being tempted in Vegas.

I'll spare you many of the details, but during a recent vacation in Mexico, I wound up going to two timeshare presentations on two consecutive mornings. I was there for a week, so I could afford to give up the mornings. Each presentation included a breakfast, and the pitches weren't obnoxious or overbearing, although I'm not anxious to make a habit of it.

I was with my girlfriend while in Mexico, and she suffered through the sales pitches as well. She knew, like me, there was no chance in hell we'd buy anything. We have thousands of dollars of bathroom improvements we'll be paying for in a few weeks, we weren't about to take on years of timeshare debt when we have a long list of home improvement projects we'd like to finance. There was no chance any timeshare offer would be too good to pass up, that much I knew.

During the first day's pitch we walked away with a voucher for a five-night stay at one of the company's properties, for a nominal cost. I'm sure using it will require sitting through another timeshare pitch, but I won't agree to do it if I cash in the voucher and wind up back in Mexico. What are they going to do at that point, force me to attend?

I have a year to use the voucher, so it's possible we'll go back next winter. If not, then our first morning was a waste of time. We were supposed to get a few other gifts in exchange for our time, and we did get a discount card that saved us a little cash on meals and merchandise at the resort we were staying at, but the discounts and deals weren't as great as suggested.

Near the end of the first day's pitch a woman was recruiting for another property not affiliated with the resort we had just toured. The resorts weren't affiliated, but the companies had agreements that allowed recruiting of those who balked at the incredible deals offered at the first timeshare pitch, evidently. Strange, I know.

I never fathomed I'd be immediately hit up to go to another pitch when we were so close to cashing out at the first one. I started to wonder if I was trapped in a vicious circle where I'd be badgered to attend presentations every day of my vacation. I was a bit stunned.

The nice recruiter assured us that presentation two would really only be 90 minutes, and she offered us a great discount on show tickets. The show was something my girlfriend knew of, and her sister had recommended. The street price was allegedly $145 a ticket, however, and we knew there was no chance we'd be spending even $100 a person for tickets to this show. We had vacation funds, but we needed to limit our recreational spending in order to afford our vacation. Even though we knew discounted show tickets were available without too much trouble for about $100, we weren't going to be buying.

But the nice recruiter offered us tickets for $20 per ticket. Now that's a pretty good deal. I looked at my girlfriend, who wanted nothing to do with another timeshare pitch. I said, "it's up to you." She told the recruiter "no."

The woman countered and said she really needed to get people signed up for the next morning, so she offered us two free tickets. I looked at my girlfriend again, and this time she decided we'd do it if we were going to get free tickets.

Our day two sales pitch was not much more than 90 minutes, and our saleswoman was fun to talk with. I'm not entirely sure why, but she didn't push the product very hard. I think it had to do with the fact we downplayed our personal situation when it comes to vacations. We weren't big enough spenders to fork over the minimum she'd need to get in order for us to become buyers, we hinted, so she quickly stopped trying.

As I said, I'm not planning to make a habit of sitting through the agony of a timeshare sales pitch for free tickets to a show, and I had no intention of doing so ever again. And yet more than a decade after I attended what I thought was my last timeshare pitch, I sat through two in two days.

There are plenty of websites with suggestions on what to do and what not to do if you're going to trade your time, on vacation or otherwise, for a gift from a timeshare company. Here are a few of mine:

1. Downplay your spending and vacation habits. The salespersons like to round up and try to show you that you're spending $1,000 or more for a week of vacation at a hotel when you go on vacation. The salesman from day one didn't seem phased by the fact that I go to Vegas somewhat regularly and get great deals and rates for the hotels I stay at. He had a scenario where I was spending plenty on vacations every year based upon the fact that I might spend $100 occasionally for a night in Vegas. And thanks to his catalog of places I can use my points or weeks, I can stay in Vegas at Polo Towers!

Also, don't mention many other trips you've taken in recent years. If you sound like you take a vacation every single year, you'll have a harder time getting the salesperson to throw in the towel.

