(These ideas are explicated in this sloppy manifesto)
Saturday, September 27, 2003
Harkening back to this, deconstructing boneheadedness is simply a matter of determining how and why the solution deployed did nothing--or less than enough, at least--to satisfy the original objective. It is boneheaded not to connect the resort with the casino that is its reason for being. It is boneheaded to turn an entertainment venue into a regimented drill, then move the patrons though an inane non-exit. It is boneheaded to build a trolley system in Phoenix that will not empty a single car, but which will cause those cars to move slower and pollute more.
It is boneheaded to build a transit system for The Las Vegas Strip that is not on The Strip. But what's worse, it would be boneheaded to build a rapid transit system even on The Strip.
Why is that so?
The answer comes in the form of two more questions: What is the product? And who is the client?
The Strip runs on Las Vegas Boulevard from Sahara Avenue to the north to Russell Road to the south. When we think of mass transit systems, we think of commuters. In this we are being thoughtless, because on that four-plus mile stretch of road there are zero commuters. No residential housing. No full-time residents. No one rushing off to the office in the morning. No one racing home to dinner in the evening. No commuters, period.
The Strip needs a transit system because four miles is a long, long way to walk in the desert heat, particularly after you've walked a few gargantuan casino floors. But The Strip does not need a rapid transit system. Rather more the opposite, since visitors come to gawk at all the spectacles. What The Strip needs is a way to get where you want to go without walking, when you choose. That's all. Not maglevs or monorails or trolleys or subways from Back East or the Far East. Those bicycle-rickshaws would be more than adequate, if there were enough of them, and if there were space enough for them to operate. I want a good deal more than that, but the essential thing to understand is that a big, fast, capital-intensive, fixed-station rapid transit system--while it might be a tax-dollar-devouring convenience for commuters--is a thoughtless mistake for Las Vegas Boulevard. It's boneheaded, even on the right route, because it delivers the wrong product to a client base that does not even exist on The Strip.
We are thoughtless, as a species, just about all of the time. We hear 'transit system' and we automatically think of structures and vehicles and stations and tickets and cops, all the things that a municipal rapid transit system must have. And if we decide to connect two buildings, we envision a corridor, a vast, empty squared-off tube interrupted occasionally by grim little windows. One of the lessons Las Vegas is teaching us, not as quickly as it might, is that a corridor connecting two buildings can look and feel--and generate profits--like a shopping mall, if you build it right. Right now, the Mandalay Resort Group is in the process of replacing the first type of corridor, connecting Mandalay Bay with the Luxor, with the second type. This is the thoughtful approach to the problem. The transportation problem, yes, point A to point B. But the profitability problem, too, and Mandalay has proved itself to be inspired when it comes to solving the profitability problem.
So, if we resolve to be thoughtful, we can ask ourselves this question: What is Las Vegas Boulevard? Remember to think outside the corridor! Streets and roads have been government monopolies since before the Boston Post Road, since before the King's Peace of bloody Prince John, since before the cobbled roads trod by the Roman Legionnaires. In all that time a road like Las Vegas Boulevard has been a flat surface at or near the grade of the Earth set aside for feet, hooves and wheeled vehicles. In recent times, roads have served as rights-of-way for water, sewer, power and communication lines, but this is the extent of their flexibility. Ultimately, for now, roads are for cars, with pedestrians suffered grudgingly.
This is thoughtless. A road is real estate, with the dichotomy between 'street' and 'structure' being entirely imaginary and entirely unnecessary. We make this distinction because we stupidly gave the government the power to build roads, and because the government has built roads stupidly ever since. This was a profoundly boneheaded thing to have done, but even if we all resolved, unanimously and permanently, never to be this thoughtless again, it would still take a long, long, time to undo the consequences of failing to understand that roads are real estate, that a corridor can be more than a tube.
I have three distinct ideas for solving the transportation problem on Las Vegas Boulevard, but before I detail them, I want to take a moment to talk about constituencies. In an actual free market, which the United States is not, there are only two parties to a real estate transaction, either the seller and the buyer or the landlord and the tenant. But because Clark County, Nevada, is a government, resolving disputes by force instead of reason, there are two sets of technically uninvolved hitchhikers to any proposed transaction: The government itself, and other parties who can sway the government to use its coercive powers to promote or prevent that transaction. In the case of The Strip, the Other Parties, primarily, are the casino properties, and it is their perceived self-interest that will tip the balance for or against anything I or anyone else might propose.
That's important, because any particular casino doesn't actually want for you to have a convenient way to get from its property to another. This is why it's so hard to find the doors. On the other hand, once you have escaped from one casino, each of the others wants for it to be as easy as possible for you to wander into their facility, with luck never to emerge. The Nowhere Train is boneheaded, but there is a logic to its boneheadedness: It buttresses the competitive appeal of the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands Expo Convention Center, at the expense of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center; it delivers conventioneers from the north end of The Strip to hotels further south; and, as pure gravy, it drives every potential passenger all the way through the casino floor at either end of the trip.
