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Mike Trask

They're cutting back, but they're having fun

7 October 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Jim Erbes came to Las Vegas because of the economy, not despite it.

He was going to take his wife and 13-year-old son to the Dominican Republic for a fall vacation. But with money a little tight for the retired New Mexico State University business professor, he cut his vacation from $5,000 worth of airfare and resort stays to a 310-mile drive from Scottsdale, two days at the Excalibur for $63 each and some half-price tickets to the Tournament of Kings dinner show.

Erbes figured he would spend about $1,000 on the trip, including gas, lodging, food and entertainment.

And that seemed to be a good decision Monday, when the Dow Jones industrial average fell below 10,000 for the first time in four years, blowing any idea that the government's $700 billion rescue plan would be turning around the free-falling economy any time soon.

Indeed, as Erbes played on the Strip, financial markets were being pummeled all over the globe, with trading halted in Brazil and Russia and European stocks dropping 7.6 percent, their worst loss in history.

The fall prompted a flurry of concern across the continent. French President Nicolas Sarkozy issued a statement in which the 27 European Union countries committed to doing what was needed to counter market mayhem.

This was news to Patricia O'Malley, a retiree from Ireland who was strolling down the Strip on Monday. "As soon as I'm dropped off at the airport in Dublin, I forget all about it," she said, mesmerized by the construction at CityCenter.

O'Malley and other Europeans said trips to the United States were as affordable as ever, with the euro remaining strong. Each of her euros, she noted, was worth $1.45 in the United States.

The economy might be in a shambles. But on the Strip, there is no noticeable shortage of yard-tall margaritas and draft beers. Hucksters still hand out fliers advertising M&M's World, Lamborghini rentals, helicopter trips to Hoover Dam, time shares and beautiful girls who will be in your room in 20 minutes.

At midday it's all talking heads on ESPN and previews of Monday Night Football on the innumerable TVs in the MGM Grand, but CNBC? Forget it. Troubling financial news is nowhere to be found.

And nobody is asking for it.

"I'm just trying not think about it all that much, or at all," said Lee Voyert, who runs a construction business in California and is "getting killed" on his few investments.

He planned to drive home after the football game — unless his $500 bet on Minnesota paid off.

For a time Monday, when the Dow Jones average was down more than 700 points, folks were still posing for photos alongside the giant bronze lion in front of the MGM Grand. They didn't want to hear about the economy.

"It's, like, totally out of my mind," said Vanessa Tripoli, a waitress from San Diego in town for her 30th birthday celebration. "Like, totally."

Schoolteachers Steven Schmugel and Adrian Cowert from Maryland started planning their weeklong vacation more than a year ago, and they weren't going to let some economic meltdown stop them from a well-deserved week off.

"Things are bad, I guess," said Schmugel, eating lunch on the cheap at McDonald's. "But we weren't going to cancel our trip because of something we had no control over."