We were much more liberal with our vacation talk regaring the past five years during day one. On day two we didn't travel as often, and our big vacation was using a friend's cabin in northern Minnesota, at no cost to us.

2. Make sure you have major expenses that are forthcoming. In our case we really have a major bathroom renovation forthcoming. But if I ever find myself in a timeshare presentation again, I'll be up to my eyeballs in debt. I'll have recently purchased a home that needs renovation. I'll have just finished one expensive project I'm trying to pay off, and I'll have another I need to start financing after I return home from vacation.

You'll be reminded that you are taking a vacation right now, so vacationing must be a priority. But downplay that, too. Tell the salesperson that you're there thanks to bonus points you received for signing up for an airline credit card, and note that this is the first time in years you've taken such an exotic vacation.

The less worldly and wealthy you sound, the better. The salesperson may not give up based upon that, but if she smells deep pockets, it will take longer to get her to throw in the towel.

3. Find things you don't like about the property. You'll see a beautiful room with an incredible view, but don't be too impressed by it. If it's a huge resort that has lots of kids out and about, (and you don't have kids,) or the resort isn't very close to things you'd like to be able access without driving, such as restaurants, mention that. You'll be reminded that you can buy today and use your points/weeks at billions of other properties, but at least you'll have planted another seed of doubt.

4. Have a pre-existing condition. Yes, you're on vacation, but note that you have a family member who you can't afford to be away from every single year. This isn't the best excuse, but it's an option. And you'll likely be told you can bank your time for a multi-week vacation whenever that family member dies.

5. Express doubts about agreeing to a purchase without adequate financial planning. All of these deals are based upon buying a package that day, with little basis of comparison. They don't send you home with a brochure and offer sheet because they know you won't be dazzled by the offer on paper a week after you get home. If anything, you'll learn how a $30,000 commitment over 30 years isn't such a great deal.

When I'm expressing doubt, I note that I don't like to buy a car or make other purchases without adequate consideration. That won't put an end to the game right then and there, but it plants another seed of doubt in the saleswoman's mind.

Beyond those five suggestions, I'd advise not bothering with a timeshare presentation. But if you find yourself signing up because the lure of the gifts is too good to pass up, plan ahead so that you don't open doors for the salesperson to walk through. It had been years since I had endured a pitch, so when I ended up doing two in two days, I sharpened my skills between pitch one and two, and it paid off. I was polite and friendly enough, but I gave the poor saleswoman little to work with, and she quickly added us to her long list of strikeouts.

And if you are signing up, barter a bit. The folks signing you up for the presentations usually don't care if you're likely to buy. Their job is to put asses in the seats. All they care is that you meet the minimum income and other requirements. (In Mexico it was important that we were married, or at least reside at the same address, according to our IDs. In our case, the latter is true.)

In Mexico we saw that our initial reluctance to say yes to discounted show tickets turned into free show tickets. So hold out for better loot if you think you're willing to sit through a pitch, and don't be afraid to walk away if it's not that great of an offer. Show tickets to a show you weren't interested in aren't worth giving up a morning for, even if the tickets sell for $100 each.

Once you say yes you'll probably be asked to hand over a small deposit, because otherwise you'll blow off your appointment. So make sure you're offered good, valuable gifts before you finally say yes.

And a reminder... an important lesson I had to re-learn in Mexico. If you're not interested in a timeshare pitch, and don't want to be politely hassled by people trying to talk you into attending one, remember the golden rule. You're going home tomorrow morning. Say that, even though you might be in town for another five days.

When somebody in Vegas asks me how long I'm in town for, which happens in areas of high pedestrian traffic, both on the street and in casino/hotel lobbies, I always say I'm leaving tonight or tomorrow morning. That's all it takes. It doesn't matter if the guy is setting up timeshare presentations, selling discounted show tickets or booking Grand Canyon tours. If he thinks you're about to leave town, he won't waste time with you.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A thought regarding MGM's parking fee increases

I read this today:

“We are adjusting the parking rates for a variety of business-related reasons,” said MGM spokeswoman Yvette Monet. “These adjustments are based on market analyses we have conducted since we implemented the program.”