From Clark County's point of view--from the point of view of the tax collector and also of The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority--the most valuable real estate in Nevada is not the land fronting on Las Vegas Boulevard, but The Strip itself. At present it doesn't generate any tax revenue in se, but it is the sine qua non of all the tax dollars produced by Strip properties. But the street itself is eminently exploitable as taxable real-estate, lacking only vision and capital to make it even more profitable, per square foot of grade-level dirt, than the Bellagio or the MGM Grand.
I'm talking about privatizing The Strip, of course, and developing it as taxable real estate--turning it into more than a corridor. The three proposals I'm offering here can be ranked according to capital cost, construction intrusiveness, profit potential and, ultimately, political inviability. I'll start with the best and least likely.
I. The Meadows
If the 'public' part of Las Vegas Boulevard is 75 feet wide, on average, then the four mile length of The Strip is over 1.5 million square feet of dirt at grade level. This is not a lot of land by Strip standards, but we're going to build edge-to-edge, where Strip properties, to date, have been very wasteful of their acreage. Moreover, the government's tax-coerced 'free' roads induce us, thoughtlessly, to think horizontally, when all the real money in real estate comes from thinking vertically. The project I call The Meadows (the words 'las vegas' in English and the name of the very first Las Vegas casino resort hotel) is designed to be extremely vertical. In passing, this idea is not contingent on the sale of Las Vegas Boulevard; there are several prime pieces of property on The Strip where it would work. We're putting it on The Strip for the sake of discussion.
So, level by level, from the excavation straight to the top: First the street, the right of way for all those cars now clogging Las Vegas Boulevard, stuck way below grade level. We can't get the cars off The Strip, since the hotels are all essentially motels, but we can get them out of the way. To do this we're going to have to rip up everything, which will be hugely intrusive, but the upside is that everything now below the street surface will be replaced with new hardware, all of it accessible without future intrusions. Above the street, still below grade level, comes parking, lots of it.
Above that, at grade level, is a huge park, a true boulevard, a four-mile walkway enclosed in glass and air-conditioned, with the ceiling so high that the fenestration is virtually unimpaired. Here we can put the bicycle-rickshaws or perhaps very slow slidewalks running down the middle. Borrowing a page from The Fremont Street Experience, street vendors can create a safe and sanitary pretend-Mardi Gras, this is contrast to Fremont Street.
This park, this better-boulevard, provides street-level access to all the casino properties on both sides of Las Vegas Boulevard, but above that is the real money: A casino within the property, as much as the traffic can bear, up to the full length of the property or interspersed by retail like The Fashion Outlet Mall at the Primm Valley Resort and Casino. The fact is, the casino can take up more than one level, in time, if business warrants that. And above that is retail, four miles of it. This can be multi-level, too, of course, and it can link by walkway to existing Strip shopping centers.
And above all that is another park, this one outdoors. What we might think of as the roof level serves as building pads for skyscrapers: Hotels, office buildings, residential towers, time-shares, vertical strip-malls even. Pools and tennis courts, and, at the edges, an incomparable view of The Strip.
The business of The Meadows is businesses--other people's businesses. Everything but the street and the connecting common spaces can be owned and run by other companies. This is not a new idea. It is Charles Keating's Master-Planned Community concept expressed vertically. So we have parking concessions, as many as make sense, grade-level vendors and rickshaw-jockeys, casinos, as many as make sense, massive quantities of retail stores, and, above all that, real estate development in the large. The Meadows Incorporated is in the business of creating and selling or leasing real estate market opportunities.
This would solve the transportation problem, and a whole lot of other dilemmas. It would be hugely profitable and hugely beneficial to the taxing authorities. It is also extremely unlikely to be built in this form, since all of the casino properties fronting on The Strip would oppose it. Frankly, an idea like this would be much more viable on an immense piece of privately-held land, like the Stardust the Boardwalk or the golf course at Wynn Las Vegas.
II. Mardi Gras (curribus vale, farewell to cars)
This is a much simpler approach, but it would have to be subsidized by casino resort hotel properties, since there is not enough profit-potential here to justify a separate business. What we do is rip up Las Vegas Boulevard as above and submerge the automobile traffic. At grade level is the park and walkway described above. I would like for it to be enclosed in glass and air-conditioned, but we are now at the cheap-it-out level of investment, so that may be asking for too much. As above, we can have a continuous pretend-Mardi Gras, dancing in the street. To take the sting off the intrusiveness of ripping up all of Las Vegas Boulevard, the participating resorts will get all new infrastructure hardware, designed, one would hope, in such a way that repairs are fast, easy and cheap. The enduring curse of government ownership of the roads is that legislators and their contractor brothers-in-law have no incentive to install subsurface improvements in a maintenance-friendly fashion.
