By Norm Clarke
Scott Roeben’s popular website is named VitalVegas.com. He should have gone with ViralVegas.
The roving blogger/photographer has uncovered another hot topic.
Thursday he tweeted: “MGM Grand staffer claims front line tips (from valet to cocktail waitresses) down 30-50% since paid parking, two retail stores closed.”
The result was a social media firestorm.
“That tweet got 10,000 views in the first day it was shared. People are riled up about it,” Roeben said. “It taps into the frustration that’s happened.”
Free parking was once considered the untouchable perk of living in Las Vegas, so resistance to the pay model has been swift and fierce.
“I knew valet was getting hit hard, but hearing it’s across the board for anyone getting gratuities – bartenders, cocktail servers, dealers – was a surprise,” he said. “Unfortunately the front line employees are taking the brunt of it.”
MGM Resorts International, the gaming giant with 11 Las Vegas hotel and casino properties, started charging visitors last summer. Self parking now costs about $10 for four to 24 hours, with valet charging between $13 to $30 at various Strip properties.
There are a handful of holdouts among the major properties: The Venetian, Palazzo, Wynn, Encore and Treasure Island still offer free self-parking.
“Paying $30 for valet sort of jumpstarts the tone of your stay,” Roeben said. “To me, that‘s a shame.
“It's all about revenue enhancement,” he said.
His unnamed source “is not a cocktail server,” he said. He identified her as “an exec at MGM.”
Roeben, 54, is well-connected after living in Las Vegas for 12 years, much of it closely connected to the gaming industry. He previously worked for Caesars Entertainment as community manager and blogger. In 2010, he was awarded a Chairman’s Award at Caesars Entertainment, a company-wide honor for his efforts in the community.
He’s often seen roaming the Strip and downtown, camera in hand, and, on occasion, a drone.
Among his scoops: In September, he reported Caesars Entertainment was implementing a comp drink monitoring system at all of its Nevada casinos. That led to a confirming announcement by the parent company. He broke the story of the Riviera’s closing long before the local media outlets, and he made headlines last February with his “11 Vital Tips for Having Sex on the High Roller” after the arrest of a couple caught in the act.
A native of Hawaii, he moved to Los Angeles as an aspiring screenwriter and worked for the Writers Guild of America for nine years.
At 25, he appeared on “Love Connection!” hosted by Chuck Woolery. “The funniest thing was,” said Roeben, “when I told a joke, he would repeat it, but when they edited it, the part where I told the joke was edited out.”
His quick wit has helped his year-old podcast grow quickly to 4,000-5,000 downloads a week. VitalVegas.com has been averaging about 200,000 visitors a month since 2013. But he has paid a price for going rogue.
“I don’t get invited to a lot of stuff. But I like the freedom. I can share things. No way Caesars would have made an announcement that they were monitoring,” he said.
“Locals especially are not feeling appreciated,” he added. “Strip casinos don’t rely on local business all that much. They say it’s about 5-10 percent, but if that goes away it’s significant.”
The movement, he said, is “kind of like a de facto boycott. People are saying ‘I’m not going to go to the Strip if I don’t have to go.’”
Paid parking is “like a ticking clock,” he said. “As you’re playing, you know you’re going to get dinged (by going over the time limit). Remember, there are no clocks in Las Vegas. Now you got people watching the time, because the longer you stay, the more it costs.
He added, “It feels like a slap because you could lose $100 in a slot but knowing you have to pay an extra $10 is somehow more offensive. You know when you are playing the slots, you are paying for entertainment. But there’s no entertainment when you are paying for parking.”
A rep from MGM Resorts said the company’s valet attendants are no longer MGM employees: “They now work for SP , our parking vendor, therefore tip/payroll information would be outside our system.”
THE SCENE AND HEARD
Debbie Reynolds’ former Las Vegas-based memorabilia collection is heading for a new home. Reynolds’ son, Todd Fisher, told TMZ.com that a North Hollywood dance studio she owned since 1979 will be converted into museum for many of her favorite costumes. She had been working on the project before her death in December, a day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, died. The Debbie Reynolds’ Hollywood Hotel housed the items from 1993 to 1999…
Lady Gaga is hot, hot, hot. Boosted by rave reviews for her Super Bowl performance, she has added a second Las Vegas date for her “Joanne” World Tour stop at T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 16.
ON THIS DAY IN…
February 14, 1991: The Little White Wedding Chapel holds the first drive-thru ceremonies after owner Charolette Richards notices that handicapped couples have a difficult time entering the building. She knocks out a wall and the Tunnel of Love is born. Among those going for nuptials on wheels: Irish singer Sinead O’Connor, who got hitched in a pink Cadillac on Feb. 9, 2011, her 45th birthday.
Former NFL quarterback and TV analyst Joe Theismann, in the audience at “Absinthe” (Caesars Palace) on Sunday night… Former Notre Dame teammates Golden Tate and Jimmy Clausen of the Detroit Lions, with friends at Topgolf (MGM Grand) on Sunday, celebrating Tate’s joint bachelor/bachelorette party.
THE PUNCH LINE
“Nordstrom’s stock went up after President Trump attacked them on Twitter for dropping Ivanka’s clothing line. Then RadioShack said, ‘Would you mind attacking us?’” – Late-night host Jimmy Fallon.