A car, a bomb and a hotel.
The blast Monday in a parking garage at the Luxor hit a nerve with counterterrorism officials who have long warned that Strip resorts could be targeted by extremists.
But officials at the hotel-casino and police on Monday were quick to say that the explosion appeared to be neither a terrorist act nor a sign of lax hotel security.
“It’s very important to understand this is not specific to a casino resort,” said Yvette Monet, a spokeswoman for MGM Mirage, the Luxor’s parent company. “It’s an incident that could have happened anywhere.”
But the fact that the incident occurred on a hotel’s property elevated its significance, said Nevada Homeland Security Director Larry Martines, who recently spoke at a conference in Washington about the vulnerability of hotels to terrorist strikes.
“There was a peak of anxiety this morning,” Martines said. “The hospitality industry has been a primary terrorist target for the last several years.”
Mindful of this global trend, Strip resorts ratcheted up anti-terrorism security after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The largest hotels created security operations each costing about $10 million annually, more than Clark County received last year from the Homeland Security Department for all of Southern Nevada’s public-sector anti-terrorism efforts.
Hotels increased surveillance outside buildings, introduced bomb-sniffing dogs and added more security cameras. Some hotels placed barricades in high-rise garages located close to hotels, to protect against car bombs.
All these measures notwithstanding, hotels remain by necessity extremely accessible.
“You can’t build a wall around a casino, so you’re faced with a very difficult dilemma,” Martines said. “How do you maintain an open, enjoyable environment and also have effective security?”
The stakes of protecting resorts and other high-profile facilities are high, according to a recent assessment of the state’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks.
The study completed last year estimated that coordinated car bombings at the Las Vegas Convention Center could kill up to 10,000 people and cause more than $7 billion in damage. The report concluded that a suicide bombing inside a Reno hotel would probably kill about 20 people.
Sgt. John Loretto, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department, said Monday’s incident was a “targeted event” and not a fair test of hotel security.
“I think the hotels are doing a very good job of policing their properties,” Loretto said. “I’m sure they’ll look over any incident they have, but I don’t think it will cause them to do anything different.”
Wynn Las Vegas spokesman Brandon Cox declined to say whether his hotel had beefed up security on Monday.
Dave Shepherd, former head of security at The Venetian, said he thinks Strip hotels will find something to learn from the incident.
“You always look at modifying and changing things,” Shepherd said. “There will be something to glean from this.”