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Visitors understanding of NFR setback resulting from UNLV tragedy

Updated December 7, 2023 - 4:41 pm

Visitors arriving in town for the National Finals Rodeo are generally understanding of the need to cancel Thursday night’s grand opening of “the Super Bowl of rodeo,” a day after a mass shooting at UNLV.

And a gaming and tourism industry analyst says the UNLV tragedy shouldn’t impact visitation to Las Vegas.

Thousands of people, many of them decked out in cowboy boots, hats and other western wear, poured through Harry Reid International Airport on Thursday, a day after some arrivals were delayed by the shocking calamity at nearby UNLV.

Three people were killed and one wounded in the shooting Wednesday at UNLV. The gunman was killed in a shootout with law enforcement officers at Beam Hall at the Lee School of Business, Clark County Sheriff Kevin McMahill said.

While some rodeo fans were disappointed that they weren’t able to attend the kickoff go-round Thursday night, others are looking with anticipation to the Friday event, which will be marked with a moment of silence to honor the victims, their families and the grieving community.

Traci and Jason Weiler are a married couple from Sinton, Texas, attending NFR for the first time this year and Traci said she was a bit surprised at the cancellation of the opening night ceremony. But after she learned more about what happened at UNLV and how close the NFR event was to the shooting she understood why the first night was canceled.

“Since of what happened at the college, it seems they canceled for the safety of the people and the performers, which I understand,” Traci Weiler said.

The couple hopes the rest of the NFR events go along as scheduled since they are both rodeo fans and are looking forward to the team roping event. They had tickets for only Thursday and Friday night.

A couple visiting the Las Vegas Strip from Kansas said they were unfazed by the news of the UNLV mass shooting.

“It could happen anywhere,” Stephanie Fawcett said while drinking coffee with her husband, Brennan, near New York-New York Thursday morning. They had traveled to Las Vegas to see Garth Brooks perform at Caesars Palace.

Feeling safe

Brennan Fawcett said they felt “as safe as we could feel.”

It was business as usual on the Strip Thursday morning as many in town to enjoy shows, gaming and the National Finals Rodeo were just getting out of their rooms to grab some food and coffee and play slots. Most of the tourists who spoke to the Review-Journal were in town for NFR, which will take place this week and next at the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus.

Those interviewed said visiting a city where a mass shooting just occurred wasn’t causing them much worry or serious concerns for their safety.’

“I mean it does make you a little bit more aware. You kind of keep your eyes open,” said Vickie Secor, who came for the rodeo with her husband, Bob, from Bozeman, Montana, and will be here until Sunday.

Bob Secor said they have traveled to Las Vegas a number of times and there are some things they take into account when they visit to ensure a sense of safety — mainly paying attention to their surroundings — but it’s not just related to shootings.

Ladora Forrester, who came with her friends from northeast Alabama for one night to celebrate her and her friend’s birthday, and to attend NFR, said the news of the UNLV shooting wasn’t really on their minds at all and definitely would not deter them from coming back to the city as tourists.

“We’re not worried,” she said as they played slots inside New York-New York. “We’re here to see some cowboys.”

Strong future

Brendan Bussmann, a gaming industry analyst with Las Vegas-based B Global, said the UNLV tragedy won’t keep tourists away from the city.

“Tragic events like this always present a host of immediate challenges on the community, but I do not see any long-term effects as it relates to tourism to the destination,” he said.

“With NFR starting this week at Thomas & Mack, there is no doubt that this long-standing community partner will offer a helping hand to UNLV, where the rodeo has called home for nearly 40 years,” Bussmann said. “I do not see an impact in attendance to that event knowing what we know about the events from earlier this week.”

Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, was mostly thankful and appreciative of first-responders whose mission is to keep the destination safe for all visitors.

“We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the UNLV Campus Police, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Clark County Fire Department and emergency management services, and the countless other first responders whose swift actions at UNLV today were nothing short of heroic,” Hill said in a statement issued Wednesday.

Hill said Las Vegas is a community first and not just a place where people come to have fun.

“Las Vegas is a tourism destination, but at our core, we are a community,” he said, “a community of people who live here, work here, and won’t be defined by the senseless tragedy we experienced today. We stand united as a community that will heal, support one another, and emerge stronger. Together, we will continue to be VegasStrong.”

Some NFR visitors got their look at how the community responded during a tragedy Wednesday when their flights were delayed.

Reid International experienced a “ground stop” instituted by the Federal Aviation Administration ordering no aircraft movement from around noon to 2:45 p.m. The reason: Law enforcement aircraft were deployed in the airspace above and around UNLV during the shooting. A Reid official said the traffic returned to normal about 45 minutes after the stop ended.

Resiliency

Strip workers say the community has built up a sense of resiliency, thanks in part to the Route 91 Harvest Festival tragedy in which a gunman killed 60 people before taking his own life on Oct. 1, 2017.

“I’ve seen us overcome a lot as far as a community,” said Nadia Serrao, who has been working on the Strip for 13 years and was manning the customer service booth outside the MGM Grand for information on trips to the Grand Canyon Thursday morning.

“Working on the Strip and being in sales, you see a lot of stuff and talk to a lot of people,” she said, noting a new built-in sense of resiliency.

It’s that resiliency that Bussmann believes will keep visitors coming back next year and beyond.

“You have a full calendar for December and as we look to 2024, I do not see this impacting the flow of visitors coming to the destination,” Bussmann said. “It will definitely be on the minds of the visitors that come to our destination and this community as it responds and continues to get stronger through these challenges.”

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on X. Review-Journal business writers Patrick Blennerhasset and Sean Hemmersmeier contributed to this report.

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