LAS VEGAS—Few places vacuum money from you like this glittering gambling and entertainment playground. That’s true for the visitors in town for Sunday’s Super Bowl —official motto: Excessive Celebration Encouraged. And it’s true for visitors any time, with the $US200 seats at the pool and the $US800 bottle service at nightclubs. All before you step onto the casino floor. You can fly here for as little as $US50 if you play your cards right. But people come to Vegas to spend, and the businesses here know it. This place hits travelers with potential upgrades every few steps. So I flew in for an experiment, a real-life version of the Jim Carrey comedy “Yes Man” (or “Yes Day” if you’re a Jennifer Garner fan). I said yes to every upgrade and VIP package to see just how much you get for your money, and what can be skipped. I had parameters. The $US3,999 helicopter ride to the top of Valley of Fire State Park for yoga was out. As was the $US4,000-a-night upgrade offer to a three-bedroom presidential suite at my hotel. Still, I cut lines, got a massage in the reserved seats at the Aria sportsbook during an NFL wild-card game, relaxed in a private lounge before a show at the Sphere , and drank a French 75 from a prime window seat at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant. In all, I spent $US976 to upgrade my Vegas visit. Was every upcharge worth it? Absolutely not. But a few are worth your money.
Yes, yes and yes
The offers began minutes after I booked a room for two nights at the luxury all-suite Palazzo resort. The price: $US480 before taxes and fees for two nights, a relative bargain on a holiday weekend in January. How much for a room booked last-minute for Super Bowl weekend? $US1,700 a night. I landed two upgrades after an email prompt gauged my interest: $US75 for early check-in and $US57 a night for a city view, the cheapest room category upgrade. Early check-in fees irk me , but this was worth it after my early flight. I was in the room by 11 a.m. The room was swank. The view of Treasure Island and the Mirage was nothing special.
I headed to Area15, an arts and entertainment complex. First stop: Meow Wolf ’s Omega Mart, a popular immersive art experience that takes visitors into a bizarro grocery store that links to an alternate dimension. Admission is $US54; upgrading to a $99 VIP package promised to “enhance my experience” but bought me a souvenir pin, VIP lanyard, a cocktail and a 15% discount I didn’t use at the gift shop. Maybe the good stuff comes with the $US129 scavenger hunt package. (As I perused products like cans of faux La Croix in mashed-potato flavour and wandered a dizzying hall of mirrors, I wondered how many visitors upgraded with a trip to a local dispensary beforehand.) Admission to stroll around the rest of Area15 is free, but I upgraded to a $US35 pass, which included five attractions, the best of which was the outdoor Liftoff ride with great views of the Strip.
Cutting lines for crab legs
Many resorts here gave up the buffet business for good during the pandemic . The Wicked Spoon buffet at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas still packs them in. Saturday brunch had an hour-long wait during my visit. VIP line to the rescue! $US35 gets you a head start on the $US62 all-you-can-eat feast of snow crab legs, sushi and slow-roasted strip loin. The best part: The manager overseeing the line comped the fee because she said she enjoyed talking to me and a friend while we waited. (I never identify myself to employees as a Wall Street Journal reporter on these types of assignments.) Suddenly playing with house money, I sprang for the unlimited mimosa package for $US33 after tax and tip, to go with the brunch base price. There is a 90-minute limit, but I had places to be.
One movie, $US245
My colleague Jason Gay calls the Sphere, the giant orb that sits behind the Venetian, a “beach ball peaking on acid.” He paid $US539 to see U2 at the new venue. In the biggest single splurge on my trip, I paid $US245 to see a 50-minute movie there. The Director’s Seat package promised VIP entry, preshow lounge access with free beer, wine and snacks and a souvenir Sphere T-shirt. The VIP entry was the best perk, letting me skip the clogged Regular Joe lines. I was one of the first people in the atrium, where a humanoid robot named Aura chatted with me and a couple from Arkansas who also took the VIP plunge. The robot asked them the secret to their 55-year marriage. We met again in the nearly empty lounge before the Darren Aronofsky show “Postcard From Earth.”
