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Richard N. Velotta

Nevadans Not Marketing Gambling in China

21 June 2004

Nevada's opening of the first-ever U.S. tourism office in China comes at a price -- the office can't promote the state's No. 1 industry, gambling.

Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt and Nevada Commission on Tourism Executive Director Bruce Bommarito recently wrapped up a nine-day tourism-boosting mission, which included the official opening of the tourism office, located in a busy hotel in the embassy district of Beijing.

Hunt, who chairs the Commission on Tourism, and Bommarito, the state agency's executive director will report on the trip at Wednesday's quarterly meeting of the commission.

At the Beijing office, a two-person staff with a $100,000 annual budget will promote the state, pass out brochures, schedule advertising and make community presentations in and around the metropolitan area of Beijing.

The staff will not promote what has made Nevada famous -- the state's largest employer, the casino industry.

Bommarito told the South China Morning Post that the mainland government doesn't have a pro-gaming policy, "so we will not market gambling in China."

Added Karen Chen, who is heading Nevada's office, "We assured the China National Tourist Administration that we will not promote gambling."

Bommarito said no forms of gambling are promoted in mainland China, even though the Chinese city of Macau has offered it for more than 40 years and Hong Kong has a lottery and gambling at horse tracks.

"It's one government and two systems," Bommarito said. "In Macau, you can talk about it and promote it. On the mainland, you can't even promote it."

Some members of the Nevada Commission on Tourism said they weren't aware that Nevada representatives couldn't talk about gambling, but they said it isn't a big issue to them because the commission hasn't made the promotion of the state's casinos a high priority in the past.

"The Nevada Commission on Tourism's mission is to advertise the state, and if you look at its ads, you'll see a lot of images of some of the other attractions, like Lake Tahoe," said Manny Cortez, president and chief executive of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and a member of the state commission.

"I don't view it as a liability, frankly," Cortez said. "Even we (the LVCVA) don't advertise gambling per se. We promote entertainment and the excitement Las Vegas has to offer."

Ferenc Szony, vice chairman of the Commission on Tourism and chief executive of the Sands Regency hotel-casino in Reno, said the critical issue is exposing Nevada to China's vast population base.

"Many of the things we take for granted in Nevada -- the wide open spaces -- are fascinating to the rest of the world," Szony said. "When they look at rural Nevada, they can't believe we have so much open space. That's far more interesting to them. We don't have to focus on gambling to be an interesting place for the Chinese to visit."

Besides, any potential Chinese tourist knows that gambling exists in Las Vegas, a national travel expert said.

Noel Irwin-Hentschel, chairwoman and chief executive of American Tours International, Los Angeles, one of the largest inbound tour operators in the United States, said Las Vegas is world-renowned as a gambling destination and many Chinese tourists use the Internet to research destinations. She added that it's more important for Nevada to promote itself in China than to be concerned about losing its ability to promote gambling.

"It's definitely interesting because the Chinese people love to gamble," Irwin-Hentschel said. "But the government in China is making that decision to protect their people because, for whatever reason, they don't want them gambling."

Irwin-Hentschel said the governments of other countries have rules that American companies must comply with in order to do business there. Restrictive societies have policies about promoting other vices, like consuming alcohol or watching scantily clad dancers. Some countries even have restrictions prohibiting companies from conducting business unless a majority of the company is owned by a native of that country.

"There are a lot of double standards out there, but it's opening up," she said. "The more tourists we get to visit our country, the more we can change the landscape. It shows the difference of living in a free society like the United States as opposed to a country that has been under Communist rule. Things are changing but they're not going to change overnight."

Irwin-Hentschel said Nevada's tourism office could provide a leadership role for changes in attitude toward U.S. destinations and that some day, the promotion of gambling may be allowed.

"By having an office there, at least you're showing them you want them to come," Irwin-Hentschel said.

A Chinese businessman in Las Vegas who has dealings in China said he doesn't think the city will suffer as a result of the ban on promoting gambling.

Alan Chen, operations manager for Chinatown Plaza Inc., the management company that operates the shopping center at Las Vegas' Chinatown and a public relations spokesman for the Chinese American Chamber of Commerce in Las Vegas, said the Chinese know all about the city.

"Everybody knows what Las Vegas is," Chen said. "The literal translation of the Chinese word for Las Vegas is 'Gamble City.' "

A First Amendment expert with the American Civil Liberties Union's Las Vegas office said Americans operating in foreign countries can lose the freedoms and rights they have in the United States when they set up offices overseas.

"When you operate in China, you're subject to Chinese law," said Alan Lichtenstein of the ACLU. "And free speech is not a part of Chinese law."

"If you're a tourist in China, no one is really going to say anything about what you do there," said Chinatown's Alan Chen. "But if you're doing business there, you're operating within China and you really need to abide by the rules.

"And, because it's so hard to get a foothold there, I think it's worth sacrificing the free-speech rights you have in the United States to get in the door."