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December 18, 2014

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County hopes to curb ‘disorder’ on Strip

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Steve Marcus

Performers dressed as characters from the movie “Iron Man” ride an escalator up to a pedestrian bridge on the Strip on Sunday, July 24, 2011.

Sunday on The Strip

Evan Kennedy, 21, of El Paso, cools down in front of a misting fan on the Las Vegas Strip Sunday, July 24, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Strip disorder

KSNV coverage of peddlers and performers on the Las Vegas Strip. Discussion with Las Vegas Sun reporter Joe Schoenmann, July 26, 2011.

If it seems a little uglier on the Strip these days, don’t blame plump tourists stuffed into Spandex and Hawaiian shirts, or the fleshy advertisements everywhere you look.

The YouTube video of a Los Angeles tourist punching a costumed superhero strolling the Strip a few months back caught everyone’s eye. That was ugly. But it’s more than that. Somehow and very quickly, not only are costumed characters multiplying, but people peddling bottles of water ­­— and in some cases, beer — are popping up everywhere, homeless people are hanging out on pedestrian bridges, card slappers are still soliciting customers for nearly naked women and folks are selling trinkets of all sorts, sometimes forcing pedestrians onto the roadway.

One Clark County commissioner says enough is enough, and suggests as a possible solution the creation of a tax district to help pay for more law enforcement along the Strip. The issue may be discussed when the commission meets Aug. 2.

Lt. John McGrath of Metro Police’s Convention Center Area Command said the department has enough officers on the Strip to make it safe; the three recent violent deaths — two from stabbings, one from a punch — were anomalies at a time of double-digit declines in violent crime. But, he says, officers are challenged by the proliferation of something more prosaic: unlicensed sales of water, CDs, T-shirts, even beer from coolers. Police have cited and in some cases arrested repeat offenders but have struggled to make a dent on the scene.

Officers, he said, call it “disorder.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s dangerous, but it’s more than a nuisance,” McGrath said.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak says the goings-on along the Strip are so off-putting to many tourists that casinos may be feeling the effects. From illegal vendors to handbillers to the generally unkempt feel he got during a recent stroll on the Strip, he said something has to be done.

“It’s dirty, the ground is actually dirty,” he said. “They need to spray off those sidewalks. You’ve got dozens of people selling water, scores of characters in costumes asking for a donation to take a picture with them and hundreds of card-flippers, then guys with megaphones handing out pamphlets,” he said.

“The sidewalks are getting blocked with this stuff,” Sisolak added. “I’m an advocate of free speech, but you can have reasonable time-place restrictions, too.”

Only adding to his uneasy feeling are the monolithic heaps left in the wake of the economic meltdown of the past few years — iron lattice exposed on the incomplete Echelon complex, the empty Fontainebleau tower, and fences around other unfinished projects.

“This is the most valuable part of our economy, all within a four-to-five-mile stretch, and we’ve got to do what we can to make it a pleasant experience,” Sisolak added. The Strip went through a period of adult-Disneyfication in the 1990s but now, the commissioner added, “I wouldn’t have a safe feeling if I took a child out there.”

Sisolak, vice chairman of the County Commission, has met with casino representatives whom, he says, seem to support his proposal to form a committee of resort owners, with support from various county agencies, to analyze Strip issues and develop a plan to address them. He also wants Metro Police involved as well as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The County Commission is likely to talk about his idea at its next meeting Aug. 2. Among his suggestions: creating a taxing district to generate money to pay for additional enforcement officers.

Commissioner Tom Collins, who also serves as chairman of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, agrees with Sisolak that the Strip sidewalk scene may need attention, but says it reflects a cyclical problem that surfaces during rough economic times.

“When you’ve got an economy like we do, there’s a lot more people, not just on the Strip but everywhere, hustling a little bit, panhandling a little bit,” he said. “A guy’s out of work, he has a Halloween costume, and now he’s trying to sell pictures (of himself in costume with a tourist) on the Strip.”

That said, he also believes much of the problem stems from the handbillers or card-slappers, whose right to distribute material has been upheld in court.

“But where is the balance between free speech versus the efforts of this community to be successful?” Collins added. “We could make that place cleaner and nicer if we weren’t sued by the ACLU all the time.”

