Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Steve Wynn: A Self-Identified Titan of Las Vegas Falls.

Steve Wynn is out of the company bearing his name.

He resigned as Chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts (as well as Wynn Macau, something potentially a much bigger deal for his company) under a wave of sexual assault allegations, detailed in the Wall Street Journal, that spanned decades.

The easy take is "good riddance".  The long answer is a little bit more nuanced.

Like him or not, and many don't, the fact is that a LOT of modern Vegas, both good and bad, is the result of things Wynn did in the 80's and 90's when he changed the face of the city by building the Mirage and Bellagio respectively.

Prior to that the prevailing idea in the city was that casinos were going to be grind joints, with people throwing quarters into slot machines, buses pulling in, dumping off people with money and taking them away without money.

Steve Wynn changed that by re-introducing the concept of the luxury resort, ushering in the modern age.

The reality of late however has not been one of Steve Wynn the innovator, but Steve Wynn the copier. From resort fees, to paid parking to cutting back on gambling odds and envisioning non-gambling outdoor spaces and even to beefing up his high-end retail offerings Wynn has been on the tailing end of innovations brought about by Caesar's Entertainment Group and MGM.

Of all the casinos on the Strip his had the biggest decline in gaming last year as he decided to basically punt most gamblers to other locations and increase charges for everyone except his highest margin players.  He also nixed his golf course in favor of the still unrealized Paradise Park and made a big gamble that paid off in Macau.

Fast forward to today and all of that seems to be in a little bit of trouble.  The Macau deal is due to be renegotiated and it's increasingly clear that China will not be willing to ink something as favorable to Wynn.  This puts in danger the big cash cow that has floated his stock in the past.  With Wynn out of the picture, and his influence with Republican lawmakers, it's unclear what type of deal the company can reasonably hope to receive. 

While Steve made his company a Macau interest, the declines at Wynn and Encore should be most disturbing, because they're trailing all of the other companies on the Strip.  For a while the stock price was propped up to to investor's belief in the power of The Steve, that seems gone now.

And it should be gone.

Because what we have in Steve Wynn are allegations of a man who abused his power and influence over workers for decades.  This is not an isolated incident that occurred years ago from which he repented and never turned back. If the allegations are true then Steve Wynn never progressed as a man past the "Boys will be boys" sixties and that's a problem.

We all have things in our past that we've done wrong.  In most cases we learn from them, get punished for them, and move on a wiser, usually better person.  The problem in Wynn's case is apparently that there was an entire infrastructure built up around him to provide cover for indiscretions, and sweep them under the rug.

You saw the same thing with Harvey Wienstein, and from a host of other powerful figures who are finding themselves in the same mess.  If you're a bad guy and continue to be a bad guy society has lost the inclination to 'let boys be boys' and are (rightly) demanding some comeuppance.

As a society we need to ensure this continues, but guard against flogging good people who did a bad thing once many years ago, and have repented and changed. Also, we need to be mature enough to realize that disliking a person AND respecting the contributions that they've made to their industry, society, humanity are not mutually exclusive things.

Most very successful people have jerk streaks a mile-wide. It's how they became successful in the first place.  The ones that need to get knocked down a peg are the ones who develop God complexes. If the allegations are true then Wynn did just that.

His legacy may still stand, but his reputation is in tatters.

Monday, February 5, 2018

"Bettor X" Who cleaned up on World Series, wins again.

Remember the unnamed bettor who made Millions on the World Series?

He (or she) is back, and they've won again on the Super Bowl

As near as I can tell from the reports Bettor X laid $5.2 MM on the Eagles M/L and came away a winner, bets that will pay him (or her, but likely him based on reports) somewhere around $8MM and is almost sure to swing most Vegas sports books to only their 3rd loss in the last 38 years on the big game.

So far William Hill as reported a loss, as has CG Technologies. The Westgate Superbook says that they did "fair" on the game but horrible on props, and are relying on advance wagering to pull them into the black.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal has more details in this story.

Either way this is a pretty epic run by a mystery man who will either fade away a legend in the sports betting world, emerge as the biggest tout in history, or will eventually watch the vig catch up to him (or her) and come crashing down. 

