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Politicians, businesspeople respond to Obama comment

President Barack Obama might have to hold a Cabinet meeting in a gondola at The Venetian to settle this Las Vegas kerfuffle.

Obama’s recent swipe at corporate excess that used Las Vegas for rhetorical flourish has politicians and tourism boosters from the Potomac to the fountains at Bellagio clamoring to defend Sin City’s honor.

Two days after Obama slammed bailout-taking bankers for planning a get-together at a swanky Las Vegas resort, Nevada-connected boosters, politicians and businesspeople were still talking back.

“We’ve had about six major groups cancel,” said Karen Gordon, president of the destination management company Activity Planners in Las Vegas. “Las Vegas and the entire meeting and incentive industry is being unfairly portrayed in a negative light.”

On Monday during a question-and-answer session in Elkhart, Ind., Obama criticized bankers from Wells Fargo, which accepted $25 billion in taxpayer money, for planning a 12-day event at Wynn Las Vegas.

“You can’t take a trip to Las Vegas or down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers’ dime,” Obama said.

The comment echoed recent jabs by other politicians and commentators suggesting companies taking taxpayer money to plug holes in their balance sheets shouldn’t have meetings in Las Vegas.

In addition to the Wells Fargo cancellation, banking giant Goldman Sachs also cancelled a planned event at Mandalay Bay.

The company, which received $10 billion in taxpayer money, moved the event to San Francisco, a city with even pricier hotel rooms and higher average airfares.

An official with Mandalay Bay parent company MGM Mirage told the Associated Press the move included a $600,000 cancellation fee.

“This is ridiculous. This is what frustrates the American people,” Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said in a written statement. “I’ll shoot this straight — what Goldman Sachs did was purely a phony public relations gimmick, but it’s not fooling anyone.”

On Wednesday Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and officials from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said insurance giant State Farm has also backed out of an event.

They said the event would have delivered 11,000 room-nights for Las Vegas, a city that’s been hit as hard as any by the recession. State Farm did not return a call for comment.

Gordon said she’s already laid off three people from her small business that arranges transportation, decor, entertainment and other touches for events.

Others in the convention and meeting industry say Obama and others’ pejorative references to Las Vegas specifically and meetings in general are especially infuriating in the context of an economic recover conversation.

In Las Vegas alone there are more than 22,000 meetings annually that directly sustain about 43,000 jobs and generate an estimated $8.5 billion for the local economy.

“It goes to the hotel clerks, the bus boys, the taxi cabs. When meetings are cancelled there is a ripple effect,” said Brenda Anderson, CEO of the Society for Incentive Travel Executives.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.

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