Having lived in Vegas since 2003, having visited Downtown and the Strip quite often, and having seen our tourists encounter more than a few surprises, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what you might not be prepared for.
Yes, people live here. Over a million of us, in fact. No, we don’t live on the Strip, which is why you don’t see our homes. We actually like that most of the tourism stays relatively contained in the resort areas.
No, we don’t have state income tax. We have casinos and an almost 9% sales tax, though.
Yes, the drinks are expensive. We certainly don’t pay $10 for a Bud Light in the bar around the corner from our homes, but you’re going to pay that because you’re in a billion-dollar resort hotel located on some of the most expensive real estate in America. Strip bartenders are mostly unionized, get paid a decent wage, and have full benefits. That’s built into the price of your drink, meal, show ticket, and everything else.
Yes, the food is expensive. Except for a very small number of sketchy buffets (Circus-Circus), the age of $5 prime rib and buffets is in the past. Food is no longer used as a lure to bring in gamblers; it’s the second-largest moneymaker in town, earning very nearly as much as gambling.
Yes, jaywalking is illegal. And we lose about a hundred people a year to it. You’re jaywalking in a place where people can barely focus on not running their car into the median barrier. You can be fined over $250 per person, per incident, and if you don’t pay up they’ll block you out of the airport (if you flew in). Even if you’re crossing legally, make eye contact with the drivers to make sure they see you. Personal experience: it hurts to get hit by a car.
Yes, the hotels are huge. New York-New York might only be “two hotels away” from Bellagio, but that’s probably a quarter-mile. When it’s 115F, you’re gonna feel it.
Yes, it’s a dry heat. That doesn’t mean it’s not hot. “Dry heat” means there’s little moisture in the air, so your sweat actually works the way it’s supposed to. Moving into the shade means less of the heat can conduct through the air to follow you, so shade actually works. But 115 is 115; try 115 in Orlando and you’ll appreciate the difference.
Yes, we know you couldn’t live here because you’re going to spend the weekend partying like it’s 1999 and you think you’d do that all the time if you lived here. We don’t. Most locals never even go to the Strip.
Yes, we call ourselves “locals.” And there’s a good reason for it. Las Vegas is often called the “Ninth Island,” because we have the largest population of native Hawaiians outside of Hawaii, for some reason. It means we get some fantastic food, direct flights to Maui and O’ahu, and business names like “9th Island Injury Lawyers.” So although “locals” is usually an island term, it’s been picked up here. And frankly, sometimes we do feel like we’re in a bit of an island. Our Valley is pretty self-contained, and it’s a few hours in any direction to get to another major metro area. Contrast that to the East coast, where it’s pretty much a continuous series of metro areas, all lightly connected.
Yes, the food is expensive. Aside from it being served from a billion-dollar resort hotel, you also need to consider that the cost of living in Las Vegas might be higher than, say, your town in the middle of Iowa. We likely pay more for gas, power, water, sewage, phone service, and the like, which means our citizens need to earn enough to pay for all of those things. A $100k home where you live might cost $300k here, and that helps drive prices up. It’s no different, albeit somewhat less pronounced, than places like New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the like. We’re smaller, but from a price perspective we’re very much one of the more expensive places to work and live. Cheaper than Hawaii, though, which is why so many Hawaiians move here.
No, it’s not all about the gambling anymore. We still have a lot of gambling, and it brings in over $7B a year in casino profits (about 6% of which go to the county as tax). But food and beverage is right behind it, along with entertainment (shows and nightclubs), retail, and so on. Vegas today is a lot more diversified; plenty of people take some serious and wonderful resort vacations here and don’t gamble a cent. On the Strip in particular, the cliche of the hazy, smoke-filled casino floor is pretty much not even a thing anymore.
No, the mob isn’t in gaming anymore. Most of the Strip is owned by MGM Entertainment and Caesars; Las Vegas Sands Corporation and Wynn are also big players. These are large, heavily regulated, publicly traded companies, not mob fronts. The mob got out in the 70s.
Yes, you probably need to get to the airport two hours in advance of your flight. Especially for the airlines who ticket in Terminal 1, security can get deeply backed-up. We do offer TSA PreCheck and Clear; those programs really do help speed you through. We unfortunately get a lot of fliers who seem unfamiliar with the concept of an “airport,” and so you get stuck behind them as they divest themselves of so much metal you wonder how they managed to walk. Personally, I try to fly carry-on, and go through T3 security, whose PreCheck line is rarely more than 4 deep.