Either way it's been a fun story to watch.

Given the mysterious nature of all of this I'm surprised Floyd Mayweather hasn't claimed to be Bettor X as of yet.

Super Bowl LII: The Good, the Bad, and the Horrific

First off, America got to see yet another entertaining NFL Football game in Minnesota. Part of the reason for this is because it played like a college football game.

 - A lot of offense
 - Creative play calling
 - Risk Taking
 - Poor kicking
 - Bad Defense
 - Good Offense.

In the end the Eagles pulled the upset over the Patriots 41-33 and in Philadelphia there was much rejoicing, climbing greased poles, flipping over cars, lighting things on fire and (go look it up) eating horse manure.

Imagine if the Eagles would have lost.

The problem for most people with this game was that you had arguably the two worst NFL fan-bases going head to head to see who could out-douche the other. It's also a problem that you either love these two teams, or don't really care all that much about them. (although, to be fair, you can say that about almost any NFL team)

I was so "meh" on this game initially that I really didn't care who won. I tuned in for three reasons.

1. It was the Super Bowl and, by extension, pretty much the only thing on.
2. Commercials
3. The halftime show.

So, the game didn't disappoint, I thought the halftime show was entertaining (some didn't though, but cracking on the halftime show is now more of a National pastime than actual criticism) and the commercials were generally awful.

Seriously.  Super Bowl commercials have gotten so bad we're down to arguing whether a dual rap or a clever twist by Tide was the best of the night.  Even the Bud Light commercial was underwhelming.

I thought Tide was the clear winner, with Alexa losing her voice providing some comic relief. Toyota, T-Mobile and Dodge Ram made me want to actively avoid their products (Please, don't preach at me)

Most of the other commercials were just not very memorable, as I've pretty much forgotten them already.

The horrific part of the night was NBC's broadcast.  From the creepy animation to Al Michaels having an off night to Cris Collinsworth's public display of affection toward Tom Brady the entire thing was a mess.  You knew it was going to be rough when Michaels kept confusing play-action passes with "RPO's" (which they then provided an on-screen definition for) and overusing the term all night long.

Cris Collinsworth is devolving as an announcer before our eyes each and ever game. When he wasn't trying to proposition Tom Brady he was obsessing over minutia in a veiled attempt to cause some controversy that wasn't there. 

Yes, the NFL catch-rule sucks, but both plays were reviewed, and the calls are the calls. 30 minutes after the fact and Collinsworth was STILL droning on and on and on and on and on.

All of this and I haven't even the creepy CGI quarterbacks they kept showing.....

All in all however it was a good end for an NFL season that was largely underwhelming in terms of quality of play on the field.  Ignoring the social activist stuff for a moment, the biggest reason to stop watching the NFL is that the play is usually BORING.  In many cases watching paint dry is preferable to spending your Saturday watching tired offenses run the same 10 plays.

The Super Bowl was exciting because the two teams didn't do that. They both ran creative offenses that confused the opposing defenses.

Oh, and Tom Brady is a wimpy putz, a bad sport and a sore loser.  My biggest regret is that he went to Michigan.  Honestly, given how he underwhelmed as a QB there they should just write him out of the history books and refuse to acknowledge his presence.

Fortunately we won't have to pay much attention to the NFL until the draft, which is fun at least.

On to college basketball, hockey and rugby.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

College Basketball: Catching you up if you haven't been paying attention.

I get it, you live in Houston and you don't really follow College Basketball.  You love your Texans and all forms of football, you've been (correctly) paying attention the the Astros and you understand the Rockets might be pretty good this year but you just can't get into round ball.

But you WANT to understand the game a little.  So you turn on Houston sports talk radio and you get, conversations about who the Texans back-up QB will be next year and two low-functioning idiots arguing on the air.  Or so-called "man-talk" which doesn't resemble any conversations that males actually have.

Houston, in short, is a sports media wasteland. It's a bad sports town that really only celebrates it's worst professional franchise.

