False alarm disturbs the tranquility of the Strip

False alarm disturbs the tranquility of the Strip

  • Ken Adams, CDC Gaming Reports
July 24, 2022 7:55 PM
  • Ken Adams, CDC Gaming Reports

Las Vegas got another terrorist scare.

Fortunately, this time it was a false alarm. There was no terrorist, no shooting, and almost no injuries. It still rocked the tranquil atmosphere and created temporary havoc.

At about 10 in the evening on Saturday, July 16, at the MGM Grand, a window in the valet-parking area was broken; the window breaking created a very loud gunshot-like noise. Subsequently, one person was arrested for misdemeanor destruction of property. The police investigated the incident immediately and announced there was no shooter and no present danger: “It caused a loud bang. There was a subsequent panic, thinking it was possible gunfire, given the nature of what’s been happening across the nation. We were able to quickly tell people that was not the case,” said Police Department Capt. Branden Clarkson.

The incident made headlines for several days, not because of the broken window or the arrest. The story that was picked up by the media was the ensuing panic. Seven Strip hotels in some way responded to the initial reports of a live shooter on the Strip and at least one show stopped. The World Series of Poker was halted, tables were turned over, and players and dealers were crouching under the tables. There were numerous other reports of panic, with people running for cover and hiding under furniture; police, ambulances, and firetrucks swarmed the Strip. The injuries that occurred were due to people falling, or fallen people being stepped on by other fleeing customers. Even though the police had said there was no danger, it took as long as 30 minutes for the message to reach some casinos and to have order restored.

To an outside observer, the scenes would have looked as if a 1920s’ filmmaker was filming a silent, black-and-white, slapstick comedy, complete with Keystone Cops. The film might have starred Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, or Buster Keaton. It would have been very funny, tickling audiences everywhere. However, the incident did not make for a funny evening on the Las Vegas Strip. The people interviewed afterward all expressed genuine fear and suggested it might have a long-term impact on them emotionally. Ronald Balogh, a tourist from Florida, said, “It was very real for me. This was kind of a non-event, but it was so poignant that it left a mark. It changes your perception of the place. I always felt very safe there. Not anymore.”

The incident does not compare with the Las Vegas mass shooting of October 1, 2017, or any other event where people have been shot, killed, and injured. Several recent events were horrific: the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting on May 24 when 19 students and two teachers were shot and killed. And the Fourth of July shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, where seven people were killed and 25 injured. The Las Vegas broken-window event was close enough in time to those two incidents to tap into the Uvalde and Highland Park emotions. In fact, mass shootings are occurring often enough to keep the national wound open and bleeding. Nationally, our nerves are raw and we are jumpy like soldiers recently returned from combat.

If those kinds of mass killings happened only in Las Vegas, it would be the death knell of the city. Las Vegas lives from tourism. Forty-million to fifty-million people a year go to Las Vegas to play, relax, and enjoy the food, entertainment, sports, shopping, and mingling the city has to offer. If people did not feel safe in Las Vegas they would stop going. Tourism has ground to a halt in war zones like Syria and Lebanon, for example. Las Vegas has had several incidents, but fewer by far than other big cities in the country. The shattering window and the ensuing panic are a reminder of the insecurity felt everywhere. The feeling is becoming part of the national psyche. It won’t impact tourism in Las Vegas any more than it impacts tourism to Texas, Florida, or Chicago.

That is not to say there is no impact on tourism, retail shopping, or even going to school. However, whatever the impact might be, it is not easy to quantify or even identify. Personally, I have not gotten over my hesitancy to be in public from the pandemic. I still wear a mask when I shop, go to the bank, and get a haircut. And I do those things less frequently than I did before March 2020. I am not alone in my angst. The situation created by the frequent shootings is even more complicated. There are no masks, vaccines, and social distancing practices that can protect a person from being shot. There is no limit on the shooting or estimated time of for the shootings to end. The anxiety will grow if there are more incidents; therefore, the economic impact will grow as well.

The city of Las Vegas is on edge and police are increasing their coverage and training. It will take all the advertising power of the LVCVA to show that Las Vegas is safe. Ronald Balogh is a perfect test case. If he continues to go to Las Vegas as regularly as he did before, all will be well. If, on the other hand, he cuts the number of his trips in half or to one in four, Las Vegas will feel it. Balogh said he no longer feels safe in Las Vegas, though he did not say he would not come back. The image of an “otherworldly” fantasy of freedom, fun, and tranquility was tarnished by October 1, 2017. July 16, 2022, showed how much the tranquil image has been disrupted.