Sunday, May 30, 2010

Back to the Future of Vegas

Vegas has to decide if it's going to be just another suburb of Los Angeles or if it's going to return to its role as the Little Resort Town That Could. I've heard the "recession" excuse beaten to death by the locals over the last two years, and it's beginning to sound prettty hollow. If we're going to start repeating economic grand narratives for this most distinctive of local environments, let's try this one on for size instead:

Las Vegas experienced phenomenal economic growth from 1931, when gambling was legalized, until the late 1980's. During this time, they had a near monopoly on gambling in the United States, although the entrance of Atlantic City into the market in the 1970's did put a slight crimp in their action. Since then, the proliferation of casinos and casino-like institutions (which are distinct from casinos in that they offer "games" that appear similar to those offered in casinos but are marked by the store's ability to withhold, at their discretion and without serious accountability in the matter, the money won by players in specific sessions) has cut into Vegas's non-strategy for continued econimic well-being.

The need to diversify in southern Nevada has been talked up for two decades now. It was said as recently as 2007 that the "non-casino" portion of the economy was growing faster than the casino portion. However, in the style of all the non-gamblers of the world, whose intolerance of risk is so pathological that they sit down and cry if they don't win every pot, Vegas experienced one losing period after over seventy years of prosperity and threw a tantrum. The rhetoric over the last two years has been that what has happened here is insurmountable unless we gear all urban and state economic planning to the proliferation of the largest casino corporations and to "attracting business" from California.

What has happened here, in addition to the factors facing all markets nationally, has been a result of overextension, of betting too much of one's stake on a less-than-sure thing. If Vegas were run by competent gamblers (look up "Kelly Criterion" for a short course in what gamblers know that casino management does not understand) instead of by half-smart corporate clowns whose only understanding of business strategy is "Attain corporate sovereignty," the "recession" would not have been half as bad as it has been locally, and the "recovery" might still be in sight. Instead, in a manner similar to "permanent war" as a political tactic on the federal level, it appears "permanent recession" is being installed locally. Some of it is to be substantially engineered, and some of it to be simple rhetoric, a repetition campaign that "reminds" us all of why we "need" the measures being implemented as a "remedy."

I suggest that Vegas still has a long history of solid investment potential, although the execution has been lacking of late, and that the current whiny approach of placing the infrastructure in a position subordinate to placing itself as a vassal to the "financial center" of southern California has to go. This is a "prescription" that is always waiting in the wings, one that is suggested as a cure for all ills as soon as economic life is less than rosy, or in this case, has been "announced" to be so. Well, that may work on people from the other 49 states, but I'd like to think that there is more to Nevada's vision of its own future than submitting to this mechanical claim that attracting the oligopoly to come here from other states is the proper function of any "economic development" initiative. If you're that easily intimidated into giving up the store, you never should have gotten into the gambling business at all, guys, and no real-life situation is ever going to be "secure" enough for you. Do the competent adults who still live here a favor and hand control back to organized crime before matters get out of hand for good.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Free Way

Free Way from Pattie Thomas on Vimeo.

Filmed in 2003, this is from our trip through British Columbia to the Yukon and back. Directing and Producing by Carl Wilkerson and Pattie Thomas. (c)2004