The Duke of Fremont Street is a cathedral to class.
If you’ve been around Las Vegas for any length of time, it’s likely you’ve seen the dapper gentleman dressed to the limit. If not, then perhaps the 1938 Cadillac caught your attention. From his earliest origins spent gambling along the Mississippi River all the way to the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip, the Duke has been there and always seems to be closing a deal.
In this 25-minute interview, I sat down with the Duke where we talked about his life, what he thinks of Las Vegas and casinos today, and where he thinks we’re all headed. No surprise, the Duke delivers. He holds nothing back. He sounds just as cool as he looks.
CLICK AND WATCH HERE:
This was one of the first (of several) interviews we’ve recorded as part of a new series called “The Basement Tapes,” brought to you by 5th Street Sports. We shot the video in a basement, where the studio is located — hence, the show’s name.
I had a great time interviewing the Duke, which is obvious in this video. Thanks to my guest for coming on to the show and setting a shining example of elegance, perhaps matched though never surpassed.
Today, the United States Supreme Court struck down a federal law which prohibited most states from allowing legalized gambling on sporting events.
By a 6-3 vote, the high court’s ruling overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which was a 1992 law that banned state-authorized sports gambling (aside from Nevada).
What does this ruling mean? Well, it’s really good news for sports gamblers. It’s even better news for many states and companies with the infrastructure to begin offering sports betting. And, it’s fabulous news for the State of New Jersey, and especially Atlantic City, which has experienced a steady decline in popularity as a recreational gambling destination over the last 20 years.
Here’s my list of the winners and losers in today’s historic decision which is expected to drastically alter the American sports gambling landscape.
Recreational Sports Gamblers — Amateur bettors will soon have the option of making a legal wager within a licensed and regulated environment. Recreational bettors who might previously have been skittish about placing a bet with an illegal bookie or depositing money into an offshore betting account, can now conveniently step up to the betting window at a local casino, place a wager, and expect to get paid quickly assuming the bet wins. For the first time, sports bettors will be respected as legitimate consumers. They will be entitled to the same protections as other citizens engaged in commercial transactions, rather than treated as outlaws.
Professional Sports Gamblers — There’s serious concern that some states might impose a so-called 1-percent “integrity fee” atop all sports wagers. This is potentially quite problematic given the narrow margins of profit for even the most successful sports handicappers. That said, as some states begin to legalize sports wagering, expect an increase in the overall betting handle. In the long term (as more populous states come on board), expect a substantial increase in sports wagering, leading to what’s known as “public money.” This means more casual wagering inside the overall betting pool, which typically translates into pointspreads that reflect mainstream biases. Sharps tend to take advantage of inflated lines and inaccurate perceptions about teams and players. In short, the more uninformed bettors there are in any market, the greater the advantages for the most skilled and disciplined bettors.
New Jersey/Atlantic City — As more states have legalized casino gambling, especially in the heavy-populated Northeast, Atlantic City’s market share of overall gaming revenues has declined substantially. One-third of Atlantic City’s casinos have shut down. Some casinos even declared bankruptcy. Now, given the Supreme Court landmark decision which gives New Jersey a green light to offer sports betting, expect a flow of traffic back towards the Jersey Shore, especially this coming fall when NFL games kick-off. For the first time in history, citizens within the Garden State (and from nearby states including Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Connecticut, and Virginia which are within driving distance) will be able to walk into casinos in New Jersey and legally bet on sporting events. The same holds true for Delaware, which will also get a boost from legalized sports gambling, particularly from heavily-populated surrounding states.
States (Education and Other Programs) — Most state budgets are desperate for tax revenue. This is why many states have legalized casino gambling over the past 25 years. Taxing gambling profits supports many vital state agencies and important programs, especially relating to education. Soon, states will reap additional revenues from taxes collected on profits from sports gambling. Accordingly, they won’t be as pressed to raise taxes elsewhere to maintain essential services and protections.
