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?


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

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!).

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.


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