RGJ on casino carpet

The RGJ quoted me extensively in a piece on, what else, casino carpets last week. Here’s a sample:

Casino carpeting is a hobby for Schwartz. He has posted shots of casino carpets throughout the nation on his Web site www.dieiscast.com. They’re wild and bright and follow a Nevada tradition that at least dates back to places such as Reno’s Riverside Hotel Casino in the 1930s.

And the Peppermill? That carpet might be at the core of the concept that bad carpet is good for gaming.

“It is the essence of the whole thing,” Schwartz said of the Peppermill’s carpeting. “You don’t get rainbows and planets at most places.”

Peppermill officials defend their spaced-out carpet, although they say it contains a subtle reminder that the Peppermill may be the place where visitors win.

“People always don’t notice the rainbows in the carpet but they have a perception of good luck,” said Bill Hughes, marketing director. “Rainbows give us a sense of good feeling.”

And the black, purple and aqua background?

“There is a practicality side to it, too,” Hughes said. “You don’t want a real plain carpet because people drop cigarettes on it and spill drinks on it.”

Casino carpeting: Whats bad for the eyes is good for business | www.rgj.com | Reno Gazette-Journal

The Peppermill really has the quintessential casino carpet.

And I have become the quintessential scholar of casino carpeting, merely by the virtue of having enough of a sense of humor about the whole thing to suggest that I am a scholar of casino carpeting. There really is no such thing; my “essay” on the subject isn’t really a serious academic essay so much as a modest proposal for future study into the field.

I’m starting to think that people might think that I’m really serious about the whole thing.

In that spirit, I’ve updated the Atlantic City gallery and moved several old AC carpets to the Hall of Fame.

Check out the new look for the Taj–as much as I like what they’ve done with the rest of the place, that new carpet is really bad. It’s actually a step back from the old pink and purple stuff, which I didn’t think was possible. Harrah’s on the other hand has put a real winner in–I liked it so much that I included an extra “bonus” shot at the bottom of the page. This is clearly the best carpet in town, and joins the carpet at Red Rock on the “I wouldn’t mind having this in (a very small area of) my house” list.

I don’t think I’ve said this before, but Bally’s might have the worst carpet I’ve seen in a while. I know someone said in the RGJ article that the Peppermill carpet looks like vomit, but the Bally’s floor literally looks like someone had too much pepperoni pizza and grape slushee and suffered what competitive eaters call a “reversal of fortune.”

The Economist on Vegas

Most everyone knows that gaming revenues have dipped a bit, but it’s not every day that the Economist covers Las Vegas, so here it is:

THE media had a field day recently when Charles Barkley, a retired basketball player, was forced to pay a gambling debt of $400,000 owed to Wynn Resorts, a Las Vegas casino operator. It may seem churlish to chase a star as big as the “Round Mound of Rebound” for anything less than a seven-figure sum. But after a long boom, the industry faces a rare slowdown and belts are tightening across Sin City.

Gambling has long been considered all but recession-proof. Only twice have overall revenues on the Las Vegas Strip fallen since it took over from the downtown as America’s gambling hotspot in the late 1980s—most recently after the attacks of September 11th 2001—and both dips were short and shallow. Gamblers, they say, will keep betting as the economy slows, still hoping for that big win.

But Vegas is less about gambling than it used to be. Today only 41% of its revenues come from betting, down from 58% in 1990. These days people are as likely to come for shopping, shows and fine dining as for blackjack or baccarat; the Forum Shops, at Caesar’s Palace, has the highest sales per square foot of any American mall. Today’s visitors are more likely to be worried by broader economic woes than the punters who used to flock to the city were, says Bill Lerner of Deutsche Bank.

A cut in the wages of sin

It’s always good to get an outsider’s perspective on what’s going on here. I learned a new factoid: that Las Vegas now has 7% of all the hotel rooms in America. That’s staggering.

It’s also nice to be identified as an optimist in the penultimate paragraph. I really think that it’s usually not as good as people think, or as bad as people think. And as I’ve always said, with a finite number of people in the world who are able or willing to vacation in Las Vegas, there is definitely an upper limit to the number of hotel rooms that the city can support. Ultimately, the market will determine what that limit is.

