Buckle Up for the Polercoaster

In Las Vegas, paradise is just a press release away.

This morning, Las Vegas learned about the Polercoaster, a proposed $100 million thrill ride that merges an observation tower (like the one at the Stratosphere) with a roller coaster (like the one at New York-New York). It didn’t take five minutes for the hype machine to swing into berserker mode, with the question, “ARE ROLLERCOASTERS THE NEXT BIG THING?” wheeling its way across our civic consciousness.

On the face of it, there’s nothing absurd about the Polercoaster, outside of the name, maybe. (Admit it: Do you really think you could ask, say, your best friend’s spouse if he/she wants to “ride the Polercoaster” without feeling a little dirty?) But the way we react to the news of a potential, apparently still-unfunded development, might be just a little absurd.

After all, this isn’t exactly new ground. The roller coaster at New York-New York has been whizzing people past Lady Liberty for over 15 years; Sam Nazarian boxed up and sold off Speed the Ride as part of transforming the Sahara into SLS Las Vegas; and the Canyon Blaster is still offering thrills at Circus Circus’s Adventuredome.

Plus, we’ve had a 1,000-foot observation tower for about 15 years at the Stratosphere, and a 550-foot observation wheel moving toward completion at the Linq.

People think that the proliferation of thrill rides in Las Vegas (we’ll factor in the zip lines: Downtown’s Slotzilla and potential ones at the Rio and Luxor/Excalibur) is a sign that the city’s moving away from its gambling roots. I don’t think so, although it’s undeniable that, with the proliferation of gambling across the United States in the past 20 years, Las Vegas is no longer a strictly gambling destination. I think that the thrill rides appeal to the adrenaline junkie visitors, who really aren’t that far removed from the traditional gambler: They come to Las Vegas for excitement.

In fact, the thrill rides are a sign that the city’s offering different things for different tastes. It’s a real strength that Las Vegas can offer the premium bottle service experience for those who are into that scene, $1 Michelobs for those who are keeping the nut down, baccarat for Asian high rollers, and zip lines for people who like moving extremely fast while suspended above the ground. This is a good thing, even if you don’t go for any of that (unless you don’t like the thought of anyone else having fun here).

But it’s our reaction to the potential Polercoaster that tells me that gambling remains at the core of Las Vegas. Who but a real gambler could get so excited about a long shot? Las Vegas, as a collective, retains the dissatisfaction with what we’ve got that’s at the heart of gambling: I’ve got enough money to bet, but not enough to make me happy. And that’s how we are with the attraction du jour, whether it’s tech start-ups, water parks, or Polercoasters. We want more.

As long as we continue feeling that way, we’ll still be the same old Las Vegas.

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