I ask you, in all the wide world is there anyplace quite like Las Vegas?
I just returned from a 3-day trip to Sin City where the sun is shining, the dice are rolling and that sucking sound is the noise of money escaping one’s wallet. Nothing is cheap in Vegas, not even the free stuff.
But while I did return with less green in my pocket and more red on my face (and shoulders and back), I still had a great vacation.
Las Vegas is a town with something for everybody whether you’re a gambler (I’m not), a hiker (nope), NASCAR enthusist (double nope) or the kind of person who might take a cool drink by the side of the pool (ding-ding-ding, we have a winner!).
I mention all this not as commercial but by way of an introduction to a fiscal reality check. If you’ve been keeping tabs on the national economy then you’re already aware that Las Vegas is buried in a financial hole roughly as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon just down the road.
I have made these 3-day trips more than a few times over the years (any longer and Vegas will suck you in) and grown accustomed to the town’s usual frenzy of commerce. I’ve seen mimes picking people’s pockets, con men luring hapless retirees into time shares, cross-dressing men (I think) in G-strings roller-blading down Las Vegas Boulevard with advertisements on their backs. And, of course, there was always the ever-present sex industry brochures that droves of migrant workers would advertise by slapping one against another and then try to shove in your pocket.
I never thought anything could slow down the pace of Vegas, but this economy seems to have taken some of the swagger out of the city’s stride. Crowds are smaller, slot machines stand idle and fewer sex brochures are being forced on passersby at street corners. Where once huge herds of gamblers stumbled from one gaming hall to the next, now the only mass movement of people are to the free shows like the fountain at Bellagio and the pirates at Treasure Island.
Yet here’s where Las Vegas demonstrates its prowess at reinvention. Despite this never-ending financial free-fall, Vegas always seems to find a way to be relevant.
For example, as my cab pulled away on the first leg of my trip home (and a 30 degree drop in temperature), I looked up at the Venetian Hotel and saw a huge banner advertising the Republican National Debate taking place tonight. The cab driver was very excited about the crowds arriving for this event and the economic windfall this would mean for Vegas.
Further along the driver pointed towards a UNLV sports facility and mentioned that a major pro rodeo event would be held there in December. He explained, in a reverential tone, that December is a dead month in town and that this rodeo would be saving a lot of jobs.
Whether we like it or not, the entrepreneurial style that Vegas was built upon, and which keeps it vital still, is quintessentially American. The creed upon which it operates is simple: Jettison what isn’t working, double-down on things that do work, and then think up something new and exciting.
Vegas has always been good at finding ways to lure us in and take our money. The trick is making so many of us want to come back and do it again.