Back to Las Vegas

Back in the summer of 2001 I worked as an intern at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. I remember at the time not feeling particularly happy about the experience, thinking the editors could have done more to make my experience more educational. It stung a bit at the time.

Yesterday I was looking through some archived e-mail looking for something for a friend and found this – an e-mail I sent to family and friends post-internship. After re-reading it I thought it was pretty interesting still today – especially the stuff about Las Vegas and Nevada. Keep in mind this was written in the fall of 2001. Some of the figures may not still apply (like Las Vegas’s population, which I know has grown substantially).

Me after interviewing Roy Horn and Siegfried Fischbacher at The Mirage in Las Vegas.

Hello all!

I learned a couple things this summer. First of all, when gambling in a Nevada casino you have a much better chance of winning there than winning any prize in the lottery in another state. You just have to spend more to get a smaller payback. But no matter how much you play and win, odds are the casino will keep 95-98 percent of what you spend and maybe win, varying slightly depending on what game is played. The trick: Quit while you are ahead.

I think it’s Las Vegas. I don’t really blame the paper, though editors admitted on several occasions they never had the resources to spend the time helping an intern improve their work. Their constant apologies made me wonder why they even offered an internship. But the question answered itself in the editor’s initial remarks. I was a work horse.

But I think it’s the town: It uses people. Uses them up, then spits them out. That’s the way it was designed. Some people love it. The people who live there and have lived there for a long time love living there. And I guess I see why. No state income tax. No rain. Some heat, but that only lasts for three months, then the weather is great. Seemingly few laws and regulations. And loads of adult-style fun. Sounds like a blast, and a mirage.

The trick: Leave while you are ahead.

I learned a lot about the place so many people have been to or would like to go. Being at the newspaper gave me insight into the state and town, how it works and how it got where it is now.

  • Nearly all casinos people visit along the Las Vegas Strip are not actually in Las Vegas. They’re in unincorporated portions of Clark County. Heading north, the first large resort casino on the Strip actually within the city limits is the Stratosphere. It’s also the last major resort on the strip heading north.
  • Clark County receives 35 million visitors annually, each with an average gambling budget of $665 helping the county’s $31.5 billion annual tourism industry. Forty-six percent arrive by airplane at McCarran, most of the others (26 percent) drive from southern California.
  • Clark County, with Las Vegas as its county seat, can easily fit the entire state of New Jersey within its borders. Nevada, which ironically means “snow-capped,”  has only 17 counties, though it ranks seventh in land size and 35th in population compared to other states (Ohio has 88 counties, 35th in land size, seventh in population). The federal government controls 87 percent of Nevada’s land through the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management.
  • There are 124,270 hotel rooms in Las Vegas. It would take one person more than 325 years to stay in each room if they stayed in a different room each night.
  • Everyone knows it’s easy to get married in Nevada. But it’s also easy to get divorced. Nevada has one of, if not the shortest, wait times to get a divorce. State law says six weeks after marriage residents may legally be divorced.
  • Nevada is the only state in the U.S. that legally licenses brothels – but they are not legal in Las Vegas and Reno. And street solicitation is illegal everywhere. Here’s how it goes: Counties with populations under 250,000 (ruling out Las Vegas and Reno) may have brothels, but it’s a county-by-county decision. Even if they are legal, legally a brothel cannot advertise. The closest brothel to Las Vegas is 60 miles away in Pahrump.
  • Of Nevada’s 2 million residents, more than 1.4 million live in southern Nevada with an average 6,800 more arriving monthly! Another large faction lives near Reno and Carson City. Other than that, the state is wide-open.
  • Las Vegas’ mayor, Oscar Goodman, is a former mob lawyer who also played Robert DeNiro’s mob lawyer in the movie “Casino” – essentially playing himself.
  • There’s a town in Nevada called Jackass Flats or just “Jackass” and it’s ZIP code is 89023. It’s near the Nevada Test Site.
  • Hoover Dam is made from a lot of concrete, is only half in Nevada and is the only reason a Las Vegan or visitor can take a shower.

So, there you have it: My summer education in the Silver State. I met and interviewed Siegfried & Roy while I was there (see http://hometown.aol.com/joewessels/myhomepage/profile.html for a photograph), also interviewed a 107-year-old veteran, got ignored by William Shatner at a Star Trek convention and was snubbed by Bill Clinton. I was able to interview the governor, a couple U.S. Senators, LaVar Burton (the “Reading Rainbow” guy) and was routinely harassed by one Congresswoman and her staff but could not get the Nevada Department of Transportation to call me back if I begged.

My last week was extended into two weeks after the terrorist attacks, giving me an experience in journalism I will never forget. Sadly, I saw my first murder victim and got called lots of names (generally on my voice mail) – but no death threats this time. And through published articles I got to make a visible change for the better at least twice during the summer.  I also visited a lot of touristy stuff initially to get a better feel for the town and developed a relationship with John L. Smith, the Review-Journal’s longtime columnist and Las Vegas native. He’s a great writer and knows the town very well and is willing to share. I also met some amazing reporters. Otherwise I generally visited the mountains, biked and hiked and was bored. I do not feel I left a much better journalist than when I came, and that is very disappointing.

But, that’s yesterday’s news.

Nowadays, I live in Sacramento, California – my fourth city and state this year. My stuff arrived yesterday (and is strewn throughout my apartment). I decided to go ahead with plans to open tax offices in California. Even as I write this, plans are still being finalized with a national company, but it appears the tax company I have been associated with for five years will now merge with another financial company. Therefore, I now will be able to broaden my scope and open tax offices easily in cities ranging from Las Vegas to the San Francisco Bay area, including Fresno, Reno and lots of other places. Once the deal is done I will be able to discuss more about it. For now, though, it’s work – and lots of it. I thoroughly enjoy the challenge but it does mean I will have many long days and even longer nights ahead. Hopefully in the end it will pay off handsomely. That’s the plan, anyway. I still want to write and hope to do this through continuing my freelance endeavors and creating new ones.

I miss home already, but I’m prepared to conquer the place I’m in now. It’s a great town from all outward appearances, and if it’s not, well, the Bay Area is just a couple hours away, as is Tahoe’s snowy peaks and Reno’s ringing slot machines (if I’m really desperate). It’s going to be fun. To begin with, I live right in the downtown, the perfect place to get started. There’s even a Starbucks in my building. I have friends here who have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome and I have made new ones. But I have thought many times about what I left behind.

Here’s how to contact me:

[deleted]

For now, there’s only 83 days until the first tax return can be e-filed.

Best always,

Joe

NOTE: There is a funny story around my meeting with Siegfriend and Roy which has a direct Cincinnati tie. I will share that at another time.

Author: Joe Wessels

Joe Wessels is a freelance journalist and photographer. Wessels covers local news events for Thomson Reuters news service and features for About.com's Cincinnati Guide site, plus is the executive director of hyperlocal news site, iRhine.com. He wrote for The Cincinnati Post, covering Cincinnati City Hall and Hamilton County government and wrote a weekly political column, which continued weekly at Cincinnati CityBeat. Previously, he was a reporter for the Cincinnati Business Courier and writes or has written for several publications in Cincinnati and around the country including The Cincinnati Enquirer, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine and the Sacramento News & Review. He is a native of Colerain Township, one of Cincinnati's western suburbs, and now lives in Over-the-Rhine near downtown Cincinnati. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a journalism writing certificate from the University of Cincinnati. He also graduated from Colerain High School, is an avid photographer, news junkie and was once a roller rink disc jockey, and sometimes rides a scooter around town.

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