The NBA — Credit NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for being the first head of a major sports league to see the future and face obvious realities connected to the public interest in major sporting events. A few years ago, Silver announced his support for legalized sports gambling, including fully licensed and regulated wagering on NBA games. Silver clearly understands what drives fan interest at many sporting events. Rather than deny realities as all the other leagues have done for many decades, Silver and the NBA embraced the proposal of fans being able to bet on their games. Look for an uptick in interest in daily/nightly sporting events (NBA, NHL, MLB) since more fans will watch sporting events because of a personal financial interest in the outcome.
States’-Rights Advocates — “States’-rights” has been a pillar of conservative political philosophy for more than a century. However, as federal powers have gradually increased, states have seen their responsibilities reduced in some matters of governance. The high court’s decision reaffirms the rights of states to dictate their own policies on matters such as gambling, taxation, and morality. Instead of a blanket ban against sports betting (outside of Nevada), which had been the law of the land, each state now has the option to make their own laws, and establish their own regulatory and taxation framework.
Fantasy Sports Companies — Fantasy sports companies made a big splash a few years ago when they overreached and bombarded the networks with an annoying number of bad television commercials, initially leading to explosive growth, followed by a legal crackdown on their quasi-legal activities within some jurisdictions. With sports gambling soon becoming legal, fantasy sports companies — namely DraftKings/FanDuel — are perfectly positioned to transition into legal full-service sportsbooks. These companies also have existing deals with many professional sports teams. It remains to be seen exactly how they will shift operations into key states where the competition to run sports gambling operations will be intense. However, fantasy sports companies already have millions of customers in their databases and some measure of brand loyalty, which provides obvious strategic advantages.
Professional Sports Franchises — Let’s face it. There’s not much mainstream interest in a game between two losing teams with lots of bad players. But add the sizzle of gambling on the game, and suddenly, the matchup becomes exciting to watch for most viewers. Since team sports began, franchises have relied solely on their local fan bases for financial sustenance — in terms of ticket sales, merchandising, and revenues from television rights. Accordingly, many franchises have struggled. Some teams have moved to other cities hoping for greener pastures. Sports gambling is the great equalizer. It gives bad teams the potential to be watched and enjoyed with just as much enthusiasm as premier games. Television ratings will increase across the board on all sporting events connected to gambling. This means more revenues going to the teams and higher franchise values.
Sports Networks/News Sites/Media — Sports betting is largely predicated on access to reliable and up-to-date information. A broader sports gambling landscape means an increasing flow of traffic to networks, programs, news sites, and periodicals which provide subject matter primarily of interest to gamblers. Many sports fans won’t be content any longer with simple sports coverage or mundane personality-driven talk shows. Instead, they’ll be seeking out more hard data and breaking news which could impact the outcome of a game. Look for sports broadcasts to openly refer to spreads and totals for the first time, since a substantial percentage of viewers and listeners are focused on that element of coverage. Since a rising tide lifts all boats, more viewers watching games on television and clicking various websites translates into an increase in traffic and advertising revenues.
Offshore Sportsbooks — Sportsbooks located outside the United States, particularly those based in Central America and the Caribbean, have filled the void of the vast sports gambling appetite. Since most Americans can’t wager legally on sporting events, millions were forced to bet through illegal bookies and/or offshore. Now, as an increasing number of states are destined to offer their own legal sports betting markets, the demand for offshore sportsbooks will slowly decrease. Most offshore sportsbooks won’t able to compete with the convenience of local casinos and quick, reliable payouts much closer to home. Expect several smaller sportsbooks which rely heavily on the American market to go out of business, unless they offer reduced vig and other perks which appeal to most sports gamblers. By contrast, increased competition translates into more options and better value for most gamblers/consumers.
Anti-Gambling Crusaders (Religious Fundamentalists) — The religious right and behavioral moralists have been proven dead wrong on just about every gambling issue since casinos began sprouting up all over the country. Their dire warnings of increased crime and other ills supposedly associated with greater access to gambling were unfounded. Thoroughly discredited on the gambling issue (and just about every moral issue), anti-gambling crusaders have been debunked and defanged to the point of political and cultural irrelevance. As tens of millions of Americans wake up every Sunday morning, they won’t be attending church. They’ll be far more interested in wagering on the day’s football games. Stike another blow to the 19th Century puritans who have run out of arguments against legalized gambling and are being tossed onto the ash heap of history. Bury them. They’re done.
