A Community of Stars and Service

Entrepreneur, author and Las Vegan Tom Breitling reflects on our city one month after 1 October.

It was the event that forever changed Las Vegas. This time, it wasn’t the opening of a new hotel, a new show, or a new restaurant. It was a deadly shooting. Fifty-eight people lost their lives after a lone gunman opened fire on a crowd of 22,000 enjoying a beautiful Las Vegas evening filled with country music. More than 500 were injured and thousands directly affected by the horrific act of one evil man.

This time, it wasn’t the biggest performers in the world or the largest gaming companies who were the stars of Las Vegas—it was the first responders and attendees who risked their lives to save others. There are dozens and dozens of stories that have surfaced about these unconditional acts of kindness. These amazing individuals are the stars that emerged with only one thing on their minds: service. These stars had the character to bring good, love and unity into a tragic event.

Las Vegas is known for thinking differently, for throwing the greatest parties in the world and hosting the biggest events. This one act does not define Las Vegas. What defines Las Vegas is service. What defines Las Vegas is a wide variety of stars. What defines Las Vegas is taking care of others.

There’s no denying that all of us have a lump in our throats and a tear in our eyes when we think about what happened to our city. Most of us look at the world in a new way now, and we have to focus on building a brighter tomorrow through what makes us great as a city and as a country: service.

Which, the way I see it, only means now is a great time to focus even more on service and community.

I have been in Las Vegas for nearly 25 years, and “service” and “community” have defined my life here. I moved here in January 1993 with $100 in my pocket, the same year the Luxor, Treasure Island and the MGM Grand opened. Since 1993, I’ve been to nearly every major resort opening on the Las Vegas Strip and hundreds of events like the country-western concert on October 1. Thousands of gaming and hospitality folks moved to Las Vegas with each opening to become a part of our community and provide the best level of service to the millions of customers who visit.  Las Vegas is a city of opportunity and we help define what is known as the experience economy.

My first company, Travelscape, was sold to Expedia, and our collection of companies have provided nearly 100 million room nights to this city since 1993. My partners and I also owned the Golden Nugget properties from 2003–2005, with 2,000 rooms, nearly 4,000 guests on a nightly basis and approximately 2,000 employees. It was a mini-city. We focused on personalized service and injecting personality into our community. One of the best moments in my career as an entrepreneur was meeting the singer Tony Bennett, a man whose life and career have always focused on service and community.

Tony is a star. Just like Celine Dion, the Cirque du Soleil performers and Wayne Newton. These stars, along with pioneers like Steve Wynn and Kirk Kerkorian, helped define Las Vegas and reenergize the city with their creativity.

What we have learned recently, and have known all along, are that the valet parkers, front-desk clerks, security guards, members of the Metro police force, medical personnel and so many other brave men and women in the hospitality industry are also the stars. In fact, they’re the real stars. They’ve made this city tick for the last several decades. And now, many of them have saved lives.

The bottom line is that we have a lot of people in our city whose spirit was crushed and their community has come together and lifted them up. We have always seen the world in a different light and over the course of the last month, there have been lifesaving stories, long lines at the blood banks, contributions of food, water and shelter, and millions of dollars in donations raised for the victims and their families. This is an amazing community filled with incredibly generous people.

While we are intensely focused on safety and security, it’s important for us to remember that Las Vegas can’t stop thinking creatively because of this event. This is when creative minds focus.  This is when we rally to provide even better service and build an even more vibrant community. When better to solve problems than when they’re big and staring you in the face? We’re a city of solutions. We’re a community filled with dreamers, givers, fighters, service personnel and doers.

Las Vegas dreams can start in many different ways. My business partner and I ran a hotel reservation business in Las Vegas that started in the early ’90s with a desk, a phone, a chair, a fax machine and a 1-inch-by-1-inch ad in the Los Angeles Times. We were selling discounted hotel rooms in Las Vegas right after Steve Wynn produced an erupting volcano in front of The Mirage, the first major property built in Vegas in 16 years. The crowds flocked to see The Mirage, and it launched a new era for the city. Imaginative developers built other themed hotels, and vacationers stormed the city. Today, more than 45 million people make the decision to visit Las Vegas—for conventions, special events, weekend getaways, weddings, and yes—concerts and festivals.

I’ve lived through 9/11 in Las Vegas and saw travel come to a halt throughout this country. I’ve survived the tech meltdown, and made it through the Great Recession of 2008–09. I’ve seen Las Vegas rally and work through these tough times. Fear gripped investors and travelers. Now, safety is at the top of everyone’s minds.

But here’s the thing. I have lived through the depths of these times, and what defined us was hope. What defined us were things like creativity, hospitality and service. After each of these difficult times, Las Vegas and its people rallied to become bigger and better—and different— than before. Some now say that sports will help define Las Vegas over the next several decades. The UFC kicked off this new generation of sports fans, and I think sports will play an integral role in a city that keeps redefining itself. With the addition of the NHL’s Golden Knights and the NFL’s Raiders, we can now add sports to all of the things that make Las Vegas great.  In a few years, we will probably host the Super Bowl and be talking about being the host site for the World Cup and possibly even the Olympics.

One thing is for certain: creative minds will always come through. It’s all about believing in Las Vegas and its core: creativity, innovation, service and community.

With pain comes great reflection and, hopefully, progress. I wrote a book about the experiences my partner and I had with our businesses. It was centered on entrepreneurship, the power of partnerships, the essence of community and Las Vegas. While doing a signing at a bookstore one day, a little boy and his mom came to the table and asked what the book was about. When I told him, the boy’s eyes grew wide and he beamed, “I want to own a hotel and casino when I grow up!” A spirit like that is never going to be deterred. People want to escape. They want to dream. They want to feel the energy of our city.

There is never a lousy time to dream big. This is an opportune moment; great progress will come out of our current disruption. Steve Wynn told me one day that “buildings don’t make people happy. People make people happy.” Never was such a statement more true. People built this city. Great people run Las Vegas, and it’s the people who will continue to define our caring and wonderful community.

The dozens of acts of heroism during this recent tragedy are inspiring. The sheriff, the Metropolitan police force and the first responders displayed great acts of bravery and leadership and will continue to focus on making our environment safe and secure for both residents and tourists. Our city’s leadership has focused on this same safety to foster growth in both good times and during a difficult economy and tension-filled atmosphere.

America remains the land of opportunity. Thousands of people come to Las Vegas for a new life, a new beginning. It’s tough to be optimistic when people go through what happened on the evening of October 1, but the right idea, the right attitude, the right business, the right people and the right partnerships can survive these cycles and difficult times. We are a city that never closes, never sleeps, and there are always emerging prospects to bet big on the future. The creativity, imagination and service-driven focus of the Las Vegas community will drive the economy and the city forward. 

Since its opening in early 1999, Mandalay Bay has hosted thousands of events and created millions of unforgettable memories for its guests. For me, it will always be remembered as the place where I met my wife, and nobody can ever change that. Although we will never forget the victims of such a terrible, senseless act, I’m confident that, given the strength and resolve of our community and the employees of Mandalay Bay, this fantastic resort that anchors the south end of the Las Vegas Strip will continue to provide great memories and experiences for its visitors. We are a city based on service, and we are a city of stars. We are a city that will find a meaningful way forward—and we do it now as a much stronger community driven by an even greater purpose. Viva Las Vegas!

Tom Breitling is founder of Breitling Ventures and author of Double or Nothing: How Two Friends Risked It All to Buy One of Las Vegas’ Legendary Casinos.