Could deep discounting affect Vegas' rep as a vaunted hot spot?

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*logoIn Las Vegas, as in much of the country, desperate times have produced reactionary measures: work furloughs, layoffs, facility closings, personal and corporate bankruptcies. Hotel and casino operators have responded to flatlining revenues by dramatically discounting room prices and offering loads of perks (dining, spa and show coupons, two-for-one deals, gambling money).

The three casinos in Primm (at the Nevada-California state line) took the cheaper-is-better mantra even further, offering Nevada residents a so-called "freecation." The three-week offer, which ended July 9, included two nights' free accommodations; $50 in free play valid at Primm Valley, Buffalo Bill's and Whiskey Pete's hotel-casinos; and two-for-one deals on rollercoaster rides, drinks, buffet and restaurant dining.

At the high end of the hospitality spectrum, L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand now offers a $39 per-person menu, while next door, Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand created Les Selections Gastronomique, with options starting at $89 per person; a year ago, a six-course tasting cost $250, the 16-course, $395. Top properties like Wynn and Bellagio cut rates to keep occupancy around the low 90s.

The frantic deal-making reminds me of the Discount Vegas era, with its ubiquitous 99-cent shrimp cocktails, lounge acts at every property and run-of-the-mill buffets. While I understand the need to get people to stay in suddenly struggling hotels, dine in once-crowded restaurants, fill empty seats at shows and shop, shop, shop, I'm unsure of the long-term impact on the city's hard-earned reputation as a hot spot.

If, as the adage goes, all politics is local, then the same can be said for all criticism. Travel websites have made it easy for everyone to rate their Vegas vacations, and more than a few posts have upbraided luxury properties like Bellagio and dressed down the quality of the city's top restaurants (Robuchon's included). Steve Wynn has even lamented Encore's sudden popularity among, um, less refined guests.

This further speaks to my point about the need for some level of exclusivity, and the notion that price should be a consideration for the most luxurious of experiences. If the best Vegas has to offer can be had for a mere $89, then what will happen to the city's carefully cultivated image, the result of years of investing untold billions into transforming this into a place that can compete with New York, London and Paris?

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