Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Down with the clown (part 2)

I should clarify something. Yesterday I said that my thoughts on the closing of the Boardwalk were more personal, but that doesn't mean I'm only sympathetic. I think it's unfortunate that so many full-time employees were displaced, and that the job fairs provided by MGM Mirage did not have much to offer them. But finding a similar job in the Las Vegas area is far from impossible. During this winter alone, 3 new or renovated casinos are opening, and all are larger operations than the Boardwalk.

As a casino on the south end of the Strip, the Boardwalk was an anomaly because it was affordable to stay and gamble there. Before the place closed, I spoke with a customer. He told me that he was a local, but wanted to spend the Boardwalk's last night of business (Sunday, January 8) as a hotel guest. He said the room cost him $35, and he made the reservation by phone earlier that weekend.

Maybe the hotel was underbooked and offering bargain basement rates that night, but it was generally true that the Boardwalk was significantly cheaper than anywhere else on that part of the Strip. People would stay there and be within walking distance of about a dozen better casinos. In a town where the taxi business is king, this was important. And the Boardwalk is just the most recent of small casino closings that are pricing out the travelers on a budget.

Still, it had to end. First, there's the name: Boardwalk. You can find a brief history of the property here, but you have to wonder what genius looked at Las Vegas in the mid-1970s and thought, "Gee, what this place needs is a taste of Atlantic City."

The roller coaster is fake, and always has been. Officially, the casino has a Coney Island theme, and to the many East Coast visitors and transplants who came here, it had a certain folksy charm. Up until the final week of business, that surf buffet was still a 24-hour operation, and one that apparently had been endorsed by a quasi-celebrity, the boxing curiosity Butterbean.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one last feature of the Boardwalk, and one synonymous with traveling amusement parks in the tri-state area for anyone who's seen the movie Big:

Yes, there was a Zoltar wish-making machine in front. (I took these photos that same Sunday night, the last time those neon lights would be on to reflect off the glass. I'm glad I did because Zoltar was gone a few days after.) I wonder how many people over the years fed that machine with change and said, "I want to win big."

Oh well, it's the end of an era. In a way I'm glad that I got a chance to appreciate this more than I otherwise would have. From a cost-benefit perspective, I can't really blame MGM Mirage for stepping in and taking away the Boardwalk's independence, and then using the prime Strip frontage for higher-end use.

$2000 for the Boardwalk, with hotel? It had to be done. That's just good business sense.

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