The NFL — The NFL remains the undisputed king when it comes to American sports gambling. Anticipated legalization in many states will come despite their vigorous objections, kicking and screaming against legalized gambling for decades. Over and over again, the NFL has repeatedly handled its public relations crisis horribly — whether it’s been player misbehavior/reinstatement, the CTE scandal, the National Anthem controversy, ripping off taxpayers to build new stadiums, and so forth. Here’s yet another black eye and kick in the ass to a league that remains absurdly popular despite gross mismanagement and outright hypocrisy.
The NCAA — The NCAA is the most corrupt organization in sports. It reaps obscene profits solely at the expense of student-athletes. It pays its fatcat commissioners, athletic directors, and shady bowl presidents absurd salaries while all the risks are taken by an uncompensated and often exploited labor force. It’s criminal what’s happening. Fortunately, the NCAA was dealt an embarrassing defeat and now must face the reality that millions of Americans will soon be betting on their games, whether they like it, or not. Hooray!
Winners and Losers?
Other Casino Games — Who wants to play keno or roulette when pretty soon you can walk into a casino and bet $20 on a ballgame, instead? Studies find that most gamblers, especially millennials, like to feel as though they have some measure of control over the outcome of a bet. Unlike most casino games where the action/results are random, sports betting will become an increasing attraction since the gambler’s decision matters. New sportsbooks could divert traffic flow from the casino floor. However, a strong case can be made that since sports betting will attract new customers to casinos, some gamblers will gravitate to games like keno, roulette, craps, blackjack, and the slots. Hence, legalized sports gambling appears to be an uncertain win-lose proposition for other casino games.
Illegal Bookmakers — At first glance, bookies might seem to be the biggest losers when sports gambling becomes legal. The reasons are obvious. Bettors won’t have to rely on the illegal gambling market if a viable legal option is accessible. Moreover, expect the heat to be turned up on illegal bookies since local law enforcement will be tasked with reducing the competition for gambling dollars. In the long run, however, bookies might actually enjoy a boost. Since most bookies extend credit to their customers, this presents a huge advantage. If the sports gambling market increases (and it will), gradually many new bettors will become enticed by betting on credit rather than fronting money. Hence, bookies might gain more customers. Bookies might also be able to take advantage of significant pointspread differences in various betting markets.
Online Gambling/Online Poker — Good News: Given that PASPA was declared unconstitutional, it’s now going to be next to impossible for the federal government to impose similar prohibitions against casino games and poker played online. This should finally once and for all kill various bills proposed in Congress which might have outlawed online poker (and gambling games). Bad News: Don’t expect online poker or gambling games to get any boost in traffic, however. In fact, interest and traffic could decline since gambling dollars will increasingly find their way into casino sportsbooks instead of in online poker accounts. There’s only so many gambling dollars in the market available and if New Jersey and other states open up their betting windows, some percentage of the money used to buy sports tickets will come from other gambling ventures — probably, online poker and casino games.
Given a national tidal wave of retailer bankruptcies and thousands of store closures, why does the Las Vegas Strip defy all odds and increasingly look like the new Mall of America?
Las Vegas used to be called “Sin City.”
Now, it’s “Shopping City.”
The iconic decorative fountains outside in front of Caesars Palace are now obscured by a pop-up retail store hawking Samsung smartphones. The pirate ship at Treasure Island has been torn down and hauled away, replaced by a lousy barbecue joint with a mechanical bull. Every casino along Las Vegas Boulevard has a shopping mall or is connected to a shopping mall.
Indeed, everywhere you look up and down The Strip, there’s a trendy retail store or chain restaurant. Sales pests leap out of nowhere, begging to clean your jewelry or talk you into a miracle skin cream. Shopping has become so pervasive that it’s become increasingly difficult to find the way into a casino amidst a disorienting maze of overpriced clothing stores, perfume shops, gourmet burger bars, and kiosks selling junk knick-knacks that nobody needs. Playing cards used to symbolize the Las Vegas experience. Now, it’s credit cards.