III. Up On The Roof
This is the cheapest solution of all. It consists of a pedestrian deck built over the grade-level automobile traffic, sidewalk-to-sidewalk, four miles long. Again, the park, the walkway--one would hope enclosed in glass and air-conditioned. Setback properties, like Bally's, could build connecting ramps or slidewalks. Others, like New York-New York, could use second-floor walkways, just as they do now with the elevated sidewalks.
All of these proposals separate the pedestrians from the automobiles, and that's no accident--no pun intended. Las Vegas Boulevard is walkable in principal, weather permitting, but vehicular and foot traffic don't mix happily. The mass transportation problem on The Strip, to the extent there is one, can be solved easily--and cheaply--if the space available to entrepreneurs like the bicycle-rickshaw vendors is increased. Surely it would be possible to build a slidewalk system, but that's a big investment with a fairly lousy mean-time-between-failures. In any case, putting the cars and the pedestrians on different levels will solve most of the problem while creating market opportunities from tiny to immense.
Friday, September 26, 2003
BetterVegas: Flynt hustles to free California slots
From the LA Weekly:
[Hustler magazine publisher and card-club casino owner Larry] Flynt wants the state’s voters to authorize slot machines in card-club casinos. In exchange, his proposed initiative would dedicate 30 percent of the gross revenue — which Flynt optimistically estimates at $4 billion a year — to reducing the state’s budget deficit. Flynt, who has a card casino in Gardena, said he hopes to work with other card-club owners to get this measure on the ballot in 2004. After the deficit is retired, he added, the money would go into the general fund.The article points out the long odds against the initiative, which will have to be approved by voters who will be drenched in Tribal-gaming advertising. Even so, if he were to include the horse and dog tracks and make the right alliances in the gaming industry, he might be able to scare up enough money to counter the Indian TV offensive.
[Vice president and general counsel for the Commerce Club Andrew] Scheiderman said he’s heard reports that the slots at a new Indian casino near Sacramento are pulling in $500 an hour, far surpassing a typical Las Vegas take of $100 an hour.That's a lot of money to fight over. Considering that the Tribes, by lobbying and advertising to influence elections, are in violation of the Federal legislation behind gaming compacts, things could get ugly...
Barbra Steisand asks:
"Do we want to live in a country without a legal system, without a military, without free education, without safety net programs?"Yes! Today would be great. I'll wait until tomorrow if I absolutely have to.
Thursday, September 25, 2003
BetterVegas: The Strip magazine
This is an idea I've had rumbling around in my head for a while, but I was talking today to my friend Richard Riccelli, a first-rank magazine circulation maven, and I'll explicate this in his honor. This is a product that is tailor-made for The Stephens Media Group or The Greenspun Media Group, and the first one of them game enough to buy it can have it.
Anyone who has ever been to Las Vegas has seen Showbiz Weekly and What's On magazines. One or the other was waiting for you in your hotel room, but there were racks of them at the airport and at the car rental counter, plus single issues in the rental car itself. They're slick and polished, but they're free like a TV-Shopper, albeit a lot better distributed.
Functionally, they work like controlled-circulation trade magazines: Elaborate advertising and puff-piece promotional articles inform you of your buying opportunities in Las Vegas at the point where you have become a ready, willing and able buyer. That's why they're free: The advertisers are more than willing to comp you for as many copies as you might want, confident that your spending will more than compensate them for their investment.
What's interesting about these magazines is that you cannot subscribe to them from back home. There are a couple of general interest magazines you can subscribe to: Greenspun's Las Vegas Life is a city magazine, like New York or Los Angeles; it's a fun read, but not terribly useful for tourists. Vegas Magazine, also Greenspun, is a confused fashion rag that is doomed to a very costly demise. Neither of these do the kind of job Showbiz Weekly and What's On do, advising tourists on where and how to get the most Vegas from their Vegas-money.
And that is a market niche, a magazine that promotes Las Vegas tourism all year round, when the tourists are back home.
The Strip is a monthly; more frequent would be annoying. Show news, upcoming concerts, gambling tournaments, Vegas trivia and history, etc., all surrounded by advertising, since, in important respects, the advertising is the editorial product. Very slick, very polished, with a critical edge lacking from Showbiz Weekly and What's On.
The loosely-focused target market is the frequent Las Vegas visitor, two or more trips a year of three or more days in length. The more tightly-focused target market is the high-roller, people who spend a lot of money when they come to Las Vegas, and who come to Las Vegas intending to spend a lot of money.
It is with the latter group that we work the circulation magic: For high-rollers, The Strip is controlled-circulation--free if you qualify. Working from lists supplied by casinos or purchased in the mailing-list market, prospective high-rollers get a direct-mail package offering them the magazine in exchange for filling out the qualification form. All the usual snoopy questions about spending habits, in Las Vegas and at home, but the bottom line for qualification is discretionary spending power--credit-worthiness, earning-power, net-worth, and two out of three ain't bad. The point is to assemble a killer demographic, a community of people who can and do spend a ton of money in Las Vegas.
