Formula 1 race in Las Vegas is causing massive headaches for residents and visitors

Hopefully the Formula 1 Race in Las Vegas will be worth it

One of the best things about going to Las Vegas is the ability to freely travel between hotels, restaurants and shopping with each hotel its own mini destination. Caesars Palace allowed tourists to experience what it might have been like to live in the days of Julius Caesar. New York, New York allows tourists to experience a vacation in Manhattan, including New York hotels without actually leaving Las Vegas. Treasure Island and Mirage are famous for their various shows taking place in front of the casinos and the list goes on.  What visitors are not used to seeing is a Formula 1 racetrack on the Strip. But right now that is front and center, as Las Vegas welcome the first Formula 1 road race since the Caesars Palace Grand Prix ran over 40 years ago.

There are currently 30 hotels on the Las Vegas Strip and half of the casinos will be overlooking the track. The new 3.8 miles, 17-turn street circuit F1 course starts in Vegas at Harmon Avenue near Koval Lane, heads north on Koval Lane to Sands Avenue, uses a loop around the MSG Sphere at the Venetian, enters the strip at the Spring Mountain Road intersection and then zips south along Las Vegas Blvd to Harmon Avenue (a very long straightaway by F1 terms), where the cars then head back east towards the start finish line.  Because the course was being built from scratch, Las Vegas tourists have seen an endless amount of construction, noise and confusion for several months as the city prepares for the Formula 1 race. One worker who lives downtown and works at the Flamingo said that what would usually take him 10-15 minutes to drive the eight miles, even in rush hour, takes him well over half hour and often longer. He said it is extremely frustrating and is just getting worse as the calendar nears the November 18th race date, although he does hope it will be worth it in the end.

A couple of colleagues who are attending the annual Global Gaming Expo (G2E) this week in Vegas also say it’s hectic.

“What a bloody nightmare,” a colleague, who I won’t name since he works for a competing site, told me. “It’s just a plain mess. I’m staying at the Flamingo and what should be a 5-minute walk to the Venetian Expo is taking close to a half hour. You can’t just walk across the street at a 45-degree angle like usual but instead have to maneuver around the construction. The strip is just unrecognizable. I also brought my girlfriend since she’s never been to Vegas and she even said to me that there is no fun in this. The hassle of going anywhere is ruining the experience. She’s spending most of her time at the Flamingo although she has gone to some hotels on that side of the street, but she won’t cross Las Vegas Blvd. Fortunately she has a nice spa day planned tomorrow while I’m at the conference and she likes slots, so she’ll keep herself occupied at the casino. I told her we’d come back when the race is over and you can get around like usual, although I’m told that may not be until later in the winter.”

Mixed reactions

While this is seen as a huge boon for Formula 1 and the city, there has been mixed reaction to the race from residents and gamblers. A lot of gamblers said it’s just way too crowded and expensive and will avoid the strip like the plague on that day and a lot of tourists also plan to avoid Las Vegas that weekend due to the cost. It’s almost impossible to get a good hotel room for less than $300 a night between November 16th and November 19th and most hotels are at least $600 a night. Prices on the official hotel websites for November 19th run from about $350 at Treasure Island to almost $2,000 at Bellagio, and none of the rooms at that price overlook the strip. The strip facing rooms are apparently blocked out for those opting into vacation packages which are charging between $10,000 and $20,000 for the race week, although its safe to say that strip facing rooms will also be available for the biggest gamblers and for certain VIPs.

Residents cry foul

There was a suggestion that F1 was going to do something special for Nevada residents to make up for the inconvenience over the last few months and this appeared to be true when the series announced that all Nevada residents could purchase one day tickets for $200, although no details were given. Tickets were apparently scooped up quickly, since race day tickets were starting at a minimum of $1,000 each for grandstand seats. But when residents got their tickets, they discovered they were general admission seats for the Thursday practice session. Tickets are worth more than that if purchased by non-Nevada residents, although only by about $100. In other series like NASCAR and Indy Car the first day of practice is always dirt cheap and some tracks like Toronto and Michigan allow people to attend first day of practice for free. So, many fans are asking for their money back saying that they don’t care about a practice session and believe it was false advertising.  General admission for all four days of the race is $500 and includes food and non-alcoholic beverages, but apparently they sold out immediately. Grandstand seats start at about $1,000 per day and 4-day grandstand tickets run approximately $5,500 each. That price is obviously out of reach for most Las Vegas residents.

