Bereaving Las Vegas: Hard Times in the City of Sin
The financial crisis has mauled Las Vegas like no other city. What was once the land of luxury and excess is now the home of empty houses and broken dreams. While the city and its investors keep hoping for a turnaround, others see long, lean years ahead.
The bar on the 64th floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel offers what could arguably be the best view of Las Vegas at night. A mile-long strip of brightly colored neon lights and gigantic, floodlit casinos glitters through the bar's floor-to-ceiling windows. Still, as you survey the otherwise dazzling city of nocturnal light, you can see conspicuous patches of darkness dotting the landscape.
There is even a dark, gaping hole next to the Trump Tower. A twin had been planned for the site, but it will most likely never be built. Las Vegas, the global symbol of gambling and glitz, is hurting.
Over the last two decades, no other American city grew as quickly as Las Vegas. In 1980, it had 460,000 inhabitants; now it has 2 million.
Nowhere else was the boom wilder, consumption more excessive and the delusions of grandeur more extreme. New houses and apartment complexes shot up by the tens of thousands. Dozens of new casino hotels were built, many of which boasted 2,000, 3,000 or even 4,000 rooms. Celebrity chefs came to the city to open satellites of their famous restaurants, while junk shops gave way to stores offering exclusive fashion labels.
During that era, the strip was crowded until even 4 a.m., mainly with drunk, carefree Americans who could hardly believe they could walk around outside with a beer in their hand, that they could still smoke in public establishments and that there were swimming pools where women could go topless.
Unemployment, on the other hand, has risen -- from about only 3 percent to over 13 percent. The city's luxury hotels have seen tens of thousands of reservations cancelled. Major casino operators are deeply in debt. In the spring, one of them, the MGM, barely escaped from having to declare bankruptcy.
In the meantime, economists are already warning that the collapse of the US residential real estate market could be followed by a similar disaster in commercial real estate. And if that bubble bursts, it will hit Las Vegas first.
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