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The Vegas Depression: #theStruggle #firstWorldProblems

Sal at airport

At McCarran Airport

It’s been a month since I was standing in McCarran Airport waiting for my flight back to Hartford from Las Vegas. That’s always when it sets in. The Vegas depression that Vegas enthusiasts, such as myself, experience is very real. Actually, I believe VD, as we may as well call it (pun intended), is contracted the minute you land in Vegas. The clock starts ticking. One of my most and least favorite parts of each trip is the walk from the cab to the hotel lobby for check-in. The smell of pumped in aromatic scents hits you, the chimes of the slot machines rings throughout the casino and the possibilities of Vegas are real once again. But, at the same time watching the sad faces dragging their suitcases is a reminder that your trip is terminal and, too soon, your time in paradise will expire. That exhausted walk with a packed suitcase from your room, down the elevator, through the lobby and to the cabstand can be torturous. Each time I wonder, “should I have stayed one more day?” Realizing that it wouldn’t matter, I try to take in as much as I can as if I may never return. By the time you’ve taken that terrible cab ride back to McCarran, you have a full blown case of VD. 

Treating VD is more complicated than trying to understand how Criss Angel still has a show in Vegas. But, I’m going to attempt to help. Here are some things that help curb my VD. 

I’m going to approach the treatment plan by finding ways to continue experiencing Vegas rather than seeking distraction like investing time in family and friends or finding a Vegas substitute. In other words, don’t move on. You’re not breaking up with Vegas, you’re just on hiatus.

1. Begin planning your next trip immediately-Even if you don’t have the funds, search for deals, flights, potential dinners, shows and excursions. This should also coincide with saving money to finance your next trip.

2. Relive your favorite moments- Scroll through pictures, write about your past trips and tell your family and friends about your favorite Vegasy things. When they stop listening, talk to your dog or babies. It’s only a little crazy.

3. Movies, TV, books and music- I’ll watch or read anything Vegas related. I find it cathartic to see big panning views of the strip and read stories set in Vegas. It allows me to say, “I’ve been there” or “maybe I can run into Chumlee again.”

4. Find a support group- The internet is full of Vegas enthusiasts. Friend them on Facebook, join the Five Hundy Facebook group, find them on Twitter, read the blogs (lots of them), visit websites (vegastripping), listen to podcasts (Five Hundy, Vegas Gang) and connect with other Vegasy people.

5. Go back- it works every time.

If you are experiencing symptoms of VD, consult a Vegas enthusiast immediately. Don’t attempt to go at this alone.



“Last Vegas” movie review. Vanilla Vegas

Last Vegas: Vanilla Vegas

I’m a sucker for Vegas movies. I’ll watch anything that shows the city in all its splendor even real clunkers like “Burt Wonderstone” and “What Happens in Vegas.” I’ve been looking forward to Last Vegas ever since last October when I was in Vegas for a conference and I saw them filming. I’m pretty sure I saw Deniro as he was on set, walking in front of the Mirage, and I was standing in front of Casino Royale. Pretty sure. My excitement was reignited a few weeks ago when I was in town for the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic or #vimfp and the Last Vegas cast was there as well for their premier.

So, as I was traveling to San Antonio for a conference, I hoped for a free night to catch the movie. The first night in Texas, as I was taking in the Riverwalk, I had that empty feeling that I often associate when I’m away from home (CT) but not in my 2nd home (LV) and I passed a mall with a movie theatre. With a couple of clicks on my iPhone, I found that I had 10 minutes to catch the last showing of Last Vegas so I raced up a couple of working escalators (strange to find a city with so many working walkways) purchased tickets and took my seat. I have to include information about this AMC theatre. The seats in this AMC Theatre are all reserved so I chose my perfect location and, get this, they are full leather recliners. Like, what?! Perfect.

The plot is simple; Paddy, Billy, Archie and Sam (Deniro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline respectively) have been friends for over 60 years and call themselves the Flatbush Four. They’ve lived full lives. Paddy’s wife, who was from the old neighborhood, passed away a year ago. Archie recently had a stroke. Sam lives with his wife in a Florida retirement community and bachelor Billy is finally settling down with a woman less than half his age. Billy wants his old friends to celebrate his Vegas wedding by joining him for the weekend and of course they decide to throw him a big bachelor party the night before the wedding. Billy and Paddy have unresolved issues, Archie is dealing with his overprotective son while Sam is in the midst of a very late mid-life crisis. Add Mary Steenburgen who plays Diana, an attorney turned lounge singer, and you have your main players.  The plot line and story are a bit thin but this isn’t about a solid story with a substantial plot and satisfying resolution. This is about four old guys experiencing Vegas. Movies that choose to set their stories with Vegas as their backdrop need to learn how to use the city to complement their film and help propel it. Part of the charm of The Hangover, Oceans 11 and even Vegas Vacation is that Vegas becomes another character of the film. We wait to see how that pesky antagonist, Vegas, will impact those romping around in her playground and often, we look forward to the magic Vegas moment where the city forgives and sometimes rewards her pawns. The majority of the movie is set in the Aria which is one of my favorite places to stay. I wonder how much MGM/Mirage paid because the Aria is shown beautifully in every way from success in the casino to a grand night at Haze and a suite with revolving beds and a personal concierge. The cast of Zarkana makes several appearances including even participating in Billy’s bachelor party. The rest of the city takes a back seat to the Aria with the exception of Binions which is where Diana performs. In fact, little things about the movie’s use of Vegas drove me crazy like the characters walking the wrong way to the Aria and, later, being dropped off at baggage claim instead of the departure terminals when they were leaving from their adventure.  The movie captures the spirit of the city but doesn’t fully use the nuances that could have added so much humor and conflict like old guys on a budget paying for steaks, watching a Cirque show with absolute confusion, being accosted by the street walkers, hustling a few young bucks at a poker table or maybe getting arrested for starting a brawl. Perhaps it was the PG-13 rating, but I felt that they didn’t push these old men who were, mostly, looking for a little “life” in their lives and turned to Vegas for that lift. But, it was more vanilla than an episode of the Golden Girls. That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t have some laughs and isn’t fun. After all, the cast is just too good to let the movie fall completely flat. Overall, what saves this is five great actors letting their characters’ friendships grow, develop and reconnect. I haven’t spent much time in Vegas with my closest friends but I look forward to early bird dinners with my wife, being the old couple at the pool and sharing our love of Vegas with friends, nieces, nephews and godchildren as they get to experience Vegas for the first time. Hopefully, our adventures won’t be quite as bland as the Flatbush Four.

