Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: Tony Hsieh envisions real progress for Las Vegas. How dare he?

Tony Hsieh will—gasp!—not reopen the Gold Spike as a casino.

Admitting he will not reopen the Gold Spike as a casino was a revelation: Tony Hsieh hates Las Vegas.

Hsieh purchased the Downtown casino last week from the Siegel Group and closed it on Sunday. When the Las Vegas Sun asked Hsieh who in his right mind gives up a gaming license, or more succinctly, “Who does that?” Hsieh responded: “People who are trying to help build community.”

That’s all we and our readers needed to hear. One reader, a Las Vegas native and, coincidentally, a friend, summed it up nicely in the Sun’s comment section:

“Well, there it is: The first openly anti-Las Vegas comment from Mr. Hsieh.”

Forget that Hsieh’s Downtown Project is investing $350 million into Downtown education, small business, tech business, entertainment and real estate. Or that he wants to create an ingenious (code for “hipster”) medical care clinic on Eighth Street. Or invested in groups such as Teach for America and Venture for America that lure young college grads—who else?—Downtown to help create new business and bolster inner-city schools. Or that he gave $2 million to the fancy-schmancy Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

Now I hear he’s interested in looking at innovative ways to deal with homelessness. (That is laughable: Nothing will beat former Mayor Oscar Goodman’s idea to ship the homeless to a one-stop shop of services at an abandoned prison in the middle of the desert.)

Nothing Hsieh is doing is about “community.” He can yell “community” until he’s blue in the face—we all know it’s a conspiracy meant to change the demographics of Downtown so he can one day be voted King of Las Vegas.

You want to see community builders? Look no further than our resorts and casinos. In Wynn’s name, where would we be without them?

Ever since corporations gave us mega-casinos on the Strip, and probably long before, gaming has dominated our economy. But not just that—the industry has also worked tirelessly, hand in hand with Nevada’s earnest lawmakers, to put us in the running to move, with any luck, hopefully, eventually toward the top, or close to the middle, or the top 75 percent, in education, medical care and living standards.

How has gaming done that? By fighting for low taxes. The state currently takes a 6.75 percent cut of gaming revenues. And thank goodness. Here’s how we all benefit:

In 2011, Nevada boasted 256 gaming outlets and 174,000 employees. As a result, we’re fairly certain that each and every casino job pays well enough to allow employees to take their kids out of underfunded public schools to put them in private schools while getting the very best medical care and taking lavish vacations annually.

Other states can’t make the same boast. Pennsylvania employs only 16,000 people in a paltry 10 casinos (2011 figures). They may brag about the $1.5 billion in gaming revenue taxes collected in 2011—versus Nevada’s $865 million—which led them to give property owners $200 rebates and seniors $1,000 rebates and increased funding for economic growth and local communities.

Brag all they want—we still have more jobs!

But back to Hsieh.

His Gold Spike purchase spurred another comment on another discussion thread online. It was about his purchase of the Western, perhaps one of the finest examples of the architecturally celebrated “big box” structure. The abandoned grande dame of Fremont Street evokes a Western sunset—and a melancholy tear—with its panes of rectangular stained glass in shades of brown, yellow and orange.

In yet another diss to our rich gaming history, Hsieh isn’t likely to revive the Western as a casino. He probably wants it to become a supermarket or a hardware store, or maybe it’ll be demolished and converted into a park. The point is, none of that can compete with a casino’s madcap fun and frivolity, both of which are needed to create real community.

Hell, before you know it, we’ll have so many different businesses, people won’t remember how the selfless gaming industry put us on a path—long, slow and still unattained as it is—to the very heights of education, medicine and, yes, “community.”

So let’s hoist one to the Gold Spike’s glory and to an age when casinos were our gods and interlopers like Tony Hsieh joined in the fun but kept their ideas of community to themselves.

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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