Perception vs. reality.
In Las Vegas, the former is often more important than the latter.
Case in point: the vast majority of those who come to town to gamble don't leave winners. Most of them know it coming in; if it were any way else, how could casinos afford all of the fountain shows and ultra-luxe trimmings? They don't build them because people are carting money away, after all.
But most people have the perception--or at least the hope--that they'll get lucky, or at least have a swingin' time ending up broke. So, despite millions of visitors proving that regression to the mean is a money-making concept each year, people continue to gamble in Vegas--and buy lottery tickets, pick ponies, and visit casinos around the world.
When deciding what to do for fun, vacationers have no problem choosing perception over reality.
That's worked to Vegas' advantage, but what happens when perceptions shift from fun to fearful?
In less than two weeks, there have been two homicides on the Strip, each involving previously-unacquainted passers-by. Neither was a regrettable but could-have-happened-anywhere case of domestic violence spiraling out of control. Both happened when visitors to the Strip got into confrontations and decided that pulling a knife was the only solution.
These two fatal stabbings have been amply covered by the local dailies but haven't gone national...yet. But let's say the violence continues to escalate on the Strip, and fights, stabbings, and shootings become more common. It's only a matter of time before bystanders start getting caught in the crossfire.
Let's say one of them is an international visitor--say from Germany or Britain. The foreign press would have a field day with it, much like the murder of German tourists in Florida in the early 1990s or the recent slaying of two British tourists, also in Florida.
The LVCVA's bet big on international visitors. If safety becomes a concern, it's safe to say that they're not going to coming.
There are plenty of theories why crime rates rise and fall. Back in the 1990s, when crime rates in New York City were plummeting, many credited the broken windows theory for providing the key to turning around the city's out-of-control crime. In short, broken windows proponents believe that when small crimes--graffiti, fare beating--go unpunished, it creates an environment that breeds more serious crime by suggesting a breakdown in public order.
Could the Strip be due for some broken-windows style policing?
I don't know if there's a direct correlation between the free-for-all atmosphere on the Strip, with hustlers, buskers, and unlicensed vendors aggressively encroaching on pedestrians, and the recent uptick in violence on the Boulevard. But it seems a reasonable assumption to make. Now might be the time to redeploy Metro to crack down on the kinds of "quality of life" offenses that make the Strip seem like a lawless wasteland instead of a free-wheeling party zone.
I'm not an expert on policing or criminal justice, and I can't tell you definitively what the solution to the breakdown of order on the Strip. But when Metro Sergeant Tom Jenkins told me, point blank, the situation on the Strip is the worst he's seen in his 17 years on the beat, I became convinced that more people should listen to what he's saying.
We've got a career law enforcement officer telling us something needs to be done to clean up the Strip. Perusing the blogs and message boards on the subject, we've got plenty of visitors and potential visitors who are concerned for their safety on the Strip. And now, within less than two weeks, we've got two homicides on heavily-trafficked parts of the Boulevard.
What's it going to take before Clark County Commissioners and Metro leadership start taking this problem seriously?
Update: 24 hours, following another homicide, this one inside a Strip casino, Metro has announced it is shifting resources to beef up its presence on the Strip.