Paid Parking: Will You Stay or Will You Go?

With more properties jumping on the paid-parking bandwagon, locals will either fall in line or take a stand

“That’ll be $9, please.” “Sorry, you’ll have to play another hundred.” “The room’s only $27, but it’s $60 with the resort fee and tax.”

Get ready for these types of responses connected with parking, asking for a comped drink while gambling or booking a hotel room in 2017. If that’s not enough, get a load of the “processing” and “facility” charges on some show tickets. Or assess (if you can) the amount of vodka in your screwdriver. To say that the Las Vegas status quo has been turned on its head might be an early contender for understatement of the New Year. It most certainly looks upside down to me!

My regular column in this magazine is called “The Deal,” so no, I’m not looking forward to these developments in 2017. Instead, I’m interested in seeing how customers, particularly locals, react to the incessant squeezing by the casinos, particularly those on the Strip. Will they just eat the changes? Or will they vote with their feet and walk away?

Of course, room rates don’t matter that much when you live here, but parking and drinking comps do. Free parking and free drinks have always constituted the first and most accessible level of casino comping, and comps are an important factor in bestowing entitlement, a powerful incentive that encourages gamblers to risk their hard-earned dough. It doesn’t take much of a nudge to persuade “gamers” to play, but taking away base-level comps will open their minds to considering alternatives. Will these customers migrate to casinos that continue to give them something back? I’m looking forward to finding out.

In reality, the drink situation is far from dire. Everything I’ve seen so far indicates that players who “deserve” drinks will continue to get them. In my audits of the monitoring systems at the bars, I’ve yet to encounter a situation where the drink-comp criterion wasn’t reached easily and for a marginal amount of play, especially for the beer and well-drinks crowd. That may change, but it’s not an imminent concern. Parking is a different story.

I’m interested in seeing how customers, particularly locals, react to the incessant squeezing by the casinos. Will they just eat the changes? Or will they vote with their feet and walk away?

MGM Resorts International opened the floodgates in June, and most of the big boys are following suit—paid parking of some type will soon be in place at Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Las Vegas, The Cosmopolitan and Caesars Entertainment casinos. I keep hearing that Downtown has been charging for a long time, but there’s a big difference. When you park Downtown, there are multiple ways to validate your ticket and get the fee refunded. In the old days, we used to call it “playing for parking,” when it was customary to sit down at a blackjack table at the end of a night, play a few hands and present the ticket to a pit boss for validation. Sometimes—like when you got stuck at the table—parking could get expensive (go figure!). The point is, the Downtown model gives legitimate customers an avenue for avoiding the additional fee; the Strip model does not.

So far, local outrage has resulted in a stay of execution—scan a Nevada driver’s license and the parking charge is waived. But the official word was that the exemption would remain in place only through the end of 2016, at which time the policy would be reviewed. Well, 2016 is over and evidence suggests the exemption won’t be extended (Caesars won’t be exempting when its system launches, so the others likely won’t, either).

It’s not like there aren’t plenty of alternatives for casino patrons. I’ve explained why the Downtown parking situation is more palatable, and I don’t think we’ll see barriers and meters in the garages at Station Casinos, Boyd Gaming or other locals joints anytime soon. The best non-casino bars can be a reasonable substitute, not to mention the competition up the street (The Venetian and The Palazzo have yet to announce a paid-parking plan) and right around the corner (Hooters is promoting its free parking by offering a free beer for tweeting a message out).

If the local public takes a stand, things might revert, at least to some degree. If it doesn’t, then the casinos will be proven to have made a savvy business decision. I can’t wait to find out which it will be.

Anthony Curtis is the publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor and LasVegasAdvisor.com.

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