That's OK however, because we're here to provide you with some simple talking points that will place you well out in front of your fellow coffee-klatch conversation mates....

1. Trae Young (G-Oklahoma) is really (really) good.

He's averaging 30.3 pts per game and is shooting 40% from 3 point range. He's the best player in college basketball right now and it's not close.  If you've paid any attention the the NBA of late the player to whom he gets the most comparisons to is Steph Curry. His school is not too bad either, currently sitting at 16-5, 2nd place in the conference and 1 game behind perennial conference champion Kansas.

2. Speaking of the Big XII, they're really good this year.

The conference has 4 of ten teams in the top 25, with Texas, Oklahoma State, TCU and Kansas State having shots at the big dance. (granted, OSU is a stretch and will need a strong close). The best team, at the moment, is Kansas, who are ranked number 7 in the country, seem to be on track to win the conference championship yet again and should slide in as a solid #2 seed in the tournament, with a real shot at winding up a one.  Bob Huggins has West Virginia playing well, and Texas Tech is a contender in the tournament, and for the regular season title.

3. The American could be a 3-bid conference.

Since Houston is in your town, you might want to say that they're really pretty good this year. They sit at 16-5 and have good wins over Wichita State, Providence and a 34 point demolition of Arkansas. Cincinnati is ranked #5, is 20-2 and just beat the Cougars by 10.  Wichita State is a shoo-in for the tournament, but they're finding life much harder in the American than the Missouri Valley Conference, something that should make them much better come tournament time.

4. Virginia is the best team in the ACC. Not Duke or North Carolina.

If you only pay scant attention to college basketball, you might want to know this come tournament time. Because the Hoos are real, they're long, athletic and should make a deep run in the tournament.  Duke is 2nd best, but they're three games back from Virginia and just got beat (at Duke) on National television. They are also the team in college basketball that is the easiest to dislike. It's not beyond reason to think that the ACC could be a 10 bid league this year. Granted, some teams will need to finish strong, but I put them at at least 8.

5. Remember the Big East?

After they accepted a bunch of Conference USA teams to member ship the basketball only Catholic schools broke-off, kept the name and have played one of the more entertaining brands of basketball. Villanova, Creighton, Seton Hall, Xavier and Butler will be in the Tournament, with Providence having an outside chance with a strong finish. Marquette and Georgetown will be contenders in the NIT. (But you won't watch the NIT because you're in Houston).  Villanova is the best team in college basketball right now but injuries are a huge concern.

6. Arizona is good, again.

At the beginning of the season I picked the Wildcats as the eventual National Champions, they then proceeded to start off slowly and make me look a little silly, but they've righted the ship, currently stand atop the Pac-12 and are in serious contention for a number one seed.  Behind them is a good USC team, followed by Washington and UCLA.  When the season first started Arizona State looked like they couldn't lose, but they've cooled off, losing five games in conference play and while they should make the tournament that could be in jeopardy if they continue to slide.

7. The top four are.....

Here's where I see it today, with the number one seeds going to these teams:


For last four in/out and other bracketology I recommend reading Joe Lunardi of ESPN He and I are pretty much in agreement except that he has Kansas with the 4th 1-seed and I still have Arizona. (which he has as a 3-seed, I disagree with that).

So, there you go. A primer to college basketball so you don't sound totally clueless when speaking to your co-workers, friends or random people at a sports bar.

You're welcome.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Off Topic: The Death of Customer Service

Rare non-sports post here.

I recently cancelled a service contract for my AC/Heater which called for semi-annual inspections.  After a couple of years having them perform my "free check-ups" I noticed a trend. The technician salesman would come over, rummage around, and then tell me that my $10K unit needed an additional $1K in upgrades. First it was surge protectors, now it's a unit filter that they will install at 15% off if I just sign here.

At no point did they actually do any maintenance on my unit.

Now, I've cancelled, and the company still calls my cell phone every day trying to get the "one last heating unit inspection" that "I've already paid for".  But why, if this is a maintenance call, are they so anxious to come out?

