Not the Center of the City


A view of the poker room at Aria on Dec. 14, 2009, before the resort opened.

A while back Rex took a group of people around Las Vegas to look at casinos and try to get a good sense of what works and what does not work in casino design, layout and operations.  One of the properties they visited was MGM-Mirage’s CityCenter.  Rex wrote a daily commentary on their views and experiences.  The wasn’t much, if any, criticism of any property they toured, instead Rex focused on the things the group liked and thought were good environments and ideas.  The preferred the typical Las Vegas local’s casino, located off the Strip, crowded, smokey and filled with noisy slot machines, but they also found value on the Strip with the exciting shows, latest restaurants and ultra expensive buildings.  About CityCenter Rex did not say much, he mentioned the scope and art of CityCenter, but left out the slot floor, the feel of the casino, the signage, level of business and the other things we normally say about a new casino.

This week I was in Las Vegas for the first time since CityCenter opened and had my first chance to see it up close – but not personal.  That is because I did not feel anything about the property had a personal dimension.   I had two overwhelming feelings, the first of being outside looking up at a building while standing on sidewalk and the other of being alone, the only other people seemed a long way away from me.  I saw no crowds, felt no excitement and could not see how anyone could make payments on a multi-billion dollar property from the level of play I witnessed. Later when we returned to the Belagio it seemed to be just the opposite, warm, welcoming interior spaces filled with exciting crowds of people.

A friend of mine, an anthropologist, after touring the MGM Grand in its Wizard of Oz days, wondered if a person would ever feel comfortable in the MGM Grand.  He said nothing felt like it was on a human scale; that is very much what I felt in CityCenter.  I like much of the art and architecture and the features I did not like still intrigued me, the way a painting by Picasso might; but like the painting it is not my world, nor a world in which I could ever live or even visit, except for a very brief period of time.  The property is rumored to have cost more than 9 billion dollars and yet within an hour I wanted to leave and go some place that did not make me feel uncomfortable, alone, anxious and maybe even a little afraid.  Afraid not for my own safety, but for Las Vegas, Nevada and the gaming industry.


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