As for Last Vegas, if you love Vegas, don’t expect to be overwhelmed by the way the movie features the city but you’ll appreciate the way the characters celebrate the spirit of Vegas. As a movie, it was a low B-. Wait for DVD unless you absolutely love the actors or are obsessed with Vegas.

VIMFP- Sharing that Vegas Love

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Riding The Deuce (public bus that travels the strip from Mandalay Bay to Downtown Las Vegas), I found myself trying to explain the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic again. This time, it was to a Virgin Atlantic Flight Attendant. After helping her figure out how the buses worked, we took seats next to each other and chatted about our current Vegas trips and, after she asked why I was in town, I began talking about VIMFP. “It seems to be like a comic book convention but instead of talking about and celebrating comic books, we just love Las Vegas,” I said as we took the long Deuce ride down the strip. While the Deuce is a great value at $8 for a 24 hour pass, it can take over an hour to travel from the south end of the strip to Freemont Street. But, I wasn’t in a rush and I was enjoying my conversation with the British woman who was in her 50’s and was a frequent Vegas visitor. I watched the daylight fade from my bus window as we passed the lights of the Aria, the fountains of the Bellagio, the grandeur of the Wynn, the gaudiness of Circus, Circus  and I finally stepped off the bus on Freemont Street, took a deep breath in the night sky and was ready to meet the good people of VIMFP.

Walking through The D, the VIMFP host site, I hoped to recognize some of the people I had connected with via social media. I didn’t anticipate the confusion and awkwardness of trying to identify people via their profile and posted pictures. I wandered the casino, played some video poker, had a few drinks, signed up for a player’s card, and anxiously anticipated the start of the World Series of Satin Casino Jackets. I stumbled upon a large group of people who were unquestionably part of VIMFP.

Five Hundy

Tim and Michelle of Five Hundy by Midnight

The first person I met was Michelle from Five Hundy By Midnight which was a great introduction to the world of VIMFP. She had such a kind and welcoming demeanor and, sporting her blue casino jacket and pink umbrella, introduced me to a few others. As over 20 participants registered for the competition, one contestant really stood out. Derek Stevens, the CEO of The D, wore a custom made jacket embroidered with the twitter names of the organizers, Our Lady Peace (the featured concert) and the name of the event, #vimfp . I shook his hand, introduced myself, and told him that he was awesome. By the end of the weekend, I didn’t just think that Derek Stevens was a very nice man, I thought he embodied what I try to teach in my leadership classes.

As the event started, I realized what was happening. The contestants were lined up in the Vintage Casino (2nd floor of The D) and riding the elevator down to the Long Bar located in the main casino. I raced down to the Long Bar and as I approached the bar, I felt like I had finally arrived. What was probably 30 or 40 guys and gals wearing random Vegas apparel standing in front of the bar overwhelmed me. A large human with a scraggly brown and gray goatee stood in front of them all screaming through a megaphone introducing each of the contestants. @chuckmosnter (no, I don’t know his real name) who is one of the primary organizers of VIMFP and one of the men behind called down the contestants as they twirled and showcased their vintage and sometimes bedazzled jackets.  As this was happening, I was still trying to figure out who everyone was. Fortunately, I connected with @dentondallasb, or Roux, who took the time to introduce me to the majority of vimfp’ers and bought a round of Coronas. Great hanging out with Roux who helped me acclimate to the world of VIMFP. Thanks to Roux, I had a great conversation with Hunter (@hunter) about his work with his @vegasmate app, Dr. David Schwartz (@unlvgaming) about his book Grandissimo and Tim (@fivehundy) about he and Michelle’s podcast. Talking to Tim, I was interested in hearing from him about how most of Las Vegas hasn’t figured out how to engage the Vegas bloggers. He shared with me his thoughts that most PR departments are so used to people looking for comps and free rides that they don’t know what to do with a group that has a genuine interest in reporting Vegas developments and lending authentic opinions and reviews of Vegas. In speaking with him, I learned more of Derek Stevens’ relationship with members of VIMFP. Not only does he pay attention to this group, which he certainly considers stake holders in his success, but he engages us. He immerses himself in the community because, he too is passionate about his work and his town.



My first night ended with a few more drinks, a few more conversations and a long ride on the bus back to the Luxor.

In the morning, after playing some slots at the Luxor and enjoying an iced coffee, I made my way back to the bus stop and hopped on for another long ride to The D which took longer than I anticipated. I arrived right before The Main Event started and sat in the back next to a very kind man named Bill.  I was the first to purchase Grandissimo at VIMFP according to Dr. Schwartz. Sitting with a rum and diet coke, the Vegas Gang and Five Hundy live shows began. What was most interesting is how much celebrity they enjoy amongst this community and rightfully so. They represent so much of what Vegas enthusiasts, such as myself, enjoy. It isn’t just spending a few nights in a resort, having a few drinks, playing some games, enjoying a show and soaking in some sun by the pool. We love everything that makes Vegas unique including its history, past and current characters, continued developments and the politics behind it all. I really believe that @misnoper (no, I don’t know his real name) said it best. “We can easily be into model trains but we’re not. We’re into Vegas. Everything about Vegas…the minutia of Vegas. Everything,” @misnoper.