Delta Sky Club this ain’t: The small food spread included soft pretzels with cheese and mustard. The bartender did dig out a great local IPA, Atomic Duck, and pointed me to the popcorn that VIP guests could take into the movie. The package promises premium seating for the show, a trip around the globe in which seats rattled when elephants or a jumbo jet rumbled across the giant screen.
My seat was good, albeit one row up and an aisle over from my friends who paid $US79 for their standard tickets. The final Yes Day in Vegas is a spendy blur: $US190 to watch the Lions and Rams duke it out in an NFL playoff nail-biter from a high-top table with food and alcohol included in a roped-off section at Aria Resort & Casino. The rest of the sportsbook was standing room only.
Then there was the $US40-a-person fee for the window seat at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant overlooking the dancing Bellagio fountains. The couple celebrating their anniversary one table back couldn’t believe I paid the fee. I left Vegas a little spoiled and out of sorts. When Southwest Airlines offered a $US50 upgrade to jump to the front of its boarding line on my flight home, I clicked buy. Can’t wait to explain that one to the folks in Expense Accounting.
Alexandre de Betak and his wife are focusing on their most personal project yet.
The chip company that is cashing in on the market’s artificial-intelligence obsession seems to many investors like an unstoppable force
Nvidia ’s historic run is minting profits for investors big and small . Many are betting the boom is just beginning.
They are piling into trades that the chipmaker’s shares, which have more than tripled over the past year , are headed still higher. Some have turned to the options market to look for ways to turbocharge their bets on artificial intelligence after a blockbuster earnings report sent the stock up 17% over the past two days.
The exuberance reflects hope that the company is the vanguard of wide adoption of artificial intelligence—and an intense fear of missing out among investors who have sat on the sidelines while the company’s valuation has eclipsed $2 trillion .
With the help of Nvidia, stocks have stormed into 2024 . The S&P 500, which has chalked up fresh records in recent weeks, is up 6.7%. That is the index’s second-best performance for this time period over the past 10 years. The gains were only surpassed by an 11% increase in 2019.
Nvidia has contributed to about a quarter of those gains, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.
The Nasdaq, too, is up 6.6% this year and neared a record Friday. The tech-heavy index has been boosted by Nvidia, which this week tacked on $277 billion in additional market value, along with six other tech titans collectively known as the Magnificent Seven.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 3.8% this year and has hit repeated records in recent weeks.
“You look at these numbers and what this company’s done—it’s almost without precedent,” said Mike Ogborne, founder of San Francisco-based hedge fund Ogborne Capital Management, who counts Nvidia among his top five biggest holdings . “It is nothing short of amazing.”
Ogborne compared AI with the launch of the internet more than two decades ago, which kick-started a technology craze that lasted years.
“It’s exciting,” Ogborne said. “It’s great for America.”
Unfazed by questions about AI
Tamar June in Reno, Nev., is one investor along for Nvidia’s furious stock-market ascent. Since the 1990s, the 61-year-old software-company chief executive has been buying shares of tech firms, including Apple , Microsoft , Cisco, Intel and Oracle . June had been familiar with Nvidia for some time but in recent years kept reading about the chip company in the news. She liked that it was profitable and growing.
June decided to purchase some shares in 2022 at about $260, then watched the stock erase more than half of its value later that year. She held on, knowing that Nvidia’s graphics processing units were in high demand for cloud computing. Then, an AI frenzy hit the stock market in 2023, sending Nvidia’s stock soaring.
Now, Nvidia shares are closing in on $800, and June is looking for opportunities to buy more. She isn’t fazed by worries that the AI boom is bound to come crashing down. June experienced the bursting of the dot-com bubble and the 2008 financial crisis—and watched stocks bounce back to new highs.
