No major city in America has reinvented itself as many times, especially in such a short period, as Las Vegas. Just look at the recent decades. In the ’80s, it was a discount afterthought. In the ’90s, it was family and theme heaven. The new millennium brought in ultra-luxury and sky-high prices on everything from rooms to shampoo in the sundry stores.
For the better part of the 2000s, the watchword was “expensive.” The average room rate soared to over $200 a night, significantly higher than what visitors, once lulled by lower double-digit bargains, were used to paying. It was not unusual for the high-end hotels to charge $400 or even $500 for a standard room.
And why not? The crowds kept coming. Occupancy rates in Vegas were well over 90%, nearly 30% higher than the national average. Flush with big returns on their stock investments, equity in their homes, or simply easy-flowing credit, those who could afford it flocked to the city in record numbers, generating record profits for the casinos. Vegas became hip, drawing a younger and more affluent demographic that lined up to pay for the fancy hotel rooms, the exclusive nightclubs, the celebrity-chef restaurants, and the high-limit gaming tables.
The Average Joe, on the other hand, got priced right out of town. For a lot of people—the people whose money had helped build those massive hotels and casinos—the idea of a Vegas vacation became cost-prohibitive.
But then came the global economic meltdown and Vegas was hit hard. The number of visitors coming to the city dropped dramatically, and those who came spent a lot less money in the casinos. By 2010, the average room rate plunged to the lowest level in nearly a decade and more rooms were going empty, with occupancy rates in the low 80% range—still good when compared to the national average, but scary for a city that depends on filling those rooms to keep its economy going.
Many gaming companies fell into bankruptcy, and while their casinos have remained open, their bank accounts have slammed shut. Just like many Americans who ran up too much credit-card debt or maxed out their home equity, the gaming companies are operating under obligations that run into the billions, and they are having a hard time paying the bills.
But once the economy improved, resorts began to focus on padding their bottom line even more. Along came the resort fee. Now a standard attached to all hotel room bills, the resort fee was once scoffed at by most of the major hotel groups in town, one of which notoriously announced “No resort fees ever!” That didn’t last long. Before we knew it, almost all of the hotels tacked and additional $10 to $15 per night to the daily room rate, intended to cover amenities such as usage of fitness and business centers, phone calls and wi-fi. Yet these fees quietly rise about $5 every year and as far as we can tell, the amenities have stayed the same. It’s not unheard to find nightly room rates less $100 at some of the nice hotels, but that can be misleading. Add to it the average resort fee of about $35 and suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a bargain.
An even bigger heartbreak was when casinos started charging for parking (which is not even included in the aforementioned resort fees!). It started with MGM Resorts in 2017, and one by one, each of the big hotel groups fell in line. The rationale was that other major cities charged for parking, so tourists would accept it. And they have, but not without a lot of grumbling. What used to be the most expensive real estate in the world where you could park for free felt a little bit like getting nickel-and-dimed.
As Las Vegas was shifting its focus, so were its visitors. Gambling took quite a dive after the economy tanked, as people obviously wanted to be more careful with their money. They still wanted to spend their money on a good time, just something more tangible. The dining scene exploded, and entertainment headliners became bigger and bigger. Las Vegas transformed into a major nightlife destination in a matter of years and at its height, had seven of the ten top grossing nightclubs in the United States, thanks to the introduction of EDM to the city. Suddenly anybody with a few stacks in their pocket could be a high roller for the night and party with some of the most famous DJs in the world.
The town may never return to its days of extravagant spending, but that's ok. At least we get what we paid for.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.