A Rant About Vegas’s Costumed Panhandlers

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Warning: Rant ahead. If you have no interest in reading this rant, feel free to check back next week when I’ll go back my regularly scheduled non-ranty content. This week’s topic is something that’s been bugging me for awhile now, and while I’ve touched on it briefly in my post titled 10 Things I Don’t Like About Las Vegas, my annoyance continues to grow, so I thought it was time to go ahead and dedicate an entire post to it, just to get it off my chest.


Costumes that make sense in Las Vegas….

Some people look down on Las Vegas because of the fakeness of its tourist facade. The Strip, after all, is made up of a fake Rome, a fake volcano, a fake Venice, a fake Paris, a fake pyramid, and a fake New York City (not to mention all the fake boobs and fake tans and. . .you get the picture). Sure, it’s fake, but to me, that was part of its charm. I mean, where else in the world can you see Rome, New York, and Paris all on one street? But something has changed since I first started visiting, and I don’t find it so charming. And that’s the proliferation of fake people in the form of costumed panhandlers on the Strip and Downtown.

When I first started going to Las Vegas, practically the only costumed characters available for photo opportunities were fake Elvises (Elvi?). There was one who would pose with tourists for photos in front of the Imperial Palace on the Strip. There were also showgirls, of course; I was never quite sure if they were real showgirls posing for photos or if they, too, were impersonators. Seeing a fake Elvis or a showgirl always brought a smile to my face, though, because they are both part of the Vegas culture. Throw in ratpack impersonators and fake mobsters, and you’ve got yourself the core of Las Vegas’s history and that would be fun and kitschy and cool.

Captain America, Batman, Hello Kitty

…and costumes that don’t make sense in Las Vegas

Today, costumed panhandlers are crawling all over the Strip and Downtown like roaches. Most of them have absolutely nothing to do with what Vegas is about and display zero talent. I mean, really: What the hell does Batman have to do with Las Vegas? Or Captain America, Hello Kitty, the Transformers, or Jack Sparrow? You cannot walk more than 100 feet without passing another one of them. If they’re going to line up on the sidewalks like porn slappers, I wish they would at least make their costume something Las Vegas-related.

I understand why this has happened. The recession. There aren’t a lot of jobs out there. People are desperate. I get that, I do. I just wish that the people who took to the streets to make a living contributed something positive in the process.

I love buskers, for instance. There’s nothing I love more than encountering a talented singer or guitarist or violinist making music for tips on the street. I’ve seen some outstanding buskers in my day in cities all over the world. Even Burlington sees it’s fair share of musicians, comedians, jugglers and magicians. You want to get me to part company with a buck or five? Show me you’ve got some talent. Put on a show. For a city so filled with talented individuals trying to make a living in show business, and so few actual jobs available, it seems odd to me that I rarely see that talent on the streets of Las Vegas.


Seriously? You expect me to pay money to get my picture taken with this?

Instead, I get to see an overweight, middle-aged man squeezed like a sausage into a Captain America costume. Ugh. I suppose it does require some stamina to stand around in 100-degree temperatures in a hot costume without keeling over from heat stroke. Still, I’m not paying for that.

To me, these costumed characters cheapen the experience of Las Vegas. The whole “streetmosphere” of the Strip has gotten completely bizarre. Apparently, I’m in the minority in hating this, because if they weren’t making money off tourists, they’d stop doing it. So all I can do is keep walking past them and vote with my wallet by not giving them my hard-earned money and hope that someday, either other people do the same or they “achieve their dreams of stardom” and get the hell off the streets.

So that’s my Ms. Cranky Pants rant. But because I like to keep an open mind about things, I’m willing to listen to the opposite point of view. Because right now, I just don’t get it. Help me understand the appeal of these people. As a Las Vegas tourist (or potential tourist), have you paid or would you pay one of these costumed characters for a photo opp? And if so, why, for the love of God, WHY?


78 thoughts on “A Rant About Vegas’s Costumed Panhandlers

  1. Rebecka

    I completely agree, they are just as bad as the “homeless” people standing on street corners with cardboard signs begging for money. Although, the silver robot guy outside of Bali’s last time I was there was pretty awesome. He drew a big crowd, I gave him points (although not money) for at least being entertaining. I also ran into a really good Michael Jackson impersonator.

  2. Hetz

    I’m with you all the way Gray. Last trip I saw Minnie Mouse passed out on the sidewalk with a vodka bottle in one hand and a beer in the other. She had a bucket, with a few pennies in it, wedged between her legs. It was a sad sight.

  3. Steven

    My sentiments exactly. About the furthest stretch one could make in regards to the costumed characters is the guy dressed up as Capt. Jack Sparrow as long as he’s hanging out in front of Treasure Island.

