Business 479 Seminar: Las Vegas/Los Angeles Course





Las Vegas Travel Course:

How Does Business affect Society?

(click on course name above to go to course website (if you have web access))


Andrew Gustafson 402-669-9846



             This is a very unique travel course which spends 1 week in Vegas and 1 week in LA, meeting business people and community leaders to understand more fully how business affects a city.  Vegas provides case studies for us to examine a wide range of issues including economic development, urban planning, water resource questions, real estate development, finance, marketing and branding, public resource allocation, and more.

            Business is not a singular institution, but is the dynamic multifaceted conglomeration of multiple interests pursuing profit through product or service distribution.  In its wake, 'business' has a profound impact on the ways we think the goals we pursue, the 'norms' we consider normal, and also helps direct our interests and so, inadvertently, directs us away from particular values, goals and interests.  Insofar as business does this, business helps construct our culture and our lives. This course will explore the ways in which hyperrealities (realities created through media/marketing or other technology) have become a regular part of our world through the internet, cellular phone, artificial values of marketing culture, and unnatural cities like Las Vegas and Los Angeles.   We will thoughtfully reflect philosophically on these events in society, and this will help us to reflect on those issues as we encounter the hyperreal cities of Las Vegas and Los Angeles, as well as experiencing the desert, devoid of hyperreal constructions.   Our time will be spent alternately between the Las Vegas Strip, Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree National Park, Los Angeles, and the Mohave Desert.



  1. Students will understand how business transforms culture and society in Las Vegas.
  2. Students will thoughtfully reflect and write on some key aspect of business’ effect on society.
  3. Students will learn about the entertainment, fashion, and hospitality industries in Vegas.
  4. Students will understand key concepts such as consumerism, commodification, hyperreality, smart growth, etc.
  5. Students will have interactions with people in business, government, and civic groups to help them understand Las Vegas.


Travel component:

We will visit various casinos in Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, Mead Lake, Las Vegas Lake Development, Boulder City Nevada, Joshua Tree National Forrest Disneyland, Ventura, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Hollywood.  We will stay for 5 days in Las Vegas spending time exploring the town with intentional assignments, and then discussing our observations.  


The Purpose of this course is to help us think about the ways in which business creates alternate realities (for example through media and advertising), and how these affect our society, values, and purpose for living.   Once we realize the impact real estate development has on a city, we realize some of the important questions in urban planning including housing styles, community impact, and traffic congestion impact.  Once we realize some of the water resource issues facing these cities, the relevant questions about the public resource issues facing these growing communities takes on an added meaning.  Once we realize the financial impact of some of the new modes of businesses, we begin to see why businesses change over time (why the old vegas struggles in the face of the new super vegas casinos, etc).    Among other things, the course should help students 1) become aware of how business changes the face of culture; 2) help students become aware of the way that commodification of values as a process has permeated our lives, from religion, relationships and traditions, to our food, clothing choices, and personal hygiene; 3) To examine how that consumerism as a way of life has affected American culture, transforming our work, leisure, family relationships, friendships, and even relationship with God. 4) To think about these issues by reflecting on the concept of Hyperreality and how the construction of new paradigms through brand naming, marketing, economic development (out with the old, in with the new) and virtual worlds has created new (unrealistic?) expectations in our concepts of happiness, worth, and success.


Course Requirements:

1. Attendance at 2 classes before/after travel class.

2. Full participation in the travel course

3.  1 Book review due March 8

4.  A Presentation (photostory or audio powerpoint) to be put up on our website

5. An 8 page paper dealing with something from our trip related to business’ effect on culture and society.

6. Minimum 3 pictures per file below given to me on a burnt CD

7. Reflective journal from our 1 week travel course


PLEASE NOTE!!!: These three forms must be completed and returned to me by the second time we meet:

If you are not aware of how to use either photostory or audio-powerpoint, I can help you figure it out.

technology readiness assessment

media authorization release             

hardware software contract


Questions to consider in your journals:          

    1. What are two examples of casinos tapping into the retail business in order to supplement revenues?  (Ceasars Palace, Venetian, or MGM would be fine examples)
    2. Explain how three different casinos provide examples of ‘hyperrealty construction’
    3. What are the main facets of business/ revenue generation for casinos?  How has that changed over the years?
    4. What are some of the key values which vegas promotes and emulates?


Get pictures of:


People we meet with



This course is a business course aimed to help us see ways in which business transforms culture and society through development.  Business has a profound impact on society, including:

  1. The space we live and play in
  2. The ways we live our lives and spend our time
  3. The rural areas as development progresses outward
  4. Our resources insofar as more people cause new challenges for resource use
  5. The ways in which we spend our time at work—involved in business
  6. The ways our government spends its time and money


But there are subtle ways business affects our lives as well through advertising, media, fashion and entertainment industries.  Through these, business has an impact on our lives in these ways:

1.   What we think is worth pursuing (our values)

  1. What we think the Good Life is
  2. What we believe we need to be happy and have success
  3. The ways that we think about our own lives, our faith, our personal activities


This course helps us see the impact of business on society and some of the struggles involved in those arenas.   For example:


  1. Meeting employees and administrators from three of the main industries in Las Vegas and Los Angeles: Gaming, Entertainment, and Fashion
  2. Meeting city administrators and other planners who wrestle with issues of growth and  development
  3. Meeting people to help us think through the environmental impact of business and development. 
  4. Philosophers, Historians, Sociologists and Artists who can help us reflect on how the cities of Las Vegas and Los Angeles have been molded by their industries of gaming, entertainment, and fashion, and how these cities have a larger impact on culture and society throughout the US and even worldwide. 


