Before the 2008 economic apocalypse, Las Vegas was at its peak. Despite the fact that new mega-resorts opened seemingly once a month, the city's hotel rooms were at capacity nearly every weekend. The city itself was growing at a tremendous rate, as more and more people were flocking to the Nevada dessert for affordable homes, a decent school district, and proximity to one of the most famous tourist attractions on the planet. The scene for the young, hip, and artsy was looking up as well, with new galleries displaying the work of local artists and quirky bars popping up in Downtown.
Then everything caved in in the Fall of 2008. The entire country was (and still is) hurting, but the Las Vegas economy was damaged more severely than most. In a city where the economy is largely based around tourists spending disposable income, when the disposable income of most Americans ran dry, things got ugly. The city had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, and many of the normally occupied hotel rooms were empty on usually bustling weekends. Multi-billion dollar construction projects were abandoned, as sites of glorious future resorts became giant dirt pits. Expensive luxury resorts often offer room deals that resemble the prices of The Hooters Hotel and Casino (I'm not hating on The Hooters Hotel and Casino, mind you... I would never disparage a place where you can enjoy poolside Chicken Wings).
So things have been bleak in Las Vegas, and they've been bleak for almost half a decade. But Sin City, if it's anything, is a town that learns how to adapt to the times. And with that in mind, I will gaze into my i-Crystal Ball and read The Palms of the city (har har) as I deliver my (decidedly non-)expert predictions on the future of Las Vegas.
Vegas Will Become Increasingly Niche-Based
The internet has made fragmented culture beyond repair. There will never again be a show like Seinfeld that everyone in the country gathers around at the water cooler to discuss the morning after it airs (did anybody actually ever gather around water coolers to talk or was that just a term made up by marketers?); there will never be another album as ubiquitous as Thriller (and not just because there will never be a talent as unique as the young Michael Jackson); the concept of monocultue is dead, and there's nothing wrong with that. Individual tastes can be served and satisfied, creating micro-hits like Community, shows that draw minuscule audiences but create incredible loyalty in those small cults of people who tune in every week (with passionate bordering on vitriolic post-mortem internet discussions in which the finer points of every joke and reference are debated and mournful Twitter campaigns are launched in protest to the mere rumor of the show's cancellation).
The savviest Las Vegas marketers are aware of this fracturing of audiences, and more and more resorts are targeting specific audiences. While drawing sportsfans to bet on March Madness games has always been a go to strategy, many resorts are now going after more specific groups, with The Cosmo recently hosting an indie rock festival, while The Palms threw a big MTV Spring Break rager meant to attract Jersey Shore loving bros. While large-scale megahits like Jersey Boys and Cirque Du Soleil's many inceptions line The Strip, smaller shows with more specific audiences are opening all the time, like Mike Tyson's one man show at The MGM Grand and Confessions of a Rock Star at The Riviera (starring the former front man of 80's indie stalwarts The Smithereens).
Even as the finally economy recovers, I think this is going to be the new direction of Vegas. The monoculture will never put itself back together again, so the savviest resorts will do well targeting and creating loyalty amongst demographics with specific interests and passions.
So basically, my point is that someone should really consider building a Batman-themed Casino.
What's Old Is New Again
Mad Men. The Artist. Midnight in Paris. The past is so hot right now.
It's easy to spot the trend in the stores at Vegas malls and at the cocktail culture bars where mixologists dress in old-timey vests and spend extra time and care mixing Old Fashioneds and other cocktails that your grandfather was sipping when he first picked up your grandmother at a local gin joint (and then did unspeakable things to her in the bedroom. Grow up and deal with the fact that they're human beings who once had libidos just like you).
This trend, combined with the fact that the over the top themeing of casino design that dominated Vegas from the early 90s to the mid 00s has chilled out (no more fakey fake reconstructions of romantic cities in walking distance from each other), as places like Aria, The Palms, and The Cosmo are more about creating a cool and nice experience for adults instead of a Disneyish theme park filled with gambling and bad behavior. These combined trends lead me to the logical (in my mind) conclusion that the new trend in Vegas resort design will be retro cool. After years of knocking down the classic, Sinatra era resorts, I can envision the next crop of resorts being re-imagined versions of Strip classics like The Sands, The Stardust, The Dunes, and The Dessert Inn. While nostalgia can be the enemy of progress, the fun part of this trend will be that creative resort designers can pick and choose from the coolest aspects of the past, bringing back the classic Rat Pack vibe, complete with sexy lounges (and crooning lounger singers) and looking back to a time when having a cocktail in your hands at all times of the day meant you were a man, not an alcoholic.
Downtown Will Rise
Downtown Las Vegas is pretty rundown, but it has a savior in Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who has grand ambitions to breathe new life into the neighborhood. The Zappos heardquarters were moved into the former site of City Hall in the heart of the area, an honest to goodness indie coffee shop (complete with a vinyl records and a Zine library) opened nearby in an artist friendly building, the very ambitious Mob Museum just opened, and some of the most interesting bars in town are scattered along Fremont Street. But the area is still mostly a wasteland of vacant lots and crumbling old casinos.
If Hsieh is able to use his considerable influence and charm to attract other companies to move their offices to Downtown Las Vegas, a totally unique neighborhood, populated by young people with taste and money, will spring up and rejuvenate the area. The quirkier nature of the businesses that are already thriving in Downtown indicates that the area will have a different identity than The Strip, and the place could develop into the Las Vegas version of Williamsburg in Brooklyn or Silverlake (my home stomping grounds) in Los Angeles.
So look forward to many beards to grow along with interesting new hotels, bars, music venues, and galleries.
Jet Pack-Up Blackjack Tables
Swim-up blackjack tables are old news. In the future, the hippest resorts will have to build gaming tables that appeal to the inevitable Jet Pack trend that is surely finally on its way.
Vegas is down right now, but like a glorious Butterfly dedicated to convincing people to gamble away money they can't afford to lose, it will emerge from its cocoon, evolved, adapted, and ready to spread its gloriously beautiful capitalistic wings.