Hell on Earth: The MGM Grand (Las Vegas)
PREFACE: This is a difficult blog to write.
Each and every week, I receive a text-message inviting me to play in a local poker tournament. The weekly tourney is $120 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. — hosted at the MGM Grand.
My distaste for the MGM Grand and everything associated with the monstrosity is widely-known and well-documented. It’s been the subject of columns in both newspapers — the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Review-Journal. I won’t reopen those wounds and get into details now (see a future blog for that). I only say that I was fully prepared to move on emotionally and give this giant money-sucking leech another chance when I made my first entrance into the MGM Grand in four years.
And so, last Tuesday night — prompted by an invite from poker pro Karina Jett, the extraordinary hostess at the MGM Grand (probably the only wise executive decision they’ve ever made here was to hire Jett) — I decided to release those bitter bygones and set foot inside a casino that still owes me thousands of dollars.
At 6:30 pm, I pulled into the MGM Grand parking lot. Not much as changed in this regard since my last visit. One still must maneuver a giant maze of lanes and floors and then walk a mile to finally get to the building entrance. Indeed, it takes me perhaps five minutes inside what used to be the world’s largest hotel to instantly realize that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING has changed since I wrote the following review (which was posted at a gambling website back in 2002).
It should be noted that everything in the following review is a reflection of my experience there ten years ago. But, it’s just as relevant now based on Tuesday night’s visit. One update: The MGM Grand now has a poker room, which has moved again. For several years, it was located beneath a noisy nightclub. The poker room has since been moved off to the side, which I will add is nothing to brag about.
Moreover, all of the events relating to my fallout at the MGM Grand in 2005 occurred well after this review was written. So anyone who thinks I’m biased should be aware this review was originally written three years prior.
Here it goes.
MGM GRAND SPORTSBOOK REVIEW (ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 2002)
If there really is a “heaven” and “hell” and I happen to miss the cut at the end of life, whatever chamber of horrors where they chose to burn my soul can’t be half as bad as the inside bowels of the monstrosity called the MGM Grand.
This is the worst place in the universe.
This is the Evil Empire.
If you adore being treated purely as a number, if your idea of entertainment is aimlessly searching for a public restroom, if you enjoy standing and waiting in long lines, if you get off going to crowded shopping malls and bumping into tourists and baby strollers, if you enjoy losing your car in the parking lot — I have some great news! The MGM Grand is for you!
The MGM Grand essentially represents EVERYTHING that is wrong with today’s casino industry. It’s big. In fact, it’s a monster. It’s impersonal. Like I said — you are a number. It’s fake. It’s corporate. It’s evil.
It’s like the end scene right out of the movie “The Wizard of Oz” (ironically, one of the many themes of the casino) where the lovable cast finally reaches it’s grand destination at the land of Oz and comes upon a gargantuan community devoid of humanity, with some clueless bean counter behind a giant red curtain pulling at the levers.
That’s the MGM Grand. It’s a sucker factory.
My first time to enter the MGM was about four years ago (note — 1998). Back then, the corporate suits with the MBAs thought it would be a “grand” idea to stick an amusement park in back of the mega-casino. That way, Mommy and Daddy could blow off the kiddies’ college tuition money at the tables and little junior could cream in his pants giggling at the sight of Mickey Mouse. Brilliant marketing plan, it seemed. That novel concept brought in minivan loads of families in flowered shirts and flop flops, pushing baby strollers right through the middle of the casino all looking for the giant roller coaster. Trouble was — Mommy and Daddy actually spent most of their time gawking at the bright lights and maneuvering through the casino maze (instead of gambling) while the kiddies in the back got fondled by Yogi Bear and Goofy.
Next, the MGM brass put up a huge lion’s mouth at the casino’s front entrance facing out toward the Strip. The suits thought it would be really cool if the casino adopted the world-famous MGM logo as part of their architectural design. So, visitors had to walk into the giant golden lion’s mouth the enter the casino.
Trouble was — the Asian gambling market took their business elsewhere. Seems it’s considered bad luck in most Asian cultures to walk directly into the mouth of a lion. Imagine that. Asians, who make up a significant portion of the high-roller market, avoided the MGM Grand largely out of superstition.
Finally in response, the clueless suits took a wrecking ball to the lion at a cost of a several million dollars. Hmmm. One phone call to China or an Internet search might have avoided that catastrophe.
Which now brings us up to the present day (note: 2002).
I decided to take a stroll through the type of casino George Orwell would have warned us all about had he been writing his futuristic visions of Las Vegas. Motivated by insatiable curiosity and my fascination for the darker side of all things, I made my return to the so-called “City of Entertainment.”
First thing’s first. If you “self park” I recommend getting a medical check-up first before attempting the trek. You’ll end up on the backside of the casino, and be forced to walk through an endless maze of kitschy novelty shops, escalators, elevators, and lifeless movie memorabilia before you finally reach anything that resembles a casino. I made my visit on a slow Tuesday afternoon, so my walk (I’m told) wasn’t as bad as during busier times. If you show up here and self park on a Saturday night or when there’s a big event like a headliner playing or a championship boxing match, you are insane.