My translation: "People are threatening to boycott our strip properties that charge for parking, but not enough of them are carrying through to the point that it affects our bottom line, so we'll keep charging more, a la resort fees."

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Neil Sedaka, naughty nurses and Tropicana

I really didn't envision using my blog as a vehicle to comment on Vegas podcasts, but I had a few thoughts about topics inspired by the latest episode of the Vital Vegas Podcast.

The host gushes over Neil Sedaka, who he interviewed. I'm not that much younger than the host, but young enough not to remember how big of a presence Sedaka had in the world of popular music. I know the name, I know he's a big deal, but I don't know much about his music, his career or anything else.

I learned a bit thanks to the podcast, and it was entertaining to listen to the host's interview.

I don't consume any Vegas podcast religiously, but there are a few I listen to with great regularity, and what sets the VVP apart is that the host includes interviews periodically. The interviews are with entertainers, like Sedaka, and Vegas movers and shakers, some of whom are otherwise anonymous to tourists like me. Most of the interviews have been worth the time to listen, even if I didn't think it was a person I was interested in hearing from. I'm not that interested in learning about Sedaka or his career, but I gave it a listen earlier tonight and was entertained.

Kudos to the host for giving me something unique, and highly valuable, via the podcast.

The host also discussed the awkward circumstances surrounding the short-lived existence of a Heart Attack Grill on the Vegas strip. I'll assume you know HAG is a gimmicky, high-calorie burger restaurant downtown. For less than two months it opened a second location on the strip, in a sports bar that once bore the name of Pete Rose.

The host had an explanation for why the HAG was gone within two months. Allegedly the lease was on a month-to-month basis, leaving the building's ownership the ability to sell off the property the restaurant is a part of -- and swiftly kick out its tenants -- for redevelopment by an eager buyer.

That's plausible. And allegedly the HAG ownership wanted to invest more into its leased space, but was unwilling to do so without some sort of lease that extended beyond one month. That makes sense.

What didn't make sense to me, and wasn't addressed by the host, was why HAG moved into the space in the first place.

If you are serious about a restaurant on the strip, and you want to invest in the space you're going to lease, then you don't move in without negotiating a lease agreement prior to occupancy. The former Pete Rose sports bar was already equipped to run a bar/restaurant, so it was probably easier to open HAG there than it would have been in other places. But it's hard to believe a restaurant proprietor would take over such a space on a whim, hoping to get what s/he wants after the fact.

I don't doubt the ownership wanted to invest in the property, and the ownership wanted a longer lease term than 30 days, but I'm skeptical that the lack of a long-term lease was the reason HAG pulled out in less than 60 days.

I suspect the real reason was that, by most online reports, HAG had a tepid reception on the strip. If an established business was failing to drive a lot of traffic through its new doors upon its arrival, (even if it was relying upon word of mouth for advertising,) it was easier to pull out quickly, given its investment into the space was likely minimal by most restaurant standards.

I'm quite certain that if HAG was doing gangbuster business in its first six weeks, the month-to-month lease wouldn't have been enough of an issue to quickly shutter the breastaurant.

Choose to believe what you will. I continue to believe it was a cheap, easy way to try to duplicate the downtown HAG success on the strip, and with early returns as soft as they were, the ownership cut its losses.

One might only have needed to look at how lackluster the Pete Rose experiment was to guess that naughty nurses serving mediocre food wasn't going to set the strip on fire.

Lastly, the host talked about a variety of new show offerings coming to Tropicana, a casino with a great location on the south end of the strip, but one that seems to enjoy "also ran" status.

