WSOP 2011: Economic cloud over the Vegas skyline

wsop2011-thumb-blog.png"Vegas is not doing so good." This was my driver grumbling as he negotiated the winding road out of McCarran Airport and headed out towards the freeway. I ask the same question each time I step out of arrivals, and while grizzled locals rarely talk things up, it soon became clear things are not exactly booming in a city that sits in the middle of a desert and relies on the tourist dollar like no other.

As we sped down Interstate 15, with The Strip and its gargantuan resorts to the right, it struck me how little had changed. And that's the point: every previous year I have made the trip to Nevada, new builds had sprung up from nowhere.


Feeling the pinch: Las Vegas (Photo: Las Vegas News Bureau)

Now, plots of land that had been acquired when I was last here remained untouched. One, near The Palms, retained the same ugly pre-fab building awaiting potential investors to step inside and sign up to some new luxury development. Judging by the lack of any sign of life, few-- if any--had.

Standing outside The Rio during a break in play earlier today, you could look across the parking lot at the shell of a building that has stood in skeletal isolation with two cranes atop, bowed as if in sad resignation. Six stories of concrete pillars and steel reinforcements are all it can muster. This building plot has remained untouched not just since last year, but from the year before as well.


Work has stopped here for years

All this is not, of course, just a Vegas problem, nor even a US one. The economy took a lurch south across the world. It's just that this city felt the crunch hard; it's where folk come to dust off their spare cash and have fun. This year, fewer people than ever can afford to do so.

All of which helps explain how it is that while the World Series of Poker preliminary events showed marked growth in field sizes, the more expensive $10,000 Main Event was always likely to only match last year at best. Throw in online poker's well-documented issues of recent months, and the 20% drop in today's Day 1A registrations is not actually too shabby at all.

And while it is the job of the staff in casinos throughout this city to smile and make you feel like the place is awash with cash and extravagance, there are signs that things are picking up. The tables are busy, slot machines have rows of white-haired old ladies hunched over them, and the poker rooms are seemingly buzzing.

There are, then, reasons to be cheerful despite the initial raised-eyebrows at the size of the field today - 897 runners against last year's 1,125. It's not a WSOP thing, it's not even a poker thing; it's all about economics.

If I visit again next year, I expect my taxi driver from the airport will be as grumpy as ever. But by then, things should be looking up, construction workers should be back at work, and Day 1A of the WSOP should be back above 1,000 players.

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Greg Raymer has joined Doyle Brunson and Jerry Yang on the rail. Fossilman's flopped set was outrun by a flush.

"I (Heart) Azerbaijan"

The Cherry flavoured Twizzler Nibs.