High Stakes 

I know. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But I'm sorry, that's one mantra I can't keep.

Honestly, I didn't know what to expect when I traveled to Las Vegas earlier this month. I thought I'd soak up some sun, drop a few dollars in the slots, and basically relax.

But two things occurred to me. The first is that other cities could learn a lot from Vegas, the country's premier convention city. While I was there, I heard that the city had three conventions in town, and every single one of their 150,000-plus hotel rooms was booked.

To be fair, other cities don't have the luxury of living off gamblers and casinos, but there are other things the city has done that could be in the cards.

If Vegas did anything successfully, it was taking a patch of desert and creating a place that people want to experience, even if that means experiencing 3,000-degree heat, dust from ongoing construction sites in their eyes and mouths, and strange men flicking pictures of nude women at them.

Last week, during a nationwide heat wave, the mercury in Vegas hit 116, just a degree below its record. But people were still on the Strip in droves.

What is it? Despite the nudie-picture people, tourists feel safe. Maybe not in New York, New York, where a recent shooting gave the casino's theme a bit more realism, but I digress.

And even though most things in Vegas costs an arm and a leg, the Strip is a free show.

We found ourselves walking down it one night and, although we missed seeing the ship sink at Treasure Island, we chanced upon a volcano erupting at the Mirage, fountains dancing at the Bellagio, and nightly fireworks exploding above Caesars Palace that put Memphis' July 4th celebrations to shame.

Yes, erupting volcanoes, dancing fountains, and exploding fireworks take money, and the gaming industry — with its $85 billion in annual revenue — has it in spades. But think about what they've gotten in return.

I will say, I thought the volcano was a bit ridiculous. But when a fountain set to music can make people crowd together in record-breaking heat, maybe it's something to consider when looking at local public spaces.

A lot of people have cited Vegas' successful marketing campaign, but having something so marketable raises the odds. They've mined their image very successfully, not just the Rat Pack image from the past but the idea that everyone can find a little bit of excitement in Vegas.

And that happens — literally — even at street level.

The second thing that occurred to me has a lot more riding on it locally. Tunica might be dismissed in Ocean's Thirteen as the place old games go to die, but Memphis can't overlook Tunica.

Las Vegas is going through a major building boom, one said to be fed by smaller gambling venues across the United States whetting Americans' appetites. I don't see the trend stopping any time soon.

According to Hoover's online industry profiles, 50 to 60 percent of a hotel casino's revenue comes from gaming. The other roughly 50 percent comes from food and beverages, guest rooms, shows, and other entertainment.

I don't know how much of Vegas' profits ride on high rollers, but I saw a lot of people in cargo shorts, T-shirts, and fanny packs ... people who would not be out of place in Tunica.

We don't need to worry just about DeSoto County becoming the place to live, we need to think about DeSoto County becoming the area's leading tourist destination. What would it take? A Cirque du Soleil? A water park? More golf courses?

Ideally, Graceland and Stax could benefit from Tunica the same way the Grand Canyon benefits from Vegas — as a place for visiting gamblers to go on day trips.

How can you compete with a place that comps buffets and is designed to attract people ... and keep them there?

If I were a betting woman, I'd say we need to find a way to get in on the action.


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