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Best of Benjamin Spillman
Benjamin Spillman

Strip tourists undeterred by casino shooting

9 July 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- When Paul Landry read about the shooting Friday morning in New York-New York, it wasn't hard for him to envision the chaotic scenario.

Landry is a regular visitor to Las Vegas and lists New York-New York among his favorite spots.

"I heard about it online. It was all over the message boards," said Landry, 42, of Yarmouth, Maine. "I can visualize right where he did the shooting."

Steven Zegrean, 51, of Las Vegas wounded four people at 12:43 a.m. before being being tackled by off-duty military reservists and restrained with the help of two Florida state police agents, police said.

The disturbing mental image of a gunman opening fire in a crowded casino won't dissuade Landry from making his next scheduled visit to Las Vegas in March.

Landry characterized the shooting as a random, unpredictable event. He said crimes like the February shooting outside the Minxx strip club are a more disturbing trend.

"That poor guy, the bouncer at the strip club, is paralyzed now because of the gangster mentality," Landry said of the Minxx shooting that police say arose from a dispute in the club. "That scares me more."

Ron Vanio of Cleveland said the New York-New York shooting won't scare him from visiting Las Vegas next year. Although the 41-year-old Vanio suggested resort operators could do more to prevent people from getting guns and other weapons into Las Vegas casinos.

"I think metal detectors at the doors might be a good idea considering they are high-profile places," said Vanio, who said he stays at the Flamingo on the Strip and Main Street Station downtown.

"I think schools do it. I don't see why casinos can't do it," Vanio said. "It is an inconvenience, but one I'd be willing to put up with if it made the place safer."

David Huang, owner of the tour company Chinese Host, said the shooting could deter Asian visitors if there are other, similar incidents in the near future and the overseas press emphasizes the issue of crime and violence in Las Vegas.

"It depends on what the Chinese media portrays this to be," said Huang, whose company hosts as many as 400 Chinese visitors a day. "If a couple more of these are at casinos it could be a very bad thing for visitation."

The perception of safety from crime or terrorism is important when it comes to attracting tourists, said Geoff Freeman, executive director of the Discover America Partnership.

But the number of foreign people deterred by stories about random violence is small compared to the number who are dissuaded by routine hassles and intimidating inquiries of border officials, said Freeman, whose organization is supported by the Travel Industry of America, a hospitality trade group.

"That isn't what is turning travelers off," Freeman said of the impact of crime on tourism.

He said fear of border officials and visa problems since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has dissuaded 60 million foreign travelers from visiting destinations in the United States.

"Obviously the process and the officials are far more daunting (than a fear of crime)," said Freeman, whose organization supports several reforms in Congress.

The shooting at New York-New York is the second recent act of violence at a Strip casino in recent months. In May a bomb killed a man in a parking garage at the Luxor. Police said the incident was motivated by a personal dispute and not an act of random violence or terrorism.

Officials at MGM Mirage, the company that owns both New York-New York and the Luxor, said Las Vegas resorts are among the most secure tourist destinations in the world. They tout three levels of security that include intense surveillance, internal security workers and the regular presence of Las Vegas police in and around the major resorts.

"We have created some of the most closely monitored facilities in the world," MGM Mirage spokesman Gordon Absher said. "It is very difficult to protect against a disturbed individual willing to sacrifice himself."

That's enough for Becky Day of Las Vegas. Day recently moved to Nevada from the Washington, D.C., area where she lived during the fall of 2002 when snipers killed 10 people and wounded three others during an October killing spree. The snipers were later arrested and convicted of murder.

"There was a lot of fear. But people still went out and did what they had to. They just tried to be careful," said Day of life in suburban Maryland during the time of the shootings.

She doesn't think the shooting on the Strip should dissuade people from going out.

"If you live in fear like that you are not going to do anything outside your house," she said.