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Gaming Guru

Kevin Rademacher

Racy Billboard Issue Reaches LVCVA

9 June 2004

The debate over raunchy advertising and Southern Nevada's public image made its way to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority on Tuesday.

In the closing moments of an LVCVA board meeting that included the appointment of Hard Rock Hotel President Kevin Kelley to the board, a pair of community groups urged the group to "rethink" its popular advertising campaign.

The "What happens here, stays here" campaign is no better than the racy billboards -- like those for the Hard Rock -- the groups have rallied against in recent months, Michael Wixom of the Main Street Billboard Committee told the board.

"Las Vegas has an image problem that is completely unwarranted," he said, pointing to the advertising slogan that he said has come to represent the city as a whole, not just the gaming and entertainment industries.

"The law of unintended consequences begins to apply," Wixom said. "The slogan and the message behind the slogan undermine efforts to diversify the economy."

State officials, however, question that claim.

"I don't know that the particular campaign matters," said Bob Shriver, executive director of the Nevada Commission on Economic Development. "It certainly has not had a direct impact that I have seen."

While he said that some companies could have questions about the image of Las Vegas, others have capitalized on the local tourism industry to bolster business.

Shriver, who was not at the board meeting, pointed to Systems Research and Development, a Las Vegas software company. The firm's executives have claimed that the presence of tourist attractions and prominent technology conventions in Las Vegas brings their clients to town, limiting the amount of sales calls it makes each year.

"It can be an advantage," Shriver said.

Don Snyder, an LVCVA board member and president of Boyd Gaming Corp., also pointed out that the campaign has produced results.

"The most important thing to me is that this economy remains vibrant," he said following the meeting. "The success of the campaign speaks for itself. ... There's always going to be some anecdotal evidence that someone didn't come here to visit or move here because of the ads. But the economy is still growing."

Still, Cristi Bulloch, with the Nevada Association of American Mothers, said the campaign portrays the wrong image.

"This campaign doesn't represent me as a Southern Nevadan and it probably doesn't represent any of you on the board," she said. "It's a shame we developed an advertising campaign to promote the raunchiest of behaviors."

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and other board members said they welcomed the public input.

"I think the authority always should listen to its constituents," Goodman said after the meeting. "I'm sure the matter will be further addressed."

Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson pointed to the success of the campaign, but also added that the input from residents not involved in the gaming or tourism industries was important.

"I do also think that we need to be touring the virtues of the community," he said. "I think we do, but I know we don't do it in such a high profile way that we do other things. ... I am glad they showed up and I am glad they made their point in such an articulate manner."

While not addressing the issue specifically, Wixom referenced a recent series of New York Times articles that highlighted some of Las Vegas' more notorious activities. He also referenced Kelley's appointment to the board.

The Hard Rock Hotel is preparing for a hearing before the Nevada Gaming Commission over a series of advertisements that tout sex, drugs and the temptation to cheat.

Kelley, who replaces Nevada Power Co. President Pat Shalmy on the board, and Snyder, who was reelected to his board position, were both approved unanimously on Tuesday.