15 Surprising, Awkward Things You Didn’t Know About Downtown Las Vegas


Downtown Las Vegas is a world all its own, a place where we used to work and it’s out go-to place to play.

Our downtown obsession has given us an intimate knowledge of the place, and access to things you may not know, many of them awkward.

If we turn up missing, you’ll know why.

fremont street lv1
Something something about Fremont Street not being representative of all of downtown blah blah, along with a perfunctory mention of the Arts District or whatever.

1. Costumed characters are often sex offenders.

There’s a low bar to “perform” at Fremont Street Experience. Fremont Street is a public street, so Fremont Street Experience has virtually no control over the buskers. Awhile back, law enforcement did a sting and found many of the costumed characters (often appealing to children) were registered sex offenders. Yes, Fremont Street Experience gets a variety of complaints about buskers. Would Fremont Street Experience if they were able to curate all the performers on the street? Of course. But privatization of a public street would take consensus among all the business and property owners along the street, which is never going to happen. On the bright side, Fremont Street Experience has started posting notices tipping is voluntary, despite the increasingly aggressive behavior of some of the buskers.

2. The people responsible for the maintenance of Vegas Vic suck.

Vegas Vic is an icon, and often neglected due to absentee owners of the Pioneer Gift Shop, Schiff Enterprises. Schiff avoids its obligation to maintain Vegas Vic until it’s badgered by the City of Las Vegas. It’s an ongoing battle.

3. Neonopolis management is impossible.

Neonopolis is a shopping mall that’s struggled for years, all while being the butt of jokes about its seemingly random collection of tenants and high churn rate. Neonopolis lost Banger Brewing, Fremont Arcade, Krave and Telemundo and others, often because of questionable decisions by developer Rohit Joshi, who had a string of failed projects before his tenure at Neonopolis. Coming up, CrashNBurn, a name that tempts fate, but we’re sort of looking forward to it.

neonopolis mural
Removing this mural was the worst decision Neonopolis ever made.

4. The owner of Heart Attack Grill was accused of sexual harassment.

It didn’t get a lot of news coverage, but certified oddball Jon Basso, owner of the Heart Attack Grill, was accused of sexual harassment. Resolution unknown, but where there’s smoke.

5. Public officials turn a blind eye to fake weed store scams.

One of the biggest scams in Las Vegas is fake weed dispensaries, and Fremont Street has at least two. Real dispensaries (selling cannabis with THC, the chemical that gives people a “high”) aren’t permitted on Fremont Street, but fake dispensaries are happy to prey upon unsuspecting tourists who don’t know any better. The City Cast Las Vegas podcast did a good job discussing this disgraceful scam. Councilman Cedric Crear (currently running for mayor) represents Ward 5, the north side of FSE. Councilwoman Olivia Diaz represents Ward 3, the south side. The awkward part is the City of Las Vegas is aware of this fraud, yet the businesses continue to operate.

6. Fremont Street Experience, the entity, is weird.

We worked at Fremont Street Experience for six years, and we can confirm it’s weird. It’s a group of casinos, competitors, working together to promote downtown. What’s weird is not all the casinos on and around Fremont Street are members of the Fremont Street Experience. Plaza, Downtown Grand and El Cortez aren’t members. There’s a story behind each. Even weirder is Circa, The Cal and Main Street aren’t technically members, although the owners of Circa also own Golden Gate and The D, and Boyd owns Fremont casino. Fremont Street Experience members have “shares,” and the owner of Binion’s and Four Queens, Terry Caudill, has the most. Downtown definitely needs a reality show. They tried, sort of, but flushed $1 million on it. Another item for future “downtown awkward facts” lists.

7. The SlotZilla zipline pays for everything.

Speaking of Fremont Street Experience, member casinos used to collectively contribute $5 million a year to the organization, its marketing arm. Once SlotZilla opened, all that changed. Fremont Street Experience is self-sustaining, and most of the people who ride the attraction say it’s the main reason they visited downtown. How is this awkward? We actually forgot that is the premise of this story. It’s sort of awkward when people pine for the days when there was no zipline on Fremont. You know who those people aren’t? Casinos. The zipline is a customer delivery system.

steve wynn slotzilla
Surprising and awkward: Yes, Steve Wynn flew on SlotZilla. Yes, we took this photo.

8. The mayor of Las Vegas has no say in anything related to The Strip.

The mayor of Las Vegas, Carolyn Goodman, is mostly the mayor of downtown, and has no say over anything on the Las Vegas Strip. This distinction is largely lost on members of the public and media, as evidenced by coverage of the mayor’s recent thoughts about the A’s relocation. Proclaiming “Las Vegas Mayor Thinks A’s Should Stay in Oakland” like the mayor speaks for Las Vegas as a whole is very awkward.

mayor maynot
Las Vegs is complicated.

