When sports fans across America were watching ESPN’s The Last Dance, the saga of the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan, it occurred to me that Las Vegas has a lot in common with one of the main characters on the show: Dennis Rodman.
Your first thought is likely that the similarities are due to brilliant colors and eccentric off-line behavior. Or maybe it’s the ink and the piercings. Or maybe the flashy women Dennis was with, like Madonna and Carmen Electra.
Check out more lifestyle here
No, I think of the Rodman-Vegas analogy because they’re both amazing rebounders. And it is my hope and prayer that for the umpteenth time in the history of our city we can recover from the current coronavirus pandemic, just as we have done over the decades.
Let’s look at some of these resiliency moments:
How about the first time an upscale resort casino has been built on the Las Vegas Strip? That was Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo, which opened on December 26, 1946 and closed within two weeks because the first players to hit the property knew how to take advantage of inexperienced traders and less savvy pit bosses. The general mismanagement of the place resulted in the Flamingo remaining closed for two months before it reopened, most likely killing Bugsy.
Siegel contracted “lead poisoning” reading a newspaper about six months later in the Beverly Hills mansion in Virginia Hill. But the Flamingo and Las Vegas bounced back from that dismal beginning and inspired the Strip’s current wonders when nearly a dozen other major properties opened in the decade of the 1950s. These included the Desert Inn, Sahara, Sands, Riviera, Tropicana, and Stardust.
Another tragic setback occurred in the city in late 1980 – early 1981 when the major MGM fire, the most devastating in American history, claimed 87 lives. A few months later, there was a fire at the Hilton in Las Vegas that killed eight people and that distracted our city from many lists of attractions.
Stock market crashes, a savings and credit crisis and other less dramatic business setbacks prevented any major construction on the Strip until the paradigm-shifting opening of The Mirage in late 1989.
The Mirage was the first major Las Vegas hotel since the original MGM Grand in 1973. In large part because it was an overwhelming success, the resort experienced an unprecedented boom and construction boom over the next decade. The new MGM Grand, Excalibur, Luxor, New York-New York, Treasure Island, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay and the Venetian opened in the 1990s.
The Las Vegas economy remained stable and flourished until the dot.com bubble burst at the turn of the century, followed by the September 11 tragedy in 2001. At the time, frequent travelers were afraid to get on a plane. Thousands of hotel employees have been laid off, budgets cut and dark curtains hung over the valley.
But within two to three years Las Vegas was back on its feet and charging forward. Wynn, Palazzo, and Encore all opened between 2005 and 2008, at the far end of which the country was in a huge recession.
Even so, and with many dramatic moments where the city center was on the brink of failure, MGM’s grandiose new multi-property development opened in 2009. It has held out our city for the past decade and given it a new face.
For those doomsday hunters who fear this recent economic downturn will mark the end of Las Vegas’ unprecedented run as the entertainment capital of the world, let me borrow football analyst Lee Corso’s favorite line: “Not so fast, my friend!”
Yes, we fought during the pandemic and people lost loved ones and tens of thousands temporarily lost their jobs. It was terrible in every way. But don’t think for a second that the city is not rebounding stronger than ever.
When Dennis Rodman kicked a photographer under the basket while running to Las Vegas for a quickie marriage and putting on a wedding dress to promote his latest book, the popular wisdom was that he washed up and could never make a comeback. Rodman ended up in the Hall of Fame. Las Vegas will too.