Somewhere along the way, all the reasons to love living in Sin City went bye-bye
By STEVE FRIESS
For a brief bit of time earlier this month, I was reminded of how it used to be around here. Confident business leaders and politicians grazed on a sumptuous breakfast buffet at the Four Seasons, exchanging business cards and chatting about new deals they expected to come through. Then they settled down at tableclothed tables set with fancy china and watched as their leader, Nevada Development Authority CEO Somer Hollingsworth, talked up the land of opportunity that Las Vegas represents.
Hollingsworth, a man never accused of understatement, exhibited some brazen hubris in his talk, titled, “California Has Lost Its Mind and Las Vegas Is Providing Psychoanalysis,” running through the litany of challenges facing our neighbor to the west. He even—and I’m not kidding—donned a tinfoil hat as he mercilessly mocked California policymakers for their high taxes and generous state-sponsored services before explaining why the Golden State’s budget misery would lead to robust job growth here.
As weird as it was to see a grown man wearing a tinfoil hat, and as unseemly as it felt to hear people cackle at the prospect of exploiting someone else’s misery, it also was nice to hear some roundabout good news about the Las Vegas economy for a change.
Except dwelling in an alternative universe where the eastbound stampede of Californians was in effect didn’t last long. The next day we learned that Nevada, already the nation’s foreclosures champ, had hit an all-time record for unemployment, 12.3 percent. The nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation released a study shortly thereafter that indicated that the Silver State’s economy is “the most distressed” in the United States. And CNBC did an analysis that showed that Nevada can expect the nation’s largest budget gap in 2010 by percentage of the general fund. Presumably, Mr. Hollingsworth, Kaiser and CNBC included California in their research.
By the weekend, I was exhausted from not just another week of lousy economic data but also from working my ass off to make mortgage payments on property unlikely for years to be worth even close to what we paid. When a journalist friend in New York who used to cover Vegas called to chitchat, he could hear my weariness.
“It’s just no fun anymore,” I said.
“Vegas,” I said. “Vegas isn’t fun anymore.”
It was an epiphany of sorts. Oh, sure, Vegas is still a blast for tourists. In fact, it’s never been a bigger one. The resorts are so desperate, they’re giving away rooms, meals, flights, show tickets, whatever.So who’s the sucker now? Wasn’t that sort of the premise of our economy, that we build all these fantastical, lovely experiences to make up for the fact that we’re relieving the masses of their cash at the tables or machines while convincing them that it’s fun? I’ve never quite believed that; I don’t think there’s anything more insidious about spending money playing games of chance than spending it on an outing at a professional sports game. But the premise sure wasn’t that this is where the world comes to rip us off.
Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com.