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Las Vegas Casinos Hit Visitors With More Fees As Parking Perk Perishes

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The recent announcements by Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts that they would phase out free parking threw more dirt on the grave of a longtime Las Vegas perk.

The casino companies last week joined MGM Resorts International in charging to park at their Strip properties. Paying for parking joins the growing list of fees and taxes being shouldered by Las Vegas visitors, including resort fees and higher entertainment and room taxes.

Those wishing to drown their sorrows over this nickel and diming have something else to lament: Casinos are tightening rules for pouring free drinks.

Columnists and Internet commentators are warning that Sin City could kill the golden goose, while casino operators say they are simply aligning prices with the cost of doing business.

David Schwartz, the director of the Center for Gaming Research at UNLV, said there is really no way you can measure the number of people who are NOT visiting Las Vegas because of the fees. 

"This is a lot of tangible versus intangible," he said, "The tangible benefit is they can say when their next financials are out, 'hey, we added 'X' amount of money to the bottom line. The intangibles are really hard to account for there is no accounting mechanism for how many customers might have been driven a way."

He said the focus for casinos is on delivering for the shareholders. 

Writer for the New York Post Michael Kaplan just wrote an article about the trend of paid parking in the city known for taking money from gamblers, but giving them free booze, places to park, show tickets and room.

While hotels in other cities almost always charge for parking, Kaplan pointed out that - as usual - Las Vegas hotels are not like other hotels.

"To me, one of the great, cool things about Vegas is the illusion that you're getting stuff for free," he said. "Because you're really not getting stuff for free, obviously."

Kaplan said when he had to pay for parking in Atlantic City it was annoying because he knew if he was in Las Vegas he wouldn't be doing that.

"It seemed kind of sad to me," he said, "To me, one of the great things about Vegas was that you could park your car for free, you drive from casino to casino, it seemed like a very Vegas-y thing."

Although, Kaplan calls the fees "irksome" they won't stop him from coming to Las Vegas.

That is really the big question: Will tourists stop coming here because of the additional fees and fewer perks?

Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts International, told KNPR's State of Nevada last month that the parking situation has not hurt foot traffic in MGM properties.

However, Scott Roeben of the blog vitalvegas.comsaid he has heard from retailers in casinos that their revenue is down, and they're blaming the paid parking. 

"Jim Murren is in these meetings and he has people watching the floors so he knows the gaming revenue, but the folks I talk to the shows and the retail have been hit hard," he said, "To say there's been no backlash is crazy." 

Roeben also said valets' tips are hurt by the paid parking, but since most of what he has heard is just word of mouth it is tough to know how much money people are losing. 

Anthony Curtis with Las Vegas Advisor said paid parking and easy free booze are two ways to entice people to play at casinos.

"People they want entitlement," Curtis said, "They want a reason to do things that they know in their hearts and minds that they oughtn't do, that being gambling." 

But since gambling is no longer the top money maker for casinos, monetizing a huge section of the property, which is exactly what is going on with paid parking, makes sense, according to Schwartz.

"In the last 20 years, we've really seen a shift to revenue centers being in every department," he said, "I think this is what's behind this move to paid parking to say, 'look, we've got a couple of acres of concrete that isn't monetized... and we're going to monetize it.'"

Schwartz said that while that makes sense in the short term, in the long term it is hard to tell what the impact will be. 

So are the days of deals in Las Vegas gone entirely? Curtis said thrifty visitors and locals can still find deals and big payouts, but they are just fewer and farther between on the Strip.

Dave Schwartz, director, Center for Gaming Research at UNLV; Michael Kaplan, writer, New York Post; Scott Roeben, VitalVegas.com; Anthony Curtis, Las Vegas Advisor

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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.