Las Vegas is 100 Years Old

The tens of thousands of industry executives, students of slots and disciples of craps gathered here this week for the Global Gaming Expo are toasting a business that now reaches far beyond Las Vegas, Atlantic City or even Foxwoods - and shows no signs of stopping.

The future of gambling isn't just here on the Strip. It's on the cellphone, laptop, PDA and your MTV. It's at resorts where golf, jazz and shopping are as big as the poker tables. It's at seedy dog tracks that are morphing into "racinos." It's at "casino communities," where The Donald and Ivana are competing - separately - to invite you to live in casino-condos rising out of a gambling and shopping paradise.

"The product of Vegas has infested the world," says William N. Thompson, professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and author of the encyclopedic "Gambling in America."

The 25 million visitors who jam Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun casinos every year aren't the exception. They are surfing a gaming wave that hasn't crested, even as treatment programs for problem gamblers languish. Today, just two states - Utah and Hawaii - prohibit gambling, while others eagerly court casino developments to boost their economies.

Next year, Las Vegas hotels will begin offering guests the chance to gamble via a portable device similar to a personal digital assistant, allowing visitors to lounge by the pool yet still play the slots or blackjack. In Europe and Asia, poker addicts can play online via their mobile phones, a service that remains illegal in the United States - for now. Americans are among the best customers for the offshore Internet casinos that are as close as the family computer.

In time, "you will have a gambling device in everyone's hand," says industry analyst Sebastian Sinclair. "Overall there will be more money spent. You don't have to drive to the casino. You don't have to drive to the bookmaker."

But Americans don't just want to hold gambling in their hand - they want to be living in the midst of all its glory. Developers in Las Vegas and Atlantic City are planning high-rise condo developments that mix casino resorts with shopping and entertainment.

"It's apropos to what is happening in America," says Richard Lee, a vice president at First American Title Co. of Nevada. Gambling "is touching a lot of our lives."

Standalone casinos won't be built anymore, Lee says. "Today's casino project is going to be somewhat of a mixed-use community, with a condo [or] time-share in addition to gaming. There will be people who will be living in a condo where they are minutes away from the casino."

Strangely, all this gambling hasn't produced much anxiety. Americans feel better and better about their new pastime, at least according to the industry. A recent survey by the American Gaming Association found that one in five now have warmer feelings than they did a decade ago. Better than 80 percent of people think gambling is OK for themselves or others, researcher Frank Luntz found.

"I'm asked all the time whether we've reached saturation. The marketplace will determine that," says Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association. "It cuts across everywhere."

Indeed, Sandra Day O'Connor's eulogy last week for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist noted his penchant for wagering on nearly anything - "even the amount of snow that would fall in the courtyard at the court."

Google News - 2005-09-13 16:04:34

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