Mona Shield Payne/Special to the Sun
Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016 | 2 a.m.
The USO celebrated its 75th anniversary Feb. 4. It’s no surprise that Wayne Newton took part in the ceremonies in Las Vegas, at the USO Lounge at McCarran International Airport. Newton’s affiliation with the organization dates to when he and the USO were just kids.
“My first show for the USO was when I was 7 years old; President (Harry) Truman was in office at the time,” Newton recalled during the cake-cutting ceremony. “My brother (Jerry) and I were flown to Washington to take part in the USO’s ninth birthday, believe it or not. And here we are, at the 75th birthday.”
A Republican who typically backs GOP presidential candidates (he recently came out in support of Donald Trump), Newton forged an unlikely alliance with Democratic Sen. Harry Reid to make the USO Lounge a reality. Newton backed Reid’s initiative to open the lounge, and the two appeared together at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in August 2010.
“We don’t seem to have a lot in common,” Reid said at the time. “He’s an entertainer. I’m a politician. He’s a Republican. I’m a Democrat.”
While Reid secured funding for the lounge, Newton recruited such right-leaning resort officials as South Point owner Michael Gaughan and Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson to support the project. Newton also broke party affiliation to back Reid’s re-election campaigns.
The lounge serves as a rest-and-relax enclave for people serving in the U.S. armed forces. Adelson donated all of the furniture for the lounge, located in Terminal 1 on McCarran’s mezzanine level.
Newton has grown along with the USO, ascending to chairman of the Celebrity Circle and organizing trips on behalf of the organization since the Vietnam War. Among those he wrangled to travel overseas: Drew Carey, Kid Rock, Chris Isaak, Neal McCoy and the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.
“Being in the USO is how I have served those who serve us,” Newton said.
n On the topic of legends who serve, Jerry Lewis returned to the Muscular Dystrophy Association in a ceremonial sort of way. He recorded a video clip promoting the MDA’s new logo and tag line, “For Strength, Independence & Life.” The video aired during an event Jan. 29 at Carnegie Hall in New York.
It was Lewis’ first formal appearance on behalf of the MDA since his ouster from the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon in September 2010. The organization has since dropped the telethon and even its winnowed TV specials in an effort to adopt a more nimble fundraising strategy using online and social media platforms.
There’s no question the MDA’s ability to raise money has sagged since Lewis’ departure. The organization raised $171 million in 2010, compared with$135 million in 2013, according to the MDA’s tax filings.
Meanwhile, Lewis says he has no interest in returning to the MDA in any official capacity, saying his 61 years of service stands as his legacy with the organization.
n Something that threw me off during my Super Bowl Sunday visit to the Tropicana: A hotel official told me a shuttle service had been established between the Trop and M Resort.
“Why’s that?” I asked before I realized it is because Penn National Gaming owns both hotels.
This is another instance where hotels otherwise unrelated suddenly are corporate siblings. It was the same situation about 15 years ago when I ran into longtime Caesars Palace communications exec Debbie Munch at an event at the Rio and asked, “What are you doing here?”
“We own this place now,” she said, referring to Harrah’s Entertainment, now Caesars Entertainment, which bought the Rio in 1998.
The M and Trop are separated by about 11 1/2 miles of asphalt on Las Vegas Boulevard, but the shuttles, which run five times each afternoon and evening, carry guests of either resort back and forth. The properties plan a cross-promotional players’ loyalty program to further link the hotels.
The Trop also is expanding its pool area for a daylife “experience,” essentially a nightclub-styled outdoor party for 21 and older, beginning in April. The Havana Room, which has been restricted to private events since the One Group’s Bagatelle pulled out of its partnership with the hotel, also is expected to reopen this year.