VIMFP Proclamation


Sarno Proclamation

Sarno Proclamation

The Vegas Gang interviewed Zach Conine , Vice President of Development for Fifth Street Gaming about the new Downtown Grand as well as Derek Stevens about his purchase of the old courthouse. Five Hundy by Midnight followed them. Tim and Michelle are a fascinating couple. Listening to them every week, you get to know them a little. Watching them interact live and host their show, you realize just how much chemistry they have as a couple, team and Vegas enthusiasts. My wife and I share a love for Vegas that I thought few couples could match. Well, Tim and Michelle got us beat. As much as I enjoy listening to their reports and respect their thoughts, I believe that what ultimately makes them successful is their chemistry and, dare I say, love. Corny, maybe but completely true. What was, arguably, the most touching moment of the entire event was celebrating the contributions of Jay Sarno through Dr. Schwartz’s  book launch. I believe that most of the room was surprised and in awe when Freddy Sarno, the son of the late Jay Sarno, thanked not only the author but everyone in the room for acknowledging his father’s work. I think that’s what I ultimately felt in the room. VIMFP is more of a party celebrating Vegas as much as it is convention discussing Vegas but it is ultimately a group of 200 or so Vegas geeks sharing their love of Vegas with each other.

Maybe no one embodied this more than Derek Stevens. He participated in all aspects of VIMFP. He’s a throwback to the days of Benny Binion when the guy in charge would get to know his patrons, his staff, their names and just talk to them. Derek, and his wife, Nicole did more than they needed to and I’m sure I don’t know everything they donated and contributed but I noticed a few things and made a few assumptions as an event planner. The event was free to attend so I’m going to assume that The D donated the showroom which also included bartenders and waitresses. The D’s staff helped coordinate the World Series of Casino Jacket competition by clearing traffic as well as the VIMFPtuckey Derby. The D donated prizes including a comped stay and dinner for two to the winner of the VT Match Game. I have to believe that Derek Stevens had something to do with the Mayor issuing proclamations for both VIMFP Weekend and Jay Sarno- Grandissmo day. And, he obviously coordinated the Our Lady Peace Concert. As much as it pains me to say this, I’m not a fan of downtown Vegas or Freemont Street but I’m a huge Derek Stevens fan. I see what he’s trying to accomplish and I believe that, because of his work and efforts, eventually he will attract a broader clientele.

2013-10-19 14.50.22

Later that evening, Derek Stevens introduced Our Lady Peace which was the final “act” of VIMFP weekend. As Derek left the stage, the band began to play and the canopy over Freemont Street streamed videos of the band and, most impressively, scrolled the twitter names of the VIMFP organizers. Looking around, I could see Tim, Michelle, Hunter and Chuck all stare in awe as their names scrolled continuously across the canopy. As Tim said via twitter, ” Mind-blowing to see @fivehundy scrolling on the @FSELV canopy as @OurLadyPeace plays. Unreal. #VIMFP,” @fivehundy . Our Lady Peace was amazing and I enjoyed standing in the VIP section (thanks once again to The D) for the show.

Me and Derek Stevens

Me and Derek Stevens

As the show ended and VIMFP came to a close for me, I wanted to thank Derek one more time. I saw him in the casino, tapped him on the shoulder, and said, “I’ve been here for the last few days with VIMFP and I just want to thank you as well for everything you’ve done.” I asked him if I could take a quick picture to which he agreed and said, “I came. I saw. I Vegased! I love your shirt.” Yeah, I’m sending him a shirt.

As I walked in front of The D one last time to make my way to the bus stop, I said goodbye to some of the great people I met and saw Tim and Michelle walking down Freemont Street, holding hands, in love with Vegas. The way it should be.

Getting Ready for #VIMFP

The Vegas Pre-Game Series- Preparing for #vimfp

Tomorrow, I’ll be traveling to the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic. Yes, this is a real thing. If you don’t believe me, visit . While I haven’t experienced the magic that is #vimfp, I have spend the past two months preparing for this weekend.  First, I needed to learn a little bit more of what this whole thing actually was. I’ve likened this completely free event to a comic book convention for Vegas geeks, like myself, to gather and celebrate the fabulous city of Vegas. Bloggers, podcasters, webmasters, app creators, and Vegas geeks will gather to drink, celebrate and be merry all in the name of Vegas. Podcasters will do live shows. Authors of Vegas books will speak and be spoken to. There will be a parade of Vegas geeks competing in the World Series of Satin Casino Jackets. And, I’m assuming, there will be a lot of happy Vegas love.











In preparation, I skipped my traditional Vegas rituals of watching the Oceans and Hangover movies, cashing in my bottles and cans, and researching which shows and restaurants I would go to. Instead, I worked on rebranding my website, listened to past Five Hundy by Midnight and Vegas Gang podcasts , connected with #vimfp’ers and created new business cards and t-shirts.


To say I’m excited about this weekend is an understatement. I’m always amped for my Vegas trips. But, this time, I’m going to be surrounded by my Vegas brethren. I’m passionate about some things in my life. I’ve sat with some of the smartest Student Affairs professional in the country at conferences and had intellectual discourse about student development theory, higher education and the “millennials.” I love to be surrounded by Pearl Jam fans (the Jamily) and screaming the lyrics to “Given to Fly” with my brother, Melo, sitting in the seat next to me. I’ve lost my mind watching the Bills beat the Patriots at the Ralph a few years ago while sitting next to my friends Bob and Pisci who are die-hard Patriot fans. I’ve sung “New York, New York” with my wife after watching the Yankees win a play-off game in Yankee Stadium.

But, this is different. I’m looking forward to having a drink in hand, meeting some of the biggest Vegas fans in the world, geeking out about Vegas and laughing at what are sure to be some antics only fit for the greatest city on the planet.

I’m ready.

(Special thanks to my wife for supporting my Vegas obsession. Wish she were coming but as I always say, teachers teach: that’s just what they do.)

Introducing Veni.Vidi.Vegas!


