Further Signs of the Times: Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot in Las Vegas and Reno

Yesterday I had lunch with an old friend. Both the adjective and the noun are accurate; he is like I am, old and he is a friend.  We talked as everyone does these days of the economy; and because we are old we talked about the economy in other times when we had worked together in the gaming industry. In those days we were both consultants of sort to the same company – although he was a partner in the business and I was simply on a monthly retainer – our job was to look for opportunities for growth and help steer the company into new and profitable niches for the company’s core competency – casino gambling.  We had an office where we met and talked, talked, talked and talked – another friend once commented that he could think of no worse torment than to be locked in a room with the two of us and have to listen to us talk.  We could not have been too successful in our efforts as the company has long since ceased to exist. But we did develop a habit of in depth discussion of an issue that outlasted the company and our interests of that time; we used a wide range of disciplines history, philosophy, anthropology and literature to frame our discussions and provide us with metaphors. It was highly entertaining, at least for the two of us.

Yesterday we focused that same long, wordy wandering on the economy, aging and just plain life as an old man – things changing; everything changes, you cannot control the changes.  The only choice  you  have is to adapt like one of Darwin’s little creatures cast up on the beach.  Apropos of the changes in our lives and well as the change in the economy, h was telling me of a real estate investment opportunity.  There is it seems, a parcel of land somewhere locally that might be purchased for $400,000. In 2006 when it was originally subdivided and all of services were installed on the 25 individual lots, lot prices were about a million dollars each, houses were expected to cost several million dollars each.  Times changed, the housing market tanked and the development went bankrupt; the land is held by a bank whose only objective is to get it off the books; we all have heard how banks hate non-performing assets and are willing to sell them at very attractive prices.   The prospective buyers intended to hold the land for at least 10 or even 15 years before selling it.  No development plans, no immediate need to get a return on the investment, simply a long-term inflation hedge; when cashed out, regardless of the economy, inflation or interest over the ensuing time – the money would be protected.  A kind of non-risk, old man’s, changing times and very conservative approach to investing; a waiting strategy – waiting for some vague future time, waiting for some vague future event(s), waiting as it were for Godot.

There are at least three major properties in Las Vegas sitting in waiting for some vague time, some vague event in the future just like the development my friend talked about.  The difference is simply one of degrees, the investors in Vegas have millions of dollars invested in the land they are holding.  And their intent is not simply to resell their projects – two of which already have some portion of the multi-billion dollar once planned for the location in a state of partial completion.  Carl Ichan owns one, Boyd Gaming owns one and R. Donahue Peebles owns one.  Each, when asked, says they are waiting for better times.  Each has a different estimate when that might be and each has a different description for what “better” might look like. Yet like my friend in Reno, all are patient and willing to sit by the side of the road and talk about life while they wait for Monsieur Godot.

The problem we all have with waiting for better times or Godot is that none of us know what those better times will look like any more than Beckett’s characters knew what Godot looked like.


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August 2010
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