Obama rubbed quite a few Nevadans the wrong way Tuesday when he suggested rolling the dice on the Vegas Strip wasn’t the wisest move “when you’re trying to save for college. You prioritize. You make tough choices. It's time your government did the same."
Perhaps that’s not such bad advice. After all, who would suggest gambling with your college tuition?
But the comment didn’t sit well in a city that banks on tourists coming to “blow a bunch of cash,” as Obama put it at a New Hampshire town hall meeting. Nevada has the second highest unemployment rate in the country (13 percent) and the highest foreclosure rate. The gaming and convention industries have been hit hard, too.
Annual gaming revenues are down 11 percent overall, although the Las Vegas Review-Journal recently reported that casinos saw an increase in November for the first time since December 2007, with winnings totaling $873.2 million.
Senator Reid, who faces a tough reelection bid and sagging ratings, criticized the comment.
"The President needs to lay off Las Vegas and stop making it the poster child for where people shouldn't be spending their money," he said in a statement.
Obama was quick to offer this apology to Reid, one of his chief political allies in Congress.
"I hope you know that during my town hall today, I wasn't saying anything negative about Las Vegas. I was making the simple point that families use vacation dollars, not college tuition money, to have fun. There is no place better to have fun than Vegas, one of our country's great destinations,” he wrote in a letter to the senator.
Obama's comments are unlikely to help Reid, whose favorability rating sank to 31 percent in a recent Rasmussen poll.
This isn’t the first time that Obama has taken heat from Nevadans over a comment about Vegas. Last year he said bankers who take government bailouts “can't take a trip to Las Vegas or down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers' dime.”
That time, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman asked for an apology and sent the president letter, saying his comments were “harmful to the meetings and convention industry as a whole and Las Vegas specifically."
This time, Mayor Goodman took the gloves off. "I want to assure you when he comes I will do everything I can to give him the boot back to Washington and to visit his failures back there,” he said at a press conference, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“Unfortunately, I think that [Obama] has failed to grasp the weight that his words carry,” said Sen. John Ensign (R) of Nevada, in a statement.
“As a result of his irresponsible comment just last year, countless companies and federal agencies canceled their conventions at Las Vegas hotels, costing these hotels and our city millions of dollars. Once again, he has threatened the struggling economy of Las Vegas.”
But Hugh Jackson, the progressive blogger behind the website Las Vegas Gleaner, questions the connection between Obama’s comments last year, which were about bankers taking tax payer-funded trips to Vegas, and the city’s economy.
“What has hurt the economy of Las Vegas has been the near collapse of key components of the American economy,” says Mr. Jackson. “Anyone to assign that particular weight [to Obama's comments] is just trying to score a cheap political point.”
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