As much as I have enjoyed the moniker, “The Vegas Expert” and the website “,” I started to feel as though this seemed a bit pretentious.  Through the web and social media, I discovered a community of Vegas enthusiasts, such as myself, who are experts in their own right. For the past several months, I’ve been searching, making lists, reading, talking to friends, colleagues and other bloggers about their thoughts on a new direction to express my love and obsession with Las Vegas. I narrowed down my list to a few concepts. I asked myself what I wanted to communicate to others about Las Vegas. I’ve always wanted to provide my personal stories of Vegas geekery, reviews and opinions from myself and others, and maybe, most importantly, tips and advice on how to have the absolute best Vegas experience possible. I wanted something catchy, different and authentic.

I started playing with words and concepts and one night I was playing with some alliteration using the word “Vegas” and it just happened. During a text conversation with my good friend and colleague, Eric LaCharity, it all clicked. Veni, Vidi, Vici or “I came. I saw. I conquered” which really speaks to what I want to say about Vegas. Go to Vegas; See Vegas; Conquer, or win, in Vegas. Winning just doesn’t refer to gaming but also in having the best experience possible. The further I explored these ideas, the more I thought about my personal experiences of Vegas which are filled with over-the-top and sometimes gaudy entertainment, the gluttonous meals and spirits, the freedom to be unnecessarily excessive and the fun and sometimes brutal world of gaming.  Vegas feels strangely like a place that reflects the stories of ancient Roman times existing in our modern world.

With that, Veni. Vidi. Vegas! was born.

Since that day, I’ve been working to incorporate this brand/concept into the website and into a new business venture that I hope to start.

I am happy to introduce the NEW!




Most of still remains with a few new additions.

Facebook Group- For those interested in connecting with me and with other Vegas enthusiasts on Facebook, join the group .

Twitter- I will continue to tweet primarily from @salvegas24 which will not only include Vegas related content but also the musings from my daily life. For Vegas related information only, please follow @veniVidiVegas .  Tweets are much more seldom from this account.

Shop for cool Vegas stuff- I am most excited about this new venture! I’ve opened a new Vegas shop utilizing The first item is the official Veni. Vidi. Vegas! T-shirt “I came. I saw. I Vegased!” which is available for $19.99 or $18.99 if you don’t mind adorning on your back to help promote the site.

Click here to visit the shop.

vegas front and back tshirt





VIMFP- I am looking forward to attending my first Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic in two weeks. Knowing that so many other Vegas enthusiasts will be gathering to celebrate their love of Vegas, share their experiences and network is part of the reason I wanted to make some changes.

Thanks- I would be remiss if I didn’t thank some people that humored my obsession and helped me develop this concept. Thank you to my friends, colleagues, brain trust, or “Rizza’s 11-7.”

The Professional- Ray Bendici, an accomplished author, editor and blogger (

The Professor- Andrew Marvin, an incredibly intelligent professor, writer and blogger ( ) .

The Realist- Chris Piscitelli, a realistic and grounded professional, caterer and owner of Grill 145. ( )

The Ideas Guy- Eric LaCharity, a talented graphic designer and creative mastermind.

The Better Half- Anne Rizza, the best school teacher and composition professor in the world. She’s also married to this guy who is obsessed with Vegas and not only humors his obsession but supports his frequent trips and daily Vegas ramblings. She is an awesome wife, fellow Vegas enthusiast, friend and my official partner in Vegas and in life.


The Vegas Pre-Game Series- Vegas Viewing

The Vegas Pre-Game Series

Athletes, actors, performers and teachers all have rituals that they have before big games, performances or major lessons. So do Vegas geeks like myself.  I’m pretty sure that many of us all have our own ways to mentally, financially, strategically and spiritually prepare for the next trip to the “motherland.”  Some of our ritualistic behavior may have to do with superstition, habit or just the act of getting as amped up as possible to fully enjoy the greatest place on the planet.  In The Vegas Pre-Game Series, I will share the ways I prepare for my Vegas vacations. This series will be in no particular order or sequence. While some of the pre-game series will be absolutely ridiculous (like listening to Las Vegas radio stations for weeks before the trip) some will be practical advice (like researching where conventions/conferences will be in Vegas to avoid long waits at restaurants). I hope this series offers a bit of entertainment and advice and helps you find your own pre-game ritual.

Happy Vegas-ing!

Vegas Viewing: The Top Five Movies You MUST Watch Before Vegas!

I’m a sucker for any movie or TV show that even mentions Las Vegas. Whether it is a shot of the strip (Oceans 11), scene in a casino (Swingers) or Vegas related antics (The Hangover) watching a few Vegas themed flicks is a great way to get into the spirit. Below, I’ve listed the top five movies to watch before your trip. As a film buff, I’ll be the first to say that the movies below are NOT the best quality films about Vegas but movies that will help you get in the right mindset regardless of what type of Vegas trip you’re going on.

5. Casino- Arguably the best film ever made about or featuring Las Vegas, Casino (1995), directed by Martin Scorsese and featuring dynamic performances by Robert Deniro and Joe Pesci, is not-so loosely based on real life gangsters Frank Rosenthal and Anthony Spilotro. This outstanding film offers an inside look of the era when organized crime ruled Las Vegas and some of the principle players and stories associated with that time period. The reason I like this film is that it highlights some of the events immediately preceding the mega resort era of the very late 80’s and 90’s. Watch this film before the others if possible! (Accompany viewing of this film by reading the book Super Casino, if possible and/or reading a little bit about the history of Las Vegas- ) (Vegas sites featured- The Riviera Hotel and Casino)

Scene- Everybody Watches Everbody,

4. National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation- I believe that prior to every trip my wife and I have taken to Las Vegas, we’ve watched Clark Griswold and his family be seduced by the sins of Sin City.  Initially, I think it was just coincidence and then we started making a habit of it and now we watch it the week we are leaving. As much as this isn’t a great movie, it is absolutely enjoyable. The movie is a bit dated and Vegas has changed a LOT since 1997 but Clark’s Black Jack scenes, the music and the feel of the entire movie are still pretty relevant. I specifically recommend watching this if you plan on visiting the Hoover Dam.  (Vegas sites featured- The Mirage, The Hoover Dam)

