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Rod Smith

Concerns About Security Not Deterring Strip Visits

29 December 2003

LAS VEGAS -- Visitors kept flocking to the Strip at the end of the holiday week despite broadcasts Friday on CNN and Fox News about terror threats to Las Vegas, gaming industry operators said.

R&R Partners Chief Executive Officer Billy Vassiliadis said the public has become "somewhat skeptical and cynical about terrorist alerts with so many unconfirmed stories in the media with someone saying this or that" since the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., two years ago.

The cable television news reports were based on speculation stemming from a story Friday in The Washington Post that said U.S. government officials believed passengers on one of three Air France flights from Paris to Los Angeles might have planned to crash it into Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority spokeswoman Marina Nicola said feedback from casino operators indicated there had been no rush of cancellations and the volume of business in her agency's call center remained normal.

MGM Mirage spokeswoman Yvette Monet said there had been only a handful of cancellations as a result of the recent news stories about terrorism at any of her company's Strip properties -- Bellagio, MGM Grand, Treasure Island and The Mirage.

Monet and Vassiliadis attributed the limited response to reports of terrorism concern to several factors -- the timing of the holiday period, heavy holiday travel, and headlines in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that refuted the terror alarms. On Friday, the lead headline in the Review-Journal read: "Officials: LV not a target."

"Guests are taking the Homeland Security secretary to heart. They are not canceling due in part to reassurances that people should continue with their plans. A lot of people who've come here in the past aren't going to give up their plans," Monet said.

Similarly, Park Place spokesman Robert Stewart said his company, which operates the Las Vegas Hilton, Caesars Palace, the Flamingo, Bally's and Paris Las Vegas, has not seen any significant cancellations attributed to concerns about security in Las Vegas.

"We remain slightly above capacity for the New Year's holiday," Stewart said. "There are only a few folks who've said they are not coming, and more blamed the weather in California than security (concerns)."

University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor and casino industry expert Bill Thompson, said visitors, like most people, are "going about their business and just brushing it off."

"The government's told them to be vigilant, but what are they supposed to look for when we're not supposed to profile people we're looking for," he said.

Greg Bortolin, spokesman for Gov. Kenny Guinn, said: "Tourists are reacting the way they should be. There is no reason anyone should be concerned about a trip to Las Vegas."

Kevin Bagger, senior research director of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said the absence of a visitor response to stories of terrorist threats fits with past experience.

"We haven't seen a correlation compared with visitation patterns," he said.

Vassiliadis said threats of terrorists attacks likely would have an effect on Las Vegas visitors only if "they were issued by an official law enforcement agency saying there is a specific threat from someone we consider a credible source."

Based on the absence of a specific threat or a rush of cancellations, Nicola said no changes in her agency's advertising campaign are being considered.

Vassiliadis said the on-going advertising campaign would be changed only if "there is a credible and specific threat, at which point our advertising would follow the direction of the governor's office and the Homeland Security folks."

At UNLV, Thompson said it would take "a plane crashing 100 miles out (of Las Vegas) or if they grabbed someone and they blabbed Las Vegas (was a specific threat). But that's very hypothetical."

"People will go about their lives until they see (something like) that happen," he said.

Still, Thompson said the consequences of any real terrorist threat to Las Vegas would be "dire."

"We're a hub of international tourism and domestic travel. It would be devastating for the state's (tourism) market and the whole local economy," Thompson said.

The national television attention on the purported threat to Las Vegas stemmed from reports in The Washington Post that police in Paris had questioned 13 people who had checked in for two Air France flights that were canceled Christmas Eve because of a terrorism warning from U.S. authorities.

The Post reported U.S. officials were suspicious about some of the passengers who did not show up at the airport to claim their seats on the ultimately aborted Flight 68 from Paris to Los Angeles.

Despite French statements suggesting some of the American fears about the Air France flights were unfounded, U.S. government officials said they believe they might have averted a terrorist attack by arranging for the flights' cancellation, the Post reported.

Another government official with access to the classified reports said U.S. security officials "are really concerned something major will happen" despite the cancellation of the three incoming and three outgoing Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles on Christmas Eve and yesterday. One scenario embraced by a number of U.S. security officials is that al-Qaida operatives were in the final stages of planning an attack in this country, and were awaiting final direction from al-Qaida superiors to proceed, The Washington Post reported.

In Carson City, Bortolin said Gov. Kenny Guinn spoke with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge twice this week and was told there was "no information that backs up or substantiates all these media reports."

He said Ridge has assured Guinn personally that if there is any information substantiating a threat, the governor will be called immediately.

Bortolin also said Guinn directs the emergency management response to any threat in Nevada and is the coordinating link with the Department of Homeland Security.

Concerns About Security Not Deterring Strip Visits is republished from