For the loosely-focused target market, The Strip would be available by subscription, just like any other consumer magazine. And every issue would be published with bind-in and blow-in subscription cards, to solicit business from pass-along readers.
Las Vegas-based advertisers get the chance to promote the idea of more-frequent visits, but it would be a mistake, I think, to presume that the advertising would be strictly local. The target demographic is ideal for all sorts of high-end products, from automobiles to fashions to jewelry.
The fact is, I myself would not qualify for the controlled-circulation plan: I'm not just poor, I'm really, really cheap. But I love Las Vegas, not the giant suburb but the outrageous and comical idea of the place, and I wish I could do more than just dream of The Strip. So, sign me up Stephens or Greenspun, so you can sign me up as a subscriber.
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
BetterVegas: Nowhere train...
I am in certain respects a student of the boneheaded. If movies and books and plays are subject to critical review, it seems to me only fair that the same sorts of incisive criticism should be directed at structures and enterprises and collective endeavors, free or coerced. For example:
I modified this map from one I found at Vegas.com. It's more schematic than geographically-accurate, of course, but it's accurate enough. That thick red line is The Strip, Las Vegas Boulevard, just like I pictured it. The blue line, added by me, is the route of the Las Vegas Monorail, which is even now nearing completion. It is important to stress that, unlike the Phoenix trolley, the dark blue line, at least, is a free-market boondoggle, subsidized by certain casinos. The light blue lines, connecting to the airport and to Downtown Las Vegas, are at present only proposed, but will very likely be paid for by coerced tax subsidies. In the long run, of course, the whole boneheaded project is likely to be 'sold' to the taxpayers, motivated by whispered shouts of "Socialize the risk!"
But that's just the boneheaded way of boneheaded municipal 'improvements'. The truly boneheaded mistake in this project is as clear as red is from blue. Presumably the determining factor, in picking the blue route, was the availability of 'free' track on 'free' right-of-way from the back of the MGM Grand to the back of Bally's. This track, formerly, was one of many short-haul transportation systems connecting casinos. The trouble with most of these systems, excluding the cable cars on the Mandalay Mile, is that they are in really lousy locations, generally at the back end of the properties. None is worse for access than the MGM Grand. As the crow flies, the distance from Dorothy's Golden Lion at the front of the casino to the monorail station is around half-a-mile. But crows don't fly through casinos, and to walk MGM Grand from front to back is a good deal more than a half-mile walk--and plowing through the crowds takes a while, too. What's worse, your objective in taking the train is not to end up at the back of Bally's or the Aladdin or the Sahara.
Whatever its merits and profit potential, the route of this monorail is boneheaded! To get from my room at Circus Circus to the deluxe sandy-beached wave pool at Mandalay Bay, from the northern to the southern extremes of the Mandalay Resort Group, this is what I would have to do: 1. Take the Circus Circus tram from the back to the front of the property. 2. Walk north to Sahara Avenue. 3. Cross Las Vegas Boulevard to the Sahara. 4. Walk though the Sahara to the monorail station at the back of the property. 5. Take the monorail to the MGM Grand. 6. Walk from the back to the front of the MGM Grand. 7. Take the walkway across Las Vegas Boulevard to New York-New York. 8. Walk through New York-New York. 9. Take the walkway across Tropicana Avenue to Excalibur. 10. Take the Excalibur slidewalk to the Mandalay tram. 11. Take the Mandalay tram to Mandalay Bay. It would probably be faster just to walk directly from Circus Circus. It might even require less total walking.
Truly, the bane of Las Vegas Boulevard is all the walking, but what the boneheaded busybodies who inflict trolleys on Phoenix and San Diego and Portland do not understand is that walking is the ideal form of mass transportation. Capital-efficient, space-efficient, fuel-efficient and non-polluting. Las Vegas is the only city in America that developed after the Model-T--and the subsequent 'free' roads--and yet is still walkable in places. The trolley boneheads will tell you that development will parallel transit systems, but there are these two unmentioned caveats: They are speaking of previously undeveloped areas and of big-budget transit systems like subways. There is no reason to suppose that gritty Koval Lane is going to become a Second Strip because the monorail runs there--nor would the sponsoring casinos want this to happen!
On the other hand, it is very easy to imagine that the taxpayers of Las Vegas and Clark County will discover in due course that the monorail is an incredible bargain they cannot afford not to purchase. This will leave the underlying transportation problem on the Strip unsolved. But, as it turns out, I have ideas about that, ideas quite a bit more ambitious than this dinky little boneheaded Nowhere Train...
