This is the 200th Green Felt Journal column I have written. Over the past eight years, I’ve used this space to explore Las Vegas, gaming and hospitality. Please indulge me as I look back over the first 199 columns.
My first GFJ came in the first issue of Vegas Seven, released February 4, 2010. The column itself (and its name) was the brainchild of then-editor Phil Hagen; it’s a take on Ed Reid and Ovid Demaris’ anti-Vegas potboiler, The Green Felt Jungle (see “The Book That Tried to End Las Vegas” for the whole story on that volume).
That first column was about The Wonder Pets and Las Vegas. These animated heroes of a Nick Jr. show had flown to Las Vegas to rescue the Rat Pack—in this reality actual rodents who are having trouble with their act. A dose of teamwork solves the problem, and the pets celebrate with a G-rated night on the town. I was struck by their outside view of Las Vegas as “a place with lots of sparkly lights” that wasn’t about style or luxury, but about fun and freedom. I closed by suggesting that a return to these roots would help the city climb out of the recession. You can decide for yourself how prophetic that was (not).
That column epitomized everything I wanted to do in this space: take the reader on an exploration of one part of Las Vegas or gaming/hospitality that I found interesting.
That column epitomized everything I wanted to do in this space: take the reader on an exploration of one part of Las Vegas or gaming/hospitality that I found interesting. Looking back, these stories mapped out a city still in the throes of a recession and my own naïve optimism that things would work out for the best.
My second column was about resort fees, which—horror of horrors—were as high as $30 a night. “Those that charge fees,” I concluded, “had best deliver real value to their guests, or they may find fewer of them arriving for check-in in the future.” Seven years later, resort fees in Las Vegas are nearly universal, top out at $39 a night plus tax, and do not deliver much perceived value. Yet business is apparently booming.
Other topics over that first year included the rise of baccarat and high-end Asian players on the Strip, new casinos (Aria and The Cosmopolitan), and something I called egaming—in this case, represented by a proprietary sports-betting mobile device deployed by what is now CG Technology. I also considered social games. Technology would become one of the major strands of the column, as I remain fascinated by the way that we develop new machines and systems to mediate ancient and universal desires such as gambling and self-parking.
I also looked back a lot, talking with longtime employees, including El Cortez’s Liz Butler and Palace Station’s Lynda Allan, about how the city has changed around them. The Tropicana was renovated. So was the Riviera, but that didn’t end as happily. And the Sahara inched towards becoming the SLS.
In about 150,000 words (two decent-length books), I got to explore quite a bit of Las Vegas. The recession is over, but, as always, new problems and new opportunities are in abundance seven years later.
Then there were annual events, from the Global Gaming Expo (still waiting for zero gravity fruit) to the National Finals Rodeo to the Star Trek convention. Writing about these over multiple years, I think, gave me a feel for the city’s rhythm.
Recent columns have mirrored the present hopes and fears of Las Vegas’s gaming-hospitality complex. Can it appeal to millennials? How will gaming itself evolve? And how much pain can guests endure before they cry? These are problems that anyone in 2010 would have taken in a heartbeat given the then-current climate.
In about 150,000 words (two decent-length books), I got to explore quite a bit of Las Vegas. The recession is over, but, as always, new problems and new opportunities are in abundance seven years later. People are still worried about the future, but much of the city’s pre-recession swagger is back. With two big-league sports teams arriving, you might argue that the golden age of Las Vegas is still around the corner.
That’s at odds with my hometown of Atlantic City, New Jersey, which has had a very different seven years. Frankly, the erosion of that resort’s gaming industry colors my view of Las Vegas: The industry isn’t nearly as bulletproof as we’d like to think, and despite several close calls (1955, 1979, 2002 and 2009 are just a few), we don’t seem to be nearly as aware of that as we should be.
Dice have neither memory nor mercy. Fate, fortune or whatever you call it is likely no different. So while the past 199 columns might have chronicled a city triumphantly back from the brink, we never know what the next roll will bring. But if we’re lucky, we might be having as much fun as those animated pets.
David G. Schwartz is the director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.