Las Vegas a dark-hearted town


I'm a grumpy old man today.

I'm frustrated by the callous heart of Las Vegas, and I'm angered by the behavior of some of the people who visit our city.

These strong feelings have arisen in the wake of the recent shooting incident at the New York-New York hotel-casino.

At least two aspects of the story really burn me up.

First, we have a case of genuine heroism. Steve Zegrean's July 6 shooting spree ended when a North Dakota visitor, Justin Lampert, jumped on the gunman, put him in a headlock and threw him to the ground. Then three other men, also tourists, rushed to help Lampert keep the raging Zegrean under control until police arrived.

We should be careful throwing around the word hero, which is uttered way too often these days. But Lampert, David James, Bob Ura and Paul Ura are deserving of the honorific. By risking their lives to subdue Zegrean, they likely saved some lives in the casino.

So, what has Las Vegas done to celebrate and honor these acts of heroism?

Not a damn thing. What kind of dark-hearted town is this?

MGM Mirage, the company that owns New York-New York, has promised to give the men free rooms when they return to Las Vegas. That's cool. But when a Review-Journal reporter interviewed David James last week, four days after the heroic event, he said he had not yet been contacted by the casino company.

Here's what should happen: The community ought to throw a ticker-tape parade for these guys. Right down the Strip. And couldn't MGM Mirage treat them like high-rollers for a night or two?

It's the very least a grateful city would do.

Of course, there's a reason this is not happening: greed.

The New York-New York shooting was bad press for Las Vegas. But it was a one-day story on the national news, right? The casino industry doesn't want to remind visitors that a shooting spree took place here, and that if it weren't for these heroic men, it could have been much worse.

In other words, celebrating their heroism would be bad for business.

That's cold-blooded thinking, plain and simple.

Of course, local political leaders don't have to take their cues from casino executives. Clark County commissioners, who represent the Strip corridor, could defy the industry and do something special for these heroes.

Yes, and desert tortoises could sprout wings and fly.

OK. Now for part two.

According to police, Zegrean apparently intended to start his shooting spree about two hours earlier than he did -- about 10:45 p.m. Why did he wait? Because there were too many children in the casino.

Let's repeat that: too many children in the casino at 10:45 p.m.

Ah, but there's more. Two hours later, Zegrean started shooting randomly into the casino and hit four people, including a 13-year-old boy.

Let's repeat that: a 13-year-old boy in the casino at 12:45 a.m.

Two questions:

1. What kind of parents allow their kids to mill around Las Vegas casinos in the middle of the night? Call me old-fashioned, but 13-year-olds ought to be in bed at that time. If they are in a casino at 12:45 a.m., they aren't doing anything productive.

2. Are New York-New York employees really doing their jobs if kids are hanging out in their casino in the middle of the night? Does the state Gaming Control Board care about this? Aren't we enforcing the curfew anymore? Does anybody think this is wrong?

These are old-fogey views, I realize. I have the same response when parents bring very young children with them to see R-rated movies full of violence and sex. But these views are relevant, I think, to the faint but ongoing discussion of what kind of community we want Las Vegas to be.

As of now, we don't seem to want to be a community in any sense of the word. A real community would celebrate these acts of heroism, and a real community would be concerned about the notion of young kids running around casinos at all hours of the night. Anyone who's lived here for a while will remember the 1997 case of 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson, who was left unattended late at night in a casino arcade. She was raped and murdered by a sick punk named Jeremy Strohmeyer. I have to wonder: Have we made much progress in the 10 years since that tragedy?

Las Vegas is a fast-growing, transient city where a high percentage of people are reluctant to put down roots and get involved in civic affairs. In a new survey, Las Vegas ranked dead last among 50 cities in volunteerism. It's clear we face significant hurdles to building a real sense of community here.

But if Las Vegas is going to evolve into something more substantial than a random gathering of free agents, recognizing these heroes would be a great place to start.

And, in the second act, let's start asking questions of the resorts and the Gaming Control Board about enforcement of long-standing regulations concerning children in casinos. I just can't imagine a positive effect of impressionable youngsters running loose in a casino.

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 February, "Howard Hughes: Power, Paranoia & Palace Intrigue." His column appears Sunday.

 

Rules for posting comments

Comments posted below are from readers. In no way do they represent the view of Stephens Media LLC or this newspaper. This is a public forum. Read our guidelines for posting. If you believe that a commenter has not followed these guidelines, please click the FLAG icon next to the comment.