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Gaming Guru

Rod Smith

Times Series Gets Mixed Reviews From Observers

7 June 2004

Critical or not, many local advertising and gaming officials saw some upside in the New York Times' critical six-part series on Las Vegas.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor and casino industry expert Bill Thompson summed it up when he said front-page coverage in the Times can only help Las Vegas.

"It's cool and hip. That's great publicity. This place is on a roll," he said.

Billy Vassiliadis, chief executive officer for Las Vegas-based R&R Partners, who the Times crowned as the "Pied Pipeer of Las Vegas," however, said he was disappointed by the series in the national daily, which he called "crappy" because it missed the point.

"This has to be the most covered city in the last 16 months I've ever seen. There's a mystery and mystique most readers find interesting. I just don't think they hit it," he said.

Vassiliadis, his company, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's advertising campaign that R&R Partners created were the focus Friday of the final story in the series.

"This was supposed to be a series about Las Vegas. Theoretically, good journalists look for the unique, the interesting and the informative. The fact a teenager has a drug problem (which was the focus one day) is not unique, interesting or informative," he said.

Vassiliadis said the series could have easily have been about Omaha, Neb., or the Bronx. Speaking as a Las Vegas resident, he said the Times did Las Vegas a disservice.

Still, he said it is unlikely the Times coverage damages the city.

"The thing you always worry about is a feeding frenzy -- will other news organizations have to find out what the New York Times found out? Otherwise, there's no (long-term negative) impact," Vassiliadis said.

Other advertising executives were more upbeat about the newspaper's series about Las Vegas.

Vassiliadis and Thompson agreed that Las Vegas' recent success, trumping other cities as a growing visitor destination, probably invited the Times coverage, good and bad.

"What are (the critics) worried about? They should check out the yellow pages. There are 100 pages of prostitutes listed as entertainers, but it's clear what they're about. San Francisco only has two pages," Thompson said.

Mick Hall, president of Hall Communications, said the series was clearly good public relations for Las Vegas from a gaming industry perspective.

"I think R&R is doing a good job of what they're paid to do -- market the gaming companies. I think they're doing a terrible disservice to Las Vegas," he said.

However, he called both the advertising campaign, which stresses the hip or fantasy side of Las Vegas, and the series in the Times are double-edged swords.

"R&R is doing exactly what it should. They're building on the root of what we're all about -- what you can do here. But there's a problem. It hurts the ability to recruit businesses and workers to Las Vegas. We're working with companies and banks around the world and this is hurting Las Vegas business, absolutely," he said.

Hall said the "What happens here, stays here" advertising campaign is turning away businesses in droves.

"Top executives get right to the brink of deciding to relocate, or even have a meeting here, and their wives say 'If you go there, you go alone,' " he said. "But Billy V. is not being paid to promote business. He's being paid to get people here and (R&R and the Times series) do a masterful job. No one could do better."

Michael Mayes, president of the Las Vegas advertising agency DRGM, said repeated front-page stories in the New York Times add value for R&R and Las Vegas.

However, overall the series could have been about almost any other American city, he said.

"This is an amazing city with an amazing reputation, and no one is speaking outside about what is actually here," Mayes said. "When you say Las Vegas, people have an image of that that goes back to when Bugsy (Siegel) was setting up the Flamingo. The (advertising campaign and the series) reinforce that, but they could have easily been about New York or any other city."

Mayes said you can go to telephone books in any city and find ads for prostitutes. The difference in Las Vegas is that people think it is legal.

He said that the story Friday was good for R&R and probably good for Las Vegas, but he said the other stories were biased.

Vassiliadis disagreed about the value to R&R.

"In terms of getting business, in the last 18 months, we've been featured in almost all the trade publications, and no one has been calling," he said.