Passenger-seat politics: Las Vegas suffers as casino kings expand

  Thanks to a long tradition of pliable politicians, locals were long
ago relegated to the passenger seat in Las Vegas, where developers and
 the titans of the casino industry do most of the driving.

  That has, of course, had many benefits, including the creation of
one of the nation’s largest service economies. So, if your idea of a
thriving factory town is one in which the workers rely heavily on the
largesse of visitors for their survival, then you’ve found heaven on

  Trouble with standing on the sidelines as the gambling moguls do
their thing is, you can wind up harming the local economy in the
process. For proof that passenger-seat politics isn’t politics isn’t
the way to go, look no further than Las Vegas Boulevard in 2009.

  The MGM Mirage CityCenter project threatens to bankrupt the company.
The thought that Kirk Kerkorian is manning the drawing board on this
$8.8 billion nightmare is laughable. With Dubai World breathing down
MGM’s neck, the largest privately funded construction project on the
planet is on its way into bankruptcy court and remains unfinished.

  Las Vegas Sands, meanwhile, stopped construction on its high-rise
condominium tower project. It, too, is headed for restructuring either
through the courts or by the shrinking wallet of big boss Sheldon
Adelson. The unfinished work in Las Vegas aside, Las Vegas Sands has
also downsized its Pennsylvania casino project and has stalled its
expansion plans on the Cotai Strip in Macau.

  Echelon, the Boyd dream-turned-to-rust, stands unfinished where the
Stardust once employed thousands. Despite the company’s debts, Boyd
has busied itself making a bid to purchase most of Station Casinos,
another troubled casino company that expanded like there was no
tomorrow and is now in big trouble.

  And on it goes. The point of this exercise is that it’s long past
time for Southern Nevada to diversify its economy, but we’ve all but
sold out that possibility by focusing exclusively on our identity as a
casino resort hot spot that’s addicted to boomtown construction and
endless expansion. Not only does the quality of life suffer and the
environment undergo irreparable harm, but the result of this
break-neck mindset is playing out before our eyes.

  The casino culture will always be a large part of our society. But
there was a time not so long ago that the Nevada Test Site was a major
employer in Southern Nevada. Over the years there has been much talk
about the potential to diversify our economy and add real
manufacturing jobs. That talk must turn to action.

  If Las Vegas has a future beyond its gambling roots, perhaps it will
be found as a hub for the green energy movement. Given Senate Majority
Leader Harry Reid’s influence in Washington and interest in the
technology, you’d think we would at least have an outside chance.

  A fellow can dream, can’t he?