Obama Rolls the Dice on Vegas Fundraiser Trip
President to attend fundraiser but residents still steamed over Vegas comments.
May 26, 2009— -- The cards may not be stacked in President Obama's favor as he arrives in Las Vegas tonight for a fundraiser with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev..
More than three months after the president's comments suggesting executives avoid using taxpayer money to fund trips like junkets to Vegas, Obama could receive a lukewarm reception Tuesday at Caesar's Palace.
In a city that thrives largely on tourism, some people are still steamed, including Republican Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons. Gibbons turned down an offer to shake hands with the president today, saying he wanted more than a "momentary" greeting given the president's February remarks. Locals with signs saying "Vegas Means Business" may greet the president as he arrives in town.
"I would suggest that, if the governor wants -- has a specific point that he'd like to make to the president of the United States, he's landing in a few hours in Las Vegas and apparently has been invited to make that case," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said today.
As is the case in other destinations dependant on tourism, times are tough in Vegas during the recession -- whether or not it's the president's fault.
According to statistics compiled by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, overall visitor volume fell 6.5 percent in March 2009 compared to March 2008. Convention attendance in particular was down 30 percent during that time period, with 19.6 percent fewer conventions and meetings held this March than last.
"The meetings industry has just been hammered," Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, told ABCNews.com, adding that companies are reluctant to pay for business travel because they are "very concerned about their public image."
But if there's a silver lining in the midst of recession, it's that travelers can get some very affordable deals on casinos, shows and restaurants, whether visiting for business or pleasure.
"There's great deals out there," VEGAS.com president and CEO Howard Lefkowitz told ABCNews.com. "The rates are as low as I've seen them, ever, really."
For business travelers in particular, Lefkowitz stressed that "face-to-face meetings still matter," and added that Vegas is the perfect place to cultivate those relationships.
"It's great to see the president coming here to do business -- presidential business," Lefkowitz said. "The party rages on."