It’s the ultimate contest of Monopoly and MGM Resorts appears to have an insurmountable lead. If the name of the game is purchasing as many properties as you can and still remain flush with cash, the conglomerate has been victorious on the Las Vegas Strip game board. Long term, it’s potential good news for MGM investors but maybe not so good for Vegas visitors. This past week MGM announced an agreement to buy the hotel and casino operations of the trendy Cosmopolitan, located smack in the middle of tourist row. The acquisition moves them even further ahead of their nearest, yet still distanced, competitor — Caesars Entertainment. Today, of the major resorts on the Strip, only Wynn, Encore, Venetian, Palazzo, Resorts World and Treasure Island are not controlled by MGM or Caesars. The Sahara and Circus Circus don’t count. Leverage once held by leisure travelers, convention operators and gamblers for good rates has, by and large, gone the way of the $2 blackjack table. Good luck finding one. Now the Big Two control just about everything. Case in point: starting at the intersection of Las Vegas Blvd. and Flamingo, on the west side of the street, look south. You’ll find Bellagio, Cosmopolitan, Vdara, Aria, Park MGM, New York-New York, Excalibur, Luxor, Delano and Mandalay Bay. What do they have in common? They are family, all owned in full or part and controlled by MGM Resorts. They join Strip neighbors and cousins MGM Grand and Mirage to complete the portfolio. Caesars owns its namesake Palace along with Bally’s, Flamingo, The Cromwell, Planet Hollywood, Paris, Harrah’s and The LINQ. That’s a whole bunch of Monopoly pieces controlled by two entities on only a four mile stretch of real estate. Hopefully, in spite of all this, Las Vegas visitors can still use their get-out-of-jail-free cards and find some deals.
Pete Rose must be shaking his head and rolling his eyes. He was just ahead of his time. Suspended from baseball and precluded from induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame where he belongs, the game’s all-time hits leader was banished because he bet on his team’s games. Never mind he bet on the Reds to win; MLB says it’s still a violation of its code of conduct. Funny, but neither domestic, alcohol or drug abuse warrants a lifetime baseball suspension but apparently backing your team to win does. Look around ball parks, stadiums, arenas and even on some teams’ game jerseys these days: the four major American sports are making love with casinos and sportsbooks both here and abroad, encouraging people to open online wagering accounts. It’s the power of the buck, for Pete’s sake.
In the NFL, where perception is everything, the league also has partnerships with multi-sportsbook operators along with DraftKings and FanDuel, leaders in the expanding and ever-so lucrative fantasy football market. I’ve written before about how enamored I became last season with fantasy football, which, I found out, is always better when you win your league as a rookie. Now, a good portion of my Sundays are spent checking my in-game progress on the CBSSports app. What I’m struggling a little bit with is when NFL players find themselves opposing themselves in their weekly fantasy leagues. Perception, probably. It’s just not a good look for a league that prides itself on looking good. The most public was two weeks ago when Las Vegas Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson kicked against himself. Carlson made field goals of 46, 33, 41 and 45 yards in Vegas’ upset win over Pittsburgh. He was so good that he was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. The bad news for the former Auburn Tiger was in the fantasy league he plays in with some old college buddies, he was the kicker for his opponents’ team that day. “I actually played against myself in fantasy. That was tough because I took a loss and I definitely contributed to it,” he laughed.
If you don’t think the NFL is turned upside down through the first three weeks of the season take a look at the standings before week four begins today. In last place in their respective divisions are the Chiefs, last year’s AFC winner; the Steelers who started last year at 11-0, and Seattle, who won the AFC West a year ago. However, take solace. Some things never change. The Jets and the Lions are 0-3.
Baseball’s long regular season ends today, and MLB becomes the first sport to complete a full season with fan involvement. The NFL played an on-time schedule last year but the stands in most stadiums were empty. Good for baseball and hopefully an omen for the rest of the football season, and hockey and basketball upcoming this month. The MLB playoffs open this week with the defending World Series champion Dodgers the 3-1 favorites to repeat while Houston, at 5-1, represents the best American League chance. The Dodgers’ path is a little treacherous as they might have to survive a one game, winner-take-all playoff game with the red hot Cardinals to advance while also worrying about the health of ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw. And a tip of the cap to the Atlanta Braves who, for the fourth straight season, won the NL Least, oops East. Atlanta will be making their 16th post season appearance; the most in the game over the last 50 years.
Sixty years ago Friday, October 1, 1961, Roger Maris hit his 61st home run on the final day of the season to break Babe Ruth’s single season record. I was nine but remember watching it on the old Admiral black and white.
What I didn’t appreciate at the time was how much strain Maris was under. Yankee fans, by and large, didn’t want to see Ruth’s record broken, at least by anyone not named Mickey Mantle. Only 23,000 fans were at the Stadium that day and Maris’ homer stood in a 1-0 win over the Red Sox. The New York tabloids didn’t make it any easier on Maris. By the middle of the season Yankee and baseball fans cheered everything Mantle did and threw chairs, nuts, bolts and soda bottles at Maris in addition to hate mail. Injury prone most of his career, Maris is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame but his 61st home run ball is.
