As We See It

Fear of losing free parking: At what price Vegasness?

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In my head, the golden age of Las Vegas is this Sinatra music video, with comped gin and shrimp and poker chips just flying. Everyone looks sharp and smiles big, because even if money is lost, the freebies make it feel like a wash, like the house and its guests are in it together. Nowhere in that vision are people dropping cash on the self-park.

Yet that’s what the Strip might be facing. The murmurs started early last year, when MGM Resorts revealed that its new 20,000-seat arena would rely on existing properties—New York-New York and Monte Carlo, for sure, with others in the mix—to accommodate all those cars. Vague quotes from execs and vehement public conjecture have swirled since, and VegasTripping dropped a bomb last week, its sources saying fees are in store for parking garages across all MGM properties. “Think of it as the resort fee your Toyota has long been asking for,” VT’s Chuckmonster wrote.

Comments on that story are pretty unanimous about the “money-grubbing bastards” and “sh*thead MBAs.” (Of course, someone played the “What’s next, pay toilets?” card.) But business is business, and it adapts. In 2008, MGM Resorts installed resort fees that are now ubiquitous on the Strip, and if the company starts charging for garage space, it’s likely to be a heavy domino again. There is significant money to be made, and considering that free parking is a unicorn in most metropolitan cores, it wouldn’t be an unreasonable move. Except that this is Vegas. Paying for parking here would feel like paying sales tax in Oregon. Chuckmonster sees the notion as “anti-visitor,” but visitors are conditioned to shrug off paying too much for the fantasy. If free parking goes away, it’s just a little extra tacked onto their weekend. For us locals, it’s another deterrent to engaging with the Strip.

But the indignation I’m hearing doesn’t seem as rooted in the potential wallet hit as erosion of the Vegas idea. If the city’s spirit is a welcoming hug, then self-parks have been the comforting squeeze before the release, the grounding assurance of Vegas’ desire to be the best time ever with the easiest access. If the house treats you to drinks and food and a room, it’s because you’ve spent money on the casino floor. Parking is the one thing they just give to everybody. As one VegasTripping commenter put it, it’s “sacrosanct” to the Strip experience.

Like many other things I’ve taken for granted, the perk may still go the way of the hot towels at my neighborhood sushi restaurant. It was a gesture I never thought about until it was replaced by hand wipes in cheap plastic wrappers. The food, atmosphere and service haven’t changed, but somehow, it’s just not the same.

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