Scene- The Blackjack Dealer,

3. Swingers- The entire extent of Vegas in this 1996 indie hit lasts maybe 15 minutes as Trent (Vince Vaughn) and Mike (Jon Favreau) take an impromptu overnight trip to “Vegas, baby!” But within their brief foray into Vegas and throughout the rest of the film, this movie lives, breathes and screams Vegas. Some great Vegas quotes from “Vegas, baby, Vegas” “they’re gonna give Daddy the Rainman suite,” and “we’re gonna be up five hundy by midnight” all come from Swingers. I specifically recommend watching Swingers with your buddies if you’re taking a guy trip to Vegas and I dare you not to say, “you’re so money,” while you’re walking the strip.

Scene- Vegas, Baby, Vegas!

2. The Hangover­- In 2009 when this incredibly popular comedy debuted, myself and a group of very fun and spirited guys and gals planned a trip to Vegas.  A few weeks before our trip, most of us went to watch The Hangover together in the theatre and it set the tone for our trip. While none of us were kidnapped, drugged or married a stripper while we were in Vegas, we definitely had a few very fun and memorable (for most of us) nights.  The Hangover does the best job of showcasing the “night out” in Vegas. And although it is a completely ludicrous plot, it isn’t as farfetched as you may think. Additionally, The Hangover also does a great job featuring some of Vegas’ celebrities, performers and socialites. As you walk the strip, you will find numerous characters from The Hangover hanging out with Batman, Superman, Homer Simpson and other superheroes, cartoon and movie characters. And yes, it is a lot of fun to go up to the front desk at Caesars and ask if “the real Caesar lived here.” I did it and the staff member I spoke to didn’t seemed pleased. (Vegas sites featured- Caesars Palace)

Scene- Did Caesar live here?

1. Oceans 11 AND Oceans 13– If you’re going to watch just one movie, I’d recommend Oceans 11 and I would watch it as close to your trip as possible. If you can fit two movies in, add Oceans 13 or The Hangover depending on what you’re in the mood for. The Oceans movies do the best job of capturing the casinos, strip and feel of Vegas. While the other movies may get you all hyped for the partying and gambling, these movies do the best job with making Las Vegas another character in the film. The film’s director, the incredibly talented Steven Soderbergh, does a particularly great job with making the Bellagio look warm, luxurious and irresistible. Most of the shots in the movie at the Bellagio are by the Petrossian Bar located off of the main lobby. However, the layout of the lobby has changed significantly since 2001 but you still get a great sense of the Bellagio. There is something magical in the scene where all of Danny Ocean’s 11 are standing against the railing watching the Bellagio fountain show. After watching Oceans 11, you’ll be ready for the lights and action of Vegas and hoping for that one perfect hand where “you bet, and you bet big and then you take the house.” (Vegas sites featured- The Bellagio)

Scene- Reeling in Reuben,

Happy viewing and Happy Vegas-ing!

The Chubby White Guy Rides Again: A Review of Absinthe

The Chubby White Guy Rides Again: A Review of Absinthe

August 11th

Attended on August 7th

For the 2nd time in my Vegas life, I was pulled on stage to participate in a Vegas show. At this point, I’m calling myself a featured Vegas performer. This time, I was in the show “Absinthe,” which shows in the large tent outside of Caesars Palace. Before I regale you all with the details of my performance allow me to tell you a little bit of how great this show was (and not just because I was featured).

My wife and I debated which show we wanted to attend. I’ve wanted to see Terry Fator for a few years now but I read such good reviews of “Absinthe” that I had to see it not to mention that the gorgeous Angel Porrino was also in the cast…or should I say, my cast, and I loved her in Peep Show and was looking forward to peeping her again. We bought tickets from Tix 4 Tonight for $90 a piece (34 percent off…always buy from T4T unless you can find a better deal). We got the VIP tickets and sat in the 3rd row. Everything about the show experience was cool. The door for our entrance was a green telephone booth; the place is decorated like an old-school circus tent with antique looking sofas in the back, high top tables around the perimeter, wooden chairs around the “theatre in the round” stage and the ushers wearing porkpie hats and suspenders.

Absinthe is a Spiegelworld production which features a combination of burlesque acts, acrobatics, feats of strength, cabaret singers and raunchy comedy. The premise of Absinthe is that the Master of Ceremonies, known as the Gazzillionaire, is putting on this large variety show. He cracks jokes at the expense of audience members, his cast and even himself. He and his assistant, Penny  Pibbetts, introduce the acts with their especially raunchy and off-color humor. This IS NOT a show for kids. In fact, this isn’t a show for some adults and if you’re a right-wing Republican, I’d caution you as much of the political humor is often directed at the conservative GOP.

Regardless of where you sit in the house, you are incredibly close to the very small and round stage located at the center of the tent. As the New York Times reviewed, “You’re close enough to see the sweat and grimaces needed to produce graceful, gravity defying stunts.” While the Cirque Du Soleil shows have higher production values, the proximity to the stage, the intimacy of the venue and the value of the tickets don’t compare. That isn’t to say that “Absinthe” is the best show in Vegas but, I feel strongly that Absinthe is the perfect Vegas show. We laughed as heartily as we did at Carrot Top but not quite as hard as we did at Jerry Seinfeld. We watched in awe at the feats of strength performed by two Polish men, the speed and daring of a roller skating couple whirling around a tiny stage relying on physics and gravity to prevent them from propelling into the audience, high wire acts, trapeze artists, the lovely singer Melody Sweets and, of course, the Peep Show diva and local celebrity, Angel Porrino who bounced inside a large bubble. Every moment of the 90 minute show was entertaining. Of course, I believe that my segment was the most entertaining.

