Playing It Safe in Las Vegas
FOR some time now, Michael Jackson and his children have lived at the Palms resort here while he records a new album in its studio.
This might not be so surprising, considering Mr. Jackson’s nomadic ways as well as the affinity that celebrities have for this city.
What is stunning, however, is that the star managed to live at the Palms for at least two months before a local gossip columnist wrote about it on Jan. 16.
How is it that the whereabouts of a tabloid target like Mr. Jackson could stay concealed for so long? Well, one might have noticed what did not happen after Norm Clarke’s article appeared in The Las Vegas Review-Journal.
No swarm of paparazzi descended upon the Palms. No enterprising photographer sneaked inside to snap Mr. Jackson heading to an elevator. No hotel guest made a cellphone video to sell to TMZ.com or to post on YouTube.
“Does that surprise me? Not really,” said Larry Fink, public relations director for the Palms. Citing the privacy of guests, Mr. Fink would neither confirm nor deny Mr. Jackson’s presence. “The celebrity media here is — I don’t want to say they’re well behaved — but there’s a certain level of respect between us and them,” he said.
It’s true. Despite the constant star visits and red carpet events in Las Vegas, few if any images of pantyless pop stars, married actors getting lap dances or even paparazzi mobs chasing celebutantes into limousines have appeared online or in publications.
The most notorious illicit video out of Las Vegas in recent years was last summer’s footage of an intoxicated David Hasselhoff crawling on the floor of his hotel room while trying to eat a hamburger. It was shot by his daughter and leaked by a member of his family.
Las Vegas is a city where stars can avoid the aggressive breed of stalker photographers who shadow their public events in Los Angeles and New York. At the very least, stars exert more control over their exposure. Ensconced in the protective resorts, and guarded by private security teams, the stars find the celebrity news media in Las Vegas far less invasive.
“In Vegas, I don’t have to worry about photographers waiting outside my house every day because they can’t wait outside my hotel room,” Spencer Pratt, a star of the MTV reality series “The Hills,” said in early January as he and Heidi Montag, his co-star and girlfriend, posed for photos on a red carpet on the way to an event that they were paid to attend at the Jet nightclub at the Mirage.
“When we travel here we have bodyguards, there are people with earpieces making sure there aren’t any photos we don’t want, making sure there’s no problems,” Mr. Pratt said. “I’m sure a lot of celebrities come out to Vegas because it’s like a hide-out, it’s a getaway.”
Indeed, as the city rolled into the year’s biggest betting weekend, the Super Bowl, stars aplenty were expected to be in the nightclubs and sports books. But they were not expecting to be trailed by what Robin Leach, the former host of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and the unofficial dean of the Las Vegas celebrity news media, refers to as “wild roaming packs of paparazzi.”
“All of our photographers are known to the casinos almost as if they’re registered,” said Mr. Leach, who writes the Vegas Luxe Life blog for Las Vegas Magazine. “If a photographer breaks the spirit of the unidentified terms of his access, that’s the last time he gets red carpet or nightclub privileges.”
That powerful, lingering threat is the difference between Las Vegas and other cities. The casino mega-resorts are private property. Many have private elevators, tunnels and garages for those not wishing to be seen.
The celebrity photos that do emerge from Las Vegas are generally less compelling because stars rarely go about their everyday business here, said Harvey Levin, managing editor of TMZ.com, which specializes in candid videos of stars driving recklessly or teetering out of nightclubs. “I don’t think Julia Roberts walks down corridors at Caesars Palace without her makeup on,” he said. “When a star goes to Caesars Palace, they tend not to go out or shop in malls. They’ll make appearances at clubs or events, but it’s much more event-driven.”
Even when celebrities do embarrass themselves here, their actions rarely receive widespread coverage. Last February, the hotel magnate Steve Wynn fell to the floor after bumping his head on a boom mike while walking a red carpet for Elizabeth Taylor’s 75th birthday party. Mr. Clarke reported the incident in his column, but no images of the fall emerged, even though many photographers were present.