Even off The Strip, several so-called “outlet malls” packed with hundreds of retail stores cater almost exclusively to tourists. Near downtown, there’s a giant complex called Premium Outlets (which just announced plans to start charging to park, begging the question — who pays for parking just to shop?). South of Mandalay Bay, there’s an even bigger shopping outlet known as Town Square. Just south of that mall is another outlet mall named Las Vegas South Premium Outlets. Parking is still free there, at least for now.
Even the swarms of visitors who drive into Las Vegas from the west can’t escape the shopping craze. What’s the first thing you see when crossing the California-Nevada border? Not a casino. Answer: The Primm Outlet Mall. Who in the hell drives four hours from Los Angeles across the desert to swerve into Nordstrom Rack? Hmm, I guess there are no stores left in California.
Las Vegas doesn’t need Gamblers Anonymous. We need Shoppers Anonymous.
What’s truly baffling is this trend defies absolutely everything that’s happening across the rest of America. Retailers just about everywhere are in very serious trouble. More than 10,000 stores affiliated with national chains closed down last year. Retail bankruptcies are at an all-time high. More than 50 retailers have gone out of business just within the last year.
Toys R Us is bankrupt. Perfumania is bankrupt. Rue21 is bankrupt. Payless Shoes bankrupt. RadioShack is bankrupt. The Limited is bankrupt. Gymboree is bankrupt. Vitamin World is bankrupt. Aerosoles is bankrupt. Styles for Less is bankrupt. That’s the short list. READ MORE
K-Mart is about to be bankrupt. Sears is about to be bankrupt. JC Penny is about to be bankrupt. SteinMart is about to be bankrupt. Burlington is about to be bankrupt. Men’s Warehouse is about to be bankrupt. Joseph A. Bank is about to be bankrupt. That’s another short list. READ MORE
These are even worse times for shopping malls. They simply aren’t being built anymore. Not with Walmart, Costco, Sam’s Club, and other retail giants offering far better value and easier convenience. Who wants to visit a mall and walk three miles to grab a few things when one megastore offers the same thing at a cheaper price — plus a hot dog and drink lunch for $1.50?
Of course, the real culprit in the demise of malls and retail stores is online shopping, and more specifically the explosion of Amazon. E-shopping has revolutionized consumer culture. It’s far easier to find the perfect replacement part or the ideal sweater on a home laptop and then have it delivered to our doorstep. No doubt, Amazon will continue cutting into the market share of brick and mortar retailers, which will increasingly find themselves following K-Mart into bankruptcy court.
So, given what’s happening everyplace else, why is Las Vegas such a mystifying exception? It makes no sense. It defies all logic.
Clearly, these retail stores on The Strip don’t offer any bargains. The prices for goods and services are usually much higher in casino malls than back at home. Sure, tourists will buy t-shirts and souvenirs. That’s to be expected. But who flies to Las Vegas on their vacation to purchase a smartphone? Or, a bottle of perfume? Or, a pair of pants? Or, a pair of sneakers? Or, any of the other millions of products for sale at a considerable markup?
One plausible theory is that most Las Vegas visitors expect to lose money. Hence, rather than blowing $1,200 at a craps table as the tourists used to do, by splurging on an $800 iPhone and $400 handbag instead, at least there’s something left to show for the act of self-indulgence.
Still, I can’t shake the undeniable fact that at least some (albeit small) percentage of gamblers depart the casino with more money than they started with. A very tiny number might even get rich. But everyone who walks into a shopping mall and then buys something loses money.
Why is Las Vegas so different when it comes to retail shopping? I can’t explain it.
Thoughts and feedback are welcome.
Correction / Update: I’ve been informed the Samsung store at Caesars is now gone. So, don’t rush there to buy the new Galaxy S9.
St. Patricks Day and March Madness weekend combine to create the perfect storm for skilled low- to mid-stakes poker players. It’s become the best calendar date of the year to play poker in Las Vegas.
