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We Just Had to Ask: Virginia Valentine

President, Nevada Resort Association

On the future of the Strip

 

What are people in the tourism business most excited about right now?

The addition of pro sports to Southern Nevada. When we used to talk about attracting a pro sports team here, back when I worked for Mayor (Oscar) Goodman, it seemed like it was such a pipe dream. And now to have four or five teams in a very short period of time come to Las Vegas is just phenomenal. … It’s also really exciting that there’s some activity starting at the north end of the Strip, with Fontainebleau and the acquisition of the Echelon site by Resorts World and the acquisition of the old New Frontier property. And Derek Stevens has some big plans for Downtown. So I think there are big things coming.

 

What’s next in nongaming attractions at casinos?

The business model definitely is moving … there is getting to be a larger share of revenue coming from experiences. And when I say “experiences,” I mean everything from running down the Strip in the Las Vegas Marathon, to zip-lining down the Fremont Street Experience, to using this as a jumping-off point for an eco-tourism adventure at one of the national parks or other surrounding areas. You’re going to continue to see that evolve.

Support comes from

 

On a scale of one to 10, with one being least and 10 being most, how likely are we to see each of the following within the next decade: e-sports.

I would say that’s a 10. It’s coming, and probably faster than in a decade.

 

Virtual reality?

Virtual reality, in some small forms, is here. I’d give that a 10, too.

 

Cultural tourism?

That will depend on how those cultural opportunities are developed. When you look at things like the Ice Age Park (Tule Springs Fossil Bed National Monument) or Gold Butte — even these sort of spontaneous art projects that pop up like Seven Magic Mountains — you see that an amazing thing about Southern Nevada is that we have the space to do that kind of large-scale cultural experience, and we have so many natural resources here that are still relatively new or unexplored. So there’s a lot of opportunity for that.

 

Last one: cannabis tourism?

We set records for tourism before recreational marijuana was legal. Likely, it will be legal in most places by the end of the decade. So in terms of distinguishing us from another destination, I don’t see that as being a driving force in tourism.

 

For casinos, the federal law against it is an issue, right?

There is a problem with federal law. Gaming regulations and state law require that gaming licensees — it’s a privilege license — comply with all state and federal laws. And until the federal government takes a different view of recreational marijuana, there is no way to reconcile marijuana use and gaming licenses.

 

In a post October 1 world, how does the city’s biggest industry keep its visitor base feeling safe, wanting to come here?

The number one priority in the tourism industry is that visitors, guests, residents, and employees must feel safe. It is paramount to everything else. You cannot come and have a good time if you don’t feel safe. This was an opportunity for everyone to look at their security plans. … The county has been very proactive in installing bollards along the Strip to prevent ...

Installing what?

Bollards are posts that will go between pedestrians and traffic and will basically prevent a very heavy vehicle moving very fast from driving onto the sidewalk where the pedestrians are. So there was an opportunity here to prevent something from happening, and the county took it.

 

For years, the resorts have said that the economy needs to rely less on sales taxes from them to support state government; that means a more diversified economy. What are you seeing on that now?

In our last Fact Book, where we go through all of the different types of taxes the resort industry pays, the tourism industry was still about 42 percent of the entire state general fund. That number is down a little bit, possibly due to the commerce tax. Not that we’re paying any less tax — we are paying more taxes in total than we’ve ever paid — but we’ve always supported broad-based taxes. So, before the commerce tax there were basically only three industries that paid any industry-specific corporate taxes at all, and that was gaming, mining, and banking or financial institutions. So we very much support diversification.

 

Is the #MeToo moment having an impact on the Strip?

Well, I don’t have the statistics with me, but the gaming industry is a huge employer of women, so if they’re voting with their employment record, the resort industry is a leader across the board in terms of diverse and gender employment. … As for women in the workplace, I don’t have any information on that, but I think everyone would agree that what’s happening should encourage women to come forward and speak out.

 

The resort industry is still pretty male dominated. Will there be more opportunities for women going forward?

The trend is toward more women executives in gaming, and there are some very powerful and influential women in gaming already: Jan Jones Blackhurst (executive VP at Caesars), Kimmarie Sinatra (general counsel at Wynn), and Denice Miller (senior VP at MGM) are on my board. 

 

How are you feeling about the sports betting case before the Supreme Court?

I have members who would like to see sports betting stay in Nevada, and I have members who see legalized sports betting as the next big thing. And, obviously, it has that potential. So I think we’re all watching anxiously to see what happens. … One of the questions is, there’s so much illegal sports betting happening now, if that became legal, then of course the tax revenue, the handle, all of the economic activity around that, would be part of the economy instead of happening offline, then I think it could be good.

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