When the last recession battered the nation, the bottom fell out in Las Vegas. One out of every six jobs vanished. Home prices dropped as much as 50 percent. Construction projects stopped in place, and tourist spending on the Las Vegas Strip, the economic driver of this city, went into an alarming slide.
These days, jobs are back, the housing market is bustling and people are moving back. The number of visitors hit a record last year. For anyone seeking evidence that the nation has survived this recession, look no farther than the sidewalks of Las Vegas Boulevard, where people were shoulder to shoulder the other day even as temperatures surged past 110 degrees.
But the recovery in Las Vegas — much like the one lifting the nation — is shaping up as fragile and tentative, stirring concern among economists and many of the region's biggest boosters. And it is signaling what appears to be a fundamental reordering of the economy in this closely watched part of the country.
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More than 39.7 million visitors came here in 2012, a record. But those visitors spent notably less money per trip than during the last upturn — $1,021 per visit last year, compared with $1,318 spent by each of the 39.2 million visitors in 2007, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority — a sobering asterisk that has led many analysts to conclude that this high-rolling city is entering a less prosperous era.
The total revenue from gambling and entertainment other than gambling was $15.3 billion in 2012, $500 million less than was spent in 2007.
"The Strip is absolutely packed, downtown is packed," said David G. Schwartz, the director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "People are here. But they aren't spending as much as they used to."
A shift in the structure of the economy that began about a decade ago appears to have accelerated. Gambling is no longer king. A new influx of tourists, younger and less devoted to gambling, are likelier to open their wallets for extravagantly priced nightclubs and day clubs, which have joined concerts and musical shows, high-end restaurants, luxury shopping and some of the more exotic types of entertainment this city is renowned for offering.