Prior to the last act as they were setting up the high wire act, the Gazzillionaire surveyed the audience and saw me “raising the roof” from my seat. He called on me to join him on stage. I nearly trampled the women sitting next to me to get to the stage as I feared that he may change his mind. My moment had come again! While I was featured in Mystere’, I did so from my seat and never actually made it to the stage. This time, I would be center stage in Vegas. I was bigger than Wayne Newton (literally), funnier than Carrot Top (introspectively) and more dazzling than Penn and Teller combined (with my New Balance sneakers and plaid shirt). The Gazzillionaire introduced me to the audience as “the white guy” who had taken a break from “world of war craft” to watch the show. He cracked jokes about my New Balance, my plaid shirt and my huskiness. He may have called me a whale.


(The Gazzillionaire, Asian woman, myself and the handsome black man.)

He then asked a “handsome black man” to join me on stage. He continued to joke by pointing out our obvious differences and told us we were going to compete. Finally, he turned back to the audience and invited a pretty Asian woman to join us. He sat her in front of us and said, “Ok, now you’re going to do their nails.” After continuing to play on our ethnic, racial and physical differences which included referring to the “handsome black man’s ‘huge penis ‘”and the Asian woman’s math abilities, he finally told us our task. The “handsome black man” and “the dorky, chubby white guy” were going to compete in a lap dance competition. MY TIME HAD COME! I was ready to rock this. He immediately told the “handsome black man” that if he lost to me his “black card” would be revoked. The Gazzillionaire asked me to step off the stage and wait for my music. I quickly thought of several scenarios and routines I could do. I was looking to see if a stripper pole had dropped to the stage, which it hadn’t. I thought about ripping my shirt off Hulk Hogan style but thought that would be too shocking. My mind raced and two images would not leave my mind. The first was that of Kevin James, as Doug, on “The King of Queens” dancing for Carrie during an episode in which he purchases stripper lessons for Carrie and discovers she is terrible. In the end, Doug dances his heart out for Carrie in what might be the funniest “King of Queens” scene ever. The 2nd was something that my wife had said to me a few days prior. At the end of an episode of “How I Met Your Mother,” one of the Bro Code rules was “A Bro never dances with his hands over his head.” And for some reason, that’s all I could think of doing. As “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” hit, I grooved myself onto the stage, hands in the air. I circled this poor woman like a shark, gyrating and waving my posterior around. The crowd cheered me on as I circled to around to her lap right, hopped over her legs, straddled her, shook my groove than and pretended to take my shirt off. The crowd roared. I had a chance, I thought. I took my bow and stood to the side of the stage as the “handsome black man” danced to Montel Jordan’s “This is How We Do It.” He was good but I…I was a god amongst men. I think if the crowd chose the winner, I would have hands down been the chosen one but the Gazzillionaire asked the Asian woman to grab the crotch of the winner. Sadly, my crotch was not touched and I walked off the stage happy but chubby white guy loser.

The rest of the show was fantastic and so many members of the audience congratulated me including a senior citizen who said, “I thought you were a wonderful dancer.” I thanked her but really wanted to say, “we all know I’m a fabulous dancer.” (Vince Vaughn, “The Wedding Crashers) As we exited the theatre, I received countless accolades from my new fans. As my good friend Ben McNamee said via twitter, “that’s just another Wednesday night in the life of Sal Vegas.”

Needless to say, I highly recommend the show.



My wife and I love good burgers. We thought we wouldn’t find a better burger or shake than the Burger Bar in Mandalay Bay. Well, Gordon Ramsey’s BurGR is damn close if not better. First, the service was great. The Parmesan truffle fries were some of the best fried I’ve ever had and the onion rings WERE the best I’ve ever had. 

My wife had the Hell’s Kitchen Burger and I had the Farm Burger. We both were blown away by how good our burgers were. Outstanding. I ended my meal with a coffee shake which was very good. 

So, as compared to Burger Bar, the sides were far better at BurGR. Shake was better at BB. Burgers are so close I could flip a coin. 

Only small criticism was the cost. We spent $100 on 2 burgers, two drinks, three sides& a shake. Not ridiculous but a little pricey. 

But, worth every penny. We will be back!

What Atlantic City Can Learn From Las Vegas

It may not be fair to compare any gaming city in the world to Las Vegas let alone Atlantic City. They don’t have the lights, shows, mega-resorts or attractions that bring tourists to Sin City. However, after three trips to Atlantic City, I realized that this gaming destination could be MUCH better but suffers from a community that seems to care very little or understand that their success relies on gamblers, vacationers and tourists. Over the past five years I’ve taken tree trips to Atlantic City (2009, 2010 and 2013) and it seems with each visit either my expectations increase OR every person including casino dealers, restaurant servers, hotel staff and retail shop owners have stopped caring.

While I cannot draw an exact connection between service and revenue, I did find some interesting data on gaming revenues. According to the UNLV Center for Gaming Research ( ), the Las Vegas Strip is slowly recovering from their recession while Atlantic City continues to decline. From 2006 to 2011, Atlantic City has shown a decrease in its gaming revenue of 37% while, during the same period of time, the Las Vegas Strip has show a decrease of only %10. The Las Vegas Strip is now surpassing their totals from 2006 as Atlantic City continues to decline. Without a full analysis of number of tourists, the socio-economic class of gamblers, the impact of new casinos on the east coast (Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York, etc…), the continued development and improvements in Las Vegas as compared to Atlantic City these statistics may lack some context. But, as I live only an hour away from Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, two relatively small casinos continue to expand, grow and succeed and Atlantic City fails. The differences between Mohegan Sun, Foxwoods and Atlantic City are minimal. In fact, Atlantic City has advantages that other gaming destinations don’t have. Atlantic City was the primary destination for gaming in the northeast for decades, marquee names, ocean views and history. But it is Connecticut and Pennsylvania casinos that are expanding their entertainment, dining and shopping options and are becoming known as a great weekend destination for anything from anniversary celebrations, bachelor parties or just a relaxing getaway.  Every new venture in Atlantic City seems to fails miserably (Read this.)

