LAS VEGAS – The mayor of Las Vegas told President Barack Obama in a letter that his criticism of companies using taxpayer money to visit Sin City is harmful to the tourist-dependent destination.
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman didn’t directly ask the president for an apology and retraction in the letter obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, as he did in interviews.
“I expect him to address it and to correct it,” Goodman told the AP.
“When you make a casual, although not malevolent remark, it can have ramifications which affect the industry as well as all of the citizens who live in southern Nevada,” he said. “It’s affecting some of these people’s lives.”
In the past two weeks, two financial institutions that received a combined $35 billion in federal bailout money pulled out of large events in Las Vegas at the last minute. Obama, who has been mustering public support for economic stimulus legislation, said during a town hall meeting this week in Indiana that companies shouldn’t hold such events at taxpayers’ expense.
“You can’t get corporate jets, you can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime,” Obama said.
Goodman said he is worried that Obama’s comments are discouraging travel to a city already suffering a steep drop in tourism business and revenue.
“Mr. President, I understand the enormous burden you carry in dealing with the worst economy since the Great Depression,” Goodman wrote in the letter, sent late Tuesday.
“I also understand the need for accountability, but your comments are harmful to the meetings and convention industry as a whole and Las Vegas specifically,” he said.
The White House has not reacted to Goodman’s comments.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday that he spoke with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel about Obama’s remarks.
“He made it clear to me that the president’s criticism was aimed at the potential use of taxpayer funds for junkets, and in no way reflects his thoughts about any one particular city,” Reid said.
The number of visitors to Las Vegas was down 4.4 percent in 2008 compared with a year earlier, and visits in December alone declined nearly 11 percent. State gaming regulators reported Wednesday that Nevada casino winnings were down almost 19 percent in December, compared with the same month a year ago, dropping taxable revenues for the period almost 23 percent from 2007.
In a statement, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., asked Obama and others in Congress to refrain from making comments that harm Las Vegas and other destinations whose economies rely on business travelers.
“Please, let’s stop the attacks, let’s call a cease-fire and let’s recognize the true cost of these words in real dollars lost as a result of canceled meetings and other functions that will not be held in Las Vegas,” Berkley said.
“Mr. President, I support your efforts to curb corporate excesses in your recovery plan, but from the neon lights of Las Vegas to the Chicago skyline, from the white sands of Hawaii to the Kansas heartland, tourism means jobs,” she said. “We need your support and we need the business more than ever before.”