Allen Lichtenstein, ACLU of Nevada general counsel, said plenty of case law has been created supporting the free-speech rights of handbillers. “They are protected in the same way that religious organizations are protected, or students who want to demonstrate against budget cuts are protected. You can’t pick and choose who is and isn’t protected.”

Lichtenstein said Metro, in the past two months, has come forward to talk to the ACLU about the issues, realizing that another lawsuit is not the answer. What’s becoming clear, he added, is that the handbillers — who are clumped in one area, causing crowding problems — can work anywhere up and down the Strip.

“People seemed to think they had to all be in certain areas,” he said, adding that just spreading them out might alleviate at least one of the issues Sisolak wants to address.

As for the other issues, the illegal vendors being a big one, those may take more time.

“There’s not a simple solution,” McGrath admitted. “It took a few years to get to this point and it’s going to take time to get it back to where it was.”

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  1. "ice cold water only $1". Leave these water sellers alone please. A welcome cold drink for tourists battling the hot Las Vegas sun (no pun intended).

  2. For all of the folks on the boards who have constantly bashed Downtown for this very same set of issues, what say you now?

    You have to admit that Downtown is a much friendlier place now days than this 'disorder' on the Strip.

  3. I say leave these performers alone. They aren't hurting anyone. I actually enjoyed seeing all the different costumes during last months visit. If you can't/ won't do anything about the card flippers then let these people perform. It's not like they are the ones leaving the mess of cards on the streets and walks. Those are your real creepy characters!

  4. Gotta give some credit to these young people who are trying to make living with these creative costumes.

    After all, the greedy US corporation and their greedy executives have shipped all the jobs over to China.

  5. Why do those who break the law, continually get away with it?? Another commission to look at the problem. What part of "Illegal" do you not understand??

    It's killing the legit business that pay the taxes and it makes the town look dumpier than it was.

    I was on Fremont this weekend and it was a disgusting Zoo of bad costumed people begging for money and passing out "God Saves" cards... .

    The strip is now beggars land. Tourists, the people who pay for you to live here, are offended and disgusted that they don't venture out and spend the money.

  6. The card slappers and costume guys are kind of entertaining, as long as they don't block your way. I would however like to see cleaner sidewalks. It just looks skuzzy on Vegas's primary area for tourists. It doesn't leave a good impression.

  7. When I tried to report Harrah's Entertainment Inc. illegal remodels, which had left thousands of their hotel rooms unsafe for the public to stay in I was directed by the Clark County DA's office to contact the LVMPD because I needed to get an investigation opened before the DA's office would be able to take the case. At the DA's suggestion I called LVMPD and talked to a female officer, who listened to my complaint and then told me that the LVMPD does not handle such complaints, but she wanted me to know that I had gone over and above what most citizens would do and that I should sleep good at night even if there was a fire and people were to die - I was left speechless. A few weeks later, I ended up in a taped interview with 2 LVMPD Detectives, who were supposedly interested in the Public Corruption aspect of the case, but their interest ceased when I talked to RJ Reporter Joan Whitely. The Clark County Building Department's very own Ron Lynn refused to help (up until Virginia Valentine got involved). And of course, there was Richard Maddox, the Clark County Supervising Inspector that submitted a falsified report, for the benefit of Harrah's which closed my original complaint 6 whole months after I filed it! The same Richard Maddox who was fired for failing to protect the Public, but a year later was given his job back with back pay - what does he know that we don't? So Harrah's knowingly provided rooms that were public fire safety traps for a period that spanned more than a decade, and to top it off exposed, at a minimum tens of thousands of their "valued" hotel guests, employees & construction workers to ASBESTOS, a known carcinogenic during the course of many of their remodels. Nobody was willing to help including: Clark County Commissioners under Rory Reid, CC Building & Fire Depts, Fire Department, Senator Harry Reid, then Gov Gibbons, NV Gaming Control Board, NV OSHA, NV Contractors Board, EPA, & NV AG's office, which proves that CORRUPTION rules here in LV!

  8. As a frequent Las Vegas visitor, I have seen the amount of costumed characters increasing as well as the water salesmen numbers going up.