This article is less of an exercise in bashing Atlantic City and more of an ode to Las Vegas and the success of other casino destinations. The reason Atlantic City is failing has as much to do with their service and treatment of their guests as it does with their failure to invest in itself. My experiences in Atlantic City speak volumes to their failures as a tourist destination. While Macau (which seems to have become the premier gaming destination in the world) and Las Vegas are the “major league” of gaming destinations, Atlantic City is worse than the “minor leagues.” Connecticut, Mississippi and Pennsylvania casinos can be considered the Triple A affiliates of Las Vegas and Macau. But, Atlantic City is sometimes like a dying Division III football program (think the Mud Dogs from Adam Sandler’s “Waterboy”) or even worse, dare I say, the WBNA.

I will spare anyone who is actually reading this of a day-by-day account of each one of my trips but I’d like to share some terrible moments that just DON’T happen in a quality tourist destination and will also offer a few positive experiences I have had.

Hotel Horror- While staying at The Tropicana with a large group, we had a simple request of moving two of our guest rooms to a different floor from the other guests. After 45 minutes of being rerouted to various hotel staff members because we “came on a bus,” our request was finally granted with the words, “this better be the last change…”  I don’t think Circus Circus would even treat their guests in this manner.

While I was walking to my room, I noticed a room service tray in the hallway. I didn’t think much of it later that night as I figured whoever was staying next door to me must have ordered room service again. However, the next morning, when the odor was more noticeable, I reported it to the front desk to which they responded that they didn’t have room service after 6pm on Sunday so it wouldn’t be taken care of until Wednesday.

Cha Ching- I lost. I gambled even more than I normally do and everywhere I played, I lost. I know of a few people that did ok on the slots but no Vegas-esque stories. Tables are fine. Variety of limits with the same type of odds. If anything, the casinos aren’t terrible. The casino at Caesars is very nice but, overall, most are equivalent to TI or Bally’s.

Can I Get a Drink?- I’m a fan of good drink service in casinos as I’m sure many people are. It is something that makes a difference to me. While playing in the high rollers room and losing a good deal of money for over an hour, only once did someone ask if we wanted a drink. I was shocked. On the penny and quarter machines, the drink service was fast and continual but served in skimpy little plastic cups with a pretty raunchy attitude.

The Boardwalk- Atlantic City has the great opportunity to build a beautiful strip for tourists to walk down. But, rather than nice shops, restaurants and some type of attractions along the boardwalk, it is littered with crappy souvenir shops, shady massage parlors and unappealing food stands. With a view of the ocean and a seaside appeal, this area could be a major attraction.

Attitudes Suck- I’ve already mentioned the hotel staff above but from servers who don’t understand how to cater to a tourist when their order is wrong or the retail shop staff being curt or the dealers looking bored and unengaged, it just seems that everyone HATES what they do.  I’m sure that the buffet servers at the Seasons Buffet in Mohegan Sun, cab drivers on the strip or every black jack dealer on a $5 table at crappy casinos don’t love their jobs but most people employed in gaming destinations, especially Vegas, realize that their jobs revolve around the tourism industry. This is the major reason why I believe Atlantic City suffers. (Shout-out to the Starbucks staff at the outlets who were, by far, the nicest people in AC.)

Where Shows Go to Die- I saw Steve Wyreck in Vegas. It was the worst Vegas decision I ever made. His show was a featured house show in Atlantic City. This seems to be the overall theme of Atlantic City. I’m going to be easy on Atlantic City here as I haven’t seen any of their shows but with Legends, Beetlemania and an I Love Lucy; Live on Stage show, being the only consistently running house shows I doubt any of these shows compares to any Cirque show, Peep Show or even George Wallace.

Pay to Park- Self explanatory.

Some Good Stuff- I’ve stayed in The Tropicana twice because the rooms are actually not bad, the rates are great and they have a nice selection of games, restaurants and the location is convenient. The comps are great and I like enough about it to stay there…when it is free or close to it. My stay at the Taj Mahal was mediocre. They were nowhere near as awful as my stay at the Imperial Palace but they weren’t as good as any of my stays in Vegas including TI.

Some of the restaurants are incredibly good. I had an amazing dining experience at Michael Mina’s Seablue in The Borgotta.

The Tanger Outlets, which are across the street from the strip of casinos, is a nice shopping complex with a variety of stores.

Philadelphia is only 3o minutes away.

Caesar’s Palace is very nice. The casino feels like a Vegas casino. The shops feel like a mini version of the Forum Shops and if you head to the third floor of the shops, you can sit in beach chairs and relax in a comfortable environment with a drink or coffee with an amazing view of the ocean.

The comps pay well. After spending two nights at The Tropicana and playing as I would in Vegas, I earned over $50 in express comps, free meals and offers to return with two free nights, meals and free slot play. I can’t speak to the rewards at the other casinos.

Minor Leagues

Las Vegas was built in a dessert. Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods stand in the middle of rural Connecticut. Macau is barely 15 years old as a gaming destination. Atlantic City is wasting away its potential. This once vibrant and attractive destination continues to deteriorate. It can’t be that the northeast is short on gamblers or people looking for a fun place to spend a weekend as Pennsylvania and Connecticut are doing very well. As someone who enjoys the casino atmosphere, I wonder if Atlantic City will ever take a look at what Las Vegas or its nearby competitors have done the last ten years and invest in itself.

Read .


And the winner is…Vegas! Award Season 2013

Awards Seasos: Vegas Edition

January 27th, 2013

By Sal Rizza,

The Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys, Grammys and, of course, the Vegas Trippies. It is awards season and Vegas awards are no exception. The people’s choice awards for Las Vegas go through where readers and Vegas fans vote, each year, on the best and worst of Vegas.  As opposed to critics, writers or columnists awards, the “trippies” are truly the people’s choice awards. Before I comment on some of the trippies’ winners, I’d like to offer some unique awards of my own.