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
BetterVegas: Las Vegas, the TV show
It's a TV show, and it may turn out to be a fairly decent one, once they get the bugs worked out. The director is clearly in love with the incredible shots Martin Scorsese made in Casino, those and dopey time-compression stunts perfected in music videos. Presumptive star James Caan owes more than a little to Robert DeNiro's portrayal of Ace Rothstein (Lefty Rosenthal) in that film. (Please take a moment to marvel at the ubiquity of the Net; even retired Outfit guys have web sites!) The rest is kind of The West Wing way out west: Fast-talking ensemble cast race-paces the plot to the outer limits of the ability to absorb it.
Of the three gaming sub-plots, only one was off-the-wall incredible, a teeny-tiny video camera fits under a Blackjack player's fingernail. It transmits its images to a palmtop computer outside the casino, where a confederate reports the dealer's down cards by radio back to the player. This despite the fact that cell phones, enormous by contrast, cannot find a cell under all the concrete of a casino. The player is up millions, and the casino knows he's cheating, but they don't ask him to leave. Instead, they get the confederate to report false cards. (Can you say 'coercion'? The ACLU can.) They induce the player to go 'all in', which you couldn't even do at the Horseshoe with Ted Binion on the floor. But Glenn Shaeffer himself, President and CFO of the Mandalay Resort Group, authorizes the bet. The player loses. And this is the interesting part: The crowd goes wild...
Las-Vegas-the-TV-show is built around the idea of a casino security team. They have cooler make-believe gadgets and much faster make-believe computers than CSI, but like CSI, the clear expectation is that the viewer will side with Order over Chaos. Not so hard to believe when Chaos is a murderer, but it stretches credulity that ordinary punters would side with the casino in its final show-down with what looks to them like a winning player. Certainly the two versions of Ocean's Eleven argue to the contrary.
I would rather the scam had been something real, like Depth-Charging, which has been shown on CSI. The trouble with that is that Depth-Charging is technically legal, and eighty-sixing players for being smarter than the Goombas who invented the games is not likely to win applause from the punters. In any case, the show was fun, and ultimately no less credible than CSI. There are a couple of back-story sub-plots that seem indulgent, but they'll be shed in due course. With more casino and less soap opera, the show should be eminently watchable.
Monday, September 22, 2003
BetterVegas: Sin City Version 4.0
[I wrote this last August as a memorandum to the board of directors of the Mandalay Resort Group. They've done nothing with it, but since then much of what I am discussing has come to pass, notably clothing optional areas at resorts, the unending corruption scandals of the strip bars, Chris Moneymaker's validation of on-line gaming, the success of of the Barona casino-resort in San Diego, etc. This article provides a broad overview of the issues I've been discussing, specifically how Las Vegas the locale can remain competitive in an epoch of gaming proliferation nationwide. --GSS]
Here’s a harrowing thought: What if Phoenix legalized casino gambling? What would be the long-term consequences for Las Vegas?
Phoenix has better weather than Las Vegas. Better shopping. Better golf. Better freeway and airport access. The infrastructure and amenities of a full-blown city, and the facilities and luxuries of a full-bore resort destination.
Worse yet, what if San Diego were to host unlimited Las Vegas-style casino gambling? Everything Phoenix has, plus a better zoo, Sea World, La Jolla, Tijuana, and miles and miles of ocean beaches.
How would Las Vegas compete against resort destinations that are already better as resort destinations, if Phoenix or San Diego were to elect to compete against Las Vegas for casino-gambling dollars?
This isn’t likely to happen soon, but in the long run it is a virtual certainty. Arizona legislators see people lined up three deep at Indian casinos, begging to dump their money indiscriminately into the tightest of slot machines. California legislators watch revenues rise year-by-year in their half-baked half-casinos. And law-makers in both states watch the traffic at the Nevada border, watching as tourism and tax-dollars slip through their fingers.
It may take twenty years, but in due course Arizona and California will enact legislation to retain as many of those dollars as they can. Their gaming industries may look more like Atlantic City or Detroit than Las Vegas, but it is the Las Vegas dollar they will have in their sights.
How should Las Vegas respond to these long-term challenges, and to the gradual spread of limited-gaming now occurring?
The quick answer is that it shouldn’t. Gaming companies should grow into new markets just as they are doing, as owners of riverboat and special-jurisdiction casinos, and as contract-operators of Indian casinos. After all, the net profit per square foot of fixed investment can be substantially higher, with significantly less competitive risk.
But this ignores the immense fixed investment already in place in Las Vegas. And I think it ignores the unique potential Las Vegas has as the world’s most profitable resort destination.
I am writing to share my vision of the fourth stage in the development of Las Vegas, and I am writing to the officers of the Mandalay Resort Group because I believe you are uniquely disposed and uniquely qualified to reap the greatest benefit from the changes I will propose.
