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Rothman does a nice job pointing out what has proven to be the very effective economic engine of the modern American service industry. When organized labor meets the lucrative tourist industry, wages for folks with a high school education can indeed be quite solid. For those here that doubt the role of organized, unionized labor, simply compare the economy of southern Nevada to southern Louisiana. While New Orleans has a strong gaming industry, wages are bad, and poverty profoundly rampant. On this point, Professor Rothman is correct: Las Vegas, with it's robust mix of service economy and unionizatin, could point the way to the future.
Professor Rothman does, however, tend to gloss over the nagging social ills inherent with the gaming industry. In particular, Nevada has spectacular suicide and divorce rates, sky-high spousal abuse and very, very high teenage dropout rates (comparable to inner city neighborhoods in east coast cities). He also misses the biggest problem of all: chronic gambling addiction among many casino workers and the wholesale, even arrogant, failure of the gaming industry to address the problem.
It is somewhat ironic that Rothman, who does indeed have a background in environmental history, ignores many of Las Vegas' environmental issues. The vast sprawl of Las Vegas may well NOT be sustainable in an age of skyrocketing oil prices; a large percentage of Las Vegas visitors still arrive by car from Southern California, relying on an increasingly clogged 4 lane interstate (I-15). The city itself relies on just one pipeline to bring gasoline to the valley from southern California and local fuel prices are threatening to reach dangerously historic highs this year.
Rothman is also blithely unconcerned about water. Climate Change is predicted to make the US southwest far drier than it is today. Indeed, the region is currently suffering under a years-long drought that has taken reservoirs to insidiously low levels. Both Lake Meade, just an hour's drive south of the city, and Lake Powell, between central Arizona and central Utah, are at dangerous, historically low levels. Despite extremely strict residential water usage restrictions in southern Nevada, lack of water could well derail growth in the Las Vegas metropolitan area within the next decade, particularly if the current drought persists.
Rothman's anecdotes often miss serious underlying sociological issues. Sure, you can find stories of community in virtually any city or neighborhood, but Rothman's often cutsy anecodotes miss the big picture. The state suffers an intense brain drain. Many of it's young residents leave state to attend college and if they receive a master's degree or higher, very few will ever return. The city is profoundly transient, and the exaggerated suburban sprawl of the new "instant city" variety has its drawbacks.
The average tenure of home ownership is very brief in Las Vegas: even residents who live their entire lives in the city tend to move once or twice to flee declining neighborhoods. Shiny new (but rapidly and poorly constructed) suburban tracts fall from middle to working class and even into crime-ridden lower working class neighborhoods in 25 years or less. Rings of impoverished, aging inner suburbs are causing grief for city planners as the middle class flees a growing core of decaying housing for newer digs in the outer sprawl. In eastern cities, historic buildings and brownstones in the inner core drew a new generation of college educated adults willing to restore and rediscover neighborhoods. Cookie-cutter, cinder block nightmare neighborhoods, thrown together by careless contractors in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are less easily renovated or rediscovered.
Finally, Rothman misses the macro-economic taxation issues. Because Nevada relies almost solely on the gaming and sales taxes to run the state, the state is extremely vulnerable should a real recession hit.
Rothman, ultimately, misses as much as he hits. The landbreaking sociological study of the modern gaming town, sadly, remains to be written.
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Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
READER NOTE: See the New York Times article ([...]) of 5/30/04 for independent corroboration of my review, written approximately 6 months earlier.
This book is a good read, successfully revising many of the standard clich?s about Las Vegas, and therefore is a welcome change from so much superficial writing. However, like much of the blatant boosterim that passes for news about Las Vegas, the book essentially ignores the myriad deep-seated social problems out-of-state readers will not be aware of. Nevada in general and Las Vegas in particular are at or near the bottom in many indicators of public life, environmental, and educational health and wellness. The state has even been referred to as the "Alabama of the West" because of its weak state government, relatively poor public health, and poor per capita finance for secondary and higher education. As a practical matter, due to local governments that fail to place even slight restrictions on growth, the Las Vegas Valley is a currently a seething caldron of runaway development, overcrowded schools, roadways approaching gridlock, and increasing water shortages. A pall of dust and smog frequently obscure the surrounding mountains, a direct result of explosive and largely unplanned growth. Rothman's book is entertaining and illuminating about the Las Vegas urban culture. However, it fails to rigorously examine severe underlying problems that heavily influence the quality of present and future life in Las Vegas, in favor of unfounded admiration cloaked in academic-style historical analysis.
A few examples:
? Las Vegas has the highest rate of high school dropouts in the U.S. entering its labor force.
? Las Vegas has one of the lowest percentages of persons in the U.S. with bachelors degrees, given the size of its population, in its labor force. As a University of Nevada - Las Vegas sociologist recently said, you don't think of highly educated people when you think of Las Vegas.
? Las Vegas and Nevada have one of the highest rate of childhood dental problems.
? Las Vegas and Nevada have one of the highest suicide rates and AIDS infection rates in the U.S.
? Las Vegas and southern Nevada have no public mental health hospitals.
? Southern Nevada's only Level I trauma recently closed, but later opened after state intervention, due to physicians leaving the state because of malpractice premiums.
? Three Clark County, Nevada commissioners are facing federal charges for accepting bribes to aid the owner of a local strip club. One other has accepted plea bargains on a similar charge.
? After years of rhetoric about the need to diversity its economy, Las Vegas is more than ever wedded to and dependant on the gaming industry. Other western cities (Albuquerque, Boulder, Salt Lake City, Phoenix) are far ahead in luring technology-based businesses.
This old problem is rooted in the state's lack of a recognized research university coupled with a somewhat accurate image among the sophisticated technology industry as an unimaginative playground of retirees, second-rate schools, gambling, booze, and the flamboyant sex-as-spectacle tourism industry. Can these built-in barriers to becoming a city recognized for something other than slot machines at car washes ever be overcome? This book is completely silent on that topic. So, read this book, but bear in mind Las Vegas and Nevada continue to be places with long standing social, political, economic, educational, and environmental shortcomings usually ignored or not even acknowleged by the elected leadership.