    As Mr. Sisolak mentioned, the sidewalks ARE getting blocked with this stuff, I also feel unsafe while walking up and down the strip, something that I never did before.

    Also mentioned by Mr. Sisolak, the strip is the heartbeat of Las Vegas, if Vegas residents do not take care of its well being, well, the tourists wont, that's for sure, we will just go elsewhere...

  9. I don't mind the costume people/entertainers or the water bottle people. The ones that get me are the card slappers. Get rid of those.

  10. I guess it depends on our business model.

    If the customers on the Strip are a wealthy few, then it needs to be decorous with all "disorder" carefully crafted, controlled, and licensed so that our wealthy clientele are appropriately amused.

    If our customers are more numerous, then the scene on the Strip needs to be more varied and appealing to a wider variety of tastes even though some may not approve.

    I suggest that the market may be telling us some things we need -- but do not want -- to hear. (For examples: that the experience inside the Strip casinos is too homogenous, and we are way overcharging for water.)

  11. Enjoyed the article.

    But what do you expect when Las Vegas environs is in the middle of the start of the next Bush Aggravated Great Depression And Downturn (BAGDAD) and unemployment is over 13 percent?

    People living in Las Vegas are trying to think of something new. To make money. They have to. In order to survive.

    Leave 'em alone. At least they ain't the bums and hoboes walking between cars at the intersections.

    As a matter of fact, I hope Metro PD is chasing them out of the driving lanes. One of these days one of them is going to get run over. And the way Las Vegas is nowadays, the driver will get blamed. Not the bum for blocking traffic and jeopardizing their lives getting run over by being out in traffic not anywhere near a crosswalk.

    Anyways, the tourists seem to enjoy watching our misery and marvel at the innovative ways of making money. They'll survive. Casino owners will survive. It's a public street. They ain't out in traffic.

    Additionally, you chase the superheroes, superheroines and cartoon characters away, they'll just move over to the Federal Buildings downtown and in front of the newly tiara'ed Mayor Goodman's office. Then it'll be holy hell. She'll treat them like they're UNABOMBERs or something and shoot on sight orders given.

  12. This is Democracy in action, the FREE Market Economy at it's Fundamental level. These guys also provide a deterrence and safety net between the pick pockets, sneak thieves, bugger thugs and the tourists because the performers take the place of an informal, dispersed security patrol at the same time they are walking around and making just a few bucks.

    Just a few too because they aren't saving a dime.

    The hotels should pay them a few more bucks to be look outs and report unusual activities on the strip. They might even spot a car that turns out to be loaded with fertilizer.

    What irritates the County Commission is that they aren't getting a piece of the action - i.e. taxes. The only problem with this activity is that it doesn't bring in tax revenues. The Greed these days is unbelievable.

  13. Sunjon brings up a point that others might want to chime in about. From talking to county officials, electeds, the county may, indeed, gain additional tax revenue from biz licenses. But it would be a very small amount. Their overall wariness seems more pointed at what Lt. McGrath stated--a sense of "disorder" on the Strip, which may make tourists uneasy.

  14. Call Righthaven, they'll know what to do!!!!

  15. I am a long time visitor of Las Vegas from New York and I love the water sellers, card slappers, and street performers. The do not bother me and actually entertain me!

    I have seen a huge increase in the street performers in the last year, but I think its great!
    What LV should do is have 1 block of all the street performs, have them all lined up just on one block. First come first served....They get their place on the block, and do their thing.
    If the tourist don't want to deal with them they just walk past them on that one block where they would be located(with one or two security guards just to keep an eye out so its safe).

    I would rather pass a block of Street Performers, then a block of EMPTY, HALF-BUILT BUILDINGS!!!!
    Might even give people a reason to venture to walk past the Wynn towards the poor lonely Riveria!!

    Just my 2 cents :)

  16. "We could make that place cleaner and nicer if we weren't sued by the ACLU all the time."

    A contender for quote of the year.

    "Among his suggestions: creating a taxing district to generate money to pay for additional enforcement officers."

    The liberals answer to everything, more taxes.

