Image: Las Vegas © Dennis Flaherty, Photolibrary

Related topics: homes, home financing, foreclosure, home prices, economy

It was big news five years ago when Macau, the gambling mecca near Hong Kong, surpassed the Las Vegas Strip in gambling revenues.

It's no longer even close: Macau's gambling revenues were four times those of the Strip in 2010.

Iconic casino operators like Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts now get the lion's share of their revenue and operating income from Macau and Asia.

Macau's gains have come in the years since Las Vegas' housing and building boom turned to dust.

Home prices here have fallen 58.1% from their 2006 highs, the most in the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Home Price index. They've even lost 12.6% from the nationwide recession low in April 2009 -- again the worst performance of any city in the index.

The median home-sale price in the Las Vegas area at the 2006 peak was $313,500; in 2010, that fell to a stunning $138,100, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Currently more than 70% of the homes in the area are "underwater," meaning their value is worth less than the amount owed on the mortgage, according to Stephen Miller, the chairman of the economics department at the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Nationwide, it's more than 28%.

A recent Forbes survey named Las Vegas the nation's second-worst-performing housing market of the past decade.

The worst? Detroit.

That's not the only thing Sin City has in common with the Motor City, although on the surface no two metropolises are more different (and I can guarantee that Detroit doesn't have a hotel as cool as Vegas' new Cosmopolitan).

Detroit was a manufacturing powerhouse that has been in decline for decades. Las Vegas was the prototypical boom town: Clark County, in which Las Vegas is located, grew by about 40% in the last decade, pushing its population to nearly 2 million.

Detroit is gritty, Vegas is glitzy. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and what happens in Detroit . . . well, who cares?

And yet there are striking parallels.

Las Vegas, said Robert Lang, director of Brookings Mountain West, a think tank affiliated with UNLV, "has become a modern-day version of Pittsburgh or Detroit, which once relied on one sector for its growth to its detriment," the Las Vegas Sun reported.

He "compared Las Vegas to Midwestern and Northeastern cities with manufacturing plants and steel mills where the middle class had high-paying jobs, only to see those plants disappear."

A different kind of one-horse town

The industry that defines Vegas, of course, is gambling.

"We're a one-horse town, and gaming is driving the economy," said Miller.