February 24, 2013

Recent violence may threaten Las Vegas tourist trade

Tourism officials worry that convention planners and vacationers could steer clear of the city.

The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas brands itself as a place where tourists can enjoy a sense of edginess with no real danger.

click image to enlarge

Police investigate the scene of a car accident in Las Vegas on Thursday. Las Vegas has worked to brand itself as a place where tourists can enjoy a sense of edginess with no real danger.

The Associated Press

But a series of high-profile episodes of random violence is threatening Sin City's reputation as a padded room of a town where people can cut loose with no fear of consequences.

A car-to-car shooting and fiery crash that killed two bystanders and an aspiring rapper Thursday followed a bizarre elevator stabbing and a movie theater parking lot shooting.

Though crime has been falling on the glitzy stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard that houses most of the city's major casinos, tourism officials worry that vacationers and convention planners could begin to steer clear of the town because of a perception of mayhem.

"We are concerned because it can create misperceptions about the safety of the city, the safety of the Strip," said Gary Thompson, spokesman for Caesars Entertainment, which owns 10 resorts in the tourist zone, including Caesars Palace and Paris Las Vegas.

Casinos are particularly worried about convention business, which helps fill rooms and gambling tables between weekends. Corporate planners can swing the market with a few decisions, said Gordon Absher, spokesman for MGM Resorts International.

Violent crime, which includes murder, rape, robbery and assault, in the city's main tourist hub fell 13 percent in 2012, from 256 to 223 incidents, and is down 11 percent for the first part of 2013, with 50 incidents reported. The number of rapes has fallen by more than a third.

There have been two homicides just off the Strip this year, in addition to the three deaths Thursday, compared to none in the area during the first month and a half of 2012.

Had they taken place elsewhere, the incidents that made headlines in recent weeks never would have become national stories, Thompson said. But when the crime happens in a city that welcomes 40 million visitors a year, people tend to care even if they haven't seen the neon lights in years.

The spate of violence started just before the new year, when a man shot and killed his ex-girlfriend, an Excalibur hotel-casino concierge clerk, before fatally shooting himself.

The next week, a blackjack dealer was wrestled to the ground at the Bellagio with razor blades in both hands. She is charged with killing a 10 year-old girl and then slashing her co-worker's face.

On New Year's Eve, a man allegedly fired a gunshot into the floor of the crowded Circus Circus casino during an argument. A Saudi air force sergeant is accused of raping a 13-year-old boy in the rooms above the same night.

A nighttime shooting outside a Strip movie theater left two people critically wounded earlier this month. Last week, two random men allegedly assaulted a visitor in the elevator at the Mandalay Bay property, tackling him and stabbing him in such a frenzy that they also stabbed each other.

During the same period, Las Vegas courts sentenced a Florida teacher for killing a stranger with a single punch after trading words in a casino bathroom, and heard the case of two law students charged with beheading an exotic bird at the Flamingo casino-hotel.

 

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