I was astounded by all the craziness last night. Call it March Poker Madness.
Las Vegas poker rooms were packed. Every seat was taken. Waiting lists were long. More drinking and talking went on than usual. Almost no headphones were seen. Players looked to be having fun. The pots seemed bigger. Many games were great.
I got my ass kicked.
No, not really. Let’s just say it was a good night.
This was my overall impression after playing at four different cardrooms over an 11-hour stretch on a long Saturday night-early Sunday morning, which just so happened to overlap into a perfect storm of citywide poker action. My conclusion is this:
St. Patrick’s Day and the opening weekend of March Madness appear to create the best calendar date of the year to play poker, at least here in Las Vegas.
Surprisingly, I never realized this phenomenon before. Las Vegas has been my home for 16 years. One would think I’d have discovered this already. But I don’t recall going out to play poker during this specific weekend. In the past, for more than a decade I traveled frequently with the World Series of Poker Circuit, which meant I was off working, someplace else. If I was in Las Vegas during mid-March, it’s most likely that I avoided what amounts to “amateur night” for partiers and drinkers. Don’t misunderstand. I love drinking. But I don’t like drinking with drunken amateurs. Besides, the service sucks everywhere. It’s way too crowded.
Now, I realize the objective isn’t drinking with drunken amateurs. It’s to play poker with them.
Aside from the financial upside, the games last night reminded me of the way poker used to be. Players cracking jokes and laughing. Everyone talking about the ball game on TV. Gamblers discussing the next day’s pointspreads, while ordering another Miller Lite. You know, having fun.
If this all sounds manipulative, even exploitive, well — it is. In a game with tougher players and diminishing edges, every conceivable advantage must be hunted. That’s assuming you play for money. The formula for increasing one’s chance of winning is simple: You have to go where games are good and play at the ideal time. Oh, and you must play well.
Saturday nights are almost always the best nights of the year to play poker. This is true just about anywhere, especially in Las Vegas. Friday nights can be pretty good, too. However, on Friday nights many less-skilled players realize there’s still a long weekend ahead of them. They tend to remain in control of themselves and make table decisions that aren’t catastrophic. Not yet, anyway.
By Saturday night, the emotional bolts of self-constraint have rusted away and are about to snap. At least a few dozen beers into the weekend with a pocket full of losing sports tickets, the poker table becomes the last chance to get even. Sometimes maxed out on ATM visits and down to their last hundred, players will simply give up out of frustration. I saw this happen last night when an out-of-town visitor on a bad run got fed up with playing normally. He decided to blind shove his last $120. He lost.
Those kinds of bizarre situations happen a lot on Saturday nights, especially in the “touristy” poker rooms on The Strip filled with frat boys. But that’s merely the foundation for more craziness.
Combine Saturday night with the opening weekend of March Madness, which is four exhaustive days and nights of betting and watching television and cheering, then subtract the hours of much-needed rest, and low-to mid-stakes poker games all over town become even wilder. Then, to top things off, add in the party factor — St. Patrick’s Day. This is one of the most popular days of the year for casual alcohol consumption, perhaps second only to New Year’s Eve. All the scrumptious ingredients are in place:
Las Vegas + Saturday Night + March Madness + St. Patrick’s Day = Great poker games.
Admittedly, this was just one night. Perhaps, my experience was atypical. Maybe I’m exaggerating. Let’s open this up to other opinions.
Eager to know if my personal experience and hypothesis about St. Patrick’s Day/March Madness is shared by other poker players, I posted a poll on Twitter. Although the results are unscientific, these percentages show that a majority of poker players believe this is/was the best night (and weekend) of the year to play poker in Las Vegas.
Here are the results, so far (Note: It’s now 12 hours into the 24-hour poll — so the results are incomplete). The results do appear to be conclusive:
I don’t know what I’ll be doing tomorrow night — or the next, or the next. But I sure do know what I’ll be doing next March 16, 2019. I’ll definitely be playing poker.
The audience was treated to a pleasant surprise at Red Rock’s free variety show on Sunday.