I was contemplating this today during a discussion thread online about how the big two, Caesars and MGM, are monopolizing the strip and stifling the concept of competition. It's not quite that simple, but that's the general overview of the strip casinos these days.

Tropicana is not part of a strip conglomerate, but it is part of some sort of hotel group. Being the only strip casino in the corporation's portfolio, Tropicana should be operated like a loose cannon. Decisions don't need to be weighed in relation to several properties, and with plenty of people continuing to express dissatisfaction with the big two and their bloodsucking ways, the Tropicana should be selling its old school vibe and offering many of the things Vegas gamblers love about Vegas of yesteryear.

Old school sells downtown, and using that approach, while positioning the property as the only one of that kind on the south end of the strip, certainly couldn't hurt the Trop's bottom line. There's a real appetite for vintage Vegas on the strip, and it's pretty hard to find these days.

It's unlikely that formula would result in record profits for Tropicana, but I suspect it would be well received.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

When do resort fees have a profound impact?

The following, edited comment was hastily constructed for a Las Vegas message forum discussion. It was a discussion regarding the latest resort fee increase announcements from the major players on the strip. I'll assume you've heard the rants and understand why resort fees irritate many people.
Not so long ago I wondered when we'd see a resort fee base rate (pre-tax) of $50. I predicted by the end of 2018 or very early in 2019. Of that I have no doubt as of today.

People will continue to fill hotel rooms, parking and resort fees be damned. People will fill them because they're waived due to casino loyalty, because they don't have to concern themselves with the bill at the end of the weekend or because the company is paying for them to be there.

With increasing declarations by people that they're done, or nearly done, with Vegas, particularly on the strip, and the number of locals who don't have any reason to darken the doorstep of strip properties – now more than ever – how soon are we going to hear about woeful economic times for the hourly workers who rely upon the tourist for their income?

It has been reported that parking fees are cutting foot traffic inside strip resorts, and that has affected the income of dealers and valet personnel, as well as the retail revenue inside the resorts. It has the potential to snowball into something not good.

Doesn't mean doomsday, but is it possible that we see a vicious circle that has a long-term effect?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

#VegasHalloween (day 5 and 6): Flying solo

My group was leaving on Thursday, Nov. 3, and it was an anti-climatic day, as it should be.

Given I was up late on Wednesday night, I wasn't in a hurry to get up Thursday morning. We were all meeting about 11 a.m. to load up the SUV. I managed to wake up early enough to clean up, pack and load my bags before making a final appearance downtown. I needed to buy one of those ridiculously cheesy "women of Las Vegas" calendars for a buddy at one of the downtown souvenir stores. I had a simple contest for my Facebook connections, and the person who came closest, without going over, to guessing the total in the coin collection pictured on my Facebook page was to receive a tacky Vegas souvenir. Given the winner was Jared, the ridiculous, impractical calendar was a great gift. And since they were two for $4, I now have one, too.

I also had time that morning to play a $25 Plaza match play I had not made a point to use during our stay. I feel like I come up on the short end of match plays too often, but I owed it to myself to take a shot with the $25 match play. I chose roulette, and nobody was playing. I bought in for $25 and decided that rather than look at the previous spins and guess where the ball was going to drop, I'd let the clock on my cell phone decide. If it was an even minute, I bet red. An odd minute, I bet black. My play was on red.

Normally I don't watch the ball drop when I have a match play working, but I decided to change up my strategy. I stared the ball down as it dropped into the wheel, and it found its way into a red number. I won $50, putting me up a few bucks for the week. I tipped the croupier a $2 bill and went to cash out.

Our last meal as a group was at In-N_Out Burger, and not that ridiculously busy one at the freeway exit, just down from New York New York. I'm smarter than that. Following lunch we finally made an appearance at the Pinball Hall of Fame. We weren't there long, however, at least not all of us, as Mike was the first to depart. Since his flight was separate from the rest of the group I had to drop him off a couple of hours prior to the rest. I left Joe, Jon and Trista at the hall of fame and dropped Mike off. When I returned to the hall of fame everybody was ready to go somewhere else. Nowhere in particular, but an hour of pinball was enough, unfortunately.

