Violent incidents put Sin City in bad light and worry tourism officials

Crime is down overall, but tourist officials worry
2013-02-24T00:00:00Z Violent incidents put Sin City in bad light and worry tourism officialsThe Associated Press The Associated Press
February 24, 2013 12:00 am  • 

LAS VEGAS - Variously known as an adult playground and Disneyland for grown-ups, Las Vegas brands itself as a place where tourists can enjoy a sense of edginess with no real danger.

But a series of high-profile episodes of random violence amid the throngs of tourists is threatening Sin City's reputation as a padded room of a town where people can cut loose with no fear of consequences.

A car-to-car shooting and fiery crash that killed two bystanders and an aspiring rapper Thursday followed a bizarre elevator stabbing and a movie theater parking lot shooting.

Though crime has been falling on the glitzy stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard that houses most of the city's major casinos, tourism officials worry that vacationers and convention planners could begin to steer clear of the town because of a perception of mayhem.

"We are concerned because it can create misperceptions about the safety of the city, the safety of the Strip," said Gary Thompson, spokesman for Caesars Entertainment, which owns 10 resorts in the tourist zone, including Caesars Palace and Paris Las Vegas.

Casinos are particularly worried about convention business, which helps fill rooms and gambling tables between weekends. Corporate planners can swing the market with a few decisions, said Gordon Absher, spokesman for MGM Resorts International.

"And that decision will bring thousands of people," he said. MGM operates several major casino-hotels, including CityCenter, where Thursday's convulsion of violence originated.

Violent crime, which includes murder, rape, robbery and assault, in the city's main tourist hub fell 13 percent in 2012, from 256 to 223 incidents, and is down 11 percent for the first part of 2013, with 50 incidents reported. The number of rapes has fallen by more than a third.

There have been two homicides just off the Strip this year, in addition to the three deaths Thursday, compared with none in the area during the first month and a half of 2012.

Had they taken place elsewhere, the incidents that made headlines in recent weeks would never have become national stories, Thompson said. But when the crime happens in a city that welcomes 40 million visitors a year, people tend to care even if they haven't seen the neon lights in years.

"It's like, 'I was there! I stayed in there in Las Vegas! I walked that part of the Strip!'" he said.

The spate of violence started just before the new year, when a man shot and killed his ex-girlfriend, an Excalibur hotel-casino concierge clerk, before fatally shooting himself.

The following week, a blackjack dealer was wrestled to the ground at the Bellagio with razor blades in both hands. She is charged with killing a 10-year-old girl and then slashing her co-worker's face.

On New Year's Eve, a man allegedly fired a gunshot into the floor of the crowded Circus Circus casino during an argument. A Saudi air force sergeant is accused of raping a 13-year-old boy in the rooms above the same night.

A nighttime shooting outside a Strip movie theater left two people critically wounded earlier this month. Last week, two random men allegedly assaulted a visitor in the elevator at the Mandalay Bay property, tackling him and stabbing him in such a frenzy that they also stabbed each other.

During the same period, Las Vegas courts sentenced a Florida teacher for killing a stranger with a single punch after trading words in a casino bathroom, and heard the case of two law students charged with beheading an exotic bird at the Flamingo casino-hotel.

The shoot-'em-up car chase that closed the Strip for 12 hours Thursday was the most public and deadly incident yet.

A person in a luxury SUV opened fire on an aspiring rapper in a Maserati near one of the busiest intersections on the iconic corridor. As the bullets flew, the Maserati ran a red light and crashed into a taxi, which burst into flames. The taxi driver, a passenger and the rapper were killed, and six people were injured.

Casino executives say they do all they can to keep visitors safe, with armies of guards, networks of high-definition surveillance cameras and undercover security workers scattered throughout nearly every major attraction.

"Unless you are a complete idiot, you're not going to want to commit many crimes in or around a casino because you're going to get caught," Thompson said.

But catching a criminal isn't the same as stopping the crime.

Commissioners in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, are weighing steps to increase safety, including installing additional cameras in public spaces and broadening the sidewalks. In October, they banned potentially dangerous objects including fireworks, knives and toy guns from the Strip.

But real guns remain permissible. Nevada's relaxed gun laws, including the ability to carry them openly, have made Las Vegas an attractive spot for shooting ranges and gun shows.

Some observers think police should step up their presence on the Strip, just as they did after three slayings in 2011.

recent violent incidents on the Las Vegas Strip

A gunbattle and car explosion on the Las Vegas Strip on Thursday is just the latest in a series of violent episodes that have raised concerns among tourism officials that the city's image as "Disneyland for adults" is under threat.

Crime is falling on the main tourist corridor, but browsing through news reports from the past months, you might think the statistics were deceiving. Here's a look at some of the recent crimes and court cases that have grabbed headlines:

• Dec. 21, 2012: A casino card dealer is accused of using razor blades to slash a co-worker's face at a blackjack table at the Bellagio casino-resort.

• Jan. 1, 2013: A 20-year-old man is accused of firing a gunshot into the floor of a crowded Circus Circus during a New Year's Eve argument.

• Jan. 1, 2013: A sergeant in Saudi Arabia's air force is accused of pulling a 13-year-old boy into a hotel room at Circus Circus and sexually assaulted him.

• Feb. 11, 2013: A University of California-Berkeley law student pleads not guilty in what prosecutors allege was the torture death and beheading of an exotic bird at a resort.

• Feb. 6, 2013: An overnight shooting in a parking structure outside a movie theater left two teens with major injuries and also hurt a third teen.

• Feb. 14, 2013: A former high school football coach and teacher from Florida was sentenced to three months in jail after being convicted for accidentally killing a Utah man with a single punch at a casino.

• Feb. 16, 2013: Two men were booked on suspicion of attempted murder after allegedly stabbing a guest in the elevator of The Hotel at Mandalay Bay on the Las Vegas Strip.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate

Get weekly ads via e-mail

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Featured businesses

View more...

Deals, offers & events

View more...