About 20 minutes into the monthly matinee “Brunch to Broadway,” the emcee ushered four local high school students onto the stage. Two were young girls, aged 16 and 17. The two other kids were a 14-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl.
Inviting minors onstage to join a live show at a casino seemed a bit unusual.
“Brunch to Broadway” is 75-minutes of music with a live band. Years ago, these types of shows were quite popular. They used to be called “lounge acts.” Every big casino had one. Lounge acts played both afternoons and nights, and sometimes even into the early morning. Shows were free, although seeing the most popular entertainers often required a two-drink minimum, and getting a really good table usually mandated a generous tip to the Maitre’d. Many popular singers and comedians of the past century began their careers as Las Vegas lounge acts.
Unfortunately, searching for a free lounge act on the Las Vegas Strip has become tougher than finding a casino that pays 2 to 1 on blackjack. Lounge acts have pretty much disappeared.
However, there are some notable exceptions. Several “locals” casinos — which means resorts catering mostly to local residents instead of out-of-town visitors — continue to offer this throwback to the past. Red Rock (owned by Stations Casinos) and Suncoast (owned by Boyd Gaming) host regular variety shows in their showrooms. Most are free. As one might expect, the crowds in attendance skew a bit older. But I’ve also seen many families and young people in the audiences. It’s nice seeing shows featured that can be enjoyed by everyone.
“Brunch to Broadway” is fun. But it’s nothing out of the ordinary. We’ve enjoyed this show on three occasions (there’s a different show each time). The set list mostly includes show tunes and standards from the classic American songbook. Performers rotate in and out from various shows around town.
Sunday’s show was special, however. The two younger kids joined a four-piece band — which then became a six-piece band. Instantly, a horn section was born. The boy played the saxophone. The girl played the trumpet. The kids didn’t always hit every note perfectly. But that didn’t seem to matter. It was really cool to see the youngsters playing alongside professional musicians in a live show. The kids appeared to be having the time of their lives.
The two teen girls each sang a solo. Later, they sang together. Both girls were excellent. But, the audience could tell they were also a little nervous. Again, none of this mattered. Their songs were from Broadway show tunes.
A bit later, the other full-time performers continued the show. Finally, the entire ensemble cast did a few songs together with the band. It was all good fun. The price (free) was certainly right.
The episode impressed me. Bringing four youngsters onstage and giving them a chance to perform in front of a live audience added something really special to the performance. Sure, it’s understandable that Strip casinos would never take a chance like this — inviting school-age children to play in a live show. Visitors don’t pay $130 for a seat in the Bellagio showroom to see a 12-year-old trumpet player. But locals’ casinos are different. We have other expectations.
Indeed, locals’ casinos are very much part of our communities. People in our neighborhoods often work there. We go to movies at Red Rock and Suncoast (many locals casinos now have movie theaters). We eat at restaurants there. How nice to see a few casinos allowing youngsters to display their talents alongside full-time professional performers. What a marvelous idea.
The best way to keep great music alive is making sure that children are exposed to it. If they aren’t exposed to songs we grew to love, then gradually the music will fade away. If young people don’t develop an appreciation for the classics, then some of the greatest music ever written will be forgotten. Allowing local high schoolers the chance to perform music we enjoy and even mix in some of their own more contemporary stuff is a win-win arrangement for everyone.
After the show at the exit, the performers greeted members of the audience. We remarked to each young entertainer how much we appreciated them for giving their time and talent. See the photograph above of the two young ladies who performed in the Sunday show.
Sure, this was a small thing. A few kids performed in a free Las Vegas show. What’s the big deal?
Well, maybe this is a big deal. If more high school kids are given the chance to sing and play musical instruments at casinos, then perhaps free lounge acts will make a comeback, someday. If kids are provided with a creative outlet and allowed to pursue their talents in songwriting and performing, perhaps not quite so many will become absorbed by e-games and techno-music.
What happened on Sunday afternoon made a positive impression on me. Hence, I congratulate Red Rock casino management and the band for inviting these young stars of tomorrow up to the stage. Hopefully, the seeds of great music have been planted for many more generations to come.