Sin City Meets the Low Rollers

Tourists have returned to Las Vegas, but they're not betting the way they used to. What it means for America's gambling capital--and the economy

TIffany Brown / Redux

Las Vegas local, Eleanor Kochanski, center right, plays one cent machines in the Penny Lane area of The Orleans casino, in Las Vegas on Wednesday, June 26, 2013.

With an estimated 40 million visitors streaming into it glitzy gambling palaces and hotels this year — a record number — Las Vegas seems like a city fully recovered from the financial meltdown. Don't bet on it. In fact, much like the city itself, the tourist count is a glittery distraction. Visitors to Las Vegas aren't betting anywhere near the amounts they did in 2006, before the economy collapsed, and that's a major headache for casino hotel operators such as MGM, Mirage Resorts, and Caesars Entertainment.

For years, Las Vegas has been offering more diverse attractions to keep the visitors coming. But the celebrity chef restaurants and star studded shows and attractions can't make up for the lower gambling revenues. Consider the hot new attraction, known as day clubs, in which half naked twenty-somethings gather at pools such as Liquid at Aria or the Bare Pool Lounge at the Mirage to party with star DJs while swilling high priced drinks. It's fun in the sun, but no match for the revenue generated by a $25 minimum bet blackjack table that gives liquor away.

It's a good thing for the economy that Americans have reduced their debts and are spending more within their means. But too much of a good thing is bad for Sin City.

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