Ever Changing Vegas
Our World | On 13, Dec 2013
I first visited Las Vegas when I had just turned 21 (over 15 years ago) and in that short space of time, the city has evolved from package holiday mecca to a Disneyland for adults – but how and why did it change and what’s in it for us?
It all began back in 1930 – with the building of the Hoover Dam, Las Vegas’ population grew from 5,000 inhabitants to 25,000 almost overnight with an influx of male construction workers. This created a market for large scale entertainment, so a combination of local Las Vegas business owners, Mormon financiers, and Mafia crime lords helped develop the casinos and showgirl theatres to entertain the masses. Realising that gambling would be profitable for local business, gambling was legalised at a local level in 1931. Las Vegas, with a small but already well-established illegal gambling industry, was poised to begin its rise as the gaming capital of the world.
From its shady organised crime past, to the Rat Pack and Elvis, there was one constant – Las Vegas was the entertainment capital of the world and people came in their thousands to stay and play on the Strip. Iconic hotels such as the Sands Hotel, Desert Inn, Riviera and the Stardust mapped out the landscape of the famous Strip. Vegas was a family destination, famed for its sunshine and theatre shows and would remain so until the early 2000’s.
In 1989 the construction of the Mirage, heralded the start of the ‘mega resort’ era. With its 3,044 rooms, each with gold tinted windows, it set a new standard for Vegas luxury and attracted tourists in droves, leading to additional financing and rapid growth on the Las Vegas Strip. Numerous landmark hotels and other structures were razed to make way for ever-larger and more opulent resorts.
The shift in visitor changed, more and more ‘groups’ frequented the city and the slogan ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ become the city’s tagline. The city was moving towards becoming more of an adult playground, than a family holiday destination.
So as I sat in my favourite hotel (Caesars) I reminisced about my first time in the city. I had been wowed by the glitz and the glamour, had learned how to play Blackjack (not very well), had met Elvis (well a lookalike at the very least) and was very proud of my go-cup filled with quarters that I had won on the one armed bandit machines.
However subsequent visits to the city saw my favourite hotels the Westward Ho and the Sahara demolished, and my beloved go-cup had been replaced with a voucher printout.
I began to fall out of love with the city on my most recent visit. I was a few hundred dollars down on Blackjack, I had spent $28 on a buffet breakfast that I didn’t even want, and my favourite pirate show at Treasure Island (now rebranded as TI) was now a provocative excuse of a performance with scantily clad dancers and pec-enhanced pirates. My favourite $1 souvenir stores have been replaced with Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Prada stores. I saw no Elvis impersonators and didn’t even hear a Frank Sinatra song. Vegas had changed.
Cities Must Change
The lady I was sat next to at the bar in Caesars joined me in my melancholy, she too felt my loss. She had lived in the city all her life and had seen significant change, but her spin on it was slightly more positive. “Next week” she told me “Kanye West and his entourage are coming to town, they spend a heck of a lot of money, party hard and put Vegas on the map for the weekend. People come in their droves, whether it’s a celebrity, a bachelor party or a convention – they all come for the good times…”. She’s right, whether it was back in the 70’s and you came to watch Elvis at the Las Vegas Hilton, or in the 90’s to watch Tom Jones, everybody comes here to have a good time.
The city HAD to change – it has to appeal to an audience that demands instant gratification, luxury and ‘sophisticated’ excess. The result? A city that provides jaw dropping shows every night, concerts from some of the world’s biggest stars (wonder when Madonna is going to retire there!?), the best Michelin starred restaurants in North America, shop till you drop in luxury high end malls, partying 24/7 and an opportunity to go wild (if you dare…).
Vegas is whatever you want it to be. I still crave the old Vegas and maybe on my next visit I’ll find it because that’s the beauty of Sin City, it keeps changing and evolving to fit whatever its audience desires.