Vegas bribery evolved

Everyone knows that Las Vegas has changed in the past 30 years. It’s hard to come it with a good, descriptive name for the process, though. “Disneyfication” gets thrown around a lot, and it comes close, but it’s not perfect. “Corporatization” sounds bland enough to describe it, but it’s almost too bland to use. But today I found the perfect image for the evolution of Las Vegas in today’s LV Sun:

There’s always been an underground economy in Las Vegas. Since the town began, businesspeople with varying degrees of legitimacy have gifted and bribed one another with women, booze, money and fancy casino digs.

Now there’s a new and even more insidious bit of baksheesh going around.


If you need a favor in this town, you’d better show up with a dozen cupcakes.

“People tell me they’re the best bribery in the world,” says Pamela Jenkins, the 27-year-old founder of the Cupcakery, a Henderson boutique bakery that supplies fresh-baked bribes and frosted kickbacks to celebrities, judges, pharmaceutical reps, and you and me.

“We’ve got attorneys that send them to all the judges. And the pharmaceutical reps come in and tell us we’ve created monsters out of these medical receptionists and doctors. They’re like, ‘We’re not giving out your samples of Zoloft unless you bring us some cupcakes.’ We even get requests to draw purple pills on top of the cupcakes.”
Sweetening deals – Las Vegas Sun

The Cupcakery is great–it’s a favorite of the Mrs. so I’ve made more than a few purchases there. And the owner is a genius: she’s taken the simplest thing in the world–a cupcake–and by making it well and cleverly branding it is able to charge $3.75 a piece. Truly genius. This should be a case study in a business school.

But what does the rise of Cupcakery graft say about Las Vegas? Once, we traded comps, sexual favors, and good old cash if we needed something. Now we use specialty cupcakes.

On the surface that’s a welcome change. These cupcakes might be expensive, but at least getting them isn’t illegal or immoral. It’s a lot cuddlier, too: how could you feel anything but sunshine and happiness over a gift of red velvet cupcakes? The old system involved considerably more moral ambiguity.

It’s much less exciting, though. Even if you didn’t participate in the old bribery, the knowledge that favors were being traded for unmentionables made life in Vegas more interesting. Now, it’s just bring in your gift box and wait to speak to the receptionist.

Value judgments aside, this is a good barometer of the culture of Las Vegas today, as it really is: a bit over-indulgent, not entirely healthy, but not exactly sinful.

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