    During my last trip to Vegas, I was tweeting “costumed character reports” to my friends on Twitter. I recall seeing a guy putting on his Spongebob costume in the park-like area at Bally’s that runs along Flamingo. That kind of blows the whole illusion and would never happen at an amusement park or a sporting event with their costumed characters.

    I remember during a trip last March, there was a guy on Fremont Street dressed up in a store-bought Yoda costume that was a few sizes too small and another person wearing a homemade Spongebob costume that was a spraypainted cardboard box (I think they’ve since upgraded to a homemade one made of furniture foam).

    I think these others dress as they do because parents do bring their kids with them to Vegas and little Johnny or little Janie see these characters and want to get their picture taken with Spongebob. It’s hard for parents to say no to their kids, so for some of these costumed characters, its’ like panhandling with a animal since its’ a way of tugging at some heartstrings.

    I would venture to guess that a number of these costumed characters barely scrape by or live in less than ideal situations because the amount of money that they earn is not constant like most people. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these folks on a bad night lose money when factoring transportation costs and any other expenses. You’ll see a number of them on the Strip by day and on Fremont Street by night.

  4. Gray

    @Rebecka – And at least Michael Jackson had something of a history in Las Vegas. I can let that one slide.

    @Hetz – Dear God, please tell me you’re joking. That is just…horrifying and sad.

    @Steven – Yes–if “Jack Sparrow” did his thing in front of Treasure Island all the time, I’d let that slide. But he doesn’t. I don’t see how they can be losing money if they keep doing it. Why would you keep doing something that isn’t working? Even in a down economy, McDonalds is usually hiring. Or do you suppose there are reasons these people can’t get regular jobs–are they drunks? Drug addicts? Convicted felons?

  5. Craig H

    As far as I know, the ‘ showgirls’ outside Bally’s , Harrah’s and quite often The Flamingo work for the properties. Quite often they hand out coupons. The other characters , while they seem to be multiplying with each trip recently, don’t really bother me. People have to make a buck somehow. Some could be just looking for extra cash during the day before they go waitress or bartend at night. I’ve seen some guys more than once on the same day, dressed as another character and standing in the same place. (I could tell it was the same person I’d seen earlier because they spoke to me on both occasions.) I’m the last person to judge someone and if they were a problem for the city , I’m sure the cops would make them move along. It actually put a smile on my face to see Big Bird standing by the Welcome to Las Vegas sign during my last trip. To me , it’s no worse or different then they guys selling water on the pedestrian bridges that cross the Blvd.

  6. Gray

    Oh, Craig, I wish I had your attitude. I’m normally a “live and let live” kind of person, but there’s just something about these characters that irk me. Now, the water sellers, I used to really like them–they provided a service: cold, cheap water when you needed it. But now, there are way too many of them, too. Maybe that’s what my problem really is: There are too many of them. If they had to be licensed and there were a limited number of licenses available, it might not be so annoying.

  7. Nate

    You know, I’ve never really had a problem with the costumers. This might be because the porn slappers are especially aggressive towards me, being a single male and all, so the costumers don’t seem so bad in comparison. I can even appreciate a meticulously-detailed outfit or an especially dedicated performance (although I have no respect for the people in cheap, ill-fitting outfits who hassle everyone for money.) Ultimately, I just don’t see them as cheapening Vegas any more than Planet Hollywood, or the Batman slot machines, or the endless tide of Cirque shows.

    On a side note, I talked with a costumer once. He told me he used to be a slot technician, but makes more money doing this than he would have after 30 years with Caesars. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it makes me think the next time I’m losing at the tables, I should dress up as Harry Potter to see if I can earn some of it back.

  8. Cheryl Stoy

    I agree to a point…because after all this is Vegas. Your supposed to see the werid, the “Hell No!” and the “No, she/he is not wearing that and is passed out on the sidewalk!”

    So whatever I see on the Strip I live and let live because to be painfully honest I’d rather see them there then on my main street. But then I moved from big-time So Cal to a small rural town in Colorado and the only thing that invades our main street is the town gang…of deer.

    And if I had to choose, give me the costumed silly over the damn porno people (most don’t even speak English so cussing them out is pointless)

    Maybe if the porn people dressed up…wait…no…cancel that idea…I started having visuals of that and it wasn’t too pretty…

  9. Cheryl Stoy

    And if I may add…some of us “tourists” really can’t complain about what the street people look like after someone gets a good look at some of us.

  10. Craig H

    The way I see it, I’m only there for a week or so, once or twice a year.
    At least they are creative in the way they seek out some spare change or a few bucks. They almost never say anything but ‘hi’ or ‘how are you today?’ , if I happen to look in their direction. I’ve noticed that if they don’t catch me looking at them, they rarely say anything at all.
    I agree with Nate, the porn-slappers are more of a bother.

  11. Gray

    @Nate – Holy cow, seriously? You can make more money doing that than working as a slot tech? That’s just a sad commentary on our society, isn’t it?

