Strong Las Vegas Economy Faces Challenges Ahead   

By | August 17, 2021

The Las Vegas economy has been strong in recent months but faces uncertainty with further COVID-19 concerns and other challenges, according to analysts.

Las Vegas Sign
Visitors pose for pictures at the Las Vegas welcome sign on the southern end of the Strip. An uptick in tourism has helped the area economy this year, (Image: KESQ-TV)

Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analysis said Southern Nevada has spent its way to prosperity yet could face an “economic cliff,” according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He was a speaker at this month’s Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance’s 41st annual Las Vegas Perspective event.

After the first of the year, tourism picked up in Las Vegas with the national rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations and stimulus checks. Gaming revenue, tourists visits, and airport travel have shown improvement in Southern Nevada over the past few months. These improvements offered optimism that the city’s pandemic-flattened economy would revive.   

But experts note that the delta variant threatens to dampen that enthusiasm. Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, accounts for 65 percent of COVID-19 cases in the state, according to the City of Las Vegas Twitter feed. Health officials in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Hawaii have cautioned against traveling to Southern Nevada because of its rising infections and low vaccination rates.

Overall, Nevada is a “high transition state,” according to the City of Las Vegas.

These factors, coupled with a lack of international travelers and fewer conventions than in past years, could signal a return to economic difficulties in Southern Nevada, according to tourism experts. Since 1999, Las Vegas casinos have made more money from conventions and hotel amenities, including food and entertainment, than from gambling, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

At the Las Vegas Perspective event, Aguero that at some point “the bill is going to come due.”

Las Vegas Business Development 

Aguero also said economic diversity could be a problem in Las Vegas because the area is running out of industrial space, the newspaper reported. 

That will hamstring our ability to diversify as an economy overall,” he said.

Bo Bernhard, UNLV’s vice president of economic development, spoke at the event, saying Las Vegas has opportunities to diversity its workforce.

He noted that the UNLV Harry Reid Research and Technology Park is working on developing businesses in the area, the newspaper reported.

“What we’re building out there on roughly 100 acres is an innovation ecosystem built to last, built to be a cavalry and built to help innovate our way out of this particular historic moment,” Bernhard said.

Economic Diversity in Reno  

In Northern Nevada, Reno has outperformed Las Vegas economically during the pandemic because its economy is more diverse, relying on more than just gaming, according to tourism officials. Reno  touts regional outdoor attractions, including skiing and other outdoor sports at nearby Lake Tahoe.

“While there’s great gaming that we have, the outdoors helps complement that experience,” Charles Harris, president and CEO of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Reno is about 440 miles north of Las Vegas, near the California border. It is only about two hours from Sacramento and three-and-a-half hours from San Francisco.

Located in the Mojave Desert, Las Vegas is farther removed from large metropolitan areas. The nearest major city, Los Angeles, is at least four hours away by car. Phoenix is five hours away.

“The proximity we have to Northern California really helps us,” Harris said.

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