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Resort industry raises $12M to help Las Vegas shooting victims

Commitments to the Vegas Strong Fund are now more than $12 million, according to Virginia Valentine, president of the Nevada Resort Association.

“Some portion of those commitments will go — and have already gone — to Las Vegas Victims’ Fund and some will go to Vegas Strong Fund depending on the needs of each,” Valentine said.

The Nevada resort industry established its own 501(c)(3) fund after the Oct. 1 Las Vegas shooting. Members of the Vegas Strong Fund will determine what they will do with the money.

Jan Jones Blackhurst, chairperson of the Vegas Strong Fund, said the nonprofit will donate to the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund as well as to “support long-term needs of the community.”

The Vegas Strong Fund hired the National Center for Victims of Crime to assess what those needs are.

The decision will follow the needs assessment, which could take several months to complete.

Blackhurst said the Las Vegas Strong Fund will be “very transparent when we make decisions where to allocate the money.”

The Las Vegas Victims’ Fund currently has more than $22 million that will go to those who meet the criteria specified by the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund committee.

A gunman opened fire Oct. 1 on a crowd of 22,000 people attending the Route 91 Harvest festival, injuring 546, killing 58 and impacting thousands of others. During a town hall meeting Nov. 28, local survivors spoke of issues with receiving financial help from the state’s victims of crime program and about struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Las Vegas residents Lillian Aguierre and Laura Puglia, who were working at the festival when the shooting began, said that they were seeking mental health care, but everybody they called was fully booked.

“Oct. 1 made it very clear that we’re woefully underfunded with both resources and services,” Blackhurst said. She said the needs assessment is meant to “find the gaps” in services that are offered and needed in the local community.

Jeff Dion, deputy executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, said the needs assessment will likely entail focus groups, surveys and other research.

Vegas Strong Fund

“Some of it could be looking at what other places have done,” he said.

Valentine declined to say how much the fund paid to hire the center to conduct the assessment.

Members of the nonprofit are looking at “long-term support for the community for any major crisis,” Blackhurst said.

Gaming industry’s response

The Las Vegas Strong Fund has been met with skepticism from some survivors of the shooting and other tragedies.

“Vegas and Nevada were built on odds and on risks. What are the odds to your industry if you choose not to take care of victims — who were your guests?” Anita Busch asked members of the gaming community on Nov. 28. Busch’s cousin, Micayla Medek, was killed in the 2012 movie theatre shooting in Aurora, Colorado.

Blackhurst, who is also the executive vice president for Public Policy and Corporate Responsibility at Caesars Entertainment, said the gaming industry has offered, and is continuing to offer, support.

“I think people are not taking into consideration the tremendous amount of in-kind (donations) that were made by the Las Vegas gaming industry,” Blackhurst said.

Following the Oct. 1 shooting, Las Vegas hotels provided at least 1,875 cumulative room nights to families of victims.

“I don’t think there was a gaming operator who didn’t offer tremendous major in-kind support at the same time that they were making major financial commitments,” she said.

Station Casinos committed $1 million “to assist those impacted” by the shooting, but spokeswoman Lori Nelson said Monday that the company has “yet to finalize how the funds will be administered.”

Caesars Entertainment Corp. said it has collected $2 million in donations “to assist those impacted by this terrible event and to help our community heal.” Jennifer Forkish, vice president of corporate communications at Caesars, said Oct. 11 that the company is “working to quickly identify where we will be directing the funds,” adding that “a number of excellent charitable opportunities have presented themselves.” Forkish did not return a request for comment Monday.

Boyd Gaming Corp. pledged $1 million on Oct. 3, but spokesman David Strow said “we have not distributed those funds as of yet.” Strow could not provide any new details Tuesday.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. and the Adelson Family Foundation established a $4 million relief fund Oct. 5. Las Vegas Sands spokesman Ron Reese said Tuesday that “we are currently finalizing several donations and hope to share that information soon.”

MGM Resorts International’s MGM Resorts Foundation pledged $3 million on Oct. 3 “to fund humanitarian assistance to victims of the Las Vegas shooting, along with organizations who provide support to those who are first on the scene to assist in traumatic events.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Contact Nicole Raz at nraz@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512. Follow @JournalistNikki on Twitter.

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