Las Vegas seen as dangerous even as crime drops

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 23, 2013 at 10:56 am •  Published: February 23, 2013
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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Variously known as an adult playground and Disneyland for grown-ups, Las Vegas brands itself as a place where tourists can enjoy a sense of edginess with no real danger.

But a series of high-profile episodes of random violence amid the throngs of tourists is threatening Sin City's reputation as a padded room of a town where people can cut loose with no fear of consequences.

A car-to-car shooting and fiery crash that killed two bystanders and an aspiring rapper Thursday followed a bizarre elevator stabbing and a movie theater parking lot shooting.

Though crime has been falling on the glitzy stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard that houses most of the city's major casinos, tourism officials worry that vacationers and convention planners could begin to steer clear of the town because of a perception of mayhem.

"We are concerned because it can create misperceptions about the safety of the city, the safety of the Strip," said Gary Thompson, spokesman for Caesars Entertainment, which owns 10 resorts in the tourist zone, including Caesars Palace and Paris Las Vegas.

Casinos are particularly worried about convention business, which helps fill rooms and gambling tables between weekends. Corporate planners can swing the market with a few decisions, said Gordon Absher, spokesman for MGM Resorts International.

"And that decision will bring thousands of people," he said. MGM operates several major casino-hotels, including CityCenter, where Thursday's convulsion of violence originated.

Violent crime, which includes murder, rape, robbery and assault, in the city's main tourist hub fell 13 percent in 2012, from 256 to 223 incidents, and is down 11 percent for the first part of 2013, with 50 incidents reported. The number of rapes has fallen by more than a third.

There have been two homicides just off the Strip this year, in addition to the three deaths Thursday, compared to none in the area during the first month and a half of 2012.

Had they taken place elsewhere, the incidents that made headlines in recent weeks would never have become national stories, Thompson said. But when the crime happens in a city that welcomes 40 million visitors a year, people tend to care even if they haven't seen the neon lights in years.

"It's like, 'I was there! I stayed in there in Las Vegas! I walked that part of the Strip!'" he said.

The spate of violence started just before the new year, when a man shot and killed his ex-girlfriend, an Excalibur hotel-casino concierge clerk, before fatally shooting himself.

The following week, a blackjack dealer was wrestled to the ground at the Bellagio with razor blades in both hands. She is charged with killing a 10 year-old girl and then slashing her co-worker's face.

On New Year's Eve, a man allegedly fired a gunshot into the floor of the crowded Circus Circus casino during an argument. A Saudi air force sergeant is accused of raping a 13-year-old boy in the rooms above the same night.

A nighttime shooting outside a Strip movie theater left two people critically wounded earlier this month. Last week, two random men allegedly assaulted a visitor in the elevator at the Mandalay Bay property, tackling him and stabbing him in such a frenzy that they also stabbed each other.

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