In this world, the words “Experience matters” can have a multitude of meanings. Regardless of the manner in which the term is taken, the idea of one’s past coloring the perceptions of the present have to be acknowledged. As a frequent visitor to the lovely city of Las Vegas, I acknowledge that my impressions have altered significantly over the course of the last 2 decades. I believe it is fair to say, that my initial experiences were overshadowed by mega resorts rising inexplicably out of the stark sands of the Mojave desert. I can still recount the awe and delight that I experienced as I walked among the monolithic structures. At that point in my life, The Strip defined the glitz and glamor of the city. Like many before me, I was truly blinded and exhilarated by the excess and decadence.
Objective analysis of emotion laden experiences, frequently clouds or colors one view of the moment at hand. There comes a point at which the thinly laid veneer of an imperfect world begins to crack, letting a new reality spill forth. For me, this manifested as an awareness of the darker sides of the city. I began to recognize the rampant pan handling, the drunken fools being tossed from casinos, theft and prostitution. This altered reality is certainly difficult to access until the mesmerizing effects of the town begin to fade. Looking back I recognize this to be part of the normal progression that many people likely experience.
As an older and hopefully wiser visitor to Vegas, I recognize that my needs and wants have changed from my earlier excursions. The mega resorts and excess of the strip hold little perceived value for me. The strip is great for fine dining and big budget shows, but now when I go to Vegas, I am looking for true gambling and hotel value. In addition, I’m frequently in search of more grass roots/locals type entertainment options(If only there was some sort of an outsider’s guide to Vegas). With those criteria for fun, all roads truly lead downtown and more specifically Fremont street.
Migration of Impression
Downtown may have once been lack luster and low energy, but it has experienced a significant resurgence over the past few years. This may have occurred for several reasons, but the two major contributors would be Derek Stevens, owner and operator of the Golden Gate and The D Las Vegas and Tony Hsieh founder of the Downtown Project. Both Mr. Stevens and Mr. Hsieh have breathed significant life and capital into an area of Vegas that was hardly on the map for me until about 5 to 10 years ago. Regardless of what people may are may not think of them personally, most frequent visitors have to admit they has done a lot of good for Downtown.
With growth and change, many will emerge from the woodwork to point out all of the wrongs and awful mistakes that are being made during this downtown renaissance. Claims of tightening odds, low comp offers and operational missteps are eventualities in the worlds of public opinion and business. However, I really couldn’t disagree more with the nay sayers. I think that the downtown area continues to offer some of the best table and video poker odds anywhere in Las Vegas.
My experience is that the vibe at several of the downtown casinos is far superior to that of the strip properties. And here is where “Experience” again begins to cause a bit of paralysis in the analysis. Have my opinions yet again been sent askew by the excitement I feel when walking the downtown promenade? I would be foolish to say it has not impacted me, but having gained a bit of experience along the way, I have learned to question my impressions.
Thought Paralysis Antidote
This process of thinking about and questioning ones own thoughts and perceptions is key to moving past the thought paralysis. Simply put, patrons of downtown need to look for the exceptions and the concurrences of the allegations that are being made. Tightening of the odds: Well, what I can say about that is I do notice many 3/2 continuous shuffle blackjack tables, and I also notice many single and double deck tables with low limits and 3/2 pays as well. Are there 6/5 games downtown? Yes there are, but it still appears to be the exception rather than the rule. The video poker payouts at many of the properties downtown are less than 90% return at the quarter and fifty cent level. However, again with very little hunting, full pay machines can be found at many downtown properties.
In regard to comp offers, I can’t say that I have ever played enough at any casinos to earn significant discounts or comps. Yes, on occasion I would receive a discounted or free night via the Total Rewards properties, but that is about the extent of it. As I started moving more of my time and play downtown, I noticed that my hotel bills even without comps was far less than that of the strip properties. I think it is also hard to ignore the value that you get via the rooms downtown. Places like the El Cortez Cabana Suites, Golden Nugget Rush tower rooms and the Golden Gate Suites are exceptionally nice. They may lack the view and some of the higher end amenities of the strip properties, but for the money, you just can’t beat them. So, with all of that said, I don’t know that I can either confirm nor deny the lack of comps downtown.
You’re Killing Me Smalls
Two things that many folks have hung their hats on regarding the potential “Death Spiral” of Fremont street, include the lack luster numbers of the Downtown Grand and of course the recent regulation changes in open container laws. So, let’s first talk about the Downtown Grand. Sometimes the little guys downtown, have big ideas that just don’t match with the market in which they exist. The Downtown Grand opened with much fanfare and was intended to be the next big thing in the Fremont area. Unfortunately, the operators did not take into account, the frugal nature of the downtown gamblers and their desire for substantively new and different product. They may have also underestimated the stiff competition for patron dollars. When the Grand opened, the video poker pay tables were out of step with the rest of downtown. The property also lacked the party atmosphere which seemed to be working so well for other properties. There is really no excuse for this, and it should have been addressed prior to opening. However, they did manage to address some of these issues relatively quickly. However, the future success of this property is still very uncertain.
I am all for a property opening up and trying to bring something different to the table. However, that “different thing” still needs to be in line with what patrons gravitate toward. In essence, they need to throw a party every night at the Grand, and it needs to exude fun and excitement. Unfortunately, at this point the operators have failed to create a vibe that would draw and keep people in the casino. It is without a doubt a beautiful space, but it is still devoid of the fun factor that defines places like Golden Gate and the D.
Regulations, regulations regulations.
Governmental initiatives and tweaks in laws and ordinances have historically been fodder for pundits and naysayers alike. Sometimes the allegations have legs other times it’s just word food for the talking heads. Let’s start with the open container law re-write. I am of the opinion that the reaction to this was way overblown. Having been downtown both before and after, I can say with certainty that it didn’t affect me in the least bit. Pour your drink into a cup and get over it.
There has also been much talk about the overwhelming failure of the city governance in dealing effectively with the buskers, in costume characters and other for tip type street performers. While it’s true there were many out there, it was no worse than that of the strip. It seems as if some positive changes are being made regarding requirements of performers to undergo background checks and have a permit to perform. It is yet to be seen how strictly this will be enforced and if any meaningful change will actually be born out of the legal tweaks.
Both Fremont and The Strip must continue to change and evolve in order to keep step with the finicky nature of it’s consumers. Frequent visitors will inevitably discover that some of their favorite aspects of the town will disappear or morph over the months and years. It’s part of the charm of Las Vegas. If you only visited once every 5 years, you are likely to get lost among the refreshes, demolitions and remodels. I for one look forward to what the future holds for this city that I love and call home for a few weeks a year.