I’m like many others, I don’t like paying for something that has been free for decades, especially when there’s no meaningful reason for charging the fee.
Therefore, I’m irked by the idea that casinos along the Vegas strip are charging for parking. I think the MGM conglomerate initially tried to sell the idea that paid parking would offset all sorts of improvements to their parking ramps, etc., but I’m not buying it. It’s simply a cash grab that many people will tolerate, as far as I’m concerned.
The fine folks at the Vital Vegas blog (it's still one guy) pointed out today that paid parking is now in effect at the Cosmopolitan. Everybody else along the strip is in on it, so it's only natural that Cosmo is, too. I'd argue the folks running the Cosmo need to be at this point, otherwise their parking is going to be overrun with cheapskates like me, if it wasn’t already.
Scott, the CEO, editor, reporter and photographer of Vital Vegas, points out that paying for parking is the norm in major cities across the United States. He's right. But his logic is a bit flawed. Here's how:
He wrote, “While parking fees are annoying, they are becoming the norm in Las Vegas, just as they are in other cities.”
I would expect to pay for parking when I go to Harrah's in downtown New Orleans. I would expect to pay for parking if I were to go to one of the downtown St. Louis casinos. I’ve been to both, but I didn’t have a vehicle in my possession during those visits.
I expect to pay for parking in downtown New York. I expect to pay for parking in downtown Chicago. I expect to pay for parking when I go to a Pirates or Steelers game across one of the three rivers in downtown Pittsburgh. I even expect to pay for parking when I go to downtown Toledo, Ohio, for a Mudhens game.
There’s usually adequate parking to accommodate those parking in a major downtown, but it comes at a premium. Downtown New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh and many others cities were first developed as the central business district for a trade area, long before people were driving cars, which it seems like about 80 percent of adults do these days. (That’s a wild guess.) I suspect these downtowns weren't developed with the anticipation of thousands of cars flooding in and out of them every day. Ask Mrs. O'Leary, whose cow kicked over a lantern and started the great Chicago fire of 1871 (allegedly), what a car is. She's tell you it is part of a train.
Downtown New Orleans and downtown St. Louis were established long before they had major casinos, so I expect to pay for parking. A free parking ramp for a downtown casino would a nightmare, without a doubt.
When I go to a Native American-owned casino in Wisconsin, I park for free. Even the one near downtown Milwaukee had free parking the last time I visited years ago. (And it still does.)
Casinos in major downtown areas will need to charge for parking. Free parking in a major downtown, with or without a casino, is hard to come by most days. Casinos built in the middle of nowhere, such as casinos I’ve been to in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and North Dakota, do not. They’re casinos built away from major downtown districts. When I shop at a suburban Target store, I don’t pay for parking. When I gamble at an outlying casino in the Midwest, I don’t pay for parking.
So how does this apply to Vegas? The casinos on the strip aren’t in a downtown district. Granted, they weren’t nearly as big when they first sprouted up along a desert highway in the 1950s, but they managed to expand and provide parking for decades without much of a problem. Nothing about that has changed in the past two years.
Yes, real estate around the properties is far more expensive, and harder to come by, but there wasn’t exactly a shortage of parking when the fees were instituted, despite the fact millions of people visit the strip each year.
It may be the norm to pay for parking in a downtown district, but applying that logic to the strip casinos, which developed and redeveloped without difficulty thanks to the fact they aren’t in downtown Vegas, is flawed.
Yes, there’s a cost of maintaining the parking ramps, and providing minimal cleaning and security within them. Target stores can maintain their parking lots without charging a fee. Same goes for my grocery store. I’m not convinced the casinos are unable to do so.
Scott makes a good point about parking. We pay for it elsewhere, why let it ruin our trip to Vegas? I agree. And it doesn’t affect me much, as I spend so little time on the strip these days. Fortunately, the casinos I stay at, either off strip or downtown, provide free parking or validated parking for me as a hotel guest. (I typically rent a car in Vegas.)
But his comparison of paying for parking in Chicago versus paying for parking on the Vegas strip is not apples to apples. There’s evidence that people are staying away from strip properties because of the parking fees, but in the end that will wash away, much like the outrage and boycott of casinos that charged “resort fees.”
Whatever fees a casino charges, we need to add it all together and compare it to other cities. Is the cost of a weekend in Vegas a good value for a person driving in from California when the room rate, resort fee and parking fee are added together? Probably when compared to downtown San Francisco.
But we shouldn’t normalize these fees simply because they exist in some other form elsewhere around the country.