    @Johanna – ITA about the homeless people with pets. It’s a pure sympathy ploy and makes me want to sic the SPCA on them.

    @Cheryl – Agreed on the porn slappers. They’re a nuisance as well.

    @Craig – Did you ever see the video of that tourist beating the crap out of Batman on the Strip? I don’t necessarily blame Batman for that, I think the tourist was a drunken idiot, but it kind of says a lot (and nothing good) about how the atmosphere on the Strip has changed.

    So who’s worse than the costumed people? Porn slappers, obviously. Homeless people who use animals as a sympathy ploy. Anyone else? Come on, let it all out. It makes you feel better, really. 🙂

  12. Cheryl Stoy

    1.Women in a hurry who are pushy and wear high heels trying to make it down the strip…you pass them as they collapse near Harrahs…I just smile and think “Adidas airhead.”

    2.People who sit down at a progressive machine and play one coin at a time. AHHHHHHHH!

    3.People who sit down at a poker table and have no clue.

    4.People who do not have the correct change for the bus.

    5.Disappearing waitresses.

    6.Men who think that if you sit at the bar alone and order a drink and watch a game it translates into you are trying to get picked up… when all your really doing, is stopping to have drink, check on a game you bet money on at a sportsbook and trying to decide where to blow some more money next….and they can’t comprehend it’s that simple.

    7. Hostesses who ask “table for one?”…and there’s no one with you and you have a book with you. I always pull a number out of the air and see how long it confuses them.

    8.People who can’t get across the street in Vegas on a green light…if you’ve been there once you know the drill.

    9.Loud, show off people in a restaurant looking for their 15 minutes of fame.

    10. People who complain about going to Vegas is a waste of money who then come to Vegas and don’t want to spend any money. Whereas, I look at all as an investment that I can reap unlimited rewards from.

    Just like Disney World, I figure I have spent enough money there so I contributed heavily to the Animal Kingdom built, new restaurants and and new hotels, transportation updates and a continued vast and overpriced array of nifty souveniurs I do not need but will probably buy a few of.
    So when I go again, I am taking part in my investment.

    Same with Vegas. Believe me, without me (and a few chosen others I’m sure) the freeway and airport expansions wouldn’t have occurred, the Venetian and New York, New York would never have been built, there would be no Main Street Station buffet, Slots-A-Fun would have closed long ago and In-And-Out Burger would have never have migrated to Sin City.

  13. johnb

    Like most things, it’s all about perspective. Take away the costumed beggars, the bottled water sellers, the porn slappers (PLEASE), the
    buskers, the plain ol’ panhandlers, and the pedestrian sky bridges, and what have you got ?
    OMG ! It’s the strip I remember and loved from the 70’s and 80’s.
    But I knew we were doomed when something as obnoxious as the porn
    slappers were given legal status.

  14. Gray

    You’ve had that bottled up for awhile, haven’t you, Cheryl? 🙂 Thanks for helping to build Las Vegas into the fun tourist destination it is. You and all the other gamblers have pretty much subsidized the rest of us.

  15. JoAnna

    LMAO @ Cheryl.. that was a fabulous list 🙂
    Ok I don’t have to many complaints, but then again I only went about a month ago for the first time in 10 years, I’m sure if I do my second trip later on this year I will have a lot more to say. For now, I definitely got a little aggravated with all of the costumes. It was a little much after a while. Then, I saw the drunk Minnie Mouse and Garfield in front of the Bellagio fountains, hanging out with their bottles of vodka. Ashamed to say, I totally dropped a dollar in the bucket to take their pic, only cause I have never ever seen anything like that in my life. But then it was kinda sad, cause this little cutie pie kid of about 4 years old walked over them and was waving and talking to them, and they wouldn’t talk back 🙁 My heart broke for the kid, wonder if he will be traumatized for life knowing that drunk characters have no personality LOL

  16. Gray

    Oh, @JoAnna, that’s just sad. That poor kid, scarred for life.

    @ Hetz, I’m sure anyone who is jonesing for Vegas doesn’t care what the subject of the picture is, as long as it’s Vegas!

  17. Marc

    While this is an annoyance, it’s no worse than tourists who don’t know that the passing is done on the left and clog up the sidewalks. I’m a New Yorker and I’m always in a rush. 🙂

  18. Shawn

    I have no problem with the costumers, my pet peeve would be the hip hop “artists” that try to intimidate you into buying their CD. I’m an overweight 46 year old from north Jersey, I’m pretty sure I’m not your target demographic.

  19. Jeff B

    I think they imported these costume people from Barcelona. I just started seeing them in the last couple of years. If there is one city that they belong in it is Las Vegas. I would much rather see them in Vegas than in a historic square in Europe. They are definitely not as annoying as the “Hooker Trading Card” slappers or a majority of the tourists.

  20. Gray

    @Shawn – Oh yeah, those guys annoy me, too. They’re just like the porn slappers, only with CDs.

