The final in my trilogy of outrage is the whole President Obama and Vegas thing. In a town hall meeting in Indiana last week the president made a comment that companies that are getting bailed out by the taxpayers should not be taking trips to Las Vegas.
Then all hell broke loose!
On the one hand, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman fired back with a two-page letter and media blitz complaining that during these troubled times the last thing Las Vegas needs are damning comments by the president. (I paraphrase.) Goodman, seeking an apology from the president, said that Obama’s comment was unjustified and was based on stereotypes of our city.
I realize that it is the mayor’s job to be Las Vegas’ cheerleader. It’s his job to worry about our city’s image. And in that, I credit him for swift action. But give me a break! Las Vegas is known the world over as Sin City for reason!
To say that the image of Las Vegas that President Obama was referencing was unjustified? Well, that’s just stupid. How many millions of dollars have the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority spent on studying visitor patterns and crafting witty ad-campaigns to meet them? The “What Happens in Vegas” campaign was an international success because it hit the nail on the head, not because it created a false image that nobody believed!
Our city’s slogan isn’t, “Hey we’re just a regular town like any other. Come on down and do some serious business.” (For some other funny slogan ideas, check this out.)
No, we’ve built our image around losing yourself and sometimes acting out fantasies of who you wish to be in the safe zoo of Las Vegas. What happens here, stays here. Escape your life. Or Vegas Bound, the newest campaign where they brought 100 people from a small Texas town here and filmed it.
Come on over. You work hard. You deserve a break.
We are known as “America’s adult Disney Land” and “America’s playground” for a reason. People come here for the buffets, loose slots, night clubs, strip clubs and general all-around party that we’ve been advertising and selling ourselves as since the Rat Pack was walking the Strip! Decades people, decades! This is not a stereotype (although some parts are more fantasy than others). This is reality.
This is not to say that there is not a whole other side to Las Vegas, where people are raising their families, going to church, walking their dogs, buying groceries, worrying about the economy and all the regular life of Anytown USA. Anyone who lives here knows that.
But what we’re talking about is both the perception and the reality of what Las Vegas is to the rest of America and the rest of the world. Something my old boss Steve Sebelius put very well on Mitch Fox’s Nevada Week in Review. (I recommend watching it online if you missed it.)
More importantly, President Obama is absolutely right! Companies that get taxpayer bailouts — that means money from all of us to pay for their failure — should NOT be traveling anywhere for company retreats. They should also not be giving out big bonuses (to people who fucked up so badly that the taxpayers had to bail them out). They should not be getting or giving Superbowl tickets as perks. The simple fact is, those businesses that needed our bailout need to pull back and stop acting like huge asses. The days of huge bonuses and lavish spending are over, at least if it’s on my dime!
I realize that this is double-edged sword for those of us who call Nevada, and particularly Las Vegas home. Our local economy is one of the hardest hit in America right now. Why is that? We’ve built it on the one-trick ponies of Tourism, Gambling Revenues and Run-Away Construction/Growth. Guess what? The fun’s over. And it’s brutal for us. No question. And it ain’t over yet.
We’re leading the nation in foreclosures. Our state has record deficits and is cutting into vital services like education and health services. We’ve had a tidal wave of lay-offs and bankruptcies in the gaming sector, which is our state’s life-blood. We’ve had record loses in numbers of tourists, canceled conventions, show tickets, and on and on. It’s bleak! We’re screwed! And there’s nothing fun about that.
So on the one hand, it is tempting to lash out at Obama and try to woo people back to Las Vegas for the good of those who live in Las Vegas. I understand that. I want our economy to get better and for our community to thrive. But it is silly to think that is what the rest of America wants. During times like these, the rest of America is looking at us and thinking, “Too bad for you. I gotta take care of my own.” And are we really any different?
So I hope that, for once, Oscar shuts up. And I also sincerely hope that our state Legislators and even our neanderthal governor pick up the slack and help us move out of this crisis with thoughtful legislation and necessary changes (for instance, an overhaul of our tax structure).
It’s a long-shot, but it’s what needs to be done. Like it or not.