06/10/2004 11:00PM

Times report a shade biased


LAS VEGAS - The New York Times just completed a week-long series on this city entitled "American Dreamers: The Lure of Las Vegas." The prologue to the Times series stated that "Las Vegas is at the center of a population boom that has transformed the American desert over the last three decades. This series will examine what a few typical dreamers have found in this place of unmatched opportunity and extreme dysfunction."

The Times interviewed many members of the new Las Vegas, but the main storylines centered on a stripper, an advertising executive, a grade school teacher, a Mexican immigrant family, and some transients living at a Budget Suites. It is gritty reporting, not the kind necessarily endorsed by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.

I was interested in the series because I personified one of the people who could have been interviewed. I grew up in a Connecticut suburb of New York City, graduated from St. John's University in Queens, lived for six years in Forest Hills. I could just as easily have had an East Coast bias before moving to Las Vegas five years ago.

While I found the Times series reporting to be pretty accurate, I thought the representations were biased. If you go looking for dirt in any city in America, you'll find it, and you can report on it accurately. But just because there's some dirt, doesn't mean a whole city is contaminated.

The new Las Vegas is what it is, as distinct as any city in the country. There are high-paying jobs here that would make an Eastern conservative smirk: cocktail waitresses, exotic dancers, valet car attendants. These are jobs driven, of course, by the casino tourism industry. And I see nothing wrong with making from $50,000 up to six figures for providing customer service to the tourists.

What I found dismissive in the report was the contention that thousands of newcomers are having their American dreams crushed here in Las Vegas. Just because a person can't make a go of it in cities like Cleveland or Dallas or Los Angeles, packing up and moving to Las Vegas isn't going to magically transform them into part of the middle class.

The price of the home market here has doubled, and in some cases tripled, over the past decade. Yes, homes are less affordable than 10 years ago. But compared to other cities, the cost of living in Las Vegas remains a relative bargain.

As for job opportunities, the Las Vegas economy is strong but the job skills of the newcomers must be in sync with our marketplace, which means tourism, casino gaming, and the hospitality trades.

The charges of social dysfunction have some merit only because any city would have problems expanding the infrastructure needed to support this phenomenal growth. Schools are particularly taxed because of thousands of new children entering the educational system every year.

But from what I've observed in five years here, the importance of core family values is magnified because Las Vegas is "Sin City" - it offers more temptations than any city in the world. If a person lacks discipline in Las Vegas, he'll arrive in a $25,000 automobile and leave town in a half-million-dollar bus.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up radio show.