Did you like all of those helpful statistics in there? I’m about 99% sure that they came from the Center for Gaming Research’s Gaming Abstract, and this is exactly why we’ve put so much energy into assembling it. It’s refreshing to see it get some good use.

I’m on E! tonight

At least that’s what they tell me. I was interviewed for an episode of THS Investigates called “Vegas Winners and Losers.” I’m not sure which one I’m supposed to represent. We did the interview in front of a blue screen, so they could put me in front of any kind of backdrop. I’m guessing that if I’m a winner, I’ll have a limo or something behind me, and if I’m a loser, I’ll be in some alley in front of a trashbin.

The show debuts on E! at 8pm EDT tonight, then is on again Saturday at 5pm and Sunday at 3pm. So set your DVRs.

I’ve got absolutely no idea to what extent I’m even on screen. I did talk for a while, but you never know. Particularly since I haven’t won or lost much in Vegas. And I don’t think I called anyone a loser or said anything particularly controversial.

But if you haven’t gotten your daily fix of my wit from today’s two posts, go ahead and check out E! tonight.

Why is Vegas Vegas?

What makes Las Vegas…Las Vegas? John Pryzbys (it’s pronounced like “frisbee” but with a “b,” if you’re curious) has an article that asks that question in today’s RJ. And I’m one of the ones who offered some answers. From, naturally, the LVRJ:

What is Las Vegas?

A place. An idea. A stereotype. And, for those of us who happen to live here, a city that defines us in ways we probably don’t even realize.

Las Vegas is a place steeped in contradiction and shaped, either subtly or overtly, by both natural and man-made forces that, in turn, shape us.

That’s why we batted around this question: What are the basic forces — things, ideas, conditions — that define Las Vegas and make it different from any other place in the world?

Here are our conclusions. We don’t pretend that our conclusions are the final word. Feel free to do some batting around of your own.

VARIETY OF INFLUENCES: What Makes Las Vegas Las Vegas

Here’s what I had to say about “transience:”

Some newcomers, Schwartz says, have a “boomtown mentality.” They want to get everything they can out of Las Vegas and move on. “We’re like a modern-day Virginia City or Goldfield or Searchlight with nicer buildings.

“People move here and think, ‘I’m going to get a great job and make $50,000 parking cars, and I’ll do that a couple years, save up, buy a house, get a lot of equity, trade out and move back home.’ And it doesn’t always work.”

It’s an interesting question–a sort of “why is this night different from all other nights?” query that leads to more questions than an actual answer.

One could write a whole book on the subject. Or two.

New Hughes Reviews

The headline is actually a lie: I’m not reviewing Geoff Schumacher’s new Howard Hughes book…yet. I’ll get to it as soon as I’ve gotten a few other pieces out of the way. But it sounds pleasant and I’m short of time.

But I wanted to tell everyone that the book is out, and it’s worth reading:

Amazon.com: Howard Hughes: Power, Paranoia & Palace Intrigue: Books: Geoff Schumacher

If nothing, you’ve got to praise Stephens Press for their aptitude in picking back cover blurbers. They chose this quote from me to follow Bob Maheu’s:

“Anyone who wants a better idea of the man behind the myth should read this book. There are many, many books on Hughes out there, but few are as lucid as this one.”

Furthermore, I’m identified as “David Schwartz, Ph.D., author of Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling,” so there’s another plug for Roll the Bones out of the way.

Part of the incentive for finishing my next book is that I’ll have something new to plug.

Seriously, you should really check out Geoff’s book–it actually makes sense of what Hughes did in Las Vegas.

Faith-based gaming

I’ve explained, opined, asserted, declared, and suggested, but at last I’ve reached the stage in my career where I can quip. From the Daily Review:

After defeat at polls in 1974, a gaming referendum in New Jersey succeeded two years later thanks to an alliance between gaming interests and the Roman Catholic Church, explained David Schwartz, of the Institute of Gaming Studies [sic] at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
Priestly blessings at casino ribbon cuttings aren’t unheard of, but aren’t routine either, he said.
“I certainly see a lot of people praying in the casino after it opens,” Mr. Schwartz quipped.