“There’s more to shooting than getting someone falling down a staircase,” Robin Roth, a photographer and writer for the Web site Entnews.com, said in late December as she waited for Beyoncé and Jay-Z to arrive at the opening of the rap star’s new sports bar, the 40/40 Club, at the Palazzo resort. “They’re here to promote this event and that’s what we’re here to shoot. So we’re trying to get the best of them. I’m going to try to get the nicest shot of them.”
The level of control by resorts — and the acquiescence by the celebrity news media — is extensive.
One Friday in early January, a dozen photographers were ushered into the Bank nightclub at the Bellagio shortly past 11 p.m. by special elevator, ordered to stand by in a small, dark corridor and then given about five minutes to take pictures of the singer and songwriter John Legend posing before a backdrop with the Bank’s name on it.
ONCE Mr. Legend had had enough, the photographers were whisked away. The star’s entourage was seated in a V.I.P. area of the club, while a single photographer — on the club’s payroll — was allowed to shoot his birthday party for the celebrity news service WireImage.
“A publicist at one of the properties once told me he’s surprised with all the members of an entourage traveling with these stars and all the people having sex in rooms, that somebody doesn’t take a picture of an A-lister laying next to a stripper,” Mr. Clarke said. “I’m amazed I don’t get more of that, too.”
The handful of folks who actually do shrug off the yoke of the staged photo opportunities wonder where everybody else is. Preston Warner, a photographer who has sold images of Paris Hilton dancing provocatively on nightclub tabletops for five-figure sums, called the red carpet scene “mind-numbingly boring.”
“They’re standing out there for six to eight hours waiting for a celebrity to show up so 20 of them can get the same shots for their photo services,” Mr. Warner said. “I guess they do it because they’re star-struck or it’s a hobby for them.”
Even if the paparazzi aren’t out in force, what about the thousands of visitors with camera phones? Gary Morgan, chief executive of the celebrity photo service Splash News, doubts Las Vegas visitors understand the value of what they may have. “In L.A., people snap a picture and go, ‘Oh, oh, oh, I’ll give it to someone,’ ” Mr. Morgan said. “A lot of people are in Vegas to have fun, gambling and drinking, and they’re not in the mind-set.”
All this may soon change. The syndicated entertainment-news show “Extra” has opened a bureau in Las Vegas (and was the first to broadcast the video of Mr. Hasselhoff with the hamburger). In 2006 People magazine placed a full-time employee here for the first time. And RawVegas.tv, a Web-based video site devoted to celebrity news with 14 reporters and producers, made its debut last year.
“Extra” opened its bureau here, said Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey, senior executive producer of the show, because she “got tired of having to have crews and reporters get on planes” to cover the many celebrities visiting the city. “There was this giant curtain over Vegas and nobody knew what the secret code was to get inside, but now we feel we own Las Vegas because we’re here all the time,” Ms. Gregorisch-Dempsey said.
Jay-Z at the opening of his 40/40 Club at the Palazzo in Las Vegas.
“Extra” has a deal with the Planet Hollywood resort to run an Extra lounge in the casino, where stars can regularly stop for interviews. Although celebrities may not see this as an encroachment on their privacy, the notion of Las Vegas as a safe area may be fading slowly. In October, Ms. Hilton attended a costume party in army fatigues and flippantly said she wore the outfit to support American troops in Iraq. RawVegas.tv reported the remark, which caused a small stir.
“The celebrities are probably wandering the streets of Vegas going, ‘Man I can’t believe this is the last place on Earth where I’m not being photographed by telescopic lenses,’ ” said Peter Castro, deputy managing editor of People. “They’re probably thinking, ‘What’s the catch here?’ ”
But he predicted that this would soon be brought to a close by the public appetite for celebrity scandal. “There’s too much money in it for that to last,” he said.