Friday, November 30, 2018

The Vegas tax

One of my biggest gripes in life is being ripped off – either being over charged or being charged for shoddy service really gets me going. But I understand how business works and differences between urban and rural economies mean that cities generally have higher prices because land is scarce which forces up rents which force up wages which leads to higher prices etc etc.

But it seems everything on the strip in Vegas is designed to suck every single dollar out of every single pocket that walks by. When I travel I try to do so pretty light – I very rarely check a bag even when flying transatlantic a couple of times a month. This has its advantages such as rarely having to queue for check in if I can get a mobile boarding card on my phone, not having to worry about bags going missing, not having to wait on arrival for a bag and also being able to take tighter connections without fear of my bag not making it. But it also has its disadvantages in that I’m limited on space and I also can’t take liquids over a certain volume through security so I need to buy certain items like shower gel, sun cream and deodorant as I travel. This is fine if I’m going straight from the UK to 1 place but I often travel London – New York – LA – Vegas – LA – London or more on 1 particular trip so I can’t just get what I need in London as that would only last until my next flight. If I’m in a city for more than a couple of days I’ll try to use hotels that well stock their bathrooms and buy anything else but I try to keep my wastage to a minimum. But Vegas is different – hotels are pretty stingy in stocking their bathrooms and I’m generally there for around a week so I need some supplies. As I usually stay at the MGM Signature I can pick up what I need at the Walgreens underneath Planet Hollywood but I’m still amazed at the prices - $10 for shower gel, $8 for deodorant and around $20 for sun cream are 100% mark ups compared to anywhere else (caveat that I presume locals don’t shop there and that normal stores nowhere near the strip are far better priced but it’s not really worth me spending $20 on a cab to head to a store).

The drinks prices – again I understand the mark up (I’ve lived in and around London for the best part of 20 years and the prices in the tourist areas are exorbitant but anywhere in London is far more expensive than the rest of the country) but the gouging just winds me up. It’s not that it’s $12 for a bottle of beer – It’s $12.32 (or other weird pennies) for something that even in NY would cost just $6. But $12.32 means $14 really – the change is pointless so that’s left on the side plus $1 tip as it just looks mean to only leave the coins.

Cover charges – I was in Vegas for Superbowl weekend a few years ago and I’d played poker at Planet Hollywood on the day of the game. After the tournament ended I headed over to Yolo’s to get something to eat and to catch some of the game. They were charging a $125 per person minimum cover. I eat there pretty regularly and my average check is about $40 for a couple of beers and a main dish. They were empty except for maybe 15 people for most of the game but still enforcing the cover charge – I sat there for the whole game drinking beer and eating constantly and still only just hit the minimum charge.

Guarantees in poker tournaments – quite a lot of rooms offer guaranteed prize pools which I like as it means it’s worth playing a tournament even when turning up and realising there are only 7 entries and the prize pool would usually be small. But I’ve been to numerous strip casinos that cancel their guaranteed pools when they fear they won’t get enough entrants but they’ll magically reappear their “guaranteed” event the next day when they get 30 entries. Either offer a guarantee or don’t – I don’t care either way but cancelling it just because you won’t meet it really winds me up. Offering a guarantee is a risk on the casino’s part– just the same that it’s a risk offering any other gambling game but like all forms of gambling it’s weighted in the casino’s favour. Over a long enough period of time the casino will always win – just because you don’t hit a guaranteed prize pool on 1 particular day does not mean you should withdraw it. (I realise this is not every casino does this btw)

Which brings me to my last point – the airport, which a large percentage of visitors will use. If you haven’t been ripped off by one of the unscrupulous cab drivers to or from the airport you’re doing well. Anywhere else around the world I’d usually head to the lounge but AA don’t have one at LAS because they had to agree not to in order to get more take off and landing slots. Why didn’t the airport want AA to have a lounge? So travellers can spend any money they might have left at the slots in the airport (I’m aware there’s an Amex Centurion lounge but that’s not a frequent flyer lounge). 

My only pleasant surprise was finding out that you can get on the plane without having a Vegas heavy hold you upside down by your ankles and shake you to ensure you’re not trying to leave town with any money left in your pockets.

Other people will gripe about resort fees, paid parking, increasing cash game rakes and buffet prices and these are all just as relevant. They are all just further examples of where Vegas is going too far – I really get the short term economics but by increasing prices you inevitably decrease demand – the golden goose will only lay so many eggs but won’t lay forever.

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