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Is MGM Resorts breaking a cardinal Vegas Rule with parking fees?

They’re messing with the Vegas Rules again, the ones that helped put the place on the map.

There are several Vegas Rules, but this one is pretty basic: Make people feel they’re getting something for nothing.

Scrapping the old neon beliefs and traditions happens a lot in the corporate super-casino era, where accountants and MBAs have replaced gamblers with a grift sense and a keen understanding of human nature. Some of the tinkering has enhanced nongaming customers’ experiences and has paid big dividends for the gambling kings.

Maybe it will be that way this time, too. I’m not so sure.

By now you’ve heard about last week’s announcement by the brain trust at MGM Resorts International that it is upgrading its garages and will charge customers to park at its Strip properties.

The publicly traded company is, of course, well within its right to make such a decision. But in Las Vegas, where free parking has been a way of life and a clear sign that we’re all getting something for nothing, it’s tantamount to calling Elvis a girlie girl and saying Sinatra was a so-so saloon singer.

MGM spokesman Gordon Absher, who these days must feel like one of those bomb squad cops stuck with the duty of defusing the dynamite, acknowledges the challenge of bucking the long local tradition. He counters that the company is preparing for the future needs and desires of its customers by improving parking in an era in which much of visitation is driven by big events that attract mega-crowds. He throws around visitation numbers and talks in great detail about improving customer experiences and upgrading technology. It’s all terribly persuasive stuff.

But when he finally finishes selling the genius strategy behind the change that sets MGM apart from its competition, the bottom line emerges: free parking will become a thing of the past at some of the company’s properties.

“Free parking has been the paradigm in Las Vegas, and Las Vegas is the last holdout for free parking,” the company man notes. ” … The business model in Las Vegas is continuing to change and always will.”

Yeah, sure it will. But in recent days the news-reading world hasn’t heard that the Las Vegas business model is changing, but that MGM is the big resort company on the Strip that’s decided it’s going to hit up the suckers for a few bucks before they even enter the casino.

“Has it been popular?” Absher asks. “As evidenced by the last four days, there are some people with very strong opinions about this and we are hearing from them. But we did anticipate hearing from them. We’re asking people to give us a chance to demonstrate how we feel. This is going to enhance their experience.”

And, he reiterates, among the world’s top tourism destinations, Las Vegas is a final free-parking holdout.

That may be true, but then again most modern tourism destinations weren’t built on that something-for-nothing proposition.

Of course, it’s also possible Las Vegas has become such a burnished part of the American psyche the traditions that set it apart needn’t be preserved. Perhaps the suckers will come in record numbers whether the steaks are $2 or $200, and you need to take out a second mortgage on the homestead to finance a weekend at a mega-resort.

Maybe it really doesn’t matter anymore, all bets are off, and the old Vegas Rules are a dusty part of our less respectable past.

I’m still not so sure. Although I’ll admit I’ve never heard visitors threaten to stop coming to Las Vegas if they had to pay to park, the opposite is also true.

I’ve never heard tourists complain because they could park here for free.

— John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. He can be reached at 702-383-0295 or jsmith@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

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