Bad economy? Well that depends on who you ask. Like many things in life, the economy is apparently a seesaw.
When some are down, others are up. In this bad economic times, some business (if not entire industries) are experiencing a boom.
This became clear to me earlier this week when I visited Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world. Conventional belief would have you believe when people don’t have enough for groceries, the last thing they do with their change is gamble. Well, apparently conventional belief is wrong. In fact I heard, in these hard economic times, your neighborhood State Lottery is enjoying record number of players. I guess when people are struggling to fit their life in one and two jobs, they turn to divine intervention. And winning the lottery (or hitting the jackpot) is as divine as it gets. Unfortunately, despair doesn’t know the golden rule that says you can never beat the house. When it comes to gambling (illegal or state sanctioned) for every winner, there are thousands of losers. And more often, today’s winners become tomorrow’s losers. Maybe despair understands perfectly well. But when it’s dark all around, a sliver of light is just as bright as the sun.
Upon landing at McCarran International Airport, it struck me weird that it was as busy as it was two years ago when I first visited Las Vegas. I thought they say people don’t have enough money for leisure, I remember thinking to myself. If this is the case, the few people that can still afford it, all come to Vegas. The walk around the slot machines from the gate to the curb was just as crowded, the line to get a cab was just as long, and as before the skyline crowed with construction cranes.
If housing is the culprit of the current financial crisis, and as such feeling the most impact, the memo must not have made it to Vegas. The desert sprawl is as intense as ever. Literally every direction you look, there is a crane and a high-rise rising. And next door to my hotel at the Bellagio, the grand daddy of them all was manifesting itself.
The City Center
The City Center, as it is named, is a behemoth of a resort/residential complex. Comprising of at least five huge buildings in one, it looks more like a small downtown than a single complex. And a beautiful downtown it is. In a city of many amazing attractions, it has become its own. The miniature model on display in the lobby of the Bellagio Hotel is as busy as many of the slot machines in the casino. At any given moment, there are a handful of guests hovering above it in amazement. I was one of them.
After stopping many times between meetings and my room, I decided to approach one of the young ladies whose job it was to make sure we were not too excited into touching the sticks-and-glass fixture. As it turned out, The City Center is a joint venture between MGM Mirage (the owner and/or manager of many of the resort-casinos in Vegas, including the giant MGM Grand) and Dubai World (the financial arm of the Middle Eastern country that is literary adding to earth’s land area by building islands in the Persian Gulf). When it is all said and done, it would house a 5000-rooms hotel next to 2600 condos. If you think the falling housing market doesn’t have room for an additional 2600 condos priced between half a million and 10 million dollars a unit, think again. The City Center is not due to open for at least another year, and half of the condos are already sold!
Heading back to Minneapolis, I couldn’t help wondering if we were indeed living in a historically bad economic time, or simply an exaggeration of a pre-existing condition. At any stage in human history, there has always been the have’s and have-not’s, and I couldn’t help thinking that’s all this is. The have’s still got it, still spend it on shinning things; while the have-not’s are still crying and praying for their change. I’m no soothsayer but I’m afraid one day Joe Havenot will not have a dollar to push in the slot machine and pray for divine intervention before pulling the lever. Then what?
I am no socialist; I wholehearted believe we each deserve to keep what we earn. I believe Obama misspoke when he said we need to “spread the wealth”, but God, we need to spread the opportunity.
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