    @Jeff B – Snicker. I guess we can be thankful they’re not quite as freakish as some of the buskers I saw in Spain. And “hooker trading cards”–totally needs to be trademarked. 🙂

  21. Dave G.

    It is so funny that you bring up this whole subject,as we were in Vegas March7-10th,and noticed this sad display all along the strip from the Flamingo to M&M World. I learned the hard way exactly what these people were expecting;I took a picture of some Mario characters on my wifes cell,to send to my 6 year old,and as I went to leave,my wife said”they’re expecting $ for this!” I said “For what?” She pointed to the character strongly pointing to a sign saying something about Tips, and to a tip jar. I started to leave ,but my wife was embarrassed,and thru some $ in their jar.Then by Captain America, 2 “show girls”,the guy painted silver all over,to the best of the worst,a fat guy,dressed like a slob,holding a 16 oz. Pabst in one hand, while holding a lifelike infant doll in just a diaper,in the other, that he would pretend to drop.Real Vegas talent,here. Then the biggest shocker:people were paying good money to this guy to take their pic with him,or of him! I just DON’T get it….anyways,coming back from M&M World I told my wife to ignore these buffoons, and walk around any crowd giving them attention. I agree with you, this stuff has nothing to do with Vegas,and in my opinion,should be made to move along,instead of causing crowds on already crowded streets.I really love your blog,and have been faithfully following it for almost 2 years…keep up the great work! Dave

  22. Gray

    I don’t get it, either, Dave. That is worse than anything I’ve seen, and what I’ve seen is bad enough. Thanks for reading my blog and commenting!

  23. Paul (VegasNotes)

    What really makes me laugh about this is that Las Vegas has been trying to move away from the “theme park” / “child-friendly” mentality for years now – witness the de-theming of hotels, the building of strip-front retail, etc. etc. – and yet these tacky sub-Theme-Park quality characters are popular and draw large crowds.

    Perhaps as long as Vegas offers $30 and $40 rooms and $2 beers, it will always draw crowds that actually enjoy the costumed panhandlers, the Lion Habitats, the original Treasure Island theme etc. etc. (NOTE – I like 2 of these!)

    That said, I’m completely with you Gray on not appreciating the characters on the Strip *OR* the bottlenecks that they cause. The annoyance is that they have worked out the most profitable locations are the highest traffic flow points – so they set up at the bottom of bridges and at busy hotel entrances and just make the pedestrian bottlenecks even worse.

    Perhaps the solution is for one day ever few months where there is a Bounty on them. Let’s see how effective Captain America’s shield really is, or how fleet of foot BumbleBee is! 😉

  24. Gray

    Sheesh, Paul, even I wouldn’t say that. LOL. Harsh. I think the situation can easily be solved by making these street performers obtain licenses, setting up specific areas where they’re allowed to perform (where the sidewalks are wider) and limiting the number of licenses. In fact–hey, here’s an idea! Make the licensing process be a contest, where they have to compete every year for the limited number of licenses. They could tape it as a reality show! 🙂

  25. Paul (VegasNotes)

    Harsh? Perhaps. Effective? You betcha!

    Although in London they did make the entertainers on the subway network apply for licenses and that both restricted the quantity and improved the quality. So perhaps you might have an idea.

    That said, your point about a reality show is actually in favour of my idea. Check out what has been the #1 movie in your local cinema for the past 3 weeks – The Hunger Games. Now imagine how much more exciting that would be if the people were dressed as costumed characters… Just an idea…

  26. Chris

    Yea…. those dumb poor people trying to make enough money to eat. Damn them for ruinin your party.

  27. Gray

    @Chris – I expected someone to respond with that a long time ago. It’s a valid reaction and I respect your opinion. I hope the economy improves soon so those people making a living on the streets can get better jobs with health and retirement benefits.

    1. HundleyFan

      But isn’t that the point with these people donning costumes? I don’t think many (any?) of them want to get real jobs. Why would they, when they can dress up for as few or as many hours a day as they feel like and have people simply *give* them money because they have costumes on?

  28. Gray

    Well, that may be the point. But you know, this sort of quick-cash-for-no-work thing is going to bite them in the ass when they need health care or retirement money. Nobody’s going to want to see an 86 year old toothless Captain America out there on the sidewalk in 110 degree heat. If I were in their shoes, I’d still be looking for a job that provides good healthcare and a 401K.

  29. Chris

    You gotta be kidding me right?

    I seriously doubt these people choose this as a means to sustain themselves. No one chooses to be poor. If our society would give the people better alternatives I’m sure they would take them. Not everyone is given the opportunity to go to college, get into a career path, or has the connections to get a job somewhere.

    The topic however, is very complex. I suggest people watch the film Confessions of a Superhero (streaming on netflix if you have it) and the Replacements that deal with this issue over in LA.

