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Obama 'Sins' Against Sin City

President Barack Obama
Photo by: Pete Souza
President Barack Obama

"What do you think of the President?" I asked the cab driver.

"You don't wanna know," he replied, then proceeded to rant for the next five minutes as he drove me up the Las Vegas Strip. "What does he have against us? I have two kids at UNLV, how am I supposed to pay for that If he keeps trashing Las Vegas? All us cabbies would be happy if he stayed home."

Well, he isn't staying home.

President Obama is in Las Vegas, a town with a 13 percent unemployment rate and in a state with a $887 million revenue shortfall. He comes with promises of $1.5 billion to help homeowners in hard hit markets who've lost their jobs or who are underwater in their mortgages. No place is more underwater than this desert oasis. One in 95 homes last month had a foreclosure filing, according to RealtyTrac, as Nevada continues to lead the nation in foreclosures for three years running.

And yet..and yet...

Las Vegas is pretty busy this week: there's the huge retail MAGIC convention, Chinese New Year, leftovers from Valentine's Day and the long weekend. Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority statistics show steady improvement in visitor volume, gaming revenues, room rates and convention attendance. My flight here was completely full--midday and midweek--and that hasn't happened in a long time.

But this town has a long way to go to recover from its economic hangover, and folks here say perceived disses by the President a year ago and again this month have led to real financial losses.

"Doesn't the President realize the impact of his words?" was the question a retail manager at a well-known Strip property asked me.

Up and down this stretch of road you'll see people shake their heads.

Las Vegas is like Detroit--a one industry town--and it's been hurt like Detroit. But those here with hurt feelings say you'd never hear the President trash Detroit's main industry, not once, but twice.

Mayor Oscar Goodman, who is hardly a right-wing conservative, tells us he won't attend any of the President's events unless he gets assurances that Mr. Obama is "going to make things right." The Las Vegas Review Journal reports that at a fundraiser last night at Palms owner George Maloof's house, Maloof says the President praised Las Vegas, without outright apologizing.

Many, like Maloof, are happy to host the President. "The mayor doesn't speak for everyone," is a comment I've heard more than once. Still, a bar inside the Palazzo is reportedly offering a happy hour drink tonight called the Obama Slammer, "because he keeps slamming us."

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