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The Gold Spike: Welcome to Your Las Vegas Entrepreneur Dorm

Are startup entrepreneurs so different from the troops of gamblers who used to come here, hoping to strike it rich?

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

“Although it seems obvious in retrospect, probably the biggest benefit of moving to Vegas was that nobody had any friends outside of Zappos, so we were all sort of forced to hang out with each other outside the office.” — Tony Hsieh, “Delivering Happiness”

If you visit the Gold Spike hotel and casino in Downtown Las Vegas, you might be in for a surprise.

Where once there were rows of ring-a-dinging, blinged-out slot machines on the ground floor, there are now oversized cornhole games, a hopscotch setup and a human-sized Jenga game. Where there were floor plants and cocktail waitresses in torn white-tank-top uniforms, there are now terrariums and co-working tables. Upstairs, where you might have rented a seedy hotel room for cheap ($30 a night, bathrooms at the end of the hall), you’ll find yourself in apartments shared by clean-cut youths toting laptops.

Why — and how — has this dive-y old Vegas relic become some sort of adult playground? Who would possibly want an supersized hopscotch game?

Entrepreneurs, that’s who. The Gold Spike is now an entrepreneur dorm. “Workforce housing,” technically.

From the old, pre-tech Gold Spike’s Trip Advisor reviews:

“Although I did win $20.00 from a video roulette machine there, I felt like I needed a long hot shower immediately upon leaving the establishment,” one guest from Chicago wrote.

“It’s smoky, dirty and small, but a heck of a lot of fun!” another wrote.

“Where else can you get a prime rib dinner for $4.99?” asked someone with the screen name LasVegasPutter.

Opened as the Rendezvous in 1976, it had become a neighborhood blight before Hsieh bought it.

A lot has changed. Today, the slot-machine floor has long co-working tables. There’s a bar, but half the people there had their laptops open. The casino cage has been converted to a 3-D light room. There are secret passcodes to certain rooms.

“The door code’s not posted, but people find out,” said Downtown Project planner (and “parking wizard”) Mike Stoll, who led me on a tour of the redesigned and repurposed Gold Spike. “Every once in a while, we reset it just to bring back that sense of discovery.”

The third- and fourth-floor hotel rooms are now “workforce housing” (residents have to work for either Zappos or the Downtown Project). The 42 units, measuring 260 square feet, cost between $520 and $570 a month, and are at 100 percent capacity.

“And they love it,” Stoll said.

But how much has it really changed? Are these entrepreneurs so different from the troops of gamblers who used to come here, hoping to strike it rich?

When I sat down at the bar for a drink and said I was a tech reporter, the bartender looked worried: “For every three I see here, two don’t make it,” he said, pouring me a very stiff drink.

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