After a recent stay at a hotel/casino I started receiving e-mails asking me to complete a survey about my recent stay. Because there were some problems with the stay (no hot water, problems with the plumbing in the room, shoddy housekeeping) I obliged. I gave them good marks where warranted (check-in was smooth and efficient, the bed was comfy, etc.) I listed my issues that we had with the room, how we tried to resolve them and what was the result (hint: nothing happened). I then closed with a short missive on customer service and how a smile by the staff would go a long way to making guests feel more welcome.

The response?  I'm still waiting.

This from a chain where I've seen the CEO on TV stating that "guests are everything".  Except when they're not staying in suites I'm guessing.

For a recent service call on my Internet/TV service I received 14 text messages from the company "reminding" me of both the service, and other great offers I could take advantage of.  When the tech had finished setting everything up I got one text asking me to rate his service.  I replied, and received nothing in return.

In the retail environment now you usually feel as if you're bugging their customer service personnel when you ask a question.

Restaurants will openly challenge you if there's a problem with your meal. There was a time when a manager visited every table, and how to properly wait on tables is almost a lost service skill.

It seems that the more we rely on technology to handle customer service the worse and worse it gets. Granted, part of this is on us, the consumer.  I've been shopping at a brick-and-mortar retail shop and on many occasions witnessed a poor staffer try to give good customer service only to be treated rudely by customers.

If you're talking on your cell-phone during check-out, you're part of the problem. If you talk down to or treat customer service agents/waiters/bus-boys or any service person with disdain then you're part of the problem. In fact, we should all go out of our way to praise the ones that are still trying.

Customer service is more than just texts, e-mails and sales calls. The companies that do it the worse tend to rely mostly on these tools however. Not every interaction should, or need, be about extracting more dollars from people.  Certainly, there's a time to sell, but there's a time to listen as well, and to answer questions honestly. Just as there are times for acknowledgement and being thankful that someone took the time to fill out your insipid online survey.

Until more companies realize this it's going to get worse before it gets better.

A computer kiosk cannot smile.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Super Bowl: Are you excited?

A professional football game will be played on Sunday, the last one of the 2017-2018 season. It's called the "Super Bowl" and it will feature teams from Philadelphia and Boston (New England), the Eagles vs. The Patriots (-6  O/U 47.5) with a halftime show starring one Justin Timberlake.

It will be the most watched television event of the year.

And I could care less.

It's not that I dislike the two teams playing in the game, it's that I'm 100% ambivalent about both of them.

If Tom Brady and Bill Bellicheck win the game my excitement quotient will not be affected one iota. The same goes if the Eagles win. I don't care if the two teams play the most exciting NFL game EVER.

Because it will pale in comparison to Oklahoma v. Georgia in the Rose Bowl.

What the NFL has managed to do is suck all of the fun out of a fun game by attempting to micro-manage the game through perfect rule making, by removing the focus from the field, and by taking steps to rid the game of heroes and villains.  What the NFL has become is a faceless, gormless version of itself, dominated by a commissioner that no one likes, a style of play that rewards being too conservative and by courting a 'fan' base that could honestly care less.

It also hurts that they're playing in a stadium that has to be the early front-runner for worst translation of the atmosphere to television of them all.  Every game that I've seen played at the Wart (admit it, it looks like a wart) is overly dark, muted and joyless.  Even the College Football Playoff National Championship looked more at home in a funeral procession than in a championship game.  The lighting is terrible, the seats are too far away from the action and the 'roof' is a confusing morass of steel girders that looks like the opening for V-GER in the original Star Wars movie.

Anyone have any doubt that the commercials will suck?

As far as the game goes, I won't be playing much attention to it being played but here's how I see it.

Bellicheck and Brady will spend the first half figuring out what works, and then will execute a halftime plan just well enough to win the game. Gronkowski will be healthy and will play, and will present match-up nightmares for what is a pretty good Philly defense.

Prediction:  Philadelphia 21 New England 27.

In other words, I think the line is pretty close to correct and I wouldn't bet it either way.  You've just as good of odds betting on the coin flip.

Maybe halftime will be OK. I'll probably be tuned to another station shortly after that anyway.

The 2nd half commercials are never any good.

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