The Real Economy

The Vegas economy, beyond gambling

Sarah Gardner Feb 1, 2012

Adriene Hill:Mitt Romney won big in Florida. Now the contest to be the Republican presidential nominee is on to Nevada and the Republican caucus this Saturday. Nevada has had a tough time since the housing bust, but Las Vegas is starting to show signs of life again.

Today we continue our special election coverage, the Real Economy, with a look at how Las Vegas’s marketing gurus are betting on more than just gamblers.

Marketplace’s Sarah Gardner reports.

Sarah Gardner: When retiree Randa McIntosh comes to Vegas, she heads straight to the slot machines.

Randa McIntosh: It’s easy. Oh, and we can watch people. Oh my goodness. We can watch people.

But that’s not where McIntosh is blowing most of her money. Instead, she and her sister will spend big on two Cirque du Soleil shows, dinners and drinks and a nice hotel.

McIntosh: It’s not about shopping this time.

The big casinos here now get only 38 percent of their revenue from gambling. After all, there are plenty of other places to roll the dice: Tribal casinos, Atlantic City, Macau.

David Schwartz: Yeah, Macau’s now the biggest gaming city in the world. They made about $33 billion from casinos last year.  So it’s about three times what the whole state of Nevada made.

Gaming expert David Schwartz says for many tourists now, Vegas isn’t about gambling at all. It’s gourmet restaurants, spas, boutiques, nightclubs and drunken pool parties.

Cathy Tull markets the city for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. She’s luring people in with special events, like 72-hour parties celebrating Sports Illustrated swimsuit models.  No-brainer, huh, boys?

Cathy Tull: It’s something that only happens here in Las Vegas.  You can’t find that somewhere else.

And if swimsuit models and showgirls don’t pack ‘em in, there’s always the mob. This month, the city opens up the Mob Museum. It was still under construction a few weeks ago. Jonathan Ullman’s going to run it.

Jonathan Ullman: We suggest that it’s really for ages 12 and above. And where it gets a little bit graphic, we do note that.

Former Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman.

Oscar Goodman: You saw the movie “Casino”? Well, I played myself in that and all those people were my clients in real life.

Says gangsters fascinate everybody.

Goodman: This is not going to be a glorification of the mob. Look, the battle was between the mob and law enforcement and you know who won.

Still, it may be the only museum in the world where your kids can stand in a fake police line-up or shoot a simulated Tommy gun.

Only in Las Vegas, I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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