To begin with, Las Vegas is not a gaming destination as such. An Indian casino is a gaming destination, a place where you go for the sole purpose of gambling, then make the long drive home.
And, despite the huge investment of the 90s, Las Vegas is not a family-fun destination. Excalibur does not compete with Disneyland, nor does it even attempt to do so in earnest. The idea of Las Vegas as a place for children is a pretext, and a valuable one, and there are things that can be done to make it almost even true. But there is no respect in which Las Vegas appeals to children in the ways Orlando or San Diego do.
Las Vegas, first, last and always, is an adult entertainment destination. A pretend-pyramid and a pretend-Eiffel Tower and a pretend-pirate ship provide camouflage for one simple fact: Las Vegas is America’s pretend-Bangkok.
That bears repeating: Las Vegas is America’s pretend-Bangkok.
Not the real Bangkok, where bad decisions have permanent consequences. But the ever-so-reasonable facsimile, where Americans can cut-loose (within limits) and recover from even the dumbest mistakes in time to make it back for Labor Day. New York City is not safe, but New York New York is even more of a thrill without the threat of being killed.
I do not wish to malign the American character, but this falls under the rubric of knowing the customer, in order to tailor the product to his or her demands: Americans are not libertarians, they are libertines.
If Americans were libertarians, there would never have been more than railroads and water towers in Las Vegas. And of course not all Americans are libertines. And even those who are--the client base of Las Vegas as an adult entertainment destination--are for the most part only libertines in Las Vegas.
Yucca Mountain? Las Vegas is the Yucca Mountain of American repression. Ugly fact, sad but true: Americans indulge their impulse to indulge their impulses in Las Vegas, shipping the waste of their daily frustrations to Nevada, where they can “let it rip” in a pretend-frenzy of pretend-bacchanalia, fully confident that their excesses are measured, reasonable and safe--and hidden from the folks back home.
That might not be pleasant to contemplate, but it is the advantage that Las Vegas has over all other possible uses people might have for their discretionary dollars.
As a gaming destination, Las Vegas offers better odds than Indian casinos, river boats, etc., but not as good as on-line casinos, and, in any case, the present situation will not persist.
As a family-fun destination, Las Vegas will never compete with San Diego or Orlando, nor can it.
As a resort destination, Las Vegas does not compare well to Palm Springs or Phoenix.
The incredible success Las Vegas has as an international tourist destination is entirely a consequence of the libertine excesses of the gaming industry.
Las Vegas Version One was an incipient ghost town rescued from obscurity by a federal dam and one fortuitous piece of legislation.
Las Vegas Version Two was the prototypical gaming destination, passively hostile to any activity besides gambling.
Las Vegas Version Three presented the family-fun pretext, giving baby-boomers license to gamble and to pursue other adult indulgences under the cover of family-togetherness.
Las Vegas Version Four, what I am proposing here, is a re-casting of Las Vegas as the world’s foremost, incontestable, unrepeatable, irreplaceable adult entertainment destination. This will happen. I am writing to you to hurry it along.
The point is to identify the customer and to sell him exactly what he is buying. To sell him gambling, of course. To sell him family-fun, coincidentally. But first, last and always, to sell him adult entertainment, to sell him the safe indulgence of his indulgences.
As I write, a posturing politician is seeking to regulate lap-dancing in Clark County. I can’t imagine that this will go anywhere, and I can’t imagine where Comdex would go if it did. But the current situation is also wrong: Strip clubs belong on the Strip, in the major casino resort hotels. Not the Excalibur or Treasure Island, not family-themed casinos. But in Caesar’s Palace, in the Mirage and the Luxor, definitely. Strip clubs are incredible profit-centers handed on a silver platter to sleazy, cheesy operators on Industrial Boulevard. The Strip, by failing to take this business, is sending its client base away.
Another politician is campaigning against “adult toy” stores. Again, these belong in the shops of the casino resort hotels on the Strip. One of the things overworked two-income couples come to Las Vegas for is to have sex--the sex they don’t have time or energy for at home, and the sex they are inhibited from indulging in at home. Every major hotel should have a selection of sex toys, lotions and frilly clothes, all in a female-friendly environment, nothing vulgar or hard-core. These are high-profit items, and there is no reason to export these dollars to other neighborhoods.
In the same respect, prostitution should be legal in Clark County. Not the stupid kind of Mustang Ranch prostitution, but an open, free market--as it now essentially exists under the name “private dancing”. If prostitution were legal, the politicians could license it and tax it. More importantly, hotels could control what is going on under their own roofs. And, of course, prostitution is a profit-center currently lost on casino resort hotels. The client gets a substandard product at his physical and legal peril, and the hotel earns not one cent from the transaction.
Adult-themed casino resort hotels should be clothing-optional in designated areas--pools, for instance, or private clubs. A bolder plan would be to make an entire resort clothing-optional, with parents acting on their own discretion. The fact is, women are already exposing their breasts at pools and in night-clubs. It makes sense to target-market for this indulgence.
