Just last week, UNLV's historical sage, Dr. Eugene Moehring, was taking a dim view of the fate of Las Vegas' working class. Now comes the Wall Street Journal to back him up with some sobering reportage.
Even at union salaries, Culinary Union-represented employees are hardly living on Easy Street. According to the WSJ's Tamara Audi, a hotel maid can expect to make slightly under $30K/year. She also finds a fry cook who was pulling in $36K annually, before he was laid off. (He's now making much less at union-free M Resort.) This goes to show not only the importance of union representation but also how close many of these people are to the economic precipice.
Many of the causes of our current plight (like real estate speculation) are outside my remit. However, a great deal of the blame falls upon casino CEOs who -- encouraged by banks that pushed too-easy credit like "happy dust" and by cheerleading Wall Street analysts -- succumbed severally and variously to a collective psychosis.
The Plaza: Rooms available, starting the 12th of Never.
The hyper-optimistic mentality that produced a rapid-fire succession of (in no particular order) CityCenter, Cosmopolitan, Fontainebleau, Echelon, Palazzo, Encore, the Hard Rock Hotel acquisition/expansion, and even will o' the wisps like Crown Las Vegas and Viva, rested upon a bizarre assumption. Namely, that the Las Vegas Strip could not only absord literally thousands upon thousands of new rooms (preponderantly at the high end) but could do in a compressed time frame.
A few companies even thought this could be done even after they'd glutted themselves with LBO debt. (True, Harrah's Entertainment now says it never intended to go the metaresort route but the available evidence testifies otherwise.) As I've written before, a bubble was mistaken for a baseline, thereby magnifying the consequences when the economic fundamentals began to crumple.
Distance evidently lends clarity, at least to Harvey Perkins of East Coast-based Spectrum Gaming Group. He calls for a complete rethinking of the luxury-based Vegas business model, repositioning the Strip's posh palaces slightly downmarket. It'll mean eating a lot of pride but what alternatives are there?
It's a glass half-full perspective, which is preferable to the overdose of gloom quaffed by MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren. He darkly prophesies, "There won't be another property built in Las Vegas for a decade."
Just wait 'til the next economic upturn and see if Murren is still saying kaddish. There will be new casinos in Las Vegas before 2019, I'm fully confident -- but they'll be ones positioned around affordability and (hopefully) generating double-digit ROI. Because, frankly, Las Vegas isn't the investment it used to be.
The St(ump) Regis, as it was to have been.
Then there's the schizoid-sounding Sheldon Adelson, who harrumphs, "I don't see any opportunities for any development in Las Vegas." Emphasis added; the Las Vegas Sands CEO seems to swing from bullish to bearish by the day.) It'd be nice for Sands if Adelson had been vouchsafed this insight before he started work on the St(ump) Regis in the midst of a condo-market meltdown. Now it's big bloody nose right betwixt the eyes of the Venetian and Palazzo.
The polar opposite of Adelson is Culinary Union boss D. Taylor who sounds like a flack for the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority, so giddy is his optimism. Hey, D., have you talked to your workforce lately -- you know, the ones who just had to defer a $710/year pay bump?
At least some amusement is to be had from the Strip map prepared for the WSJ by Bill Lerner's new outfit, Union Gaming Research:
I don't think I'd take investment advice from a firm that doesn't know the correct spellings of "Echelon" or "Caesars." City Center seems to fallen off the map entirely. It'd also take issue with the classification of many sites (like the in-foreclosure FX Real Estate plot) as "ceased or delayed" as there was never any work to cease or delay at, say Elad Properties' "Plaza" site or Crown Las Vegas (aka "Archon"). Ditto MGM/Kerzner, Africa Israel, etc. However, the Cosmo, which really is in limbo, doesn't make onto the map.
At any rate, as land prices on the Strip continue to return to earth, there's going to be plenty of prospective acreage for the company that's ready, willing and able to build a mid-market casino on the Strip.