For a city that’s in the heart of the desert Las Vegas does pretty well in terms of visitor numbers. For example, official figures for 2018 state that no less than 42,116,800 people were drawn to Nevada by the prospect of spending some time in what could rightly lay claim to be the pleasure capital of the U.S.A. (Image by skeeze from Pixabay).
It even seems like more and more people are choosing to head there. The figures for May 2019 show a 1.7% increase over May 2018 with 3,691,100 visitors and a citywide hotel occupancy rate of 90.4%
While the city also attracts convention-goers by the million, not just from the US but all round the world, six times more people come for pleasure than for business reasons. The economic benefits for the city are huge with tourism generating over $35 billion in revenue a year.
Traditionally, it’s been the casinos that have been the biggest draw for visitors, seduced by the image of excitement and glamour made famous by films like Ocean’s 11– as well as dreams of pulling on a slot machine’s handle and scooping a truly life-changing jackpot.
Is luck running out for the casinos?
Even the names of the most famous casino complexes speak of luxury and international exoticism, names like The Bellagio, Caesars Palace and The Rio that are famous the world over. But there are signs that their appeal may be on the wane. Casino revenue figures not just for Vegas but for all of Nevada have been seeing a steady decline over 2019, a trend that has been evident for the last couple of years too.
It’s thought that the reasons for this might be twofold. The first is the emergence of other international gambling centres like Macau have become more appealing to tourists looking for a little more exoticism in their travel. One only has to look at the steadily increasing revenue being reported in the Chinese dependency to see this in action.
The online alternative
The other is the inexorable rise of the online gambling world. In just two decades this has grown to be a multi-billion dollar industry. Just like their land-based rivals, these sites generate a lot of their revenue from the slots games that they feature. Slots sites are particularly popular within the sector, offering players all the choice of games that they need. And an ever-increasing number of them entering the market means that even more gaming fans are choosing to get their thrills, and chances of winning, online instead of having to physically visit a casino.
So how has Vegas countered this threat? Well fortunately, it has plenty of other more touristic attractions in and around the city to appeal to a wide variety of tastes and interests.
If Vegas has always been famous for something other than gambling, it’s been the spectacular shows and residencies that it puts on. Featuring artists as diverse as Celine Dion and Guns ‘n’ Roses and Britney Spears and David Blaine, many people are drawn to see their favourite performers in surroundings that are luxurious enough to put most other concert venues in the US to shame.
That the city sees entertainment as a huge potential growth area has been underlined by the fact that the biggest building project of recent years hasn’t been a new casino but the MSG Sphere Las Vegas, an 18,000 capacity concert venue due to open in 2021.
The origins of the city as an entertainment venue hark back to the 1950s and 60s when Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack ruled the roost. This is also seen by many when the city was at its real heyday and, for nostalgia buffs, there are still some ways to relive the era. One of the more unusual of these is called The Neon Museum, a.k.a. the Neon Boneyard. It’s here that visitors will find a treasure trove of the iconic neon signs for which Vegas is famous. Unsurprisingly, it’s best visited at dusk or later when it becomes an illuminated homage to an earlier era.
The darker past
Another part of its past that the city can be a little less proud about is the extreme involvement of the mafia which was only really driven out in the late 60s when the big corporations started to take over the casinos. But for those interested in the dark underbelly of the city the Mob Museum is a must. Appropriately located in a former downtown court house, it packed with memorabilia from the long running battle between the LVPD and organised crime, a battle which the law did eventually win.
Going even further back in time to the 1930s, it was the building of the Hoover Dam that really saw the dawning of Las Vegas on its long journey to the city that it’s become today. This was because the many thousands of construction workers drawn by the employment opportunities it offered in a Depression-era America needed a place to enjoy some leisure time. Now, almost 90 years later the Hoover Dam remains one of the country’s greatest feats of civil engineering – and a great visitor attraction too.
Those wanting to explore a more natural phenomenon can also go on helicopter tours of the breath-taking Grand Canyon or simply pick up a hire car and take a little more time exploring.
Honeymoon in Vegas
Of course, no rundown of non-gambling attractions of Vegas would be complete without a mention of the booming wedding industry where couples can even choose to be married by an Elvis impersonator or a more traditional chaplain.
So it’s easy to see that Las Vegas is ready and able to counter the threats to its traditional casino businesses – and there may well be a backlash in which online slots fans decide to try their luck at the real thing. It remains to be seen if this does come to pass. But even if it doesn’t, the financial security of Sin City as a tourism favourite seems assured both now and long into the future.