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Top NV marketer: Tourism, business need to agree

OSKAR GARCIA
Associated Press

LAS VEGAS – A top Las Vegas marketer who produced the city’s famed “What happens here, stays here” campaign told state and tourism industry leaders Wednesday that casinos need to work better with other businesses to boost Nevada’s economic recovery.

Billy Vassiliadis, chief executive of marketing agency R&R Partners, said Nevada seems to have developed a culture that separates the interests of casinos with those of other businesses, when really everyone should be pushing forward to raise the fortunes of everyone in the state.

Casinos and other businesses have typically been at odds with one another when it comes to taxes. Casinos have long pushed for a broader tax base that includes funds from other businesses, which resist and say they can’t afford it. State lawmakers, meanwhile, have typically avoided pushes to raise funds in a state where many voters strongly dislike taxes.

Vassiliadis said it was “unbelievable” that it had taken until 2011 for state leaders to move toward integrating tourism with other economic development.

“Every year, between the (three) convention centers … and the hotels north and south, we have CEOs from all over America here, right here,” Vassiliadis said. “Why couldn’t we put Jim Murren or Steve Wynn in a room with them and say, ‘Hey, not only do we love having your business, but this is a great place to live and do work.”‘

Murren, the chief executive of MGM Resorts International, and Wynn, the billionaire CEO of Wynn Resorts Ltd., are two captains of the gambling industry who headquarter their businesses in Las Vegas – though Wynn has repeatedly bashed business conditions in the U.S. since President Barack Obama took office in 2009.

In Nevada, perhaps the hardest-hit state in the country because of the recession, unemployment has gone from 4.5 percent in October 2007 to 13.2 percent in October 2011, according to data from the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

State numbers show that the leisure and hospitality industry shed 29,000 jobs between October 2007 and October 2010. The industry has gained back 14,800 jobs over the past year, but its current 324,700 workers is far short of where it once was.

The Governor’s Conference on Tourism returned to Las Vegas this year for the first time in four years, after it was canceled in 2008 and returned last year on a smaller scale in Reno. Gov. Brian Sandoval opened the conference on Tuesday by saying that his administration was backing pushes for more tourism as Nevada recovers.

“Make no mistake, you are leading us out of the Great Recession,” Sandoval said.

Dale Erquiaga, a senior adviser to Sandoval, said that tourism officials should push harder to capture niche markets and start thinking about the states’ 150th anniversary in 2014.

He said the industry can likely expect more money – though not billions of dollars – in 2013, with job growth coming slowly.

“The road will be long – it will be slow at times,” he said. “Job growth will come by 50s and 150s at a time – not 5,000s. Growth and budgets will come in slow, steady increments in sales tax and gaming collections.


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