July was a good month for the image of Las Vegas.
The month ended with a rainstorm that flooded a parking garage and some streets and dripped through the ceiling of Circa. Videos of water inundated the internet; millions clicked on them and all the major news outlets had some coverage. It was not a real flood, like the one in Kentucky, and there was little damage, but it was Las Vegas and that is news. Earlier in the month, speculation on Adele’s return to the Strip made newspapers from London to New York. Each time Adele’s name appeared in print, so did Las Vegas.
On July 16, Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck married in a Vegas wedding chapel. Theirs is the romance of the year; everything they say or do gets full coverage. And since their wedding, every story now also includes a line or two about the Vegas wedding.
Finally, on July 23, the most watched football game (called soccer in the U. S.) was played in Allegiant Stadium: El Clásico. Real Madrid lost to Barcelona in front of 60,000 fans. A nice crowd, but across the planet, between 85 million and 100 million people tuned in to see two of the best teams in the world play in Las Vegas. As Mama Morton says in the musical Chicago, “Baby, you couldn’t buy that kind of publicity.”
Not that Vegas does not try to buy publicity. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has a very large budget for publicity. Keeping the city in the media and in the minds of potential customers is its job. For many years, it was an uphill job. Gambling was illegal in most of the country, Vegas had a tainted reputation, and the media was not interested in the happenings in Sin City. That is not the case today. Attitudes toward gambling and Las Vegas changed with the spread of legalization gambling to other states.
The evolution of Las Vegas also helped shape attitudes: Year after year, Las Vegas attracted more people. The increase in visitors led to an increase in investment; casinos were no longer just gambling halls. The mega-properties that dominate the landscape of the Strip are resorts, not casinos. Besides having thousands of hotel rooms, the resorts have dozens of bars, restaurants, entertainment venues, and shopping options. The city hosts tens of millions of people annually. The 150,00 hotel rooms are nearly full every day of the year. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been invested along the famous Strip; it is a place like no other on Earth.
Other cities have casino-resorts. Detroit, Philadelphia, Biloxi, and New Orleans have several; Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Baltimore, Boston, Washington, D.C., and New York City have casinos in the environs. Atlantic City has nine. Only Las Vegas has dozens of fabulous luxury resorts within walking distance of one anther. It is a critical mass and that mass or density is a major reason for the city’s success. It is also the reason that a soccer match, celebrity wedding, and singer’s residency are major national and even international news stories.
Critical mass is when enough of something produces a particular result. The term comes from physics. It entered the popular imagination with nuclear weapons. To make a nuclear explosion requires a critical mass of fissile materials. We learned the word watching mushroom-shaped clouds rise over the Nevada desert. Since the first bombs, the term has been applied to other disciplines, including social science, population studies, and business. Common social theory holds that once a city reaches a critical mass, all intellectual and artistic creativity and scientific discoveries increase exponentially. In business, a comparable theory predicts an increase in customers, sales, and profit in areas with a critical mass of businesses, as in a major mall or other shopping district.
Las Vegas has benefited in both ways. The increased density in casinos and casino operators has led to a more innovative and competitive environment. The concept of a casino-resort is constantly evolving; every new property promises to bring all new elements to its resort and to be a “game changer.” None can quite live up to the hype, but each makes its contribution to an ever-changing game. Nothing is static in Las Vegas. It is a game that casinos in Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, and other states cannot play. The money and creative talent look to Vegas as a first choice. In the social sense, the same phenomenon is happening; Las Vegas is a magnet for talent in the industries of food, entertainment, sports, architecture, conventions, and retail.
It all combines to draw customers from every corner of country and the globe and to attract the eye of the media. The city has the critical mass necessary and is becoming something unique. It is a place for world-class sports and entertainment and the perfect backdrop for romance.
Just ask Barcelona, Madrid, Adele, Jennifer Lopez, and Ben Affleck.