Consumerism can mean simply the theory that a progressively greater consumption of goods is economically beneficial.  But sometimes it is used to refer to the materialistic tendencies of our culture—the ways in which we gain our value or happiness through purchasing products (i.e., “shopping will make it all better”, “I am what I buy”, “I Shop, therefore I am!”   It can be quite helpful for businesses to encourage us to buy things, and helping us identify a product as a means of obtaining happiness is a key way of making us want to buy more and more.


Hyperreality is an alternate reality that sometimes takes the place of actual reality.  For example, when we visit the Venetian Casino in Las Vegas, the whole place is supposed to remind you of venice, but it is much better than venice in some ways-- the water is clorinated and clean (Venice's cannals are pretty dirty), its always bright and cheery in the venetian (venice can be kind of drab and dark some days), and there is always excitement and action going on (unlike real life, which has quite a few spots of fairly boring mundane spaces).  SO the Venetian, which is immitating Venice, is in some ways even better than reality. 

Another example of hyperreality might be Disneyland, which is an imaginary world of escape where we can forget the worries of the world and pretend we are in a different better reality. 

Virtual reality games present a sort of hyperreality as well.  But even marketing and advertisement does this for us-- think of particular brands, such as "Lexus" or "Gap" or "Abercrombie and Fitch" or "FUBU" or "Addidas" or "Applebees"-- each brand wants to elicit a whole web of ideas and feelings-- all the good vibes that go along with going out to Applebees, etc (sorry, maybe you don't like Applebees) or the notion of what it is to be the sort of person who owns a lexus, or who buys all their clothes at the Gap, etc etc. 

Whether it is through the development of Casinos or Disneyland, or even builds up brand names, business creates hyperrealities which affect the way we think about life, about what is important and worthwhile.  Hypperealities aren't bad necessarily, but they do affect us and how we respond to reality, and they are often invented and sponsored directly or indirectly by business.


Commodification: Commodification often simply refers to the process of giving non-market items marketable value through associating them with particular commodities.  For example, you can’t buy love, but you can be convinced that to show love you need to purchase a card, or a ring, or flowers.  You can’t buy happiness, but you can be convinced that you need to buy a lexus or a ring or the latest technology product to gain happiness.  In this way then, business can play a role in helping us identify particular values in particular products.  Technically, commodification is process that transforms the market for a unique, branded product into a market based on undifferentiated price competition.  Commodification can be the desired outcome of an entity in the market, or it can be an unintentional outcome that no party actively sought to achieve. 



As we think through the things we see, we need to ask ourselves some questions:


  1. How does business change the ways I think about reality, and my expectations?
  2. How does business transform our living and playing spaces and so, change our lives?
  3. How does business sometimes lead us to identify ourselves and our well-being with purchasable products, and how does it encourage this practice? 



Most of these events are definite.  We may rearrange some of the schedule but this gives you a good idea of the many things we will do in our class.  There won’t be a lot of reading, but there will be discussion after and during various visits.


Welcome to Las Vegas Sign, Las Vegas, Nevada


Because this class studies two very dynamic cities which are constantly changing, the class itself varies each year.  We come to Vegas in 2013 five years after a real estate bubble burst and financial meltdown.  Vegas has been particularly hard-hit, with over 10% of homes in default on their mortgage, a gigantic 8 Billion dollar casino-hotel-condo project in the center of the strip (City Center) which has neared bankruptcy on several occasions, dramatically affected its parent company MGM's stock and which currently has sold 100 of its 2500 condos.  Yet Vegas continues to be an icon for American hope and adventurous living, a dynamic center of American creativity and ingenuity. 


Tentative Schedule for the Course 2013 (events are tentative):


Saturday March 9th Arrive in Vegas by air

    Gustafson picks you up at airport.


Sunday March 10th

             10am Plaza tour

             12pm Casino Tour: Circus Circus, New York/New York, MGM, Luxor, Mandalay Bay

             Share exploring-experiences at buffet 6pm   


Monday March 11th Las Vegas

                9 Mayor & Meet with Vegas Economic and Urban Development Department (229-6551)

                1130pm Tour Bellagio

                1pm World Market Center

                Supper with Real Estate Developer


Tuesday March 12th

           9:30 Wynn/Encore Tour

           11:30 Lunch at Ceasars

           12:30 Venetian Tour

            2:30 Meet with Las Vegas Regional Economic Development Council       


Wednesday March 13th

Mutual of Omaha Bank in Suburbs 9am    

            Redrock Casino10:30 am

            Tour Southpoint Casino 12pm, Meet with Creighton Alum Michael Gaughan

            2:00 Meet with Oscar Goodman, Former Mayor, now with Visitor and Convention Authority


Thursday March 14th

         9:00am Zappos

        12noon Boulder City/Hoover Dam visit

         3pm Alfalfa Farm visit (with banker also)


Friday March 13th

            6:30  Supper with John Obrien (Creighton University and College of Law Alum ('69)