  17. Years ago, there was a strip of land that ran from Santa Monica through Venice along the ocean. The Santa Monica part was a hurly-burly carnival scene with drums on the beach, Muscle Beach, peddlers, lots of tourists and lots of small businesses doing lots of business. The Venice portion was a slum, nothing going on but crime.

    Then successive Santa Monica City Councils passed and enforced successive ordinances and clean-ups to make things "more orderly." Muscle Beach was closed for reconstruction and not rebuilt. The drum circles were policed away. The peddlers driven away by very high "licensing" fees, -- and the businesses closed. It is all very quiet and decorous now, quite befitting a gentrified Santa Monica.

    The new Muscle Beach is in Venice, which also manages to tolerate the drum circles, peddlers, and small shops doing lots of business. Venice has revived. People come from all over the world to walk and shop on the "Venice Boardwalk." All the disorder has been great for business and for property values. The LAPD intensively patrols the Venice Boardwalk, controlling crime, without interfering with the "disorder."

    We can be Santa Monica and drive "disorder" -- and business (and revenue) -- away. Or we can be Venice and control crime without disorder

  18. So far, the suggestions run the gamut from limiting enforcement to handbillers to letting them all do their thing. Here's a rundown with the hopes it may generate more ideas:
    1. Go after just the card-slappers 2. Do more prosecution 3. Create a big zone for them all to congregate in, giving tourists the choice of passing them or not 4. Leave the performers alone 5. Go Downtown to Fremont Street instead. 6. A smart casino might start selling bottle water for $1 7. Leave them all alone, let the free market sort it out 8. Clean the dirty sidewalks more. 9. Do a vice crackdown on the outcall services (card-slappers).

  19. 10. What would Santa Claus do?

  20. It's just a part of the "people watching" show.

  21. selling anything on the strip without a license is illegal. Operating a business on the strip without a license is illegal.

    Some day I would like to see a copy of the list of illegal activity that has become acceptable behavior so I can use it to my advantage. Screw society and its rules for peaceful and responsible interaction. Its about me.

  22. Jay walking is illegal too

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43893066/ns/...

    other than selfishness, what is the criteria for excusing oneself from the rules and laws enacted for the betterment of society as a whole?

  23. The sidewalks are just getting too crowded so all the soliciting must go. Besides the fact that all the vendors and beggars and costumed morons are stealing from other businesses that pay taxes. BTW, who knows where the water you buy really comes from. Let's face it. If there were only a few of these people every mile it would be annoying but tolerable. Unfortunately there are a few of these people every twenty feet or so. And some are very aggressive and in your face. They make walking on the strip a hazard. Enough is enough. It only takes a few to ruin it for everyone. Either make them pay or get rid of them.

  24. Addendum: If a walk on "The Strip" tells us what America and particularly Las Vegas is really about, then we are in serious trouble. We can't possibly be this stupid and uncultured, can we? If the same people in the casinos are the same people outside the casinos, maybe our real culture is laziness and ignorance.

  25. This is simple license all of these characters and make money off of them . Let them sell tours and shows . Put them to honest work , set up guidelines to keep their license . Teach them to be ambassadors to the city . The licensed will point out the unlicensed vendors .

  26. Reading the article it comes down to Legal vs Illegal. It's nor rocket science to solve this.
    1. Costume Chartecters must have a licence if not arrested and fined. Protect the honest ones doing this.
    2. Water people or any beverage person licence and proof of where the water or any thing they sell to be consumed came from protect the honest vendor indoors who has to do this.
    3. Card slappers Religious hand out and etc. Make areas available on the street designated for them only. They cross the line fine them or better their employer.
    4. Remove all people who beg for money they are the bums.
    5. Include in each licence a fee for clean up of the area they are in.

  27. If these vendors and performers had no buyers, they would go away.

    1. Don't have your picture taken with a performer.
    2. Bring your own water.
    3. Don't patronize illegal prostitution services.

    As Leric points out, these vendors are telling us something about the market.

  28. Now there have been reports of some of these water sellers pulling empty water bottles out of trash cans, washing them out, refilling them and gluing the seal on the bottle to give the person buying it the impression that the bottle is unopened.