Dinner and a race

Restaurants and bars on the strip were also apparently given a raw deal by F1 that tried to force them to pay for any seats that overlook the track. In July, Formula 1 announced that it was going to charge each establishment that overlooks the strip $1,500 per person to protect their intellectual property. This meant that a restaurant with 100 seats would have to pay $1.5 million to Formula 1 or have their views blocked by the series. No doubt restaurants believed this would be a great opportunity to attract clientele and possibly charge a fee for to view the race, but at $1,500 each many of the restaurants simply can’t afford it, nor could they charge someone $1,500 for a steak dinner. F1 backed down somewhat in August after there was a large outcry by various entities and said they would instead only charge a flat $50,000 licensing fee each restaurant and bar overlooking the strip. Places that agree to pay the fee will be guaranteed unobstructed views of the live action, as well as a direct live feed from F1’s cameras, but restaurants that refuse or can’t pay the fee will have their views obstructed. So instead of seeing a race, restaurant patrons will likely see a wall or some sort of curtain. These fees are not unusual and F1 charges fees to all cities that have establishments overlooking the circuit, such as Monaco and Singapore.

Fan experience

It should also be noted that if fans in Las Vegas are hoping for a racing experience similar to NASCAR or IndyCar they will be in for a disappointment. Formula 1 does not have an interactive experience like the other series. The series does not hold autograph sessions, offer paddock or pit passes or do meet and greets with drivers. When F1 teams get to the track they congregate in their groups and get right down to business. In fact, most teams try to avoid crowds at all costs. One F1 fan I spoke to, who went to last year’s F1 race in Austin, Texas, said that he was staying in the same hotel as the Mercedes team and when he saw the team enter the hotel, he said good luck (he said he believes it was just mechanics and the technical team). Instead of a thank you or any acknowledgment he said that the personnel just glared at him as if to say “how dare a commoner like you try and talk to us.” And I’ve heard similar stories about other teams at different tracks.

It happened to me about 15 years ago. I was staying at the W hotel for a GIGSE conference in Montreal and when I was checking out of the hotel, I saw the Ferrari team coming in to prepare for that week’s Canadian GP. The team did everything in their power to get away from people in the hotel lobby and failed to acknowledge anyone who spoke to them. I don’t know if it’s just vanity or fear that someone will steal their secrets, but it is frustrating for any fans who want to interact with the teams. So, if fans are hoping to get close to Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton or other F1 drivers for an autograph or selfie, they are likely going to be in for a rude awakening. No doubt the hotels and sponsors will arrange for some sort of meeting with the drivers for the celebrities, VIP gamblers and other big shots, but everyday fans will likely get no interaction with the teams.

The Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix is expected to bring at least $500 million in revenue to the series and the economic impact for Las Vegas will likely be even higher, as the city is still somewhat reeling from the COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020 and part of 2021 and to some extent is still trying to attract people back to Sin City. The race will also bring in a whole new clientele, with fans worldwide who follow f1 but are not necessarily gamblers or have simply never considered visiting Las Vegas. This race is expected to show off what Vegas has to offer, although as mentioned the Vegas experience is currently lacking due to the construction and mayhem and could be worse by race day. Other cities with street courses have structures that can be erected quickly that doesn’t handcuff the city for months. Hopefully this will be the case for Las Vegas too moving forward so the massive street congestion from this year won’t occur for subsequent races.

So, Las Vegas residents have had to put up with a lot of frustration the last half year but will finally get to see some return for the inconvenience by way of a Formula 1 race next month. It’s still not certain if it will be the major boon to the Vegas economy as some expect, but it should be a spectacle and illustrate the beauty and glitz of the city, nonetheless. The hotels should make out like bandits, but most residents, tourists and gamblers who do not want to spend at least a month’s salary for a ticket and a hotel room that weekend will simply watch it on TV with everyone else. The race begins at 10 PM PST on November 18th, or 1 am EST on the 19th. This could hurt a lot of the live TV audience on the east coast as well as in Europe, although it was deemed necessary to avoid the inevitable heat that will accompany a race in the desert. F1 races take two hours to complete, so anyone in New York that wants to watch the race live better be prepared to stay up until 3 a.m. to see Max Verstappen, currently a huge favorite, easily win the race . . . or watch the recorded version the next day.

Read insights on the North American gambling industry from Hartley Henderson here at GamblersWORLD.

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