It Didn’t Stay Here: Flooding, casino hacks give Las Vegas a far-flung P.R. bashing

Las VegasThat catchy Las Vegas marketing mantra of recent invention, “What happens here, stays here,” was never true, of course. Readers of this blog are well aware of my view from all the examples I have cited since becoming New To Las Vegas of folks in trouble elsewhere for something that happened locally. (My running list, It Didn’t Stay Here, can be found nearby.)

But this applies institutionally as well as individually. Thanks to some recent happenings, Summer 2023, which ends tonight at 11:50 p.m. PT, likely can’t go away fast enough for Vegas image-makers. Their success over time at stirring worldwide interest in this remote desert spot full of scorpions leaves them, tracking Shakespeare’s immortal words from Hamlet referencing the results of incompetent bomb-makers: hoist by their own petards.

I just did some Google searches. The two recent instances of Las Vegas-area flooding–the first in mid-August from Hurricane Hilary and the second over Labor Day weekend from the annual monsoon–generated 5.74 million hits. This is an astounding number given that by major world flood disaster standards, the loss of life and damage here, while real in places, rounded to zero, largely thanks to decades of serious flood-control work. The rains materially damaged maybe 0.04% of the metropolitan area, most notably the tiny town of Mount Charleston, 40 miles west of and 5,000 feet above Las Vegas. The recent flooding in Libya killed thousands and wiped out whole villages–most of them little known outside the country, since they don’t have the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority working for them. A Google search produced 13.5 million hits–barely double the Vegas return despite a level of tragedy maybe a million-fold greater.

The computer hacks that hit the Caesars Entertainment and the MGM Resorts International chains, resulting at the latter in long check-in lines and winnings paid out by hand, returned 6.32 million Google hits. This, too, is an amazing number. It seems all those photos and accounts of frustrated pleasure-seekers unable to quickly gamble, drink or indulge in other vices proved irresistible for the editorial gatekeepers of the Internet determined to prove the continuing relevance of the Ten Commandments.

When it comes to problems, the farther away from Vegas, the greater the carnage is perceived. Foreign media is frequently amusing. Consider, for instance, the New Delhi-based Hindustan Times, India’s third largest English-language newspaper, with a print circulation dwarfing that of all Nevada newspapers combined (and I’m including the weeklies). The paper–8,000 miles from Las Vegas–had this headline and lead on a staff-written story over the Hurricane Hilary flooding on August 24:

Severe storm turns Vegas strip into a ‘river,’ over 2 missing amid flash floods

By Prapti Upadhayay

Las Vegas, known for its glitz and glamour, was hit by lightning strikes and heavy rainfall, turning the iconic Strip into a waterway and causing havoc on Wednesday. The deluge resulted in multiple individuals being swept away in flash floods and caused damage to buildings …

One might be excused for thinking from reading this that little remained of Las Vegas.

Or take London’s venerable BBC. On August 24 the broadcaster posted on its web site a 44-second clip with the headline, “Floodwaters surge through casinos in Las Vegas.” The problem here is that the footage aired showed nothing of the sort. It displayed waters rushing through flood channels and a few inches of standing water on the Strip. Leisurely tourists were seen observing the flow as though they were partaking of the delights of Niagara Falls. The clip did show water running through the first floor of the parking garage of The Linq, one of the Strip casino hotels next to the High Roller ferris wheel, at 550 feet the world’s second highest. That’s not exactly the casino floor.

Perhaps the BBC could be forgiven for not knowing that The Linq was built over the Flamingo Wash, a flood-control channel designed to direct water away from the Strip and, eventually, to the giant Lake Mead reservoir 30 miles away. By design, the first floor of the parking garage is part of the flood channel. So it’s supposed to flood in heavy rain. Hotel management simply clears the level of vehicles whenever there’s a prediction of rain, which, with only four inches annually, really isn’t all that often.

As far as I can tell, the only casino damage from the August storm was a few fallen tiles at Harrah’s.

Still, on the Labor Day weekend flooding, London’s was working overtime. Its headline:”Torrential rain sparks flash floods on Las Vegas Strip as major power outages leave more than 4,000 residents suffering blackouts.” Stop the presses: Power outages do cause blackouts. The story didn’t mention that most folks got their lights back quickly. But it contains photos and video of–yes, water running under The Linq and down flood channels, with camera-wielding tourists calmly watching the action.

The Labor Day weekend coverage in The New York Times was somewhat more restrained. “Parts of Las Vegas Strip Flood After Heavy Rain,” said the headline on the story by Remi Tumin. But you’ll never guess some of the evidence the story cited: “One video circulating on social media showed water gushing into a channel outside the Linq hotel and Casino on the Strip.”

As bad as the flooding publicity hit was for Las Vegas, it might be the widespread coverage of the casino IT problems that lingers on financially. The media was full of pictures of angry patrons who waited hours to check in, collect their winnings and get drunk, and being forced to use cash. The debacle totally destroyed Vegas’s rep as a place skilled at quickly separating visitors from their money, but pleasantly. I saw social media postings from visitors vowing never to return.

The hack, which started about 10 days ago, affected only the facilities of MGM Resorts International. But with a dozen properties–among them brand names like Bellagio, Cosmopolitan, MGM Grand Las Vegas, Mandalay Bay, Luxor and New York-New York–MGM has a full 25% of the Las Vegas market. It didn’t help Vegas’s image as a savvy place that the alleged hacking outfit wrote on social media it took only 10 minutes to work its evil with a single call to an unthinking back-office person to change a password. This wasn’t confirmed by MGM or authorities–nor denied.

Visitors from far away might be excused for thinking the problems involved every Vegas casino. But from a reputational standpoint, they probably did.

MGM reportedly refused to meet a ransom demand. But not so Caesars Entertainment, another major Vegas player that operates nine local properties, including the venerable Caesars Palace and Tropicana. Amid the MGM turmoil, Caesars admitted that in August it paid $15 million in ransom to hackers using roughly the same m.o. to gain computer access. It’s possible this was the same group that hit MGM. But Caesars operations were not interrupted.

I have often written here about how bad stuff that happens in Vegas gets insane publicity elsewhere simply because it is in Vegas. I attribute this to the desire of far-away editors for a divine retribution upon Sin City. Remember the hubbub barely a year ago in May 2022 over that murdered body–maybe from Vegas’s mob days–found in a Lake Mead barrel? Turns out murdered bodies are found in barrels around the country all the time that you never hear about! (The Lake Mead victim, by the way, still hasn’t been identified).

Or the utterly wild worldwide publicity afforded in 2019 to an infestation around Las Vegas of grasshoppers. This is a somewhat common phenomenon from time to time in the American West (Brigham Young had the same problem in 1847, the year after he and his fellow Mormons founded Salt Lake City), and it goes away. Yet four years later, the website of The Hindu, India’s second-largest English language newspaper (what is it about large English-language newspapers in India?), still contains a staff-produced video of grasshopper close-ups of monster proportions accompanied by spooky, ominous music. The lofty Guardian newspaper in London continues to post on its website another tight image that depicts–if you believe the conceit of the caption–two giant grasshoppers stalking the offices of the Las Vegas Sun.

To me, the pattern of overblown media coverage about Las Vegas is clear. But in the recent instances of flooding and fraud, at least, the marketers of Las Vegas really have no one to blame but themselves for the notoriety. Boom.

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