With the embargo on Cuban cigars expected to cease, Vegas’s cigar king, Michael Frey, sees a rosy future for America’s most cigar-friendly city.
From his Caesars Palace store, Colosseum Cigars, Michael Frey is preparing for the coming cigar boom, which he predicts will be particularly big in Vegas.
In a world that never seems to stop imposing restrictions on cigar lovers, Las Vegas is a breath of fresh air—or, in this case, rich, intoxicating air. Sure, Cohibas, Macanudos, and the like are verboten in restaurants and even some sports books, but most casinos maintain a light-up-and-let-live policy. And it’s no wonder: For many a gambler, the blackjack table just isn’t the same without a red-tipped stogie to accompany the hits and splits. And making sure that lovers of fne cigars have plenty of product to choose from is Michael Frey. With Rhumbar in the Mirage (sipping spirits and puffng on a cigar on its Strip-side patio is a quintessential Vegas experience), Casa Fuente in the Forum Shops (the mecca for serious cigar lovers), and the off-Strip retailer Cigar Box, as well as stores in Caesars Palace and New York–New York, Frey has you covered.
A longtime Vegas resident who understands that fine cigars go hand in hand with casino culture, Frey is girding himself for the city’s next wave: the anticipated lifting of the US embargo on Cuban cigars. “I think it will create a second cigar boom,” he says, recalling the cigar mania of the 1990s, which still resonates today. “Everybody will want to try Cuban cigars, and a lot of new smokers will come into the marketplace. Even though I hear about warehouses full of aging Cuban cigars, I still believe that demand will outstrip supply and prices will get high. People will be Cuban cigar crazy.” That condition promises to be especially acute in Las Vegas, according to Frey, because “if you smoke two cigars a year, this is the place where you will smoke them.”
Frey has spent most of the last 50 years in Vegas. His parents found success in real estate here and had clout with folks in the casino business. It afforded Frey a very Vegasy upbringing. “Most kids go to Chuck E. Cheese’s on their 12th birthday; I got to see Elvis Presley,” he says. “That was my frst date. I was in sixth grade, and we had seats right next to the stage. My dad arranged for Elvis to put a scarf around my date’s neck. She almost fainted. That was my best date ever. Unfortunately, it never got better than that.”
“Cigars in Vegas provide a link to the past, to the whole rat pack era of smoking and drinking scotch. It’s part of the Vegas image.” —Michael Frey
Frey’s boyhood also put him in the catbird seat when it came to getting a close look at the city’s showbiz elite. “I remember my parents taking me backstage at casinos,” he says. “We’d see guys like Shecky Greene and Sinatra. Cigars were everywhere and you could smoke wherever you wanted—hell, yeah!” Today, he adds, “cigars in Vegas provide a link to the past, to the whole Rat Pack era of smoking and drinking Scotch. It’s part of the Vegas image.”
When Cuban cigars are no longer contraband, Frey predicts that a few things will happen. “For one, the mystique about Cuban cigars will go away,” he says. “Right now people think Cubans are the coolest things.” Once they lose their illicit allure, the hip factor will diminish. He also sees prices spiking, which should bring a boom in counterfeits. “Right now, for every 100 Cuban cigars in Las Vegas, 65 are fake. Since most people can’t tell the difference between a phony and the real thing, the counterfeit business thrives and will continue to do so. It’s crazy now, and it’s going to get even crazier.”