Sex is an important product in pretend-Bangkok. The major casino resort hotels can deliver a better, safer experience of sex--seeing it, having it, paying for it--and reap the profits that are now going elsewhere.
The ballot initiative to legalize small quantities of marijuana is a good idea. The proponents don’t care about tourism, but, if it passes, this measure will be a huge boon to Las Vegas as an adult entertainment destination. The reason is named above: American (and global) libertines want to do things in Las Vegas that they do not do at home, provided these indulgences are safe and without enduring negative consequences.
Under the proposed legislation, marijuana would not be a profit-center as such, but the state-owned marijuana stores should be housed in the shops of the adult-themed casino resort hotels of the Strip. The client base should never have to go off the property to reap the unique benefits of being in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas is the Mecca of gambling, and there are things it can do to market itself that way:
A. Programs like The One Club should be extended far and wide. Mandalay can make deals with small casinos to accept The One Club card as well as their own slot club card. Players earn points to use on their next trip to Las Vegas, and Mandalay compensates the cooperating casinos.
B. Nevada should legalize on-line gaming. As with exposed breasts at the swimming pool, on-line gaming is fait accompli, and the only question is who will benefit. If on-line gaming is dominated by Strip casinos, they can use it to promote Las Vegas vacations, they can award comp points as above, and they can reap profits now going elsewhere, mainly off-shore. As with the marijuana legislation, there will be federal hurdles to leap, but Las Vegas casinos should strive to dominate this business.
C. Las Vegas casino resort hotels should develop in-room gaming systems. The joke of the Las Vegas Version Two was the hotel room without a television, because casino operators wanted to force guests into the casino for their entertainment. The joke is on them: Casinos can make a great deal more money, per square foot of casino floor space, if players can gamble from their rooms, using the on-line gaming systems discussed above. These gaming consoles can also be deployed in the sports book, in the keno parlor, on bar tops in place of video poker machines, etc. Slots, live and virtual table games, live poker, sports betting, keno--everything that can be done from home at an on-line casino, done from within the casino resort hotel.
D. Las Vegas casino resort hotels should host live game shows, around the clock. Wheel of Fortune, the Price is Right, Jeopardy, Family Feud--these should be more than concept slot machines, they should be huge, continuous drawing cards. Theaters full of people, waiting for their chance to participate or just watching and betting on the action at their on-line gaming consoles. A 24/7 satellite television channel for each show, along with a lower bandwidth internet feed, providing the same on-line gaming experience for at-home viewers. Ultimately, Mandalay should actively develop new game show concepts, so as to own the prime-time and day-time broadcast rights, along with all subsidiary rights. A huge profit-center in its own right--target-marketed right at the non-gambling spouse--and a continuous opportunity to promote the sponsoring casino world-wide.
It might seem odd to equate sneaking a kiss with a pretend-Pat Sajak with paying for a lap-dance--or with giving one on Amateur’s Night!--but all of these are indulgences that Las Vegas is uniquely situated to provide.
Adults come to Las Vegas to indulge desires and impulses they repress at home. Las Vegas accommodates them by providing a milieu that permits them to imagine that they are in a place where anything goes, like Bangkok, without the unbearable enduring consequences of having gone to Bangkok. Las Vegas is the safe and reliable pretend-Bangkok, home of pretend-risky gambling, of not-very-dangerous drugs, of barely-outrageous sex, of each and every tame and harmless “vice” that just might scandalize the folks back home.
Free-fall is no thrill. The thrill of a roller-coaster comes from knowing that the free-fall will end in a safe and soft landing.
Uniquely among resort destinations, Las Vegas can provide these thrills. Much of the transition to Version Four of Las Vegas will require legislative changes at the state and county level. These changes will happen, because they will be necessary to sustain the pre-eminence of Las Vegas as an adult entertainment destination. The question is, will they be undertaken now, pre-emptively, or as a reaction to a significant change in gaming laws in one state or another?
I would welcome discussion of these issues. I have a number of other ideas, some quite a bit more ambitious than the topics raised here. I think Mandalay has the talent and determination to birth the next reinvention of Las Vegas, and I would welcome the opportunity to assist in that birthing in any way I can.
BetterVegas: Goombanomics II
Amending the article below slightly, here is just one idea of what could be done with infinitely-reprogrammable on-line multi-gaming consoles: Call it 'Graveyard Gold'--progressive bonus payouts in historically slow casino hours. Because all of the machines are networked, they can all form a progressive network, either continuously or during promotional periods. The casino hold (cash wagered by the bettor minus cash won) can be programmed on the fly, too, either to reflect demand or to account for added costs (such as credit card processing fees). Compared to the dedicated stand-alone slot machines now in use, a state-of-the-art networked gaming console could be amazingly profitable.
