Taking on the Vegas haters
They’re tourists, bloggers, travel writers and newspaper pundits — an opinionated crowd with one thing in common: They’re Vegas haters.
And, oh, do they have their reasons, their ammunition.
They abhor what they see as the mindless Mardi Gras of the Strip and arrogant hand-in-your-pocket connivances of the casino bosses. They criticize such Las Vegas entertainment mainstays as the comedian Carrot Top and the sickening largesse of those all-you-can-eat buffets, not to mention the scruffy characters who shove tacky girlie-show cards into the hands of passing tourists.
And why, they ask, are so many slot machine players perched in wheelchairs, wearing oxygen masks, puffing on cigarettes? Has the place no decency?
“I have to go there to see my family at Christmas — I feel so dirty,” one letter writer responded to a blog post about people who despise this town. Author James Ellroy, who feels at home in even the darkest milieu, highlighted the city’s disgusting nature, which he called “a testimonial to skeeviness.”
A guest opinion-page writer from North Carolina pointed out that, by comparison, Las Vegas lends even Orlando, Fla., an old-world charm. “I can’t even stand its name,” wrote Tom Nelson, a media professor at Elon University. “Going to a show in Vegas? Where’re you staying in Vegas? It’s Vegas this and Vegas that. Las is lost. It is a city curtly summoned like a dog. Vegas.”
This city, by its nature, is thick-skinned. Think some vampy runway model flaunting some scandalous outfit; she couldn’t care less what people think.
But sometimes the insults cut too deep, even for this place. That’s when Vegas fights back.
“You know what people should do who come here and bad-mouth our city?” asked former Mayor Oscar Goodman, 73, who also was a mob lawyer here. “They should try our lake. It’s nothing that a good pair of cement shoes couldn’t cure.”
As mayor from 1999 to 2011 and now as chairman for the city Convention and Visitors Authority, Goodman has avidly defended the city. He’s among an informal cadre of reputation gatekeepers who speak up when their city takes it on the chin.
“We get these published lists, ranking cities for their fat people and social ills, such as homelessness, and often our response is, ‘Oh look, we’re at or near the top. Again,’” said Las Vegas city spokesman Jace Radke. He’s fired off dozens of responses.
Last month, the Wall Street Journal ranked Las Vegas as No. 10 of the nation’s 20 worst-run cities. Radke’s office argued that the newspaper had used outdated numbers, adding that “Forbes Magazine recently named Las Vegas as one of America’s new tech ‘hot spots,’ placing our city No. 6 on the list of cities for tech growth. Also, ‘CNN Money’ named Las Vegas as one of America’s best places to retire.”
Insult Vegas, and Goodman will come barking like a junkyard dog. He’s telephoned locals who write snotty letters to give them a piece of his mind. And he’s taken on the NFL, which a few years ago refused to accept a Las Vegas promotional ad for a Super Bowl halftime show.
“I went on every station on the planet to complain,” he said. “They played our ad and gave us $20 million of free publicity, and the NFL got nothing. That’ll teach them to mess with Las Vegas.”
Goodman has even taken on President Obama. A few years back, he wrote the White House a letter after the president’s perceived slight about Vegas during a speech about fiscal responsibility.
“I demanded an apology,” Goodman said. “And then I backed off. No mayor should ask a president for an apology.”
During last fall’s White House race, Goodman’s hackles were again raised when Obama suggested that, in tough economic times, rolling the dice on the Strip wasn’t the wisest move. Goodman went public with his counterattack. Before an Obama visit, he told reporters: “I want to assure you that when he comes, I will do everything I can to give him the boot back to Washington and to visit his failures back there.”
In a piece published last month, Las Vegas Weekly magazine featured insults from some of the most vociferous Vegas haters. One of the juiciest called the city “a nonstop spectacle of fat ... Midwesterners, Arab sheiks, the elderly, gangsta thugs, greasy Lotharios with unbuttoned shirts and scantily clad club ladies all commingling inside a giant pinball machine.”
Weekly writer Erin Ryan takes such insults in stride. “People are endlessly creative in their hating on things,” she said. “The Internet has made this easy to do. People feed on each other. It gets really ugly and really funny.”
Oregon blogger Matt Haughley wrote that a video he posted on the inside tricks of the casino industry “perfectly communicates everything I hate about Las Vegas and why I think it’s one of the worst places on Earth, designed to bankrupt people, enable addicts and generally just be a horrible place for humans to be.”
That was last year. His opinion hasn’t changed. “It’s still got a lot of bad stuff going for it,” said Haughley, 40, whose tech job forces repeat visits here. “Either you love it or you hate it. For me, it could be the most-hated city in America.” Not everyone agrees. Vegas attracted 39.7 million visitors last year.
You won’t get any arguments from Fabiola Santiago. In 2011, the Miami Herald columnist argued that Miami should not promote widespread gambling. Her lead sentence: “I hate Las Vegas.”
So was this some journalistic device to get her reader’s attention? “No, I really do hate Las Vegas. I never want to go there again,” she said. “There is no redeeming value to the place. After two days, I was bored out of my mind.”
Years after he ranted about the name “Vegas,” Nelson, the Elon professor, has softened. “Now I realize the city is a metaphor for the entire country and its fetish of self,” he said. “All those people on Twitter and Facebook and those horrible TV reality shows.”
Alas, when it’s your job to promote Las Vegas, sometimes you just can’t win. Cara Roberts of the Chamber of Commerce once got a letter from a tourist who had come to celebrate the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s birthday, only to be miffed that the city hadn’t thrown much of a party.
“He was disappointed this wasn’t a citywide holiday,” she said. “In the end — and this has become my all-time favorite Vegas complaint letter — he said that the city needed to embrace its Elvisness.”
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