Harry Reid operates Vegas 'juice machine' for his friends

Does this bother you?

The July/August issue of The Atlantic magazine includes a profile of Harlan Coben, author of 16 best-selling crime novels. The article identifies some of Coben's celebrity friends, including television host Bryant Gumbel, rock musician Nils Lofgren and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Reid is described as an "admiring reader," joining a club that includes former President Bill Clinton, business tycoon Steve Forbes and my wife. Certainly we like to know our elected officials still read books, so this is all right.

The article notes that Reid invited Coben to make a speech at a Democratic leadership retreat in Philadelphia. Among other things, Coben urged the assembled members of Congress to, once a week, read aloud to themselves the names of the war dead.

We're still all right.

But there's a little more. The article's author, Eric Konigsberg, reports that he accompanied Coben on a book-signing tour that stopped in Las Vegas. He describes a telling scene:

"When we arrived at our hotel, the Luxor, the check-in line looked as if it would take 45 minutes," Konigsberg writes. "Coben e-mailed Reid's office, and it took about a minute for a secretary to call the hotel and arrange for a VIP check-in and a room upgrade."

Hmm. Now, we all know how things work in Las Vegas. The more money you have, the better treatment you receive. Few people around here really argue with that, right?

But this Harlan Coben scenario is a little different.

First, we have this novelist, who lives in New Jersey, securing a favor from Reid's office. Clearly, Coben was made aware sometime in advance of this incident that if he contacted the senator's office, any problems he encountered in Las Vegas would be taken care of. Is this a common activity at Reid HQ? Who else is Nevada's senior casino host helping out in this way? Coben may seem fairly harmless, but what about others who have benefited from Reid's succor?

Second, we have somebody in Reid's office dropping everything to place a call to the Luxor to fix an inconvenience experienced by the senator's friend. Is it possible that Reid's staffers might have more important things to do than ensure VIP treatment for a New Jersey-based novelist?

Third, we have the folks at the Luxor, an MGM Mirage property, immediately bending over to provide special treatment to Reid's buddy. What does this say about the relationship between Reid and the state's dominant industry? Doesn't this suggest something more than an arm's-length association? What does the casino expect in exchange for helping out Reid's friend?

One might assume that Reid has the hook-up not only at MGM Mirage properties but others on the Strip. At the same time, one might presume that if Coben had booked a room at The Venetian, owned by arch-conservative billionaire Sheldon Adelson, Reid's office might not have been so helpful.

Points to ponder, no?

Reid's office seems to do a fine job of trying to assist Nevadans who call with problems. But if I'm among those few who believe they've gotten the runaround from Reid's office in a time of need, this Harlan Coben incident has to be infuriating.

What's more, I'm wondering how many Nevadans who voted for Reid and have supported him through good times and bad will now expect his magic touch to help them enjoy a little VIP treatment on the Strip. Maybe someone should test this theory, perhaps call Reid's office and see about snagging choice seats for a Cirque du Soleil show or something.

Reid's press secretary, Jon Summers, says the Atlantic article contains errors. For one thing, Summers says, Coben was in touch with Reid's campaign office, not his Senate office.

Summers also said the author was in contact with Reid's campaign staff well in advance of his arrival at the Luxor. Coben did not, in other words, fire off an e-mail while standing in line and promptly secure VIP treatment, as the article indicates.

Most important, Summers said, Reid himself was not involved in any aspect of this situation.

"Prior to his trip to Las Vegas, Mr. Coben, who has worked with our campaign in support of Sen. Reid, e-mailed someone in the campaign office and in the context of the e-mail he informed them that he would be in Las Vegas," Summers says. "The campaign notified the hotel that Mr. Coben, a best-selling author, would be staying there and the hotel allowed him to check in as a VIP. Mr. Coben did not contact Sen. Reid directly or his official office about his trip to Nevada."

Fair enough. If one of Reid's staffers did this on his or her own -- against the senator's wishes -- shame on that staffer. But I don't think I'm going out on a limb to suspect that this kind of special treatment is routinely secured for friends not only of Reid but of the other members of Nevada's congressional delegation -- Democrat and Republican alike.

It doesn't matter to regular Nevadans whether Coben secured the favor from Reid's Senate office or his campaign office, nor that Reid himself was not directly involved. Reid's name was invoked, and special treatment followed.

It's business as usual in the city of "juice." It infects most of us in this town to some extent. It's not surprising that Reid -- or Reid's campaign office -- would be involved in it.

It is disappointing, though.

Geoff Schumacher (gschumacher@reviewjournal.com) is Stephens Media's director of community publications. He is the author of "Sun, Sin & Suburbia: An Essential History of Modern Las Vegas" and, coming in October, "Politics, Paranoia & Palace Intrigue: The Las Vegas Years of Howard Hughes." His column appears Sunday.