PATCHWORK NATION -- July 12, 2010 at 3:35 PM EDT
What Happens in Vegas ... Happens Everywhere
In a country full of surly voters, Nevada holds claim to some of the surliest. Sky-high unemployment and foreclosure rates have created a volatile atmosphere and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appears to be in for a major fight in the fall.
And if you are looking for the focus of Nevada's troubles, look no further than Clark County, the population center in the southern tip that holds three-quarters of the state's population and Las Vegas. Right now, Clark is suffering through a serious bust cycle. One of every 67 homes in the county is in some state of foreclosure and the unemployment rate in the county is above 14 percent.
Busts are nothing new to Clark, or Nevada for that matter, and in the past the solution has always been simple enough: wait for a recovery and the tourists will return to America's adult playground. But this time may be different, and changing senators or the ruling party in Washington may offer little help.
Patchwork Nation has taken a look at gambling facilities around the United States and was surprised at just how widespread gambling has become. In fact, every one of Patchwork Nation's 12 county types has several casinos - from farmlands to the big cities and everything in between.
And that scattering of casinos, combined with a sluggish economy may have serious consequences for the Silver State.
The Novelty Factor
To be clear, there is only one Las Vegas. And if you are looking for a place to, say, eat nachos and drink margaritas while you watch a gondola go through an ersatz Venetian canal, well, your choices are obviously limited. But if you are looking for a place to simply place bets and you like the thrill of gambling, your options are numerous - and growing.
A look at the Patchwork Nation map shows just how scattered the gaming centers are, but a breakdown by type is also revealing.
The Boom Towns have the most, by far, 510 of them - in large part because of Clark County and Washoe County (home of Reno, Nev.) are Boom Towns. But next on the list are the wealthy Monied 'Burbs counties, with 269 casinos.
The 41 big city Industrial Metropolis counties hold 65 places to do gaming - including Detroit (Wayne County) and, soon, Philadelphia. Plus there are gambling boats in and round the big cities that offer table games and slot machines.
Consider rural, agricultural Tractor Country, where there are 67 casinos - three for every 100,000 people, the most per capita in Patchwork Nation - due in large part to Native American casinos. Even the Mormon Outpost counties, heavy with members of the LDS Church, have eight casinos in them.
The Pursuit of Bigger and Better
The number of places allowing gambling has grown dramatically in the past 20 years and many big cities in particular have added casinos as a way to capture some of the gambling revenues that they watched leaving their city as casinos spread.
Detroit is a perfect example of this. The Motor City legalized casinos (three to be precise) after the city watched their residents flow across the Detroit River to lay their wagers in Windsor, Ontario, where gambling was legalized years earlier. There are cities across the country that saw similar things and made the same choices.
When Patchwork Nation began, we chose 12 locales at random to study, one for each of the county types we identified. Eight of those locales have - or are slated to have - casinos within an hours drive.
Detroit or Philly or Lincoln City, Ore., (home of the Chinook Winds Casino) will never be Las Vegas, of course. But for the people who live near those places - or any of the hundreds places that have gaming - a day at the casino doesn't involve a plane ticket or maybe even a night in hotel.
Las Vegas's good times came when times were good. There are still people who want what the thrills that city has to offer, but they may not have the money to spend there - and they may not for some time.
And those who feel they have to gamble, have elsewhere to go - all over the United States.