Toby Young Toby Young

Status Anxiety | 16 May 2009

I saw that Vegas is dying when a driver paid me $30 to take me to a lapdancing club

‘This is a great metaphor for the death of Vegas,’ I said, indicating the room I was in. The journalist I was with had billed it as an exclusive club where illusionists tried out their latest tricks, but it was more like a support group for unemployed magicians. Most of them were standing behind trestle tables, trying to sell homemade instructional videos of how to perform their ‘patented’ magic tricks. No one was buying.

‘Shshshsh,’ said the journalist. ‘We’re not allowed to use the “d” word. Vegas is supposed to be this fun, exciting place. Everyone’s terrified that if people get wind of the fact that the city’s in trouble they’ll stop coming.’

Alas, it looks as if the word is already out. Hotel occupancy in January 2009 stood at 71.9 per cent, down from 84.9 per cent in January of last year — and this in spite of the fact that the big hotel casinos have slashed their room rates. Every local has a story about how cheap the rooms are now. An English cocktail waitress told me that her brother, who’s visiting with his girlfriend, had managed to book ten nights at the Sahara for $70. According to her, these cheap-as-chips prices are attracting the wrong sort of tourist.

‘If you drive down the Strip on a Friday night, you really notice the change,’ she said. ‘You used to see these cool, good- looking people, all dressed up in their party clothes, but now it’s people from the Midwest in sweatpants. The locals hate them because they don’t tip.’

Cheap hotel rooms aren’t the only bargains to be had. Last December, a billionaire businessman called Phil Ruffin bought Treasure Island, one of the largest hotel-casinos on the Strip, for $775 million.

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