  30. Chris

    yup that’s the one. That shows one shows the other side of the argument. That is how celebrity culture has kind of stupefied people… or maybe seduced them into stupefying themselves.

  31. RJ

    I was downtown a couple of years ago and snappred a pic of one of the impersonators from a distance. He approached me and told me I had to pay him for the pic. I just laughed at him. He got aggressive with me. I told him F- off I think they all should be removed.

  32. Gray

    According to the new law that was just passed, the only way they’re allowed to keep doing what they’re doing is to not ask for money (let alone demand it). If you want to “make a donation”, that’s fine, but if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. Next time one of them gets aggressive with you, tell them you’ll find a cop to settle the dispute. That’ll shut them up.

  33. Mike

    I think all of these panhandlers and people in costumes need to stop. They are all drunks or drug addicts or even pedafiles . They cant get real jobs and they are probably collecting unemployment and not even paying taxes on the money they make. If they want to dress up and be characters they should go work at disney . These people are not that poor and are not losing money , if you think about how many people they take pics with in an hour and how many hours they are out there for. I would say they are bringing home at least $200 a day and again its not taxed. And I am sure its all going down the drain because they are all crack heads.

  34. rose

    not all are bad. some are only doing this to get their degree while others have no real future. some even donate their time to old folks homes n visit children at the trauma ward. while i agree with the whole bottle necking, they at least bring some joy to the children that see them ,they aren’t looking at weight or height just the costume. some of them really want the people who drink and smoke off the street. it looks bad for the rest of them, some really wants to be licensed and background checks and with good reason.I know this cause I am friends with a small handful of characters, and while I don’t dress up I understand why they do it.

  35. Gray

    I don’t think any of us can say they are ALL drunks, drug addicts or pedophiles, Mike–although based on reports from other commenters above, obviously there are a few drunks in the mix. Which just makes me sad. That should not be happening. Do Las Vegas social workers monitor this situation? Is there anything they can do to help these people and get them off the streets?

    Rose, I’m really glad you chimed in, and your timing couldn’t have been more perfect, since you actually do know some of them personally. It’s good to hear that point of view. I do think licensing and background checks would take care of the worst of the problems associated with the costumed panhandlers, while still allowing those responsible ones to make a living doing what they do. Enforcing it, of course, may prove to be a problem. The police can’t be everywhere all the time.

  36. CJ

    Either way, Around my way we call it hustling. I think they picked a creative way to do whatever they do (can you tell I like them yet). Some chose dealing drugs, prostitution, and theft. They chose to dress in costumes and pose. Doesn’t seem too bad to me. However, it’s when they get aggressive that bothers me. I’ve never just taken a picture of one but I heard stories where people have and they have gotten rude and pushy.

  37. Mike

    Rose ,
    I am all for bringing joy to a childs face but when i see elmo holding a sign that says ” Lets be honest elmo needs beer money” or i see another character walking around with a bottle of whiskey . Those that do volunteer or donate there money should wear that sign so we all know that. Maybe once there are background checks and licensing and are taxed on the money they make I will think its ok . CJ if they want to hustle they can find a real job or stand on the corner and clean peoples windows with a spray bottle and a squeegee !!!

  38. Gray

    CJ, I would totally report it to the police if they ever get aggressive or pushy. They are not supposed to be doing that. And yeah, I suppose if it were a choice between drug dealing, prostitution or dressing up as a costumed character and panhandling, I’d choose the latter, too. But I’d like to think I’d be very respectful of people while doing it.

    Mike, really??? That image of Elmo…kinda disturbing. Can you imagine your kid asking “How come Elmo needs beer money?” (And the sad thing is, I’m sure there IS a demographic of Vegas visitor who would think that was hilarious.)

  39. Chris

    You guys are worried about satirical images of elmo and we live in a city that flaunts sex and sexuality like it’s no big deal? Perspective much?

  40. Chris

    Of course you COULD. But that would require you pick on the very people who make many of the problems with the state. You could bitch as loudly about those issues as you do this one and things would change. But more importantly… why are you taking your kids on the strip anyway where they would run into drunken Elmo? How do you explain gambling? Nudity? Sex? Prostitution? Crack dealers? Instead of worrying about drunken elmo why don’t we worry about passing an ordinance that might make the sidewalks MORE accessible on the strip? Or worry about issues that might increase employment?

    Nothing man made is unchangeable, that is the same logic that let Hitler carry on.

  41. Gray

    Who’s “you”? I don’t have children, and if I did, I certainly wouldn’t bring them to Vegas…for the very reasons you mention. I can’t actually accomplish any changes in Las Vegas, since I’m not a resident, therefore not a voter. Vegas doesn’t give a damn what I think. I’m just one visitor with an opinion and a blog. That and a buck will get you a cup of coffee.

  42. Chris

    Then I will kindly ask you for a hot cup and two sugars to go, but there is something you can do. You can vote with your tourist dollars, the only thing that seems to impact any political change out here. In fact you and your blog probably have more political clout than any organization out here…. Our government is squarely focused on the tourists.

