Who hasn’t heard the saying about Las Vegas, “What Happens Here, Stays Here”? It conjures up all kinds of local illicit and unfaithful pursuits, a bug light for those so inclined. In the process of relocating from Seattle to Las Vegas for family reasons (honest!), I thought the slogan was of historically long standing. You know, along the lines of “The City That Never Sleeps” for New York City or “First in War, First In Peace, Last in the American League” for Washington, D.C.
How wrong I was. It turns out the slogan was flat-out made up 13 years by a Las Vegas ad agency hired to devise a new marketing campaign for the city. I guess the presence of world-class entertainment, 40,000-plus slot machines and nearby legal prostitution wasn’t enough.
That makes WHHSH one of those rare invented slogans that has entered world cultural consciousness in a big way. I suspect this won’t be the only surprise I’ll encounter in my new home.
Undoubtedly, many long-time Las Vegas residents know the origins, but I, New To Las Vegas, just learned more about the back story. According to a 2013 account in The Week, the slogan was fashioned by R&R Partners for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The slogan originally was featured in a series of humorous TV spots.
While the sentiment may have been expressed decades earlier by professional rugby players on tour, the WHHSH tag as applied to Las Vegas cynically screams adult entertainment. “Las Vegas has always been provocative, sexy and suggestive,” one R&R executive wrote years later. “All we did was tap into what Las Vegas has always stood for; we packaged its fundamental brand truth.”
A year later, the anti-gambling National Football League refused to allow Las Vegas to advertise its slogan during the Super Bowl. That rejection letter, leaked to the media, generated scads of free publicity. Then came the farcical 2009 Bradley Cooper movie Hangover, which centered on wild stuff happening in Vegas.
Of course, there is also the doctrine of unintended consequences. To some degree, WHHSH blew up in the face of Las Vegas earlier this year when it turned out that an important link in the Panama Papers scandal–the leak of millions of documents from a Central America law firm suggesting massive tax evasion around the world–was a Las Vegas office taking advantage of Nevada’s loose, secrecy-oriented incorporation laws and practices. I’ll say they’re loose; years ago, I wrote for Forbes about how the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office accepted incorporation papers issued in the name of a nonexistent country created by fraudsters, the Dominion of Melchizedek.
On the other hand, there’s O.J. Simpson. He’s still in a Nevada prison eight years after being convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping growing out of his effort in a Las Vegas casino hotel to recover what he said was sports memorabilia stolen from him. After avoiding criminal liability for double murder in California, Simpson found WHHSH a hard truth in Vegas.
As a Las Vegas blogger drawing traffic far and wide, I think WHHSH is about the last principle I would want to follow. Otherwise, what would I have to write about?