Vegas Soars To Lavish New Heights

Jose Armenta, center, a 33-year-old illegal immigrant from Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico, finds shade under a palo verde tree with his friend Vicente, left, and Julio Loyola Diaz of Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico as they wait for day work outside a strip mall parking lot, April 28, 2010 in Phoenix. AP Photo/Matt York

Las Vegas has long reveled in its reputation as Sin City. Its advertising slogan makes it plain: What happens in here, stays here, reports CBS News correspondent John Blackstone.

But this oasis in the desert, once the playground of the mob, is soaring to lavish new heights in pursuit of wicked excess.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman knew the mobsters: he was their defense attorney. Now he's a cheerleader for a place that has become America's fastest growing metropolitan area.

Long past the days of the swinging Rat Pack, Vegas is now going after the glamour of Broadway.

Shows that have been box office hits in New York like "Mama Mia!" and "Blue Man Group" pack the house nightly - often in new, custom built theatres.

"I can challenge the Big Apple, believe me I can," says Goodman. "I'll tell you this, it's a lot easier to get a ticket here. And in Las Vegas, you don't have to stand in line. It's state of the art. It's fresh, it's new, it's crisp. I say, if I had a choice between a show in New York or a show in Las Vegas, I gotta take Las Vegas."

Each year some 35 million people come to Las Vegas, leaving behind more than $32 billion. Increasingly that money goes towards live shows and fine dining. Celebrity chefs have flooded into town - and even those legendary buffets have gone upscale. For the first time entertainment revenues rival profits from gambling.

Kevin Mccollum is the producer of the Tony-winning "Avenue Q" - a musical comedy starring a cast of petulant puppets - which is getting its own $40 million - the centerpiece of the new Wynn Las Vegas resort.

"I think Vegas has matured from the shows being distraction to being a major destination," says McCollum. "It was built on gambling. And the shows were like the buffet. But then the buffets turned into wonderful meals. And I think our entertainment is turning into a wonderful theatrical entertainment."

In a move that signals the new power - and profitability - of Vegas entertainment, Avenue Q is abandoning the usual strategy for a Broadway hit. "We are choosing not to tour. And we are choosing to put our avenues in two places in America and have America come to our avenue," McCollum says. "It's not just a gambling town. It is a true resort destination. And that's the maturity of Vegas. And entertainment is only one of the symptoms of how that town is changing."

Another symptom is the arrival of art galleries in Vegas. Old masters are on view in the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum.

Make no mistake: despite all the culture that has come to town lately, Las Vegas has by no means abandoned its roots. It is still a city that celebrates sensuality - and sin.

It's certainly not everywhere that would welcome a show like "Zumanity": the most overtly sensuous production ever from Cirque Du Soleil - the Canadian dance company which has pioneered high-end entertainment on the Vegas strip.

While its acrobatic shows travel all over the world, Cirque Du Soleil's founder Guy Laliberte says Las Vegas now stands alone.

On Wednesday Laliberte unveiled Cirque's latest Vegas creation: "Ka." It will open for previews this November in a custom built, ultra high tech theater that cost $165 million and will seat 2000 people - something only Vegas-size money and Vegas-style audiences make possible.

"How can you not be excited by that situation?" says Laliberte. "Those are great creative tools that our partner gives to us." He says these tools allow Cirque to go beyond what they would normally be capable of doing in any other market.

So while those ads say "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," if Cirque Du Soleil is any indication, what's happening in Vegas now may influence creativity around the world.

That's quite an accomplishment for a city that is itself a creation of the human imagination.
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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