What Is the ‘Vegas Vortex’?


When I was studying at our local institution of higher learning, it was saddled with a nefarious nickname: the University of Never Leaving Vegas. The implication? If you graduated from UNLV, you were destined to be a Vegas lifer.

Maybe, maybe not. I know plenty of people, post-UNLV and otherwise, who have grown up here and hung around by choice. I also know some who have left town and actually managed to stay gone (and not just those who did so to retire; that’s easy). But the most curious collection are those long-timers who abandoned Vegas for a spell, only to return sometime down the road. And when they do, they often mention “the Vegas Vortex”—an inexplicable force that seems to suck so many back to the place they know and love (or love to loathe).

Why? Perhaps it’s the way we are spoiled. Despite being a relatively small metropolis, we have access to a resort infrastructure built to satiate the desires of 40 million. While many locals say they don’t do the Strip, few cities of 2 million boast the amenities of Las Vegas. Other Vegas advantages, such as being a “24 hour city,” have dulled somewhat in the past two decades, as ’round-the-clock grocers, pharmacies and fast-food spots have spread across the country. (Meanwhile, Las Vegas has shifted to being an “earlier” city than it once was.)

Maybe it’s something simpler, like the warm, dry weather. Lots of Las Vegans say they long for seasons, but it’s difficult to romanticize shoveling snow for half an hour before leaving for work. That gets old quickly for those raised on sunshine, even if the beer is better. Never mind stifling humidity. Or relentless rain. Like those who move here and complain about the heat, it all sounds fun until it is your life, day in and day out. Then it becomes work.

So perhaps it’s even simpler yet: Friends. Family. Places and faces we know. Connections. Being able to text someone and get quick help moving a dresser. Or a coveted dinner reservation. A job. Bail money.

All of this matters, and it isn’t specific to Las Vegas. Maybe long-timers of all cities feel the pull of familiarity and community. Maybe there is no “Vegas Vortex.” Maybe it’s simply being human.