Las Vegas: How Long can the Expensive Drunk Last?
Vegas has changed. In an article for The Journal of Prices & Markets, “The Value of Land:Capitalization and Entrepreneurship” I wrote, “Las Vegas is attracting plenty of tourists, but they aren’t gambling as much as they used to. Chris Kirkham writes for the Wall Street Journal, ‘For casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, the share of revenue from gambling has been in decline for years, falling to about a third of the total in 2016, from 56% 20 years ago, as operators have pulled in more from hotel rooms, entertainment and food and beverage sales’”
According to UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research, in 2017, at the big Strip hotel casinos, gaming was 33.9 percent of revenues, while in 2011, gaming was 38.2 percent. Last year almost $1.2 billion was spent on beverages and $2.5 billion on other.
Courtney Bond and her friend Emily timidly dipped their toes in the daytime pool scene in Las Vegas for The New York Times, illustrating what drives the beverage and “other” revenue categories in Sin City.
At the Encore Beach Club, which is “40,000 square feet of capital-P pool party. We are throwing ourselves in the deep end, so to speak. Except there is no deep end, of course, nor diving boards or anything else that might not mix well with a Jeroboam of Ace of Spades rosé ($25,000),” Bond explains.
Continuing at Encore, “We forked over $60 each for the opportunity to run a gantlet of bag searchers and body wanders (nine or 10 buff dudes in Under Armour-branded red shirts and black gloves); pay $50 for two six-ounce mojitos; and awkwardly set up shop in a tiny patch of shade thrown off from an elevated bungalow with its own private pool (which, incidentally, cost $35,000 to reserve for the Saturday of Labor Day weekend).”
Las Vegas hotels are more in the space renting business than the games of chance business. Want a place to sit while you tan at Encore? Ms. Bond writes, “Prices can range from $5,000-ish for a daybed to $10,000 for a “water couch,” a 10-person table-sofa-lounge combo situated in a shallow part of the pool.”
Guys are there to spend money with no special swim attire required. Ladies, on the other hand, Bond writes, “appear to have shopped from the Boudoir Resort collection 2019. Fake eyelashes and blown-out hairdos top four-inch strappy heels and ankle-length robes in sheer fabric, the better to showcase the ubiquitous cheeky bikini bottom.”
Yes, cheeks are in, or should I say, out.
Bond isn’t educated on the hot DJs spinning records for millions of dollars in the Vegas sun. She writes, “Earlier this year Calvin Harris, the highest-paid D.J. in the world according to Forbes, renewed his contract through 2020 with Hakkasan Group, an international purveyor of luxury ‘nightlife and day life,’ for a reported cool $280 million.”
Ms. Bond may derisively write of Hakkasan , but, the company is a corporate heavyweight in Las Vegas, the premier tenant of a mid-rise office building west of the Strip.
The author and her friend look for tamer climes at the Temple pool at Caesars Palace where each splurges for a $25 pina colada.
The girls are staying at the Cosmopolitan, and decided to check out Marquee. They were invited to a cabana party by Larry and, big spending Joe from Miami, who, “reveals that he has spent $30,000 on cabana rentals in four days.” But hey, plenty of Grey Goose and “watery cranberry juice” came with it.
At the Cypress Premier Lounge at Bellagio, the girls pay $85 apiece to reserve a chaise longue and consider it a bargain.
It occurs to Ms. Bond that the pool scene exemplifies the new Vegas.
The pools are selling what all of Vegas is selling: escape on an epic scale, the opportunity to mingle with the young and attractive, to brush against what feels like celebrity, to gain entree — however fleeting and expensive — to velvet-roped exclusivity. And if that moment in the sun means a multi-thousand-dollar credit card bill showing up a few weeks later, well, so be it. It’s hard to ignore the gratuitous excess, the worrisome superficiality, the aqueous extravagance. But it’s also hard not to be seduced.
How long can an expensive drunk last?