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As gaming rivals ramp up, Vegas brings the party

LVCVA’s Bagger says Las Vegas has been marketed as an entertainment (not just gaming) destination for decades.
Dave Proctor

Last week, dozens of news outlets ran an AP story about the “Las Vegas-style” casino boom across Asia. Macau and Singapore set the bar, and South Korea, Russia and the Philippines are out to raise it. Of course, they’ll have to contend with Sheldon Adelson’s planned EuroVegas in Spain and the swell of casinos on the other side of this country, from Pennsylvania and Ohio to Maryland and Delaware, with other states considering the legalization of gaming to make a buck.

But that’s our thing, you might be thinking. Las Vegas redefined outsize leisure and made itself the gambler’s HQ. It doesn’t seem fair for the rest of America and the world to copy that hard-won swagger, especially considering how deep the recession cut here. Without more of a monopoly on gaming, what is Vegas?

According to a Bloomberg story about positive exposure (so sorry) from “Prince Harry’s naked hotel romp,” Vegas has remade itself into a destination for “non-casino operations” such as nightclubs, dayclubs, pool clubs and supper clubs. Or, as Jonathan Segal, CEO of the One Group, suggests in the story, Las Vegas is pretty much Madonna, responding to gaming rivals with a vow to “turn this into the greatest party city in the world” instead.

I’ll give Segal that this place and that diva are masters of reinvention, but it might surprise him to learn that the party city idea is not a new one. Kevin Bagger, a lifelong local and senior director of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said the city has been marketed as an entertainment destination for decades.

“As far as the branding push of adult freedom, it has become much more aggressive in the last 10 to 15 years in terms of how we market Las Vegas,” Bagger says. “But what we really did in doing that, we tapped into something that was already there.”

An Applied Analysis report for the LVCVA backs that up with stats on robust economic diversification. While the majority of Strip revenue came from gaming in 1990, last year it was a “strong minority” of the total. Maybe that’s why Vegas hoteliers invested in world-class restaurants and 22 of the nation-spanning Nightclub & Bar Top 100. As Bagger says, they’re smart.

And maybe ahead of the curve. You could argue it’s more like the British Empire fading into stylish obscurity, but even when gaming was scarce, the allure was about so much more. For Bagger, it’s the “psychic benefit” of knowing he can go out for a sandwich at 3 a.m. It’s nonstop possibility. He says, “If you were to tell somebody, ‘I saw a tiger walking down the Strip with their tail on fire,’ somebody would believe that actually could happen in Las Vegas.” Sounds like a party to me.

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Erin Ryan

Erin got her first newspaper job in 2002 thanks to a campfire story about Bigfoot. In her award-winning work for ...

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