Multi-faceted clergyman: Indicted priest with alleged mob ties has many friends, talents

I really don’t have too much to say about this one. Trust me, I’m not quitting my day job for a career as a stand-up comic who specializes in gaming-related humor.

In the news

Since my return, I’ve see Roll the Bones in the news twice. First, Chuckmonster at VegasTripping has posted a review of the book. Sure, that sentence doesn’t quite have the cachet of “Edmund Morgan reviewed it in the New York Review of Books,” but it’s good enough for me.

Second, I got the last word in Gary Rivlin’s New York Times piece on Vegas growth that ran today:

“People have been predicting dating back to 1955 that Las Vegas will reach a saturation point,” said David G. Schwartz, author of “Roll the Bones,” a history of gambling, and director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “But me, I wouldn’t bet against casino growth.”

In Las Vegas, Too Many Hotels Are Never Enough

Who wants to bet that, since I sounded so confident there, casino growth begins to stagnate and even decline? Even if it did, I’d stand by what I said, since the historical evidence suggests that, all things being equal, even huge increases in supply haven’t glutted the market, though they weren’t too far off the mark in 1955, when they came pretty close to doing just that. The town survived by repositioning to appeal to business travelers as well.

So if in 2010 casinos discover that they bet wrong, and that the high-end market doesn’t absorb as much room inventory as they project, it won’t be a matter of casinos closing, but simply repositioning themsevles to the customers that are there.

What I did on Tuesday

If you’re curious about my travels on Tuesday, here’s a third-party account of what went down: From Foster’s Online:

A legislative committee studying expanded gambling options heard the pros and cons of putting casino-style gaming at the state’s racetracks on Tuesday.

The state attorney general’s office, the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police and the New Hampshire Restaurant and Lodging Association were some of the groups who voiced opposition to expanded gambling.

Associate Attorney General Ann Rice said her office has traditionally been “unbending” in its opposition to slot machines at the tracks and that position has not changed. Rice said those who can least afford to gamble throw the most money into it and expanded gambling will lead to an increase in crime.

“We have great concern for setting the groundwork for increases in those social ills,” Rice said. “We can debate the numbers, but the impact on individuals is clear.”

Pro-gambling supporters brought in Professor David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Schwartz tried to dispel some of the stereotypes connected to gambling including the belief that organized crime runs the industry.

“It’s important to realize a lot of the perceptions out there are not accurate. It’s a business,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz went on to tell the panel that expanded gambling has been embraced by a number of states to enhance revenues, adding the industry is “transparent.”

“The revenue stream is very open to the public, more so than any other industry,” Schwartz added.

Revenues are the driver behind a push to expand gambling in this state. During the last budget process, the state was a facing a potential $300 million shortfall by the end of the current biennium in June 2007. Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, introduced a bill last year which would have put nearly 4,000 slot machines at the state’s racetracks which was estimated to bring $250 million to the state. That piece of legislation was held in the Senate Ways and Means Committee as legislative budget writers worked to plug the potential hole by cutting some services and relying on increased revenues due to a rebounding economy.

N.H. panel debates casino-style gaming

It’s great to have an opportunity to paint the casino industry as it really is. Unfortunately, many people just fall back on “what they’ve seen in movies” when it comes to casinos.

It reminds me of a quote from Tales of Future Past, considering the suspension of disbelief and space:

To the philosophers of the Middle Ages, Heaven and Earth were two distinct and separate realms. They weren’t just different locations, they were different in their very natures. Substances were different, things moved differently, and everything had its own appropriate sphere of existence. The Copernican Revolution was supposed to abolish this. Science had declared that Earth and space were the same and the rules that applied in one applied in the other with equal strength. But not according to the popular mind. Pick up any science fiction novel or video and you will be confronted with ideas that would be utterly preposterous on Earth, but are allowed a very, very generous suspension of disbelief because It Came From Outer Space.

Future Space

Of course, people who actually live near or work in casinos know that casinos aren’t some kind of otherworld, but people who only know them through television have quite another view.