Sin City's Identity Stripped by Recession

Stunned at how quickly his fortunes turned, Youshaw says, "I'm living like I did when I was 19."

Today he and Jones spend their days in a home they rent just blocks from the one he lost. Youshaw has pawned jewelry and even took out a payday loan at 200 percent interest to pay the gas bill.

Jones, who looks far younger than her 51 years, continues to look for casino work, though some have suggested she's just too old to be a cocktail waitress.

Speaking of Las Vegas now, Youshaw says, "It's not what they say. It's like a show. At the end of the day they roll up everything and take it away. Set's closed. Go.

"But I'm stuck. They got me here. I can't afford to move."

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There are plenty of men and women trying to revive the enterprise.

They include a handful of casino executives who spent the past decade consolidating and expanding their reach to Macau, Bahamas, Singapore but have recently been stopped cold by the economic freeze.

They are a small group of public officials who for years worked to enable growth in the desert, acquire the water needed to sustain it and green-light the developments that created jobs and profits. Today they figure out what budgets to cut.

And there are the guardians of Las Vegas' image, the ad execs tasked with making sure tourists still want to come here.

Among those is Terry Jicinsky, the senior vice president of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which has a budget of nearly $220 million, funded by room taxes, and operates the nation's third largest convention center. The authority developed the "What happens here, stays here" ad campaign.

But as smaller numbers of visitors come -- off 10 percent in October, from a year earlier -- the marketers keep adjusting their pitch: casting Las Vegas as an easy last-minute destination, then as affordable, then as an escape for "crazy times."

But bad times? No one here planned for that.

"Because our growth cycle has been going on for 20 years, you know, for many people, myself included, that's a career. That is the entire length of your experience," Jicinsky says from his office above the convention center floor. "We have casino executives that started working in their 20s and 30s that are now in their 40s and 50s, where all they knew was double-digit growth year after year after year."

Jicinsky says he doesn't believe "What happens here" -- a seductive nudge toward indulgence during indulgent times -- is outdated. It will continue to define Las Vegas, he says. "Everyone could see themselves in a Las Vegas story."

As Jicinsky speaks, the bustle of the convention floor floats into his office. Today's convention, a gambling industry summit, has been full of glum news of suddenly frugal gamblers and tightfisted lenders.

Just now, aspiring bar bands are auditioning for club owners below. A woman's voice intrudes on Jicinsky's thoughts. "Chain, chain, chain ... chain of fools," she sings.

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