Las Vegas, Nevada is one of the most interesting case studies in the world for a number of different reasons. From its advertisements to its individual properties to the atmosphere that the entire city cooperates to create, Las Vegas is a purveyor of a sense of alternate reality. The idea of simulating reality is important to the individual hotels, as they seek to bring in more players for their tables. It is also important for players, though, as they use Las Vegas as a way to spend a few days in a life that is not their own. This dynamic is an interesting one, and Las Vegas handles it as well as any city in the world. The simulated effect in Las Vegas is not simply a coincidence, though. It is the result of much meticulous planning and it is the brainchild of many brilliant tourism minds. It is a place that was originally created to light up the senses and it does an excellent job of that. By creating an expectation of entering an “alternate” world, the city closely regulates its reputation. The properties themselves help to take this a step further, though this is an exercise completely in their self-interests.
When studying Las Vegas as an entity, one must first look at its concerted advertising effort, as this is where the entire thing starts. The city, as a whole, looks to promote a simulated reality through its sometimes-maligned advertising efforts. One of the city’s most famous advertisements states, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” (Las Vegas Tourism). This advertising campaign has been in works for years, as the city has taken on a new image. It has looked, specifically, to shape its reality in a different way than in the past. For the longest time, Las Vegas had been a family destination, which was part of the reason why so many different themed hotels popped up through the early 1990s. Today, Las Vegas is going for a much more risqué approach, looking to bring in older travelers to take part in the city’s simulated reality. That reality is the ability to do anything without having to live with the consequences. According to an article Theresa Howard of USA Today, Las Vegas is looking to corner the market on people who need an escape from the day-to-day grind of their normal lives. She writes, “All bets are off on Las Vegas as a family destination. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority stepped up its steamy, adult message — ‘What happens here, stays here’ — in new ads as individual hotel properties shed family-friendly ads and amenities” (Howard, 2003). This is something that has especially appealed to younger people, as they are drawn in by the possibility of seeing the world, without actually seeing the world. According to that same article, “Younger consumers, ages 18 to 39, were particularly positive about the ads. Those18-24 like the ads the most, with 44% saying they like the ads ‘a lot.’ Among 25-to-29-year-olds, 34% like the ads ‘a lot’ while 32% of 30-to-39-year olds like them ‘a lot’” (Howard, 2003). An article by Michael McCarthy of USA Today two years later serves as an interesting follow up to the Howard article. In McCarthy writes in 2005 about how Las Vegas’ new advertising efforts have helped the city overcome some of its perception problems and how they have led to success in attracting young, new visitors. He writes, “Las Vegas attracted a record-breaking 37.4 million visitors in 2004. That topped the 35.8 million who visited in 2000, before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks devastated the tourism industry. This year, Las Vegas expects 38.2 million” (McCarthy, 2005). The idea was for this small, simple slogan to become the marker for Las Vegas in popular culture. This alone represents what the city was trying to accomplish at large. In “real” life, people have to answer for what they have done the night before. There is some responsibility that comes along with certain actions. Though no one in Las Vegas is advocating illegal activity explicitly, the city seems to be telling people that Las Vegas is the place where one can go to get away from all of that ugly responsibility. The effort worked, too, as Las Vegas and its new advertising campaign were all the rage through the mid-2000s. McCarthy went on to write in that same article, “Its ‘What happens here’ slogan is not new but has fit like a glove since Las Vegas ad shop R&R Partners created the ads two years ago. Gambling fan Ben Affleck used it on Saturday Night Live. Billy Crystal used it to close the 2004 Oscars. It’s been a clue on Wheel of Fortune. When Jay Leno asked Laura Bush on The Tonight Show whether she had gambled or had seen a Chippendales show while visiting the Las Vegas Strip, the First Lady got a big hand by replying, ‘Jay, what happened in Vegas, stays in Vegas’” (McCarthy, 2005). Advertising is only a part of what Las Vegas has done, though. The city has stepped up its efforts on a number of fronts, as it seeks to actually keep people coming back to the city once they make their first trip there.
