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Were Low Room Rates To Blame For A Wild Labor Day Weekend?

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Associated Press

Judging from social media last week, Las Vegas was one of the most dangerous places to be. 

But was it?

There were viral videos of fights — including a casino-floor brawl at the Wynn. 

And making the rounds on Twitter were countless photos of people not socially distancing or wearing masks. 

In response, social media users vowed to stay away from Vegas. Rooms that were going for less than a steak dinner in August were now nearing or hitting triple digits. 

Wynn Resorts even announced that they would raise their rates after experimenting with lower ones in August. Then, the company sued the brawlers from the video. 

There were no major reports of unruly behavior this past weekend, so what is the status of safety on the Strip and in Downtown?

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Andrew Walsh is Metro’s deputy chief, and one of his focus areas is Tourist Safety Division. He told KNPR's State of Nevada that it's common to see an uptick in crime during long weekends like Labor Day or around large events. 

"You see an increase in disorder and, with it, the fights and skirmishes and things that break out," he said, "We recognize that those are the precursors for violence that happens at times."

Walsh said effective strategies by the department can help keep a lid on that violence, but he also admitted that the department could have done better over this past Labor Day.

"I think that we have a reputation as a community and as a resort destination and as a police department for being able to manage and handle large weekends," he said, "Labor Day is one that when we look back, we made some adjustments to our department for this past weekend, and the differences were measurable."

Walsh said he was shocked by some of the videos from Labor Day, including one where someone was being dragged down the street by their hair.

Besides the harm suffered by that individual person, which alone is horrifying, Walsh recognizes what it can mean to the city's reputation.

"We know how important it is to have visitors come here from other parts of the country. It's what drives our economy," he said, "When you see that you obviously have to think of several things: One, it's not just the impact on tourism, but it's a clear indication to the community of what their police officers have to deal with when they're out there."

Walsh does not believe the violence on Labor Day weekend is connected in any way to the coronavirus pandemic and calls to stay home, or the cheaper room rates in the resort corridor. He said it is really just about a criminal element in society.

"To me, it boils down to: You don't become a street fighter because of COVID," he said, "You don't become a brawler because of COVID. "

He said things like perceived disrespect or a look taken the wrong way turn from a confrontation into violence. 

Anthony Curtis is the publisher of Las Vegas Advisor. He's been writing about the Las Vegas Strip and its tourism industry for a long time. 

He also dismissed the idea that lower room rates somehow contributed to recent fights.

"I think that that is one of the most absurd statements or positions that I've heard in decades of watching this," he said.

Curtis pointed out that Las Vegas has long been a bargain destination and there has never been a concern that lower room rates might attract the "wrong kind of people."

Plus, he noted that the room rates over Labor Day weekend have not been that low, adding that they were much lower in the years following the Great Recession. Over Labor Day weekend, Wynn Las Vegas was charging $350-$500 a night - not including resort fees. 

Instead, Curtis sees the kind of violence that happened in Las Vegas as a problem around the country.

"We have to tread lightly here because this stuff all bumps up against politics and political views, which are very polarizing," he said, "We've got a polarizing situation in the United States."

Curtis said he believes a lot of people's nerves are frayed and a funny look from someone can lead to a fight. He also said that Las Vegas isn't the only city seeing more violence.

In addition, with more young people visiting the city and the bars closed, Curtis thinks people are not really sure what to do.

"You can't grab a drink and walk around," he said, "You just can't that. You got to be playing at a game or sitting at a table or eating at a restaurant. And people kind of don't know what to do with themselves sometimes."

He said the "Vegas Experience" is a little bit diminished and it is a little bit underwhelming right now.

But he is convinced that when a vaccine is available and people feel more comfortable coming back to Las Vegas, the cork will pop on the champagne.

Mike PeQueen agreed with him. PeQueen is the managing director and partner for HighTower Las Vegas, an investment and wealth management company. 

"It's unfortunate that this brawl went viral, but I think it is something that will over time fade as Las Vegas begins what it does well: reinventing itself for the new era and promoting whatever the new iteration of Las Vegas will be going forward," he said.

Although they don't know the names of the people involved in the brawl, Wynn Resorts is suing the people who got into a fight on the property. PeQueen believes that even if the people aren't held to account in a lawsuit, it might act as a deterrent.

"I think it is part of making a stand," he said, "If you're going to play this out in the public sphere, I think making an example of people who did something wrong on your property is a responsible and reasonable thing to do." 

PeQueen said he lives near the Strip and walks along it often at odd hours and always feels safe.

Walsh agreed and said that statistics show the city is actually safer than in the past with the overall crime dropping  

"We've had successive years of double-digit reductions in violent crime," Walsh said, "And we're down again in violent crime this year by almost 3 percent, but our total crime as a community [is] down almost 16 percent."

Curtis pointed out that video of fights on the Strip and pictures of people in crowds not wearing masks went out on social media, but that's not the whole picture of what the resort corridor looks like.

"Yesterday was the start of football season for Monday Night Football... and every year I go to as many casinos as I can to see if they're doing anything special," he said. "I was in a lot of casinos yesterday, more than a dozen, and what struck me is how many people were wearing their masks." 

He said all the safety protocols were in place and people were complying with them, but you're going to get more clicks with a fight than with video showing everyone socially distancing and wearing masks.

Guests

Andrew Walsh, deputy chief, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department; Anthony Curtis, publisher, Las Vegas Advisor; Mike PeQueen, Managing Director and Partner, HighTower Las Vegas

 

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