    There are places where one can buy a bottle of water cheap that isn't from someone's wheeled cooler. I've gotten bottles of water for under a dollar at ABC Stores (who have several locations along the Strip as well as one Downtown) and I've seen some places on Fremont Street selling smaller bottles at 2 for $1. Now the casino sundries shops (as well as the drink machines if the hotel still has them) are rip off when it comes to bottles of water. $2.50 for a 20 oz water is crazy when one can go to a place outside of the casino and get the same bottle for up to a dollar less. It's even worse at properties that put bottles in your room at $5-7 a bottle.

  29. A reader just called and made this interesting observation: He could find no public water fountains on the Strip or, for that matter, benches. Or public bathrooms. He suggested it's not more police that is needed, but perhaps more attention to these amenities, which could reduce some of the activities that officials seem to be targeting.

  30. Well I think the governing body already collects a tax for keeping the sidewalks clean, It is collected in the form of property tax from the casino's who in some cases gave property to the county to expand the side walk with the understanding that it would be kept clean and now there is an attempt to amend the agreement with another tax district to pay for the clean up and policing. How about when a person or persons are convicted of these crimes they take and exchange their costume to a county inmate jump suit and give them scrapers to scrap up the gum and brushes with buckets of soap and water to clean the area that they help soil. A few years ago before this got as bad as I read about I would walk the strip and when I got thirsty I went in to the casino royal or the royal casino which ever and I went to the bar and ordered a mug of beer and a shrimp cocktail.... Ahhh that was refreshing and it cost me $1.00 that's it $1.00 for both. The reason I mention this is if the issues on the sidewalk are a problem simply take the business back in that form. This is the one time the tourist may come out better by simply letting the competition well... Compete.

  31. The bottom line is the water sellers, costume people, homeless and porn flickers are there for one reason and one reason only......they are making money. So obviously there is a market for what they are all doing. That is called America.

  32. "That said, he also believes much of the problem stems from the handbillers or card-slappers, whose right to distribute material has been upheld in court."

    Not true, and fairly disingenuous. Handbillers are handing out advertisements, they are not selling anything. Regardless of how one may feel about the content of these advertisements, they are merely ads for licensed businesses.

    There is a vast difference between someone handing out a flier (that you can refuse) and someone selling something without a business license -- especially something meant for consumption.

    Someone commented above to leave the (illegal, unlicensed) water vendors alone. Please tell me who you (or, your estate) will blame if some nutjob takes a case of bottled water out there, doctors the water with a syringe, and deliberately sickens people?

    The police should simply sweep the Strip and the entire city and eliminate unlicensed vendors. Done. Why are they even waiting around? If I open a storefront without a license, I will be fined almost immediately. Or, will they wait until something happens that is far worse than a punch in the stomach?

    Visitors to Las Vegas: do not patronize unlicensed sidewalk vendors on the Las Vegas Strip. Period.

  33. I disagree James_P_Reza. If you are thirsty but a $1 bottle of water. If they doctored the water they would be out of business very quickly. Their goal is to make money by filling a demand.

    If you think only licensed businesses will keep consumers safe you are sadly mistaken.

    I always buy a water whether I am thirsty or not because I appreciate people who try to earn money instead of begging for it.

  34. Joe, the biggest problem with "public" bathrooms is that they become places where criminals can run rampant. Most of us use caution (as in "wait til you get home" or "never go alone") when entering bathrooms in public parks, etc. I wouldn't want my wife walking into one by herself on the strip with all of the known criminal activity in the area. At leadt the hotels have very good security (still not good enough to save that poor little kid at Primm several years back).
    The card flippers are a problem, they should be regulated to, let's say, no more than one with the same "literature" every 100 feet. Now, as you are declining the offerings of one, a gauntlet of 4 or 5 more, each with the same thing in their hand spaced a few feet apart repeatedly shoves this junk at you. They should also be fined for littering (even if the tourist they force it on is the one who drops it after seeing what it is). And do they really think my wife or daughter is interested in "girls direct to your room" promoted on the cards. Maybe the vice squad should investigate more. They should also be required to clean up all of the debris after completing their "shift".
    Gone are the days when a walk from MGM to Sahara meant just a crowd with 3 or 4 Elvis sightings along the way.

