For Las Vegas, the only thing to fear is an assault on excess itself

This is an outrage. This is an abomination. This is downright un-American, even.

What is this grave transgression against all that is sacred?

It’s the recent cancellation of the Wells Fargo & Co. junkets to the Strip, of course. If U.S. big business is being shamed into giving up the 100-proof booze of corporate excess, the results will be devastating for Las Vegas.

Take our friends at Wells Fargo. After displaying the generosity of spirit it takes to accept a $25 billion federal bailout, especially after posting a $2.5 billion fourth-quarter loss, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf has defended his company’s decision to send two groups of hard-working employees on lavish “recognition events” to the Strip’s Wynn Las Vegas and Mandalay Bay resorts. After catcalls of criticism from congressional Democrats and the media, Stumpf canceled the junkets, but he didn’t give up without a fight.

Accepting multibillion-dollar bailouts is stressful duty, and Stumpf showed tremendous leadership in arguing for a group vacation during a recession. As Wells Fargo spokeswoman Melissa Murray recently told The Associated Press, “Recognition events are still part of our culture. It’s really important that our team members are still valued and recognized.”

We all know that the team members who play together, stay together. Las Vegas values and recognizes those team players and has experts standing by to teach them blackjack, craps and the nuances of the late-night lap dance.

For his part, our hero Stumpf is unbowed.

As if to illustrate just how much he needs a Vegas vacation, he took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times lamenting the canceled Las Vegas sojourns. He blamed the media for much of the banking giant’s public relations problems.

He wrote, “The problem is many media stories on this subject have been deliberately misleading. These one-sided stories lead you to believe every employee recognition event is a junket, a boondoggle, a waste, or that it’s for highly paid executives. Nonsense!”

He added, “For many, it’s the only time in their lives that they’re publicly recognized and thanked for a job well done. This recognition energizes them. It inspires them.”

It also could enrich them if they remember to double down and split aces, but I digress.

Stumpf also wanted to make it clear that these retreats, which only look like vacations, are financed by bank profits and not by the federal government. (Which is surely no mean feat given Wells Fargo’s $2.5 billion loss.)

Stumpf has my vote. I say it’s time we stopped tarring the 99 percent of big businesses that abuse their corporate perquisites and privileges by obsessing on the so-called ethical 1 percent who do not. It’s just unfair.

Not only that, it’s bad for Las Vegas. Really bad.

In fact, other world events fade to obscurity next to this tyranny against corporate tourism. It’s an offense that threatens the very fabric of U.S. fat cat capitalism, and as such it poses a great danger to the very existence of our community.

Las Vegas is the convention capital of America, and most conventions are an excuse to cut loose with the corporate credit card and do things in Vegas the suckers back home can only dream about.

Excessive drinking? We’re awash in the sauce. On the Strip, you look like a prohibitionist if you don’t have a 3-foot souvenir margarita glass in your hand.

Smoking? It’s not a coincidence Vegas Vic had a cigarette in his metal mitt. (Easy for him to smoke; he has iron lungs.) Nevadans are so hooked on nicotine we burned a hole in the section of the Nevada Revised Statutes that bans smoking in bars.

“Adult entertainment?” Sex and tease sell Las Vegas. There’s a move to legalize prostitution to generate tax revenue. This place has so much professional sex the convention authority considered the motto, “What happens in Vegas … is treatable with penicillin.”

The convention authority, by the way, issued a statement recently defending the corporate retreats. Federal bank bailouts aside, it’s “unfair to punish an entire industry that generates billions of dollars in economic stimulus and jobs for the American public.”

That’s the spirit.

What’s bad for America is good for Las Vegas, but let’s not dwell on the negative. We must stay strong, remain calm, accentuate the positive.

And if that fails, show a bit more cleavage.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at

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