“I think it’s still in the beginning stages,” June said of AI developments. “There’s still a lot of headroom for technology because our whole future depends on it.”
$20 billion in options
A herd of investors chased Nvidia while it raced toward its $2 trillion valuation.
At Robinhood Markets , Nvidia was the most purchased stock by customers on a net basis and received the heaviest notional trading volumes over the past month, according to Stephanie Guild, head of investment strategy at the digital brokerage.
The rise drove many traders to pile into the company’s options, a risky corner of the market notorious for boom-and-bust trades.
Nvidia has also morphed into one of the most popular trades in this market, with traders placing more than $20 billion in stock-options bets tied to the company over the past week, according to Cboe Global Markets data. That was more than what they spent on Tesla , Meta Platforms , Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Alphabet combined.
Call options, contracts that confer the right to buy shares at a specific price, were particularly popular. And many of the trades appeared to suggest that investors were fearful of missing out on bigger gains to come. Some of the most active trades Friday were calls pegged to the shares jumping to $800 or $850, up from their closing price of $788.17. Betting against the shares has been a losing game , leading many investors to throw in the towel on bearish wagers.
The values of many of these options bets exploded while Nvidia soared, rewarding those who piled in. The big gains also enticed others to join in the trades while the stock’s rally continued.
“There’s a snowball effect,” said Henry Schwartz, a vice president at exchange-operator Cboe Global Markets, of the options activity surrounding Nvidia.
Ahead of the tech behemoth’s earnings report Wednesday, options pegged to the shares jumping to $1,300 —around double where they were trading at the time—were some of the most popular trades.
And for some investors, the 16% one-day jump in Nvidia’s share price Thursday wasn’t enough. They sought even bigger returns and piled into several niche exchange-traded funds that offer magnified exposure to Nvidia stock.
The GraniteShares 2x Long NVDA Daily ETF has taken in almost half a billion dollars from investors on a net basis since launching late in 2022. The fund’s shares have more than doubled in 2024 and have surged nearly 650% since inception.
There have been few signs of profit-taking so far. Investors added a net $263 million to the fund in the past month. The fund’s cousin, which turbocharges bearish bets against Nvidia, has been much less popular.
The euphoria surrounding Nvidia has spread to other stocks, too. Shares of Super Micro Computer , a much smaller company worth less than $50 billion, popped more than 30% Thursday after Nvidia’s earnings report. Traders spent more than $5 billion on options tied to the company, more than what they spent on Tesla this week. Tesla is worth about 13 times as much as the company.
Software that is eating the world
Nvidia’s continued, rapid ascent has stunned even early bulls on semiconductors and generative AI.
Atreides Management founder Gavin Baker, who started covering Nvidia as an analyst at Fidelity in 2000, reminded investors in his Boston hedge fund in an early 2021 letter of Marc Andreessen ’s adage that software was eating the world. “Today, AI is replacing software,” he wrote.
Atreides started buying Nvidia shares in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to regulatory filings.
The wager proved profitable. But as Nvidia shares kept soaring, Baker started selling. Atreides was out of Nvidia by the end of the second quarter of 2023. “This has been a painful mistake,” Baker wrote in a June 2023 letter to his clients, when Nvidia was trading north of $420 a share.
Atreides’s stake in competitor Advanced Micro Devices has helped alleviate the pain from missing out on larger gains. The firm made nearly a quarter billion last year alone on AMD, which it continues to hold along with several other related bets.
Michael Hannosh, a 20-year-old college student in Chicago, said he first purchased shares of Nvidia in August 2022, when the stock traded below $180. Nvidia was one of his first-ever stock purchases. He had built a custom computer for videogaming and used a lot of Nvidia parts.
Hannosh said he kept the shares until last March, then sold them for a roughly 30% profit. He later bought a few more shares at about $230 and sold them over the course of the next several days at a profit.
The shares have tripled since.
“It’s blown my f—ing mind to bits. It’s insane,” said Hannosh. “I really wish I held it, obviously.”