I know I am spending too much time on this, but this is essentially the MGM Grand experience. Walking. Walking. More walking. You will walk endlessly from your car to the shopping area — packed with tacky shops and overpriced restaurants pimping themselves out to the gawking tourists. The typical crowd wandering aimlessly in here reminds me of that famous Mac commercial where the zombies are all marching lock, stock, and barrel into hell, to the Pink Floyd tune, “We Don’t Need No Education.” Like lambs move towards the slaughter.
You finally get to the casino area, but not before having to walk through the giant main lobby of the casino. But wait, it gets worse. Just when you thought you’ve arrived and want to check out the sportsbook, you have to walk through slot machine after slot machine after slot machine after slot machine, after slot machine, after slot machine after slot machine after slot machine, after slot machine, after slot machine after slot machine after slot machine, after slot machine, after slot machine after slot machine after slot machine, after slot machine, after slot machine after slot machine after slot machine, after slot machine, after slot machine after slot machine after slot machine, after slot machine, after slot machine after slot machine after slot machine, after slot machine.
Starting to get the picture?
There’s a lot of table games inside too — row after row of them. But, I finally had to ask someone where the sportsbook was, because this fucking place is too big and there are so many signs hanging everywhere that you can’t find your way around. Gee — do you think the casino’s intention is to MAKE IT CONFUSING for us? Naaaaah, they wouldn’t do that to us, would they?
In fact, it IS designed that way. Just like walking into the “Lion’s Mouth,” once you’re inside, you’re trapped like wounded prey. There are no side doors that lead out to the parking lot. No “back way out.” You walk into this corporate monstrosity and the deeper you walk into it, the further away from escape (and reality) you are. Like a tar pit. Like quicksand. Like Dante’s Inferno or Conrad’s Jungle. They constructed this hellhole to draw you in and make it as confusing as fucking possible for you to get out of here.
Burn in hell, bastards! I’m not putting a quarter into your fucking slots!
Okay, now we are getting closer to the sportsbook. Finally.
I must say that before I started writing this review, I intended to be objective. Even though I despise everything associated with this establishment, I was fully prepared to give them a suitable rating based solely on the quality of their sportsbook.
Well, wouldn’t you know it — once again the MGM Grand came through with flying colors. At least they are consistently consistent.
So why confuse things? Let’s make this review universally derogatory — from the parking lot, to the organization, to the layout, to the sportsbook, to the carpet fibers.
Maybe my expectations for the sportsbook were too high. MGM grand odds are listed just about everywhere — over the Internet, in newspapers and major magazines. The MGM Grand line is quoted frequently as “an authority” on sports (note: This is no longer true). Accordingly, I was expecting something like the sportsbook at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas Hilton, the Mirage, or Bellagio.
Man, was I disappointed.
This is not a sportsbook. It’s a second-class sawdust joint. I’ve been in local sports bars that were better places for sports viewing (and I didn’t have to walk two miles and climb over baby strollers to get there).
This hellhole that has the audacity to call itself a “sportsbook” (talk about false advertising!) has a bunch of tables scrunched inside the sportsbook area. The television screens are posted up so high that you might as well be looking up at the moon. There’s a huge bar that dominates the entire room (the devil corporation thinking that they can get some run-over seating from the book and charge the dumb stiffs for drinks since there are not nearly enough seats for the viewers). The tote board is broke up into different sections — which I found confusing. But maybe I was just so appalled at the entire experience of standing inside this abyss of humanity, that I lost all ability to think rationally.
I entered the sportsbook at about 2 pm on a Tuesday afternoon. That’s not a busy time for sports. However, with NBA and NHL games coming up that night (there was a full slate of games), I expected at least one teller to be on duty (games start in two hours).
No sports teller.
This is supposedly one of Las Vegas’ bigger sportsbooks, and there is not a single teller on duty TWO HOURS before the games start? That’s right, MGM. Save the $10 per hour! Why pay for one more employee? MGM shareholders, be proud.
The only positive thing I can say about this giant gorge of despair is that the Race Book is in a separate area. Seems the horseracing fans get their own private room — with real tellers! Living breathing human beings! Gasp! Meanwhile, the poor sportsbetters be damned. Perhaps the MGM Grand wants to keep the riff-raff horsebetters away from the main casino, so for that reason they are sequestered inside a separate area. I have no idea what the reasoning of this is — who can figure out what’s inside the tiny brain of these MGM Grand casino executives.
In the late 1960s, Howard Hughes’ ushered in a new era — the corporate-ownership of casinos. The Mafia gradually moved out and the bean counters moved in. What a terrible trade-off it turned out to be.
Now, if you dare ask for a $5 comp to the coffee shop, some working stiff dressed in a $125 suit wants to see how many slot points you’ve accumulated. The entire objective has become to rape everyone from the moment you’re in the door for every penny possible.
And the sad reality is — the MGM Grand is here to stay. This is today’s Las Vegas. The MGM Grand what every big casino is going to look like ten years from now. Once inside, you can’t tell if you’re in a casino, Disneyland, or the Mall of America. The strange thing is — in a place often so crowded with so many people, I have never felt more lonely and been so depressed as to look around inside the MGM Grand and think this is the future of the casino industry.
TV SCREENS: F
STAFF: N/A (I talked to one employee — a bored Security Guard)
COMMITTED TO SPORTS GAMBLING: F
Writer’s Note: This was a sportsbook review written in 2002 and posted at a gambling website. Over the next several months I will be updating some of these reviews.