9. The mayor still has lots of power.

The mayor may not have much power on The Strip, but she and her husband, former Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman, have lots of pull downtown. The view from Oscar’s Steakhouse at Plaza used to look at the back of the zipline landing platform. When Fremont Street Experience wanted public money for its renovation of the digital canopy for its light shows, the mayor signed off, but only if the project included more appealing visuals to enhance the view from Oscar’s Steakhouse. When funding was needed for a promenade between Fremont Street Experience and Downtown Grand, the money appeared because the enhanced walkway created a better view and more accessibility to the Mob Museum, a project championed by (wait for it) Oscar Goodman. We love them both. That’s just how Las Vegas works. Catch us on the Plaza podcast for more details.

slotzilla landing west
The SlotZilla landing platform got a video screen, Las Vegas sign and other flourishes.

10. The Strat is part of downtown.

While The Strat is philosophically part of the Las Vegas Strip, technically, it’s part of downtown. That’s because it’s in the City of Las Vegas, Sahara Ave. is the point of demarcation.

downtown archway Las Vegas
Yes, Strat is downtown, but every known fridge magnet of The Strip says it’s part of The Strip. Awkward.

11. Downtown’s slots are tighter than The Strip.

We were as shocked as anyone, but it’s true. Gaming revenue reports show that at some point, the “hold” (the percentage casinos keep) on downtown’s slot machines surpassed those on The Strip, which are notoriously tight. As the popularity of downtown has increased (our fault, sorry), the holds have been pushed up, too. We still consider downtown a great value, but the awkward numbers don’t lie. In 2023, the casino win percentage on slots was 7.5% on The Strip, and 8.5% downtown. Everything else downtown is half the price compared to The Strip, but just know what you’re up against.

angry gambler
You thought we’d do an entire story without A.I. depicting one of our ex-girlfriends reacting to losing on a slot machine or perhaps seeing us naked? Do you know this blog at all?

12. Las Vegas Club was acquired because it was going to become a CVS.

Everyone plays nice downtown, but there’s a lot of drama behind the scenes. The former Las Vegas Club, owned by Tamares Group (the same folks who own Plaza), was suffering, so Tamares decided to rent out a good portion of its ground floor to CVS. The thought of a CVS Pharmacy opening at the casino reportedly didn’t sit will with Derek Stevens (understatement of the century), so he bought the casino. Las Vegas Club was demolished and is now the location of Circa Las Vegas. Behold, our former drone skills, or possibly skilz.




13. Downtown’s “Pawn Stars” pawn shop isn’t the one you see on TV.

Everyone loves “Pawn Stars,” it’s the law. The popular History Channel show features downtown’s Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. The thing is, popularity has made it increasingly difficult to both run a business and tape a reality TV series. So, “Pawn Stars” is taped in a duplicate of the pawn shop, out of view of customers on the Gold & Silver site. The stars of the show sometimes make appearances in the shop, but they can’t actually work in the shop anymore.

Pawn Stars set
We’re pretty sure “Pawn Stars” makes more from merch than pawning.

14. Vegas Vickie’s boobs were enhanced when she was renovated.

We are madly in love with Vegas Vickie, the classic neon sign that once sat above the Glitter Gulch strip club on Fremont, but which is now the centerpiece of Circa Las Vegas. When Circa rescued her from demolition crews, she got a full makeover, including a breast augmentation. No joke, we got YESCO Sign to confirm it. It is Las Vegas, after all.

Vegas Vickie is back
Vegas Vickie is tops with us.

15. Golden Nugget’s gold nugget is a replica.

It’s not just awkward, it’s irksome. Thousands of visitors take photos with the Golden Nugget’s Hand of Faith nugget. What they don’t realize is it’s a fake, a replica. One of our biggest Las Vegas peeves is Golden Nugget’s refusal to simply let guests know it’s a replica. The real nugget is at Golden Nugget Biloxi.

golden nugget real fake
Vital Vegas: Making awkward things even more awkward since 2013.

We have approximately 445 more surprising and awkward things about downtown, but we are very busy and important, so we’ll leave it at that.

We didn’t mention downtown visionary Tony Hsieh’s addiction to ketamine, or the leeches who exploited his mental state for their personal gain, because we wanted to keep things light. The fact his estate is dismantling his legacy isn’t fun or funny.

We also wanted to talk about why Binion’s can’t renovate its hotel tower (too many land owners, so they can’t get financing), how the retail kiosks on Fremont Street generate more revenue that some casinos, why Boyd Gaming won’t open an outdoor bar on Fremont (leaving millions on the table), why Zowie Bowie and Spandex Nation got fired, Saginaw’s shrimp cocktail debacle and why Golden Gate doesn’t have a restaurant (and how the owners were financially screwed by Du-Par’s), how much casinos hate parades and how Downtown Grand tried to give Hogs & Heifers the boot.

Enough with idiotic reality TV shows like “The Golden Bachelor” and “Vanderpump Rules” and “MILF Manor” (which we didn’t know was a thing, but please), and get those cameras rolling downtown, already.

The post 15 Surprising, Awkward Things You Didn’t Know About Downtown Las Vegas appeared first on Vital Vegas.

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