It's been nearly six years since the last time I visited Las Vegas.
And readers keep emailing or calling me with details or questions about how Sin City is spinning in the desert winds while dealing with the economy.
Much of what I hear and read about updates for this gambling paradise to the west, also comes from the Associated Press wire reports, which most recently have sent out stories announcing big changes at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino.
I remember when this glowing green glass property, billed as "the third largest hotel in the world and largest hotel resort complex in the United States," first opened in 1993. I headed there for a visit right after it opened and recall being impressed with the large golden lion constructed at the main entrance that invited guests to walk through its mouth to access the sprawling landscape.
By 1998, this lion entrance was removed because of reports that so many Chinese gambling guests refused to enter the jaws of a lion to come inside, considering it "bad luck" in their culture.
Now, the living, breathing interior king of the jungle trademarks are also leaving.
The MGM has just announced they will close their popular inside glass-enclosed lion sanctuary which invited guests to watch majestic lions interacting, eating and displaying their pride.
The closing is reportedly because of budget cuts according to Keith Evans, who owns the more than 40 lions, many among those who were rotated for the daily viewings as part of the "mane attraction."
AP also reported this week that Evans had "dismissed a call" by animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to send all of the big cats to a sanctuary instead of a Nevada ranch. PETA wrote a letter commending the MGM Grand for announcing it would be closing its lion habitat attraction on Jan. 31.
I've noticed many changes at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino during its nearly two decades on the famed Las Vegas Strip.
When it first opened, it included a large attached "climate-controlled" amusement park, which was part of the big push during the early 1990s of many of the gaming properties to become more "family friendly." By 2001, it had closed.
The original concept for the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, when it opened under the ownership of MGM Grand Inc., had a much more prominent emphasis on the MGM Studios theme, including a licensed recreation of the Brown Derby Restaurant, that later closed in 2002.
The interior of the casino also originally payed tribute to MGM's classic film "The Wizard of Oz," with branding everywhere from the "Oz Buffet" to a giant recreation of the Land of Oz that included live costumed characters greeting guests and an impressive walking tour landscape of Oz via a yellow brick road. Even the carpeting of the casino included a poppy flower motif pattern, a reference to one of the movie scenes. All of this was changed in 1996.
I even recall there being large animated life-size figures of Las Vegas celebrities that talked and interacted, such as a tribute to "drunk" comedian Foster Brooks, situated near one of the bar areas.
Today, the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino is owned and operated by MGM Resorts International.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 852-4327.