    Other than that, you can kindly stay out of our politics. We are a real city with real problems; one’s that require sustained thinking are that are unique to Vegas. They can really only be understood by living here. If you don’t like costumed characters on the streets of my city than do not come.

  43. Hardware

    Mixed feelings about this.

    Not sure when I first noticed the tipsters working Vegas. I knew the tipsters were a staple of the Hollywood tourist district, so I’m not surprised we started seeing them in Vegas. Honestly, what took so long?

    Before I ever saw a silver or gold man or woman waiting for a tip, I saw the concept in the French Quarter of New Orleans. When done well, it’s very entertaining. Definite talent at work.

    When the tipsters started to proliferate on Fremont, I liked it. They added more character to the street. When I saw the dude folding himself into a tiny, clear box for tips, I wondered how soon Fremont would turn into Malory Square in Key West. That was Halloween 2011. A year later we have a few entertainers, but by and large it is still tipsters.

    I never thought that they needed to scream “Vegas” in order be interesting and/or entertaining. I see some that are well done, some that really suck. There was a pretty good Stevie Wonder last month, but how many people are dying to get their pic taken with a Stevie lookalike? Enough to keep him coming back, I suppose.

    With all the competition, how long can you last as a poor Elvis, Prince or Michael Jackson?

    Sure, the drunk Mickey Mouse or other children’s characters are tacky. No reason a child should be exposed to that, but that’s a different topic.

    What surprised me two years ago, and doesn’t surprise me now, is the proliferation of homeless people on Fremont looking for a handout. You use to see a homeless guy milling about, but never with a sign, openly panhandling. I wondered why Fremont could keep porn slappers and the homeless off of Fremont, but not tipsters.

    I thought that perhaps holding a sign asking for money or passing out adult services handbills was prohibited, but as a tipster, you’re just standing there agreeing to a public photograph and asking for a tip.

    That logic made sense, but last month I saw several homeless people standing around with signs looking for money (some noting they were military veterans.) Whatever the reason they weren’t doing this two years ago, they are now. What keeps the porn slappers out at this point? It is well established what they are doing is legal, if on public property.

    I like the tipsters as a concept, but like most, woudln’t appreciate aggressive soliciting or crowds that clog up a narrow sidewalk. I don’t spend much time on the strip, but I know they’re out there, and I have seen them (as well as porn slappers) in places where space is limited. Highly annoying.

    While I’m not bothered by tipsters on Fremont, it’s getting too crowded with all the music stages and merchandise booths. Add in tipsters, street magicians the homeless and perhaps porn slappers, I’d favor going back to having a tipster-free Fremont. If you can’t license who can peddle on Fremont when it comes to tipsters and the homeless, then I’d prefer not to have any of it.

    1. Gray

      Thanks, Hardware, for your thoughts. I, too, have mixed feelings. I don’t object to buskers–the talented folks who play music on the street for tips–in fact, I love them, at home or when I travel. But things have gotten out of control in Vegas with panhandlers and tipsters as you call them. I feel for the people who run the city. I’m not sure what they can legally do to rein things in again. At what point can you say, the crowds are getting dangerous in this or that area? And how would you enforce a licensing process? I keep thinking if they just closed off the Strip to traffic and made it pedestrian-only, it would alleviate a lot of the problem. There’d be more room for people to move around and you wouldn’t have to worry as much about bottlenecks due to tipsters or anything else for that matter. Probably not likely to happen, though.

  44. Xoe

    As a street performer myself, and someone who knows most of the other costume people on the strip, allow me to speak on their behalf.
    First of all, we’re not felons, alcoholics, drug addicts, or homeless people. …Well, maybe a few alcoholics, but not the kind you find slouched in a ditch with an empty bottle of whiskey. We’re normal people, just like you.
    Most of us do have other jobs. Pretty much only the people that are really successful (by having a popular character that they portray well) don’t have other jobs. Some of us are in school, and many of us do comic conventions and gigs.
    I agree that some of the costumed people look like crap and shouldn’t be out there, but most of us make our own costumes and work hard on our characters. Those of us who do try to be as convincing as possible tend to shun those others who make us look bad.
    You’ll hardly ever see these people soliciting on the strip. Those that do should stop. We don’t yell at you, “Hey! Come take a picture!” So if you really have a problem with it, keep walking. It’s not that hard. And to whoever said, “Go work at McDonalds”… Yeah, go shove it. We work hard and we make way more than that, because we’re TALENTED. Otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it, would we? So before you go and judge everyone based on a few bad costumes, maybe you should try talking to us.

    1. Hardware

      Nope, you can’t paint with a broad brush.

      I’m pretty sure you have a few felons or drug addicts working amongst your ranks, Xoe, you just don’t know it. And honestly, I don’t care if you or your colleagues are felons, as long as you conduct yourself in a responsible manner. Not every felon deserves to be ostracized for the rest of his/her life.

