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Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: With SlotZilla going up, Downtown walks the line between garish and smart

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The 108-foot-tall Slotzilla will soon be shooting brave souls over the Fremont Street Experience at 35 miles per hour.
Photo: Steve Marcus

My idea of an afterlife doesn’t include transport to that “great slot machine in the sky,” but I wouldn’t mind being shot out of one.

Very soon I’ll have my wish, thanks to SlotZilla. SlotZilla is the zipline on Fremont Street equipped with the firepower to shoot Superman-style prone riders the full length of the Fremont Street Experience, about one-third of a mile.

If you haven’t seen it yet, look up “Fremont Street” on Google Earth; it shows up via satellite at the far east end of the Experience, a 108-foot-tall structure designed to look like a slot machine in the middle of the walkway next to Neonopolis. Two giant showgirls hang on each side. When the scaffolding disappears, a gigantic slot arm will crank and riders will shoot out of the coin tray—part of a theme dreamed up by former Disney imagineers.

Riders will take construction elevators to the departure platform, and those going the distance ($30) will be gradually ramped up to 35 mph, so they can make it the whole way. Gravity will take care of those opting for the shorter trip ($20).

SlotZilla Construction Tour

There’s some tribal jousting, of course, over whether SlotZilla is appropriate for Fremont Street. A block east at Fremont and Las Vegas Boulevard, finishing touches are being put on Inspire theater. The Downtown Project development will function largely as a stage for visiting speakers, part of DTP’s stated goal that “Downtown Vegas will make you smarter.”

By comparison, SlotZilla may seem too garish. Of course, Vegas is known for its garishness. Botoxed or enhanced everything is the norm. One time, I even wore spandex bike shorts to a cycling class.

Others argue that the Thrilla of SlotZilla will block off redeveloping Fremont East from the tourist-laden Fremont Street Experience. But as Jeff Victor, FSE president and general manager, told me, atop SlotZilla the view of the Fremont East Entertainment District is “stunning.” When people finish ziplining, they’ll probably want to explore what they saw from on high.

There’s also this: Despite the fact that construction barricades currently block off a chunk of the walkway underneath the $11.5 million ’Zilla, the finished structure has an opening underneath and won’t take up any more of a footprint than the previous temporary zipline structure. That attraction saw about 1 million riders in almost three years, Victor said.

Current Downtown lore is that part of the Fremont Street Experience canopy is being cut out to make room for riders, but Victor said technology and physics helped engineers maneuver around that.

The zipline was developed with the help of a former NASA engineer and amusement ride experts from Utah. SlotZilla’s ¾-inch cable is an interlocking type from a Swiss company made so that individual strands fit within each other, reducing drag. Vulcanized coatings reduce ball-bearing friction in the wheels. And instead of being seated, long-distance zipliners will lie in a “taco harness” facing forward, Victor said. A proprietary propulsion system was also developed to get riders from zero to 35 mph over about 200 feet, providing enough momentum to travel all 1,750 feet.

Victor sounded like a giddy fourth-grader describing the ride experience: “There’s a big door in front of you so you can’t see where you’re going; you lie on a massage table in the taco harness, then the massage table drops down and you’re dangling.” The operator will push a button, and when the slot machine wheels come up with a win, SlotZilla will light up.

“Then the door in front of you opens,” Victor continued. “At this point, you see where you’re going, and before you can say, ‘Oh mama,’ you’re off at 35 mph.”

Gliding riders will barely clear the canopy—Victor said the clearance is about 1 to 2 feet—enhancing the thrill. And with feet trailing behind, he said the sensation will be like flying “in a dream, like Superman.”

Can Downtown be both smart and garish? Hasn’t it always been a little bit of both?

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover Downtown; he lives and works there. He is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded Downtown journalist, stationed at an office in Emergency Arts. His work appears in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly.
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Joe Schoenmann

A native Wisconsinite, Joe earned a journalism degree to get out of college early but wanted none of the craft ...

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