The economy hits Las Vegas hard

When the economy starts to slow down and consumers cut back on spending, one of the first things to suffer is the entertainment budget. This can happen locally, from eating out or watching films out to a broader radius — involving travel.

Traditional travel destinations like Orlando and Las Vegas feel the heat worst. So much of their local economy is based on tourists visiting, spending and investing in their economy that the effects of a market downturn are pronounced.

Subtly, I saw these effects first hand as a recent visitor to Las Vegas: high end clubs that were empty late into the night, low wager tables in the nicest casinos on the strip and long taxi lines waiting to pick up stray passers by.

On my way out of town I hailed a cab at the front of the Palms under the hot, late summer heat. Driving down Tropicana on the way to McCarran airport I asked the driver how business was.

“Slow,” he told me. Over the course of the year, more hotel rooms had progressively gone unbooked, tables been deserted and taxis roamed the streets empty, searching for fares. This was the last year driving for this cabbie. He told me at the end of the next season he was leaving the city where he had spent the last twenty years to head for greener pastures in Portland.

As we pulled into the terminal, he pointed over at “the pit,” the loading zone through which cabs filter into the airport. The line stretched back through the gates, around the corner and out of sight. Like that queue, the Las Vegas economy has a long hard road ahead.