      Whatever the reason for why you do it instead of working at Mickey D’s, keep on keepin’ on if you do it and do it well. I’ve seen some cool stuff on the streets, and tend to enjoy it. (And I’ve never been hassled by any of you tipsters, unlike the timeshare whores.)

      Sorry I’ve never tipped any of you for standing around dressed like a showgirl, but if I every find a Drew Barrymore lookalike, I will definitely tip $5 to get my picture taken with her.

  45. Shawn Staupe

    As a MULTI time visitor of this wonderful and crazy little world…I have always greatly appreciated Vegas, and her people’s, ability to exist allong side with love and harmony these “costumed weirdos”. I have had MANY times thought about how much fun it would be to join them. I firmly believe that a HUGE majority of these people don’t even have money anywhere in their mind, when they start out doing these costumed wonders. I would LOVE to do my part in keeping this tradition alive and up to date. And please remember art is in the eye of the beholder and ALL artists deserve to be rewarded in some way for their beauty. Love the universe and the world can be yours. – Ravenwolf

  46. clayton

    I just got back from vegas, and found many of them standing idle for long periods of time, because they are intimidating. You have no idea what to tip, you dont want to pay thru the nose, and dont want to be rude by offering crap money – so the end result was they got zero (i did tip Darth Vadar in fremont st $5 for a pic). But my point is that if they just asked a set price say $1 or $2 dollars and it was known up front more would stop – at a set dollar i would be more inclined to stop and have a pic with random charactors than the 1 i really wanted and had to negiotiate with. Just my opinion.

    1. Gray

      Clayton – As I understand it, they are not legally allowed to set a price for photos, as that would be a business transaction and they are not licensed to conduct business on the streets. Really, they’re a sort of busker, which means they collect tips/donations of whatever amount you want to give. I think $5 a picture is about right.

  47. Hardware

    I like to carry $2 bills, because I’m weird like that. (I have 7 of them on me right now.) A buck seems cheap, so if I ever decided to tip one, I’d tip $2, unless the costume/character was particularly spectacular, then I might be inclined to tip $5, especially if I wanted more than one pic. And I’d insist on more than one if I’m tipping $5 because the film is cheap these days and odds are one of us will have a stupid look on our face if I take just one pic.

  48. VegasGary

    I write syndicated articles and blogs about Las Vegas. Much of my research is done on the streets of downtown Las Vegas (Fremont Street), and on the Las Vegas Strip. Over the years I’ve got to meet and have become friends with many of these “Street Performers”. Most of these people are just normal men and women trying to make an honest living. Many are trying to develop their skills (Music, magic, artist, etc.) Some are currently in college, some dress up in costumes to make a few extra honest dollars, and some use what they make to meet their monthly bills and expenses. Without mentioning names, I know one guy that dresses in costume six or seven days a week, he’s a college grad, trained in the electronics field, and he makes from $150 a day an up. I ask him one day, why did he do this? His answer to me was that he loved doing what he was doing. No job stress, and the money he made was tax free. As for myself,, I haven’t run into any drug addicts, booze hounds, or child molesters yet. I’ve never heard any of the Street Performers that I know ever beg or ask for money from anyone. Remember, we live in America. Land of the free. That includes having the choice to do what we want to do as far as making a living. As long as it’s honest work. Also as Americans, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. This one is mine .. VegasGary

    1. Gray

      Thanks for your comments,VegasGary and Hardware (sorry for the late reply–I don’t know how I missed your comment!).

  49. Canadian_Guy

    The worst is kick me in —– for $20. The worst part were people were paying this and kicking this young kid. That was truly repulsive! A huge group gathered to watch and some people video taped it.

    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      I had no idea what you were talking about, Canadian Guy, so I looked it up on Youtube. Are you talking about the guy who was letting people pay to kick him in the crotch? Dude had to have had some kind of cup on. Nobody in their right mind would do that voluntarily without some kind of protection. But in any case, yeah, that’s not the Vegas I fell in love with, that’s for sure.

  50. BoydBoy

    I don’t like the costume characters on the street. They have harassed me and my girlfriend many times. If you take a picture of them they ask for money. Hey too bad if you’re in costume out in public guy have to deal with people taking your picture. I told a bicycle cop about one of them who harassed us for money and the cop went over to him. I didn’t stick around to see the result.

    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      Thanks for your comment, BoydBoy. I’m sorry to hear you got harassed by some of them; it’s probably because they expect people to pay for photos of them (although I believe they can’t force you to pay, it’s considered a “tip” or “donation”). I usually walk by so fast they don’t have time to see me, let alone harass me. LOL.

