Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Trip to the Strip Where Dreams and Themes Die Hard

This evening I decided to visit the new Planet Hollywood themed Casino resort in the old Aladdin. The Grand Opening was not yet in full swing, but plenty of lights, cameras and red carpets in anticipation of plenty of action were in place.

Only in Las Vegas could one bankrupt entity, Planet Hollywood, find the backing to buy another bankrupt entity, the Aladdin. Apparently in Sin City, two wrongs make a right!

In a town literally made of money, there is always a chance to roll the dice, even with borrowed, high risk dollars.

Judging from my slot losses, if they can keep the suckers walking through the door (this sucker does not plan to return), Planet Hollywood will do just fine. But before I give you the rundown on the slot action -- a little background on the theming and financing of the joint.

This article from the AP entitled "Planet Hollywood Exec Rebuilding Wealth"
gets it mostly right. It does state that Aladdin did not have a player's club to track action -- which is not true -- when I updated my card at the "A-List" PH (Planet Hollywood) club, my accumulated points from the Aladdin were present.

Perhaps the Aladdin player's club was so bad, they would like to believe it didn't exist. On this point, I don't see the PH club doing much better. I asked if there were any incentives for locals, the the representative told me "no" but I could play the big slot machine once a day for a chance at a big win (I pushed the button and lost, I can't remember what the big win was.) There also was one of those goofy, phony "slot tournaments" where you walk in at any time on a bank of machines, push the button a lot and walk away with a pair of plastic dice.

They did not ask me for email at the slot club, and failed to inform me that there was a drawing for a big (58" I believe) TV I could enter. Someone REALLY needs to train the Players' Club people in this town to be pleasant, upbeat, informative, and thorough. PH does have two Player's Club locations on opposite sides of the casino, which is a plus, that is how I noticed that the one didn't let me know about the drawing bin at the other.

Judging from the room rates on the Planet Hollywood website it appears that perhaps they are aiming for a mid-market clientele, undercutting the competition (Bellagio, and Paris) across the street.

The Aladdin always seemed to strive for an upper-middle market, never being the classiest joint in town, but respectable enough to draw it's share of stars of celebrities (Elvis married Priscilla there), that added to it's allure through the years. The opulent Arabian Nights theme seemed perfect for the desert, echoing a time when themes actually reflected the physical landscape of Las Vegas.

The landscape of Las Vegas has definitely changed -- from a dusty western outpost, to a desert dream of rags to riches, to a sex-drenched, celebrity infested, hyper-modern money grab. Okay, Vegas has always been about sex, money, and celebrity, but the LOOK of the fantasy has evolved.

A few years ago, I wondered why no chic, sleek, modern (a la W hotels at the time) resort/casinos existed in Las Vegas. Little did I know that fast forward to the present, and "modern chic" would overrun the Strip and beyond, trampling overt theming such as the Luxor, and Treasure Island, in it's wake.

If you are expecting the Planet Hollywood Casino to look like a Planet Hollywood cafe exploded, you will be disappointed. I couldn't find any Hollywood or Movie memorabilia on the casino floor, save for some framed B&W celebrity photos on the walls leading to the mall. I haven't seen the rooms, but apparently some do include memorabilia and are themed to specific movies, such as a "Pulp Fiction" suite.

What Planet Hollywood does look like is "modern chic" crossed with Times Square video screen monstrosities. I suppose Hollywood is too cool to celebrate itself with historical vestiges, but more than happy to acknowledge that life now is one big silver (video) screen. Perhaps you could call it "purity of form," I call it boring.

The look of the exterior and casino floor just doesn't do it for me. I did appreciate the Swarovski crystal globe like chandeliers, but they aren't quite as pretty as the ones at Red Rock. The crystal columns in the lobby are different, and downstairs you will find "Obsessions" a celebrity drenched memorabilia and art gallery that includes a wonderful room devoted to photos of Frank Sinatra.

All and all, visually Planet Hollywood has it's high points, but they are few and far between. Gentlemen will appreciate the sexy dancing dealers on pedestals in the "Passion Pit" -- but I'm first and foremost a slot jockey, so it was time to choose a mount and get to the business at hand.

I found some older Monopoly penny machines "It's All in the Cards," "Own it All," and the one with the dog. I quickly lost $20. On the other side of the floor I found what is probably the last "Fortune Cookie" penny machine in town. I lost there too, but did get a beer in the process. Armed with a little liquid courage, I sauntered up to "Drew Carrey's Big Balls of Cash" carousel. If you read yesterday's post, there is a link to a New York Times article that details the development of these machines. I haven't seen any in Vegas in quite some time, and thought they were a flash in the pan. Drew took my money as well, and I was berated by a couple of his put-downs and wisecracks in the process. Note to IGT -- being told you're a loser while you are losing, is NOT funny.

At this point I had to visit the ATM, which charged me a whopping $4.00 for the transaction. I headed upstairs to check out the vantage point from above, and yep, the casino floor still looked rather bland from that perspective. The VIP party was getting underway for "invited guests" but no celebs were to be seen, just your regular avid casino customer types. I spied some "Monster Mansion" penny machines in what used to be the high roller area of the Aladdin, and sat down there, losing about $10.

On the way back downstairs, I thought maybe Elvis would be lucky for me, and quickly lost a bunch on his 25 cent machines. Now I was plain pissed off. Still not convinced that PH could be so damn tight with their machines, I attacked Monopoly once again. Nothing. When all was said and done, I lost well over $100, possibly closer to $200.

PH needs to spend less time and money updating the decor and more attention to their outdated slot selection.

I walked through a portion of the "Miracle Mile Shops" on my way out, to distract myself from my losses, and make a few more notes on the "modernization" of the mall.

Even my beloved "Trader Vic's" has gone sleek and chic, and it's menu streamlined. No more Tikis and thick menus with exotic entrees that could leave even the most sophisticated gourmet scratching his head. For that you'll have to visit the original Trader Vic's in Emeryville, California.

This is Vegas, baby -- where new modern retro cool is 50 years behind the times, and the real deals are imploded with abandon. Ain't it a kick in the head?

Saturday, Bruce Willis will preside over the big Grand Opening event at 7:30pm proving that themes and dreams really do die hard.

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