The First Annual Vegas Expert Awards

Best TV Show, Vegas Strip- While some may select the CBS period drama “Vegas” or the History Channel’s “Pawn Stars” or “Counting Cars,” I’m going to go with the documentary style show, “Vegas Strip” on TruTV,  which  follows real Las Vegas police officers on duty addressing all kinds of crazy Vegas antics. They chase college kids after they jump into Lake Bellagio, arrest hookers with warrants and deal with many, many drunks. My favorite was a tourist from England who was completely blitzed, walking around in his underwear the morning after a major bender, and begged to be arrested because he feared the cops would jump him like he had seen on American TV.  All they wanted to do was help him get to his room.  Great Vegas entertainment!

Best Street Character, Alan from The Hangover- I love a good drunk Mickey Mouse as much as the next guy. I’ve never seen as many street characters in one place and that includes in LA and NY. The collection of Hello Kitty, Elmo, Freddy Krueger, fat Elvis’s, transformers and random super heroes annoys some and entertains others.  My favorite, by far, are the Alan Garner impersonators. I swear, I think one was Zach Galifianakis just playing games.  

Most Interesting Panhandler Sign- Let me preface this by saying that homelessness is not something to find funny nor to be made fun of. However, some of the signs that these individuals come up with can be hilarious. Some great signs include, “Why lie? I just want a beer” or “Kick me in my balls! $20!” are creative and entertaining.  My favorite is the guy I’ve seen for at least two years, in his early twenties, on different bridges (Bellagio, MGM Grand and Palazzo) with a sign that reads “I’m trying to get back home to Boston.” I just think that by now he should have been able to afford a bus ticket. If I see him in April, I may offer to buy him one. If he accepts, I’ll actually feel really good that I’ve helped him. If he refuses, I’ll recommend he get a new sign.

Best Celebrity- Steve Wynn, Andre Agassi, Carrot Top, Celine Dion, Holly Madison or Vince Neil…NO! I’m going to go with Austin Russell, otherwise known as Chumlee from Pawn Stars. This was a close call between him and Pete Rose who is always set up in the sports store at the Forum Shops. I’m going with Chumlee because he’s actually from Vegas and what you see is really what you get. I met him in October when he was signing autographs at the Gold & Silver after a taping. When I was waiting for a bus to take me back, I was talking to a guy that was also at the shop. The guy told me that he asked Chumlee to autograph a t-shirt for his father in-law who was dying of cancer. He showed me the autograph Chumlee signed which read, “To Dawn…” His father in-law’s name was Don. Gotta love Chumlee.

Worst Vegas Feeling- Hangovers suck. Losing money blows. Waiting in line for the buffet is annoying. Making the mistake of attending a timeshare presentation is excruciating. And, the cab ride back to McCarran indicating the end of another Vegas vacation is depressing. However, nothing reminds you that you’re old and uncool like being ignored by the nicely dressed, incredibly good looking, young people handing out cards to clubs like Pure, Haze and XS. It definitely feels like you’re in middle school again and you were just picked last in dodgeball (which has happened to me on several occasions) except, you don’t even get picked. Then, you walk away and tell yourself some lies like “well, maybe I’m not dressed for it,” or “maybe they didn’t see me” while you turn around and see them tracking down young guys in fedoras and fancy shoes begging them to take a card. “Not like I wanted to go anyway,” we tell ourselves.

The Trippies

Now that I’ve provided some of my own awards, here are my thoughts on some of the trippie awards…

(For a full listing, visit )

Best Overall on the Strip, The Cosmopolitan– Admittedly, I haven’t spent a great deal of time in The Cosmopolitan but I have had a great meal in Scott Conant’s Scarpetta, played a slot machine for a little while, toured the casino and shops, and tried to enjoy the atmosphere. From the Chandelier Bar to the big pink shoe, the place seems like it is still searching for an identity. Does it want to be a classy place for martinis or a place for twenty-somethings to party?  I’m not sure. With The Cosmopolitan receiving nine awards, people obviously love it and critics are raving.  For an overall Vegas experience, I prefer the Bellagio.

Worst Overall on the Strip, Hooters- Well, this is tough to argue but I have to go with Circus, Circus. Both are pretty awful and the only reason I ever step foot in either is to see if they are still as bad as I recall. And, yes, they are. As opposed to Casino Royale and the Imperial Palace which, at least, have great locations both Hooters and Circus, Circus has no redeeming qualities. Where is the dynamite?

Best Buffet, The Bellagio- This year, I’ve had the opportunity to have three meals at the Bellagio Buffet and three meals at The Aria Buffet. I’m baffled as to why The Aria has revamped their buffet. The selection was great, the atmosphere was bright yet relaxing, the food was fresh and the service was outstanding. I honestly cannot say the same for The Bellagio. Granted, The Bellagio may have had more gourmet items but the service wasn’t as good, the atmosphere was a bit dark, the venue is outdated and the food didn’t seem as fresh to me.  I truly hope The Aria hasn’t changed their buffet too much but I’ll find out in April.

Best and Worst Bars- The Chandelier Bar was voted by the readers as the best bar in Vegas while the editors chose The Mandarin Bar. I completely agree with the editors on this. The view is awesome. The drinks, while pricey, are creative and incredibly good and the overall experience is quiet and classy. The readers selected Dick’s Last Resort in The Excalibur as the worst bar. Yes. Nailed it!

Best Act, Cirque Du Soleil Love at the Mirage- I could not agree with this more. As many shows as I have seen and enjoyed, I still have yet to enjoy an experience as much as this show. Good job readers!

Best App, Vegasmate- This is absolutely true without question. Great reviews, advice and information.

Best on the Web- This year, best blog, podcast, twitter, etc. went to different bloggers/social networkers who do some great things but I have to give Michelle and Tim from Minnesota credit. They do a great job and have the absolute best Vegas web name, “Five Hundy by Midnight.”  Congratulations on your awards and keep it up!