Vegas Hits the Hard Times

For a while entertainment analysts used to think that gambling was not a cyclical component of the economy–that people fed their gambling addiction in good times and bad. In Vegas it’s looking like that’s not true.

With Americans cutting back on luxuries, and the price of transport rocketing, the so-called “Vegas vacation” is facing the axe. This week, as the nation celebrated Independence Day, major hotels were taking stock of a fall in all-important room occupancy rates from their usually impressive 95 per cent levels to nearer 80 per cent.

More worryingly, new figures showed gambling revenue has also dropped – a further 3 per cent this month – starting a price war between worried firms anxious to lure punters back. Hotel rooms, which last year averaged $130 each, now go for less than $100 (£50).

At the vast Planet Hollywood resort, the clatter of fruit machines and poker chips was this week replaced by an uneasy – and, for Vegas, very unusual – calm. A large if slightly tatty double room could be found for less than $80.

No tourist resort can afford to lose its buzz. Yet the slump now runs so deep it’s starting to hurt even the town’s Elvis impersonators, wedding chapels, and sex industry. When money’s tight, the prospect of stuffing another $20 bill into a lap-dancer’s gyrating stocking-top somehow doesn’t seem quite so enticing.

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0 Responses to Vegas Hits the Hard Times

  1. DickStock says:

    One word: Macau.

  2. Jon Taplin says:

    DickStock- You are probably right. “The Whales” are staying closer to home.

  3. Patrick says:

    I’m sorry for what this might imply for the economy as a whole. But for Las Vegas itself, I couldn’t care less. Except that my brother-in-law works at UNLV, in the hospitality college, and if Vegas goes down, UNLV might go with it, and he’ll be back in our guest room.

  4. BobbyG says:

    I’ve lived in Vegas for 16 years. We now have ~ 2 million people living in Clark County. Absent gaming, this place would be Barstow II. Maybe 25-30,000 dessicated hardscrabble residents in a truck and railstop and whorehouse dustbin.

    We are running out of water. THAT is the political 800 lb gorilla nowadays. EVERYTHING else is brought here by truck, train, or plane. Everything. I mean everything.

    Water is next — for those who can afford to pay $1,000 or so a month for it.

    The next Anasazi ruin.

  5. Kevin says:

    Is it Vegas or gambling that’s seen a downturn? Lot’s of states now have legalized gambling of some sort (here in Missouri it’s “riverboat” gambling). Are they pooring fairly as well or are gamblers exchanging an expensive flight/drive for more time at the local gambling joint?

  6. Dan says:

    Vegas is one of those shining symbols of modern America: spoiled, bored and entitled. Let’s build massive air-conditioned casinos and hotels in the middle of a desert!

    If things are as bad as they appear to be, Vegas should be a ghost town right now. But then I guess we’re still borrowing our way out of our mountain of debt, so the real collapse hasn’t come yet. Imagine if we have something like another depression. Vegas will shrink to a handful of casinos, catering only to the tiny elite of superbillionaires who will profit from such a catastrophe. Six free prostitues with your room! T-bone steaks the size of a small car!

    The two million people who live there will be screwed. If I were you, BobbyG, I’d be leaving.

  7. Jason Pettus says:

    I was just about to leave a comment very similar to Kevin’s above, wondering if maybe just as many Americans are gambling as before, simply through cheaper venues — riverboat casinos, Native American casinos, state-run lotteries, home poker games, etc.

    I’ve never been to Vegas myself, but watching its development and marketing campaigns this last decade, it seems maybe it became a victim of the exact monstrous out-of-control consumerism itself has reflected for a long time? As the city promoted itself more and more first as a “spectacle destination” for vacationing families, then as a dark den of iniquity where secret sin and excitement lurks around every corner, of course they would need to keep ramping up the cheap thrills found there in order to make such promises work with each passing year. Now that the economy is affecting so many people’s everyday lives, I have a feeling that Vegas’ obsession with cheap runaway consumerism is going to turn on itself and cause a lot of damage. Just some food for thought, anyway.

  8. BobbyG says:

    @Dan –

    “If I were you, BobbyG, I’d be leaving.”

    Oh, that is indeed in our plan. Probably within 5 years, back to Tennessee. We only moved here for my wife’s position as QA manager on the Nevada Test Site environmental cleanup project. We’re not here for all the high-priced vapidity.

    Like I said, the next Anasazi ruin. But, that’s a ways off.

  9. Rick Turner says:

    Just went to LV seven weeks ago on business. I hope never to need to return. There was nothing attractive about it at all other than the desert outside of town.

    Ever hear the James McMurtry song, “Choctaw Bingo”? It’s coming to a rez near you. It’s the Native Americans’ revenge…gambling fever instilled in white America. And for all I know, the mob may still be involved.

    Look for a copy of “The Man Who Invented Las Vegas” by William Wilkerson, Jr. His dad was the guy who promoted ‘Vegas in Hollywood and eventually sold out to Bugsy Siegal. Las Vegas was “invented” out of mental illness and never recovered.

  10. Alex Bowles says:

    Isn’t the real issue that Vegas has come to depend on so many other sources of revenue?

    I remember going there in the very early 90’s, when gambling really was the main attraction, and the rates for everything else, from hotels to buffets, were very low. The entire place felt run-down and cheap.

    Since then, just about every old-line casino has been demolished, giant shopping malls have been installed, an entire nightclub and restaurant scene has developed (with Tao apparently becoming the most profitable operation of its kind in America) all capped by explosive boom-driven growth in the convention business.

    So gambling may still be steady work. It’s just that so much of what’s now paying the bills isn’t.

  11. nearlynormalized says:

    Living in Vegas–was inexpensive at one time–having an internet business saves my ass. It is depressing but honest. Locals get good rates on some good shows but honey the scams are happening faster then before.

  12. Jon Taplin says:

    I think the Asians want to stay in Macao and next year Singapore. Steve Wynn used to send his private Boeing 737 to Hong Kong twice a week. They would start gambling as soon as they got on the plane. A real “whale” could loose $3 million in a weekend.

  13. Ken Ballweg says:

    Have to say Jon, “Cadillac Desert” gets more and more in need of reading (or rereading) and showing every year.

    Push for a revival run on PBS. It’s more and more germane then when it was published, or when the documentary was released.

  14. Rick Turner says:

    I have a problem with any community that tries so hard to ignore its setting. Which means, of course, that I have a problem with lots of communities, with places like ‘Vegas being egregious examples…

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