What You Can Learn About Investing From a Las Vegas Casino

The last time I was in Las Vegas for more than a business meeting was when my children, now grown and with children of their own, were in high school. We spent a week there, marveling at the mega-hotels, getting lost in the cavernous casinos, riding the rollicking rides, shopping in the scenic super-malls – generally swept away by the sounds and scintillations of that surreal, synthetic city.

Las Vegas offers a special kind of fun. It won’t give you the expansive fun of trekking the desert or the aesthetic enjoyment of walking through Rome. It’s more like a B movie or a Keno girl cinched up in lace and silk stockings: a type of sensory indulgence that you can’t be proud of but you don’t feel ashamed of either.

I remember the reaction of Son Number Two, who was reading Will & Ariel Durant’s history of ancient Rome at the time. Shaking his head, he kept saying, “This is surely the end of the American Empire.”

One can’t deny that thought. In terms of size, sumptuousness, and spectacle, there is no other place in the world like Las Vegas. (I’ve not been to Dubai.) The vast, opulent malls America pioneered in the early 1990s prepare you for the size of it – and Disney World/Land can give you an idea of how friendly replica environments can be. But they are but cartoons to the masterpiece of marketing and merchandising that is Las Vegas. Las Vegas is a one-and-only and offers a sui generis experience to all who visit.

A World Unto Itself

Take the Bellagio…

The casino is larger than several football fields and jam-packed with roulette tables, poker bars, and one-eyed bandits. It has its own mall… a deluxe promenade that rivals Worth Avenue or Rodeo Drive, featuring the same deluxe stores (Gucci, Armani, etc.) you can now find in every major tourist city around the world.

Walking into the lobby you can’t help but be awed by Dale Chihuly’s Fiori di Como, a glass sculpture composed of 2,200 hand-blown glass flowers and covering 2,000 square feet of the ceiling.

In addition to dozens of casino-side eateries and buffets, the Bellagio offers at least a dozen first-class restaurants, bars, and nightclubs within its buildings, as well as several theaters.

Outside, a water show takes place every 30 minutes. It is a wonder of science – computer engineering and plumbing – that provides a spectacular, three-dimensional representation of show tunes and opera that ranges from charming to breathtaking.

And there is the Bellagio Fine Art Museum, which displays, I was surprised to discover, large (if not great) works by Picasso and other 20thcentury masters.

The first half of the Bellagio cost something like $1.6 billion in the mid-1990s. The second half, built later, cost more.

Defining Our Terms

Three billion dollars is a lot to risk on a new business. But was this a gamble?

Were the people that invested in the Bellagio back then gambling? Were they, like the people sitting at the casino’s blackjack tables and slot machines, risking their money against the odds?

Or would you call it an investment?   READ MORE

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Today’s Word: sui generis (adjective) –Sui generis (soo-ee JEH-nuh-ris) is a Latin term (literally, “of its own kind”) that is used to describe something that is unique. As I used it today: “Las Vegas is a one-and-only and offers a sui generis experience to all who visit.”

Did You Know?: Adults laugh an average of 17 times a day; children 300 times.

Worth Quoting: “Show me a wealthy gambler and I’ll show you someone who has made his money from something other than gambling.” – Terrence Murphy

What I’m Reading: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin is a “woman’s” book in many ways. It is in good part about the protagonist’s love life. It is told from her perspective, and it focuses on food and dress and petty jealousies/competition among women. It also seems to have a sentimental arch: The heroine is loved by two men and chooses the loyal lapdog. (If I didn’t know that Toibin is a man, I would have guessed that the author was a woman.)

But I liked the book for three reasons: The sentences are well written, the characters are believable, and it does present this piece of American immigrant history, which I find interesting. I grew up in a neighborhood of Irish and Italian families, including mixed Irish/Italian families. I’ve been struck since by how well we got along, how the Irish/Italian marriages produced good, smart kids… and I wondered how that all happened.

Look at This: My Kind of House

We’ve been renting a house in Hollywood Hills this week while visiting two of our sons and their four children. As always, I judge the quality of a house’s decor by how much it makes me want to snoop around. This house is owned by a movie couple — she is a Harvard educated, award-winning director and he is a successful entertainment lawyer. Judging from the art and the bookshelves, these people have led intellectually rich lives. I’ve been looking at their books and records and I’m thinking that we’d like them as friends.


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