We'll get back to California--and get to Florida and Hawaii, too--in due course. The ultimate point is this: What can Las Vegas offer--either uniquely or well ahead of the curve--that other envisioned gaming resort destinations cannot?
For now at least, the answer is installed base and experience, but those advantages wane with each new gaming resort installation around the country. Worse yet, we haven't accounted for gaming destinations with no resort--like most Indian casinos. And, most ominous of all, gaming enterprises without even a destination.
Take a look at this quote from today's Las Vegas Review-Journal:
[N]early two-thirds of respondents in the survey, an informal poll of industry executives and leaders released at G2E, said the future will bring games downloaded directly from game creators and suppliers, thus eliminating the need to physically replace machines on the slot floor.What does that sound like? It's on-line gaming, isn't it?
The gist of the whole article is that casino operators are technologically inept and epidemically cheap, which is not news. But Nevada made a bad mistake by missing the on-line gaming revolution. If you go to RoyalVegas.com, one of hundreds of on-line gaming sites, you will find software that will download dozens of high-quality video slot machines directly to your computer. You can play for real money. From home. In your underwear, if you like. Other sites offer multi-player poker, sports betting, etc. This is not new.
The ostensible objection to on-line gaming is that it is a violation of the Federal Interstate Wire Act. As it happens, champions of this claim, such as Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, are strongly beholden to Tribal gaming interests. And the Wire Act itself, ostensibly an anti-organized-crime measure, was originally the brainchild of the horse-racing tracks, which were reaping no profits from off-track betting.
Protecting brick 'n' mortar dinosaurs is a dumb reason to try to kill a baby industry, but the fact is that established businesses are always trying to use laws to kill baby industries. Even so, none of this is meaningful within Nevada. The Silver State should have jumped on the intra-state on-line gaming bandwagon a long time ago. If you think real hard, I'll bet you can guess why it hasn't.
But leaving that aside, there is no reason at all why a particular casino property should not have intra-casino networked gaming. They all already have it, in the form of linked progressive slots (and now table games). The article mentions taking the state-wide Megabucks networked-gaming concept to a multi-state linked progressive slot machine. Presumably this would be a violation of the Wire Act, but presumably so is the multi-state lottery also known as Megabucks. That aside, multi-game consoles such as the Odyssey machine already exist. And infinitely-reprogrammable on-line multi-game machines already exist: You're sitting in front of one right now. There is simply no reason why this is not already being done in Las Vegas.
Nothing besides technological ineptitude and epidemic cheapness, that is. For here do we run into Goombanomics, the economic philosophy the Mafiosi brought to Las Vegas, and which it has not yet fully managed to shed. When the Goombas opened the Stardust, the room rate was five dollars a day, a net loss. The only money they were interested in was the hold from the casino. It took the Young Turks of Circus Circus, Inc., now the Mandalay Resort Group, to realize that every point of purchase in Las Vegas should be a profit-center.
But there is another lesson that Las Vegas has not yet learned: Every room in a casino-hotel resort should be a part of the casino.
Where should casinos put infinitely-reprogrammable on-line multi-gaming consoles?
Every room in the hotel, with passwords to keep the kiddies out. Every table of every restaurant except the swanky one; let the grannies play Keno at 600 games an hour if they want. Every seat in every theatre--again excepting the swanky one--and I have ideas about how to make huge money from small theaters. Las Vegas cannot deliver the product at retail, but the long lines would become more tolerable with hand-held WiFi gaming consoles. The street-level casino floor is a street-level draw, but every room in the building--the fitness center, the pool, the spa--can become a casino profit-center. Where the Goombas wanted to keep guests out of their hotel rooms and on the casino floor, those thousands of hotel rooms could easily become the most profitable casino real-estate, measured per square foot of grade-level dirt.
There is a wrinkle, alas, another artifact of Goombanomics. Those of us who don't use currency are painfully aware of how much Las Vegas, and the brick 'n' mortar gaming industry generally, depends on that filthiest of lucre. This is more Goombanomics. The Outfit needed cash because they were skimming it before counting the unskimmed portion for the tax man. There is nothing but stupid inertia making cash endemic in Las Vegas today. Where you can use your credit or debit card for virtually any transaction anywhere in the United States, in Las Vegas you sill have to use cash to gamble. This will have to change. The machines we're discussing here could accept room keys or frequent-player-club cards, as well as credit and debit cards. What they cannot do, particularly in hotel rooms, is accept and dispense coins or bills.
There is more to this: Las Vegas should be actively involved in the extant on-line gaming market, even if only as an advertiser, to promote Las Vegas vacations. And Nevada should legalize intra-state on-line gaming--in recognition of the rights of vendors and their clients and to the benefit of the state's tax-payers. But just by doing what is described here, all of which seems to be strictly legal under current laws, Las Vegas could give itself a strong advantage over competing gaming destinations while substantially increasing gaming revenue.