Thursday, July 30, 2009

This week's LVW col: When The Fun Stops

Here's this week's LVW col. Yes, it's a downer. Sorry. Hopefully it's a thoughtful downer, though. -sf

When The Fun Stops
Somewhere along the way, all the reasons to love living in Sin City went bye-bye

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.

“What isn’t?”

“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.


Anonymous said...

This is the most insightful column I've read on Las Vegas in a long time.

Anonymous said...

I agree 100% with your comments. I've had a 2nd home in Vegas for 30 years and have seen ups and downs, but I've never felt this bad. Sure you still see crowds in the streets, but its all a facade. Walking through Encore in prime time on a weekend and seeing it near dead is shocking. The "buzz" is gone and Vegas is turning to the lowest common denominator to make a buck to survive right now. Night clubs where questionable activities receive a blind eye, visitors being bombarded with selling sex marketing everywhere you look. Its just so different than its ever been and not for the better. It reminds me of a glorified local county fair lately. My biggest hope is that when things turn around economically they will return to their roots. For the first time visitor, I'm not sure if they see this, but for the long termers its sad to see because we remember how good things really were. It truly was the greatest city in the world.

mike_ch said...

I think there's an upside to most things and this is one of them. For one, having less growth is certainly a plus. Seemingly nobody's questioned if it's appropriate to have 2 million people living in the middle of the desert, and the sprawl auto nightmares with the HOAs and gates around here don't really make for the best communities.

The economy will bounce back and when it does hopefully there will be a better city on the horizon than there was in the 89-05 boom.