By Steve Beauregard
There is of course, Atlantic City. And there are Indian casinos. And riverboat casinos. And horse racetracks, and poker rooms, lotteries, and numerous gambling outlets in places like the Gulf Coast, Chicago, Detroit and more.
Yet nothing on Earth matches the excitement you feel when the pilot announces, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we’ve now begun our descent into McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas,” and you look out of the tiny airplane window and see the brilliant neon of Las Vegas light up the desert night. And the plane is flying nearly 500 miles an hour, yet your heart is going faster, preparing itself for the whirlwind that’s about to commence.
Yes, other places have gambling, but nobody else has Las Vegas.
Since 1931, Sin City has been entertaining fun-seekers from all over the globe (over 39 million this year) and entertaining them with the hottest clubs, most-renowned shows, world-class cuisine, and a gambling environment that the rest of the world can only attempt to replicate.
For over a half century, Las Vegas had been the world leader in casino gambling. Although there were gambling joints in and around the city for years, the sport began legal in March of 1931, when the Nevada state legislature officially approved it.
While gambling is legal everywhere in the metropolitan Las Vegas area, and while “locals casinos” can be found near almost everywhere neighborhood, there are basically two main casino districts in Las Vegas: downtown, and The Strip.
Downtown (Fremont Street) is the original main street of Las Vegas, and it’s home to the classic old-school Vegas vibe that some tourists like me hope to see. How old is it you ask? The Golden Gate Casino on Fremont Street (near the Plaza Hotel at the end of the street) was built in 1906. Some think they still employ some of the original cocktail waitresses, but that’s not true. The first cocktail waitress on opening day is now working the graveyard shift (rimshot).
The other gambling center of the city is of course, The Las Vegas Strip. Unlike its older, cheaper cousin down the road, the strip is swankier, fancier, and more expensive. It’s also more impersonal, not as friendly, and more spread out. If you like cheap eats, friendly dealers (mostly), and $5 dollar tables, stay on Fremont Street. But if you like gourmet meals, big-budget shows and the more glamorous side of Sin City; the strip is your place.
There are 1,700 businesses in Las Vegas with a gaming license. With the vast majority of gaming employees based in Las Vegas, Nevada is home to over 174,000 casino employees. That’s not counting the ancillary business, such as taxi drivers, tour guides, and most importantly, strippers. All of which help make Las Vegas the undisputed gambling capital of the world. Since the 1930’s, it had been a runaway leader in terms of annual gaming revenue.
This distinction, however, came to an end in 2008, when total gaming revenues in Macau (a Chinese penisua) exceeded revenues in the state of Nevada for the first time. Today, gambling revenues in Maccau are roughly 5x that of those on the Las Vegas strip. I guess it’s nice and somewhat profitable to have a virtual gaming monopoly next door to one billion Chinese.
In America however, Sin City still rules. Over 41 million people visit Las Vegas each year, helping to make McCarran the 23rd busiest airport in the entire world (and probably number one when it comes to the airport with the highest number of quarter slot machines.) Total gaming revenue for Clark County (the home county of Las Vegas) typically reaches over $9 billion – $6 billion of which comes from the Strip.
The two biggest revenue producers in Las Vegas casinos are of course the slot machines, and more surprisingly (at least to me), baccarat. Interesting, in that (A) Baccarat offers the player one of the best edges against the house, and (B) the baccarat tables are always tucked away quietly in the back, whereas casinos would put the loud and flashy Wheel of Fortune slots in the median if they could.
Today, Las Vegas continues to attract millions. Some resorts started during the real estate boom of the early to mid 2000’s have been halted, biding their time for when the economy turns around, while plans for even more fabulous resorts are in the works sit anxiously in desk drawers of real estate developers, waiting to put their new mark on the city.
Some argue the luster of Las Vegas has worn, given the enormous financial lead Macau has taken over the city. It’s interesting, however, to see the names of the casinos behind the Chinese city’s growing lead over America’s proud gaming capital: MGM Macau, the Venetian, the Sands, the Wynn, etc.. In other words, it appears that Las Vegas innovation and style will continue to dominate the casino industry (from Southern Nevada to Southern Asia), for years to come.
Did you know?
**Las Vegas hosts over 3,000 conventions a year? Do you care? No? OK. This next one is more interesting:
** In 2007, Terrance Watanabe, a wealthy (or formerly wealthy) Nebraska businessman, lost $127 million in Las Vegas? According to the Wall Street Journal, Watanabe played mostly at Caesars Palace and at the Rio. They report that he lost $5 million in one day, in part by playing three hands of blackjack at time. The limit for his special table was (gulp) $50,000 per hand. On the bright side, he was given not one, but TWO breakfast comps.
**One of the groups most responsible for the early settlement of Sin City were Mormon pioneers?
**The hottest temperature ever recorded in Las Vegas was 118 degrees. This took place in 1931, so you can’t blame SUV’s and global warming on that one.
**Nevada state gaming laws require casinos to have their slot machines pay back 75% to players over the life of the slot machine. (Apparently I’ve been playing some illegal slot machines.)
**According to a recent study, the average gambling budget for a trip to Las Vegas is $559.
**The Stratsophere is the tallest building west of the Mississippi? With it’s inventory of extreme rides, one is able to ride a roller coaster on top of the 5th tallest building in the USA.
(Photo courtesy of Tony Kent via Flickr).