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October 23, 2014

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What happens in Vegas …:

Mr. Sun on Jews playing poker, sushi smoke shops, a freeway blunder and more

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Christopher DeVargas

George Harris, co-owner of Mundo, Thursday Oct. 11, 2012.

Updated Friday, Oct. 12, 2012 | 9:50 a.m.

This is a new one: The Jewish Poker Championships — “When Mazel Tov Is Just Not Enough” is their slogan — scheduled for Dec. 24-25 at the Venetian.

So what brought this on?

“During the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day holidays, Jews have struggled to find things to do. After many years of eating Chinese food and renting movies the founders were shocked to learn how many Jews played poker. The combination of these two elements created the Jewish Poker Championships,” says the sponsor’s website.

Well, there’ll be more than just playing poker, says Ilya Sheyn, a Los Angeles professional poker player who is organizing the event with Las Vegas businessman Andrew Rothbart. “We’re hoping to attract Jews from around the country — and the world — to come to Vegas, hang out and network.”

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The store front of the Yum Yum BBQ & Sushi restaurant advertises their all you can eat sushi and smoke shop cigarette brands.

The big question: Only Jews can play? “This will be Jewish-themed,” Sheyn said. “But no, we won’t be examining their mothers’ birth certificates. We know we can’t discriminate.”

Word of the tournament was posted at cardplayerlifestyle.com, founded by Robbie Strazynski.

"Historically and currently, a sizeable percentage of the best poker players in the world have been Jewish, far more so than Jews' representation in the general population," he says. "Clearly there's some sort of connection between the Jewish people and the game of poker."

Strazynski has written about the "Top 10 Jews in Poker" and "Hannukah Poker," which he says captures some of the spirit of poker's Jewish connection.

I’ll have a pack of unfiltered California rolls, please

It may be illegal to smoke in restaurants, but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy your cigs in one.

Witness Yum Yum BBQ & Sushi, at 7225 S. Durango Drive, near West Warm Springs Road, which advertises on its storefront not only its $16.99 all-you-can-eat special, but also that it’s a smoke shop.

“Yeah, I’ll have the chicken katsu and, oh yeah, throw in a carton of Camels to go.”

Mundo: A downtown dining secret

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Pork carnitas at Mundo may be the best you've ever tried.

Speaking of restaurants, a bunch of eateries will be welcoming visitors Saturday during Rediscover Downtown, the promotion to drum up more support for downtown Las Vegas businesses.

Among them: Mundo, a chic Mexican restaurant that opened in January 2010 inside the Las Vegas Design Center at the World Market Center. Despite a lousy economy it has thrived on word-of-mouth, drawing a downtown crowd by day and, at night, patrons of the nearby Smith Center for Performing Arts.

George Harris, who owns the 130-seat restaurant along with his nephew, Mingo Collaso, and chef Robert Solano, remembers hustling to build a clientele. His previous restaurant, La Madonna, in the Southwest valley, died when the economy went off the cliff. “It was humiliating,” he says of losing the business.

The World Market Center people reached out to Harris to do something with the eating space that previously was little more than an institutional cafeteria. “My friends thought I was nuts,” said Harris, who ran for mayor of Las Vegas two years ago.

Harris and his partners saw the possibilities of creating a nice joint, signed a lease, created a good looking restaurant with an expansive, upscale menu and began pounding the pavement for business. “We were taking chips and salsa and taquitos to downtown law offices, businesses, UMC, everywhere. It was guerilla marketing,” Harris says.

“This is really a second-chance town,” he says. “And for the most part, everyone wants everyone to succeed.”

Honey, I told you the turnoff was at Flamingo

So you’re heading for the airport southbound on Interstate 15, driving in the new express lanes and looking for the break in the double-solid white lines so you can edge over to I-215 eastbound. You pass an opportunity to make your move around Flamingo Road, assuming there’ll be another opportunity to legally escape the express lanes as you approach the 215.

But there’s not. And the next thing you know you’re whippin’ right by the 215 heading toward Blue Diamond Highway, way out of the way. The only other option would have been to illegally cross the double-white lines, which could trigger an accident.

Why isn’t there a sign at the Flamingo break in the express lanes telling motorists that it’s is the last opportunity to slip out in order to make the I-215 transition for the airport?

The cost of such a sign likely would run between $100,000 and $200,000, said Damon Hodge, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Transportation. That’s cost prohibitive.

“Our traffic safety guy says people will learn (when to exit the express lanes) by using them,” Hodge says. A lot of good that does tourists.

In California, signs are commonly erected along the car-pool lanes notifying motorists when they need to pull out for a particular off-ramp. (Heading to the airport would certainly qualify!)

“Sure, the big overhead signs will cost $200,000, but for those little 3-by-6-foot signs that we post along the median rail, you can do those for between $1,000 and $2,000,” said Kelly Markham, a Caltrans spokeswoman.

Wonder if NDOT can re-think this.

Have you seen or heard something interesting around town? Email [email protected].

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