Las Vegas, as an entity, tries to create its own little world within one city. It is a place where people can come and see Paris, New York City, Los Angeles, Egypt, India, and most prominently Italy all in one two-mile stretch. This has been one of the keys of the city’s ability to attract visitors over the last couple of decades. When one visits Las Vegas, they are able to not only see one city, but many cities at the same time. Within a day, a traveler can visit Cairo, take a stroll through Central Park, and have dinner in Venice. What makes this work is the extent to which the individual properties have created their themes. Though the smaller, less popular hotels like the Luxor have tried hard to get away from their themes lately, a few properties have no desire to shake from theirs. Properties like the Bellagio, Pallazo, and Venetian all have a decidedly Italian theme, but what they are selling is much more about the opulence of the Italian lifestyle. For that reason, there has been no effort from the Bellagio or the Venetian to change its approach, even while properties like Treasure Island are attempting to move form “theme” to “dream”. The Venetian and its sister property The Pallazo are the most notorious purveyors of simulated reality on the strip. When one enters into that property, a very practical blast of fresh floral air is evident. Beyond this smell, one can take a ride on a gondola, either inside the hotel or outside. This is supposed to represent what life might be like when one visits Venice, and most travelers believe this to be a fairly authentic experience. With its raised, painted ceilings and its overall splendor, the Venetian is easily one of the three most impressive properties in all of Las Vegas. The thing that is so striking about it and the Bellagio is that when one leaves the hustle and bustle of the Las Vegas Strip to walk through the doors, they are immediately taken to a different place. Everything is aligned to make these individuals feel as if they are in Italy, which helps them loosen up a little bit and open up their wallets for the table games. In their collective book,Dreaming of Italy: Las Vegas and the virtual grand tour, Giovanni Franci and Frederico Zignani write about the implementation of this simulated reality in some of Las Vegas’s Italian themed hotels. They write, “The Italian label is undoubtedly popular in America, from fashion to cooking; in the collective imagination of tourists, the “Italy” theme is synonymous with elegance, refined taste, decorum, in a word, beauty, but also with leisure, breakaway behavior (gambling), sexuality (decadence). It is also synonymous with countries that are exotic and familiar at the same time, countries seen as places for the elite, testimony of the cultural leap for those who know them, or even for those who have barely heard of them. New visitors to Las Vegas do not just go to gamble in the casinos. They also go to see the phantasmagoria of the most recent constructions: for example, some go to the Venetian because they have already seen real Venice, or because they are willing to settle for the surrogate” (Franci and Zignani, pg. 20). This take on Las Vegas and its created alternate reality is an important one, as it shows what people are getting out of those experiences. Las Vegas does not just seek to create this reality, it seeks to create an interactive experience with simulated reality. People who might not be able to go to Venice can go to the Venetian, where they can fully immerse themselves in the Italian lifestyle. Whether that means gambling, taking part in a delicious meal at Delmonico, the Italian themed steakhouse, or simply lounging around in an elegant suite is a decision that falls completely on the person doing the traveling. Las Vegas and its individual properties set up the expectation of this kind of experience, and they follow through by executing something that is much more than that.
The experience within the casinos is designed for one specific purpose. That is, not surprisingly, to convince people to hit the tables. Nothing happens in the casino that is not planned out meticulously, though, and this is all a part of the city’s alternate reality. They simulate reality in a number of ways, most of which are broken down in an article by Andrey Kovalenko. He writes of one of these techniques, “There’s a constant barrage of noises. Slot machines spin, games ding and dong, coins hit metal, there’s the pitter-patter of the people running the games, etc. Many of these sounds, like the ringing of the slots, is there to give you a false sense of hope (‘If all of those bells are ringing, somebody must be winning!’)” (Kovalenko, 2006). The casinos are also in the business of lubing people up for the purposes of getting them to gamble bigger. This is done using free drinks. One of the most chronically underrated parts of the simulated reality created by Las Vegas is the existence of so many free things. While one might have to pay ten dollars for a drink at a local bar, they come completely free for those people playing table games in the casino, In fact, many people get free drinks by just being around the table games and not actually playing them. It is always difficult for visitors to adjust to having to pay for their own drinks when they head back to whatever town they came from, and that is a huge part of what Las Vegas is all about. According to an article by Matt Villano, this mixture of drinking and gambling is something that Las Vegas has calculated, much like they calculate the house edge on various bets at the craps table. He writes, “Many of those who frequent traditional table games say that drinking alcohol clouds judgment to the point of leading to bad decisions that can extend and amplify the house’s edge” (Villano, 2010). The simulated reality extends to dollars spent, as well. Many individuals who scrutinize purchases at home will throw around one-hundred dollar hands on the blackjack table as if it is nothing to them. All of this is because of the expectation set by the city and the atmosphere fostered by the properties. This makes it almost impossible for visitors to separate themselves from reality and the simulated reality created by the city as an entity.
In total, Las Vegas is a place where everything is calculated and carried out with an abnormal attention to detail. From the advertising campaigns where perception starts to the individual properties where people are made to feel above their means, everything in Las Vegas screams “other worldly”. The city is one where a person can visit four different continents in one day without ever leaving the Vegas Strip. It all combines to create a sort of adult Disney World that is respected the world over as a top tourist destination.
Franci, Giovanna. Dreaming of Italy: Las Vegas and the Virtual Grand Tour.2005. University of Nevada Press.
Howard, Theresa. 3 August 2003. Vegas Goes for Edgier Ads. USA Today.
Kovalenko, Andrey. 4 October 2006. The Casino Experience. 37 Signals. <
Las Vegas Tourism Commission. Advertisement. ESPN The Magazine. May 2009. Pg. 82.
McCarthy, Michael. 11 April 2005. Vegas Goes Back to Naughty Roots. USA Today.
Villano, Matt. 25 March 2010. Mixing Drinking and Gambling Rarely a Good Idea. SFGate. < http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-03-25/entertainment/18969951_1_pocket-kings-poker-table-drunk >