Friday, March 19, 2004 | 6:08 a.m.
Jeff German's column appears Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays in the Sun. Reach him at [email protected] or (702) 259-4067.
March 20 - 21, 2004
You wouldn't normally consider accused Ohio sniper Charles McCoy Jr. a poster boy for the tourism industry's edgy Las Vegas marketing campaign.
He couldn't have too many fond memories of Sin City. He was captured by police at a cheap motel in the shadow of the Strip, less than two days after authorities identified him as the suspect in a string of highway shootings that terrorized Ohio motorists.
But McCoy might as well be featured in one of those reality-based "Vegas Stories" television ads -- because this is the kind of person the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is attracting with that multimillion-dollar campaign, which is bubbling with thoughts of sin and deceit.
If we keep telling Americans in other parts of the country that, "what happens here stays here," there's a good chance that, what happens there, will be coming here with much more regularity. And it could have social consequences for this community.
The new trend already may be upon us.
In November Michael Jackson was in Las Vegas when Santa Barbara authorities issued a warrant for his arrest on child molestation charges. Jackson flew to Santa Barbara to turn himself in but, upon his release, he flew right back to the comfort of Las Vegas, where he led reporters on that O.J. Simpson-like motorcade chase in what appeared to be an almost triumphant return.
Last week it was McCoy's turn to promote Las Vegas as the favored getaway for people of notoriety and nefarious character.
Las Vegas has long been considered a haven for those looking to escape the law, make a big score or start a new life. That's why the mob once gained a foothold on the Strip, and why hundreds of fugitives, not as well known as McCoy, are taken into custody here each year.
Because of the glitz, the glamour, the free flow of cash and the perception that people can blend into the crowd on the Strip, we probably will always be an attraction for those on the other side of the law.
But why do we have to give every piece of trash under the sun the impression that this is a place where their sins will be forgiven? Why do we have to put out the welcome mat? Are we nuts?
Sheriff Bill Young told me last week that police have been making a record number of prostitution arrests on the Strip. Prostitutes, it seems, view the new Las Vegas as fertile territory and are coming here in droves looking to strike it rich.
This is not happening by accident. It is a result of the bolder image we are creating for ourselves around the country as an adult playland where vice rules over morality.
Today's celebrities also see Las Vegas as a place to get down and dirty.
Britney Spears set a nice example for her young fans in January when she got drunk at the Palms and got married for a whole 55 hours before obtaining an annulment.
Days after winning a Grammy Award in Los Angeles last month, Christina Aguilera celebrated at Jaguars by buying $2,000 worth of lap dances for her boyfriend. Just two weeks ago a profanity-laden performance by comedian Chris Rock at the MGM Grand Garden made George Carlin look like a choir boy.
And who can forget Dennis Rodman's wild motorcycle accident outside Treasures?
This is the kind of conduct tourism officials are encouraging with their "Vegas Stories" campaign. They love it when a big-name star succumbs to temptation and lands in trouble or does something outrageous here.
Tourism officials know that, despite what the slogan says, whatever happens here usually goes everywhere. And that's what they really want, because it means more publicity for Las Vegas, more money for the casinos and more job security for them.
Just get that Las Vegas name out there and don't worry about the impact it might have on the people who live and raise families here.
Just keep looking the other way.