We drove west and found our way to The Sci Fi Center. It's close to the Orleans, which stunned me when I read about it a year or so ago through an online list of ways to "geek out" in Vegas. I imagined a giant store full of comics, movie memorabilia, toys and other sci-fi goodness. I was disappointed.

The Sci Fi Center has comics and other stuff for sale, but it's not exactly a retail hotbed for the latest in sci-fi books, T-shirts, games or anything else. The inventory was far less than I imagined, and rather random. I couldn't help but wonder if anyone buys merchandise there on a recurrent basis.

Although the retail business was underwhelming, there's a very cool element of the Sci-Fi center. Part of it is a makeshift theater, with seating for 65-70 people. This small theater is used to show B movies double features, live cast performances of Rocky Horror Picture Show and other occasional entertainment, such as a burlesque review. If I lived in Vegas I suspect I'd find the entertainment and crowd that gathers for it to my liking. Unfortunately I'm unlikely to see any of their Rocky Horror presentations, which often have special themes, as they perform them on Saturday nights, and I'm rarely in Vegas on a Saturday night.

Following a brief stop at The Sci Fi Center we went down the street to Club De Soleil, a timeshare property west of the Orleans, and my home for the final night. Rates were more than I cared to pay for a night at the Orleans, and I found an online deal for a glorified hotel room at Club De Soleil.

I stayed at Club De Soleil several years earlier. They rent out their units when they don't have them booked by people who own timeshares. Every major property on the strip, downtown and close to the strip wanted $100 or more for that Thursday night since it was during a major convention. I found an online booking through Trip Advisor for less than $65. I planned to have a rental vehicle for the final night, so Club De Soleil worked for me.

Although we went to check in early, somehow they didn't have a room ready for me. But we killed a little time there, sitting by the pool. The fact the pool has a hot tub which is accessible 24 hours per day was enough to make my friend jealous.

From there we stopped in at the Orleans, so I could show my friends the pool area I use most often in Vegas. At this point we were killing time, and it wasn't very exciting. Nobody was interested in gambling or anything spectacular prior to their departure. When the time finally arrived to drop the gang off for their flight home, I made them go to the car rental center with me and take the shuttle bus to the terminal. Their flight on the prestigious Spirit Airlines was already delayed, so they had a little extra time to kill. We turned in the SUV, said our goodbyes and I went to pick up my Mustang convertible for the final night of my trip. It was about $5 more than a regular car, so I figured I should spoil myself.

I rent from Alamo, typically, and like the fact I get to pick my car and color. They had a bunch of mustangs, as well as a couple of Camaros. I have rented a Mustang before, so I considered trying a Camaro, but after sitting in one I didn't like the feel of it, so I opted for a Mustang. I didn't want a typical touristy color, so I chose a dark gray car.

I never took a photo of my convertible in the sunlight, or with the top down. I'm an idiot. 
My first stop was the Silverton Casino. I had never been there, and I had read about their mermaids over the years. Seeing the mermaids wasn't a priority in the past, but I learned this past summer that my nieces are fascinated by mermaids. So I went to see them, and connected with my nieces in Minnesota via Facetime. Once we had the connection set up with their iPad I walked back into the casino from outside the building, making sure they couldn't see what I was about to show them. I carefully delayed the reveal for a few seconds, and as soon as I turned my phone toward a swimming mermaid I could hear their excitement and amazement through the phone.

There were two mermaids performing at Silverton, although you wouldn't know it from any of my pictures. 

I took several selfies, and the look on my face was typically ridiculous. 
After spending time filming video and taking pictures of the mermaids I headed back to Club De Soleil, with a brief stop at a nearby grocery store. I had the basic mini-suite, or whatever they call it. It's a decent room with a nice bathroom, and it has a mini-kitchen. By mini-kitchen I mean a mini-refrigerator and a microwave. I knew this, given my previous stay, so I picked up a few snacks at the grocery store, including snack food for Friday's flight home. I also picked up a 25-ounce Bud Light for the hot tub at the end of the night.