October 1 is also the fourth anniversary of the horrific Las Vegas concert shooting that left 60 dead and 867 injured at the Route 91 Harvest music festival grounds across from Mandalay Bay. Andi and I were a year away from moving to Vegas but in talking with those that were here and all media accounts, the good that came out of that awful night, dubbed 1 October, was Las Vegas went from a city of gypsies, tramps and thieves to a caring community that strengthens every year.
In the spirit of the baseball playoffs, let’s play rock ‘n roll trivia. A two part question this week: Name the only Japanese recording artist to hit number one on the American charts and the song. The second part is what’s the only song to ever reach number one on the pop charts, then completely disappear from the Top 40 and then re-emerge a couple of years later to once again to become number one? The first correct answer gets two tickets to all the Baltimore Orioles home playoff games this postseason. The runner-up gets four tickets.
Keeping with the U.S. Senate’s youth movement, Iowa Republican incumbent Chuck Grassley, 88, announced last week he will run for an eighth term in 2022. No doubt, in red Iowa, he’ll be re-elected and finish his six years when he’s 95. No word yet from Grassley on his plans for 2028.
A couple of nights a week I’ll flip to The Dick Cavett Show on Decades to see who his guests might be. Cavett was a TV interview staple in the late 60s through the mid-80s. Seeing that stuff today, from back then, is a lesson on how much our world has changed. Last week’s shows had some 1971 replays, the first with Lady Bird Johnson. She may have taken a back seat during the LBJ administration, but she was gracious, charming and smart. Then there were The Smothers Brothers, fresh off their firing by CBS, showing just how much innocent televised humor has changed. Tom Smothers asked Cavett in his deadpan manner if he wanted to hear a joke. Cavett took the bait. “You know why Polish dogs have pug noses?” Smothers sophomorically asked the host. “From chasing parked cars.” Oh boy, that would create a king-sized ruckus today.
The trivia answers for those Orioles tickets: Kyu Sakamoto’s Sukiyaki hit number one in the States in 1963. Chubby Checker’s The Twist topped the charts in 1960 and came back again in 1962. Today, Chubby, born Earnest Evans, is 80 today and still twistin’.
If you haven’t been watching Jeopardy! you’re missing the second longest winning streak in the 38-year history of the show. Matt Amodio chalked up his 33rd straight win on Friday surpassing James Holzhaeur’s 32 wins in a row. There’s still a long way to go to reach Ken Jennings mark of 74 straight back in 2004, which is probably as unbreakable as Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Amodio, a Yale PhD student, takes no prisoners usually winning by commanding amounts. He’s humble and an easy guy to root for.
Very much enjoyed ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Once Upon a Time in Queens” about the World Champion ‘86 Mets with their diverse and bizarre personalities; not the least of whom was Lenny Dykstra. Also, Hacks on HBO Max that was widely lauded during the recent Emmys. It’s ten 30-minute episodes starring Jean Smart and really well done.
Helmets raised to the Las Vegas Raiders brass who are riding a wave and don’t want to let an opportunity pass. The Raiders are off to a quick 3-0 start with wins over Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Miami. Considering they were underdogs in two of those three games, nobody saw this coming. The last time they started 3-0 was 2002, a Raiders Super Bowl season. Looking to capitalize on the feel-good, Raiders management sent out 2022 season ticket renewals to their base on Tuesday with 14 games still left in the ‘21 season. Their hope is Raiders’ fans credit cards feel as good as they do.
Shelley Ross, the former network television news executive producer who wrote a recent New York Times op-ed piece about CNN’s Chris Cuomo sexually groping her years ago at a party, gathered much national attention the week before last. Cuomo confirmed her story and apologized soon after the 2005 incident. Shelley was a University of Miami communications classmate of mine and we were colleagues on the Miami Hurricane newspaper staff.
Speaking of CNN, I just finished Lisa Napoli’s book Up All Night about Ted Turner, CNN and the birth of 24-hour news. If you can put aside that Turner was egotistical, anti-Semitic and a pig around women, it’s an interesting read.
We’ll stop this week and let you finish your breakfast with a reminder on how best to quit a job you hate. Let’s learn from Beth McGrath of Lafayette, Louisiana, now a former Walmart employee. Ms. McGrath, probably with a new job at Target in her hip pocket, grabbed the store’s microphone and pronounced: “Attention Walmart shoppers and associates, my name is Beth from electronics. I’ve been working at Walmart for almost five years, and I can say that everyone here is overworked and underpaid. We’re treated by management and customers poorly every day. Whenever we go to management with a problem, we’re told that we’re replaceable. This company treats their elderly associates like shit. To Jarred, our store manager, you’re a pervert. Fuck management and fuck this job. I quit.” No word on whether Ms. McGrath asked Jarred for a reference before she left.