Just two years ago, when the stock market was booming and cash was flowing freely, Las Vegas was the destination of choice for many high rollers, conventions and even families on vacation.
But the recession has hit "Sin City" hard, and today it's a very different picture. Las Vegas business leaders and economic experts agree, however, that the downturn could help cultivate the next big opportunity for the city.
"I don't in any way believe that the Las Vegas Strip is going to go away and that Las Vegas will dry up in the Mojave Desert," said Keith Schwer, the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "If you look over the longer cycles, these recessions are windows of opportunity to clean up our act and to manage our affairs better, and customers on the other end will come out with a better product."
That continually evolving product is what keeps people coming to Las Vegas, said Joe Essa, the president of Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, which has six restaurants in five Vegas casinos.
"You can get great accommodations, great spas, great restaurants, great entertainment, gambling -- and not have to leave one building," Essa said. "Because there are so many great places to visit and great things to do, we're very sensitive on competition and pricing. So there are values here that you can't get in any other city."
The recession gives restaurants an opportunity to boost their target audiences, said Terry Jicinsky, the senior vice president of operations for the local tourism bureau, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. "There may be segments of their visitor base that thought some restaurants were out of their price range. Now they're seeing deals, and they can get into them and experience them. It allows the restaurants to expand to a new base of customers."
Jicinsky went so far as to dismiss the recession altogether. "It's a blip on the radar screen in comparison to what we've gone through over the past 50 years," he said. "We have every confidence that we'll come out better than before."
Snake eyes for the casinos
Luxury-casino operators, such as, and Steve Wynn's , have had a rough ride during this economic downturn. Many gamblers and other tourists have simply stayed home.
MGM Mirage, Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts own nearly half of the roughly 40 hotels and casinos along the Las Vegas Strip. Another major player, privately held Harrah's Entertainment, owns seven Vegas casinos.