I was getting hungry, and my final dinner of the week was going to be back at Ellis Island. I considered using my half-price Silverton buffet coupon from the Las Vegas Advisor book, but I had an extra coupon for the Ellis Island cafe. That meant a cheap prime rib dinner for me.

Unfortunately I had to wait about an hour for a table for one. But that gave me an excuse to play blackjack for only the second time all week. I didn't win big, but I won a few bucks while killing time, and that was good enough for me.

After dinner it was time for a night of gambling at the Orleans. I like their casino and try to make an appearance there even if I'm not staying there. Perhaps they'll get the hint that I'd like a room offer for a future trip, I figure.

I started by playing Ultimate Texas Hold 'Em, and didn't have much luck. It was a full table, and I won't soon forget the loud, annoying woman that sat down after I did. She'd yell out the cards she was looking for, and she'd get them often enough, prompting a celebration on her part. I'm all for being enthusiastic, but she was a bit too much to take.

I never had a good run of cards, and I don't think I hit a full house one time. After losing $100 I moved over to a $5 blackjack table, and proceeded to play for about four hours. I wasn't having much luck there, either.

A dude at my table lived in Vegas, and had lived in Minnesota for about 30 years prior to moving west. He had intended to move to California, but somehow he ended up not getting that far. He claimed he was finally going to move to California in a few months.

The dude was enjoyable to talk to, although he became increasingly distracted as the night progressed. The woman sitting next to me was not happy about it.

I started to think I was doomed to a long night of losses at the Orleans. I was near $200 down, which wasn't a big deal when looking at the big picture, but it was annoying. As I started to wonder when I had to give up and call it a night, I finally hit a nice run of cards. I started winning more often than I was losing, and I pressed my bets a bit.

At one point I was ready to call it a night and said that if I lost the $10 I set aside, I'd cash in and call it a night. I'd have still been in the hole, but by less than $100 at that point. Instead of having to cash out, however, the cards kept falling my way. So I rode it out and worked my way back to even with bets of $5 to $10. Approximately four hours of slowly burning my chip stacks were erased in 30 minutes or less. As it was rapidly approaching 3 a.m. I decided I had better be happy with not losing money. Did I want to try and win a fast $100 at that point? Sure, but had the cards turned on me, I'd have been rather pissed to walk away $75 or $100 in the hole after all that time. Breaking even for the night made me happy.

And technically I cashed out $2 ahead. All my tip money came from my chip stacks, and I tipped my final dealer several dollars in tip bets as I was winning my buy-in back. So it truly was a winning evening.

I retired to Club De Soleil, grabbed my beer and headed to the hot tub at 3 a.m., where I spent about 30 minutes under the stars drinking Bud Light and eating Pringles. I posted the following pic for my friends back home to see, noting it was 5 a.m. back home.

Not the best lighting for a 3 a.m. photo at the hot tub, but you get the idea. 
A short night of sleep gave way to my final few, uneventful hours in Vegas. I checked out of Club De Soleil at the 11 a.m. check out time, headed down to the Pinball Hall of Fame for a few hours of pinball action and headed for the car rental return center. I wish I had given myself more time to exploit the joy of driving that convertible on the open highway. I was tempted to drive back to Seven Magic Mountains simply for a chance to cruise with the top down, but pinball was more important. I didn't even have lunch before heading to the airport on Friday afternoon.

It wasn't the most exciting night of my life in Vegas, but I was glad I stayed one final night and was able to do things on my schedule. I wish I could do that more often.

For the week I finished up about $40 at the tables. I always tell myself I need to dedicate $20 or $40 to the slot machines so I'll have a chance of pocketing $1,000 during my week in Sin City, but I rarely pull that trigger. Maybe next time.