LAS VEGAS, Jan. 14, 2009— -- It's all about the numbers in Las Vegas and, lately, the numbers have not been good.
There was a 26 percent drop in gambling revenue late last year and a $5.1 billion increase in the price tag of the city's brand new CityCenter hotel and casino. It's the largest in Vegas' history, and that's saying something.
Including cost overruns, MGM Mirage has spent about $9.1 billion on CityCenter so far as construction nears completion. But the magic number is 12,000. That's the number that set this town on fire.
People are scrambling to inquire about CityCenter's 12,000 job openings, considered by some to be the largest single employment opportunity in the United States.
Among Monday's hoards of hopefuls stood Las Vegas resident Brandy Smith-Philips, who was waiting her turn to be called for a brief starter interview at a makeshift job center set up by CityCenter.
She has been unemployed for the past six months.
"I got laid off," she said. "And I've just been at home with my daughter. But it has been very, very difficult for the last six to seven months to find a job."
The days of easy money on the Strip are over. Unemployment hit Las Vegas hard and it's now at a 23-year high. It's no wonder: 2008 will go down as having the biggest annual gambling decline since they started keeping records here.
Fewer people means fewer flights -- airlines have cut out 15 percent of their flights headed to Vegas.
The domino effect is crushing the hotel business.
Caesar's Palace is halting a new construction project mid-stream, the Venetian put the breaks on a condo project, and the brand new Wynn Casino opened just in time to see room rates plummet.
A $4.8 billion resort called the Eschelon has come to a screeching halt and today sits unfinished, cranes and all.
And then there are the home foreclosures -- among the worst in the nation. It's so bad, you can take a bus tour of foreclosed homes instead of a tour of the famous Las Vegas Strip.
That is why when you look around this room at people lining up for jobs, the urgency is palpable.
"Everybody that is around me has pretty much went...," Smith-Philips said, gesturing thumbs down. "My father, family, friends, nobody around me is doing good. Everybody has lost their jobs."
The room is filled with similar stories and similar hopes.
Some, such as Elvira Garcia, brought their families along. "I want to start my new life here in Las Vegas and I know I can make it," she said.
Nick Coury heard about the mass hiring while at home in Arizona and set off for Vegas.
"I see more opportunities here than there is in Phoenix right now," he said. "It's to the point right now that I see about 10,000 applicants for about 100 jobs. And no one's hiring right now because everyone's worried about what the future may hold."
The jobs at CityCenter are everything you might imagine at a combination hotel, casino, condo and shopping complex: gaming, hotel operations, finance, food and beverages, entertainment and more.
12,000 Jobs, 100,000 Applications
CityCenter human resources chief Michael Peltyn said 35,000 job applications flooded in just this first week. They're expecting at least 100,000 people to try their luck for the 12,000 openings.
"We can screen 700 people a day in person and another three or four hundred via telephone for out-of-state applicants," he said. "So we can talk to about 1,000 people daily."
That includes Las Vegas resident Ron Kirby, who has been out of work for five months now. The former senior vice president at a collections agency has now applied for hundreds of jobs.
"I'm on the computer every day looking for job opportunities," he said. "... I've got head hunters in five different states looking for me."
Kirby seemed happy with his initial interview at CityCenter. And Smith-Philips also seemed pleased with her first round.
Now the people doing the initial question-and-answer sessions have a tough job ahead of them: picking who will advance to the next round.
Although the MGM Mirage is over-budget and, some say, overly ambitious with its sprawling CityCenter complex, managers say they are not slowing down.
Like most big ideas in this town, it began with a bang as the old Boardwalk Hotel gave way to a golden piece of real estate in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip.
"There isn't anything close to this big anywhere in the United States," said Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs for MGM Mirage.
The CityCenter, one of the most expensive projects of its kind, now faces a deepening recession amid cost overruns and safety concerns as construction crews suffer a series of accidents while racing to complete the massive complex.
CityCenter's investors have needed gigantic cash infusions and have been forced to sell other assets just to keep it alive.
"Our bottom line will have to be altered because clearly, the prices we're going to get for things aren't what they were when we started projecting things out," Feldman said.
But he's not backing down from the 12,000 jobs.
That's good news for Smith-Philips, who explained that things are growing steadily worse as she falls behind on her bills.
Running Out of Options
"I lost my truck about a week ago," she said. "It got repo-ed. I couldn't keep the notes up so it's getting pretty tight."
Kirby is restless, too. The former six-figure VP says he has plenty of savings but is eager for the chance to prove himself again. To do so, he says, he has lowered his expectations and is looking for work in different parts of the country. During these times, it's especially important, he says, to remain optimistic.
"You have to go in with a smile, you have to be upbeat, you can't let it get you down," he said. "You are defeating yourself if you let it get you down."
By nightfall, new applicants are still headed inside the makeshift job center, hoping that with 12,000 openings, the odds on this jackpot would be pretty good.
But, as anyone in Las Vegas will tell you, there are no sure bets, not on the jobs, or even on the glimmering CityCenter itself. Not until the doors are open, the lights are on and the tourists start coming back.