  35. Mr. Delahunty:

    Then you are part of the problem, and obviously have never owned a storefront. I'm sure there are no nutjobs who wish to cause harm under the guise of making money, nobody who would want the publicity associated with doing something devious. I'm sure there are no criminals illegally selling water or dressing up in character costumes and trying to creep visitors out of their money.

    Please.

  36. Mr. Reza, I am part of the solution by supporting the water sellers. I respect somebody who would rather sell water on the strip than beg in the streets. FYI I do own a taco shop storefront. I also own 2 other commercial businesses. I have over 25 employees in total working for me, I know what I am talking about.

    Which do you prefer, people on the government cheese or people investing their own time and money in 110 degree heat making a few dollars to pay their bills?

    I find it cruel to ban hard working people just trying to support their families. We should reward these people, not punish them.

  37. Bakersfield Joe--
    With you on fining the company whose card-flippers
    are causing littering--they should clean up their
    litter every half-hour. The cards scattered all about are trashy. A discard barrel should be nearby where unwanted cards could be tossed by tourtists.
    Require a reasonable license fee for constumed photo-hustlers and all other venders.

  38. City Center paid 7 billion, Cosmo paid 4 billion to build those commercial venues. The water guy paid nothing to anyone but himself.

    'Not hurting anyone' or 'trying to make a few dollars' are not good enough reasons to break the law and cheat the city revenue system - IN BROAD DAYLIGHT ON THE MAIN DRAG IN TOWN!

  39. @ the editor..how about this:

    1. Charge a 6 month license fee ( to make sure these people are NOT illegals or felons) are to partake in any costume/entertainment ( mimes, singers ect..) on the strip.

    2. CITY enforce casinos ( that have bridges to their casino) pay for 2 private security guards on each end of the pass over bridges. SO NO PAN HANDLERS CAN BE ON THEM.

    3. CITY makes casinos add lights to each bridge.

    4. CITY offer a incentive to bally`s/Caesars Ent. for giving up that fairway in front to people that want to be in costumes, make that the fishermens warf area for picture taking and performers. lots of room. also on the monte carlo front. be fair to both sides.

    5.let small business have costume characters. ( like the la salsa does at M&M with the 2 Michael Jacksons).

    6. During the hours the adult slappers are out on the strip working, the CITY force the owners of the business to employee 1 street sweeper per group. This will keep the streets clean of these cards.

    7. CITY NEEDS MORE UNDER COVER...I see every weekend 3 card monte...that is a big NO NO. right next to PH during the day.

    8. CITY give CAESARS some kind of break on the property between bellagio and jockey club...make it a small park, it has trees and would be a great rest spot. and have it close at 12 gate it.

    9. CITY work with the casinos and RAIL THE WHOLE STRIP. it is so dangerous when the sidewalks are packed, one bump and your in traffic.

    10. City require city center to (MGM) to build a cross walk on the south west corner of the front of CC. to many people J walk there instead of going around the whole CC walk. Just to get to harley davison, mc donalds fat burger ect from CC...

    11. CITY force taxi cab authority to add street workers to ticket side road illegal pick ups and waiting, causing back ups.

    12. water vendors are welcome, but have a 8pm curfew. AND CAN BUY A MONTHLY VENDORS PASS to sell for 1 month in select areas. CITY approved. only so many licenses per month, first come, first in, and you must have a current NV DL.

    13. Allow casino/police to stop squatters from sitting for a prolong time on plant or curb areas.

    14. CITY add benches...co pay with casinos to add them.

    JUST A FEW IDEAS i have that i would like to see. I am a strip lover every day/weekend staying at all the casinos AND gambling as often as I am home. And I LIVE AT turnberry but still choose to go there and enjoy.

    it`s safe but it could use some improvements.

  40. Francis, The City limit is Sahara Avenue. Most of the strip casinos are in the County (Stratosphere is in the city.
    Outside of that detail, I agree with you that the county/city should regulate vendors, etc. Same goes for all of the various hustlers in front of Walmart, etc.
    I agree with your points, those conducting business should pay the fees a ligitimate business has to pay.