Las Vegas Live! An innovative variety show for the ages

Las Vegas Live! An innovative variety show for the ages

  • Ken Adams
September 6, 2022 12:00 AM

Watching Las Vegas is like watching Saturday Night Live. Every week brings a new show, new jokes, new characters, and narrative twists that are always entertaining. This past week, Las Vegas Live! had two new narratives, or at least new twists on an old narrative: Station Casinos and Mark Wahlberg.

Station Casinos started the demolition of Fiesta Henderson, Fiesta Rancho, and Texas Station. The three properties had been closed since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. In assessing its portfolio of properties, Station decided these three were not worth reopening. Instead, Red Rock Resorts, the parent company of Station Casinos, decided to bulldoze the bunch, divide the real estate into smaller sections, and sell the land. No casino operator need apply; the sites will be repurposed.

To cap the week off, Station announced another casino slated for the bulldozer: Wild Wild West is to close Tuesday, September 6. The site is extremely large, and Station will use that land to build one of its classic Las Vegas casinos. Station’s customers are not the tourists who patronize the Strip; its customers live in Las Vegas. Each property caters to the people who live in the immediate vicinity by offering a complete range of entertainment, dining, and shopping experiences for locals.

Station has not announced its plans for the property. One observer speculated it could be a huge project with three hotel-casinos and a price tag approaching $10 billion. That is not likely. It is not the Station model, although in the wake of the pandemic the model has been evolving. Red Rock Resorts has promised to “continue to roll out new properties one after the other,” as CEO Frank Fertitta III said. The company is updating its plan for Las Vegas by moving properties into the best locations and bringing its properties up to the standards of the third decade of the 21st century.

That is the Las Vegas narrative, bringing everything up to the standards of this time, not of some earlier era or century. Sports is one of those updates. Serendipitously with the explosion of legalized sports betting nationally, Las Vegas is quickly becoming a professional sports hub, if not the capital. The National Hockey League’s Golden Knights kicked the era off. The team reached the Stanley Cup finals in its first season; its popularity gained national recognition. The next big leap came from the Las Vegas — née Oakland — née Los Angeles — Raiders. When the franchise moved to Las Vegas the nation was watching. The team was an immediate success in popularity, ticket sales, and national media coverage, if not on the field of play.

Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics are seriously considering a move to Vegas; the city is courting the National Basketball Association. Las Vegas is the perfect place for special sporting events like the Super Bowl, the NFL draft, the NFL All-Star game, and a variety of college championships. Supporters of out-of-town teams will happily come to Vegas for a game, where they can get a room and catch a show. In the meantime, the building of gigantic entertainment and sports venues has become part of the changing landscape of the city. The MSG Sphere is currently under construction; it will cost almost $2 billion. At least two other projects of comparable price have been proposed.

The final act of Las Vegas Live! came from an unexpected source and points to yet another transformation for the city. Mark Wahlberg, the actor, producer, and businessman, recently bought a house for $14.5 million in the created community of Summerlin; a month earlier he had purchased a piece of residential land for $15.6 million. Wahlberg wants to live in Las Vegas, but he also wants to be a part its evolution. “My hometown,” is how he described the city to Rachel Smith of BEONDTV. “I plan on making, hopefully, a film studio, and we want to build a shoe factory in Nevada. We want to create a lot of jobs, and a lot of excitement. Hollywood 2.0.”

Ten or twenty years ago that statement would have sounded like hubris, and downright foolish. Today, with Vegas more and a more occupying a central place in American culture, it sounds like a business plan. Wahlberg can thank Raiders owner Mark Davis. Davis, like his father before him, is a rebel. The Raiders are known for changing host cities, hiring players other teams don’t want, and for a fan base that is loyal to the point of obsessiveness. Davis liked Las Vegas and thought it would be a perfect home for his edgy Raiders. He was right. The city and the team bonded immediately. Davis and the Raiders were helped by a supercharging of fan interest in all sports due to the growing legalization sports betting, driving media coverage and enthusiasm to new heights.

The Raiders, Wahlberg, and Station Casinos are part of the landscape of a new Las Vegas. Like an ancient city in the Middle East, the new city is being built on the foundations of the old one, but it has elements that residents in the previous century could never have imagined. It is quite a show: Las Vegas Live! Look for it on your cable channel, or favorite podcast.