Ian from our marketing team visits Las Vegas and gives us his (honest) opinion.
I had the opportunity to spend Christmas in Las Vegas. It was my first time going there and let’s face it: Las Vegas is full of mythologies. I had a vision of what to expect in my head, but like all places, until you actually go you don’t fully understand what you are getting into.
What I learned is Las Vegas can be many different vacations to different people. While many just want a stress-free visit, for me it’s always been essential to engage and rise to the challenge of meeting others. For me, traveling is equally as much about getting away as it is about learning. Whenever I travel, I find the people that are there day after day know the best hidden gems to understanding a place and this was no different with Vegas.
What I quickly learned is Vegas is actually two cities in one. You have the Strip, which consists of the major chain hotels we all have seen in the pictures, and then you have Freemont St. and old school Vegas. These two areas are quite different, and depending on your tastes it really helps to know which area you want to be in before you go.
New Vegas (or the Strip) is quite the site to behold. The hotels are massive in scale and dripping in excess. They have everything in terms of shopping and dining. It’s definitely a must-see just to experience the lights and the full on spectacle of things, whether it be the reconstruction of the Eiffel tower or the wonders of the Ballagio Falls.
To me, The Strip was like a huge shopping mall. It almost felt like a giant cruise ship that went on for blocks. It’s safe and in many ways and — dare I say it — “family friendly.” It’s like a Disneyland resort with gambling and drinks for the adults. If you’re the traveler who wants to indulge, stay in this area and you’ll be as happy as a pig on a farm.
Most of the locals, though, don’t step foot onto the Strip other than to work jobs that pay poor wages. Instead, they stick to the downtown and outskirts of the city.
Old Vegas, though, was settled by the mobsters and has some amazing history. Freemont Street is an absolute must-see if you’re interested in understanding the evolution of the city. You can quickly tell by walking around that this was where the real “sin city” was in the day and the real reason Vegas got its name and reputation.
The place is far seedier than its counterpart, with old school gambling halls and crazy signs that they just don’t make anymore (and probably wouldn’t allow). The people in this part of town are much more “real” and less plastic looking. You can see the character of the town in its fullest All-American glory without any of the mask or illusion of the Strip. If you’re looking for a holiday in this section of town, I’d definitely recommend a stay at the “Golden Nugget.” Provided you are a lover of kitsch and campy nostalgia you cannot go wrong with this area.
What becomes clear is Las Vegas (like so many other places in the world) is yet another victim of its own devices. Underneath all the glitz and the glamour are some very nasty social problems. Las Vegas, for example, has outlawed all balconies and doesn’t allow windows to open in any of the hotels. This came into place 10 years ago, as people were losing their life savings and out of deep despair ended up killing themselves by jumping onto the streets below. Not very attractive for the tourists to see, is it?
All of the money has been put into hotels and nothing into social infrastructure of the city. If you are planning to get around by foot you need to rethink your travel. The streets are totally un-walkable and comparable to third world countries, like Costa Rica, when it comes to potholes. The newly built public transit monorail system was under cut by the taxi companies who refused to see it workable as it would cut into their monopoly on the market. It’s the entrances to the stations and the locals would laugh about it with tears in their eyes. In Las Vegas it’s clear that doing things for the greater “public interest” isn’t high on the list.
One local who had been born and raised in Las Vegas felt the city was better run by the mob than it is now under the rule of corporate America. He explained that in the past, if a gambler lost his savings the mobsters would always give them a good dinner, pay their tickets home and make sure they were well looked after. After all, they were still making a profit and even bad guys have some form of ethics.
Today if you lose, you are on your own, and no one in corporate America is going to shed a tear at your foolishness. They will gladly stick you with a bill and encourage your addictions, however. By pumping oxygen in the hotel rooms and using psychologists to develop behavioral techniques to ensure you’re glued to the slot machines, it makes you wonder who the real criminals are.
Each of the hotels pulls in an estimated $3-million a day. The opulence you see has to be paid for somehow and it’s at the expense of the gamblers losses. The game is sadly rigged and statistically not in your favor. That being said, people do win big money in Vegas, however it’s only because other people need to lose their money even bigger.
Speaking with locals, it’s clear very few people like what has happened to their city. Gentrification in Las Vegas, like Times Square in New York, has resulted in things being scrubbed clean: the residents displaced, real estate gone out of control, and the local charm replaced for what would sell and feel best to middle class families.
To learn more about Ian’s experience in Vegas, read his post on visiting Machine Gun Vegas here.