  51. cosplaylife

    When I was living in Vegas I went down to the strip a few times in costumes I made from scratch (Raven, Rogue, Chi) Walked around for a while so I got some exercise and have some fun. If people stopped me for a picture I agreed but I never asked for money. I made some money but I mainly did it for fun and because I loved having an excuse to dress up and be in character. From my experience I didn’t see anyone really get harassed but obviously I can’t see everything so who knows maybe it happens a lot. Personally I think it adds character but that’s just me.

    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      Thanks for your perspective, cosplaylife. Do they have conferences/gatherings in Vegas for cosplayers? I remember being in Montreal one time when there was a Manga conference going on and saw tons of people dressed up as Manga characters wandering the streets. Not panhandlers, just there for the conference and to hang out with other fans. It looked fun.

  52. VegasCostumer

    Hey I’m also one of these costumed characters, and I’d love to share some insight with you. For the better characters, this is a very good and generally easy way of making a living. In terms of talent, there are a few characters that truly play a role while out there. But, you’re right, dressing in a costume doesn’t compare to the dancers, musicians, painters and magicians.

    ALL of the showgirls posing for pictures are just impersonators like the rest of the costumed characters. There are tons of people that feel the same way that you do and would never pay for a picture. They mostly just ignore me and go about their vacation. But there are tons of people that have fun getting their pictures taken with me and other characters. I definitely do not consider myself desperate or a panhandler. The other characters that I know are in the same boat. Some are students, some are aspiring models or actors, some are full time, and some just earn extra cash on the side but have other jobs.

    I would never beg for money or beg for someone to take a picture with me. I make sure to clearly let people know ahead of time that I take photos for a living and I accept tips. Very few people decline to tip and those people generally leave without taking a photo. It’s just a matter of whether or not it’s worth it to you. Maybe one day you’ll see an impersonator from your favorite movie and you’ll just have to take a pic! Every once in a while I have people tell me that they have been to Vegas many times and would never pay for a photo, but they couldn’t resist when they saw me.

    From what I understand Las Vegas is a place with a lot of jobs, which is perhaps why you do not see to many actual musicians and dancers out there. While it’s my choice to do what I do, it can be difficult to endure the way I get treated by some people – it is the street after all. Every job has it’s ups and downs. I make an honest living, live a comfortable life and work for myself only.

    Also, I’m sorry BoydBoy had a bad experience. All that a character can legally do is let you know they accept tips, and it is not okay for them to harass you. We work on an honor system and unfortunately a select few people lack honor. They lie that they will pay and then they don’t. It’s upsetting, but it is what it is. If you tell someone that you will tip and then you don’t tip… well you’ll have some words thrown at you but that’s about it. Tourists should definitely report poor behavior and harassment to the police since that is what keeps the less appealing/dishonest people of all sorts off the street.

  53. Sarah

    Actually, there are a lot of talented people in Vegas. There are a lot of street dancers performing, as well as during the day a lot of talented magicians on fremont street. There are some REALLY talented guys in front of Bellagio. White Chocolate and Veezo, as well as a kid who bonebreaks.

  54. Nicholas

    I am also one of the people that do costumes on the Las Vegas Strip. I moved here to Vegas a year ago because the mother of my child is originally from Vegas & she decided to move back to Vegas with our son, whom was a month and a half old at the time. I followed right behind, because I know what it is like to grow up without a father & I refuse to let that happen to my son. I got here & found that it is VERY difficult to get a job in this city. So I started doing the costume thing so that I could take care of my son. Yes some characters make good money & live comfortably, but not all of us do. Yes some of the people that do costumes are people that have no business in a costume because they don’t have manners, respect, etiquette, or people skills , but that is a select few. And yes if you take a picture or multiple pictures with someone in costume you should give a tip or donation. If you don’t you are no better than the people people that work costumes that have no manners, respect, etiquette, or people skills. We are providing our time & our services to provide you with a souvenir that you get to go home & show all of your friends & family, even though in most cases it is uploaded on your social media sites by the time you are 10 feet away from us. And as for your comment Gray. The costumes aren’t about being Vegas themed. They are about giving people a variety to choose from. Some of us where costumes that are kids characters, and that is due to the fact that every year more & more people are bringing their children to Vegas & we have need to appeal to all people not just a select few.

    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      Thanks for your perspective, Nicholas. I know costumes aren’t required to be Vegas-themed, I just think that fits into the context of Vegas better. I certainly agree with you that their needs to be courtesy and respect on both sides of the costume.

  55. chgdiapers

    I was in Vegas this fall for business – my first trip there in 10 years. It was definitely strange and rather creepy to me. I guess I’m out of touch because I wasn’t expecting to see “Pee Wee Herman” riding a bicycle.

  56. Dan

    Totally agree with this article! I don’t think she’s trying to knock the people for doing this? The character’s on the strip and abroad. Just make Vegas look,
    a little more kiddish and less elegant. Compared to back in the day!

  57. Pingback: The Other Las Vegas | Rubber Tramp Artist

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