|By Scott Wyland, Las Vegas
Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 31, 2009--The same group promoting Las Vegas as an adult playground wants to make it more family friendly, at least for conventions.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority hopes the Clark County Commission will adopt a rule to let casinos provide temporary day care for conventions. Current county codes allow casinos to set up permanent play areas for children but say nothing about licensing temporary child care where casinos house conferences.
People prefer to have young children looked after in the same meeting hall or in the room next door, rather than on a different floor or several blocks away, industry representatives said.
With tourism declining because of the recession, casinos must offer convenient day care for events if they want to compete with cities that already provide these services at hotels, local officials said.
"The economy is making it more urgent," said County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who brought the proposed code change to the board recently. "This has become more of an issue."
Money is a concern. The state will take over the county's day care licensing in September 2010, saving the county about $500,000 yearly. State officials say the temporary services will compound the additional workload and costs the Department of Health and Human Services will take on.
A temporary permit is good for 10 hours a day for seven days. A child care provider must obtain one for each event.
County day care codes neither forbid nor allow temporary child care in casinos, Giunchigliani said. She proposes adding language to the code so it mirrors a state regulation, which allows casinos to provide that type of day care.
Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, led a recent effort to clarify the state rules. Before, many counties weren't sure they were authorized to issue temporary licenses for casinos.
Before the proposed county code can go into effect, the agency and the county must approve it. That could take several months, Giunchigliani said. In the meantime, commissioners can issue waivers to day care applicants to avoid losing any more convention business, she said.
Cardinal Health considered Las Vegas for its $5 million retail convention in 2010 but picked Denver because that city's venues could provide on-site child care, industry officials said.
Several casino and visitor authority representatives were asked how many conventions local casinos lose because they lack temporary day care.
None could give even a rough estimate. But they said that in the tough economy they can't afford to drive any business away.
"One lost show because of this issue is too many," said Vince Alberta, vice president of public affairs for the visitors authority.
These days, there are more single parents who are more apt to take their children on business trips, Alberta said. Even traditional two-parent households are traveling more with their kids to balance career and family demands.
Conventioneers want their children within sight or close enough to check on at a moment's notice, said Yvette Monet, MGM Mirage spokeswoman.
Temporary licensing gives casinos the flexibility to set up day care areas wherever the meetings are, she said.
Hawaii and Palm Springs, Calif., are among the places that market convenient child care as a perk for conventions, said Richard Harper, Mandalay Bay's vice president of sales and marketing.
When the economy was booming, casino officials didn't think much about losing a few conventions to locales with day care because there were plenty of conventions to replace the lost ones, Harper said.
Gauging the loss is difficult, Harper said. Many organizers know that local casinos lack child care and won't bother to inquire with them about hosting conventions, he said.
These days, no hit goes unnoticed, Harper said.
"We need every single convention we can get in Las Vegas for the foreseeable future."
In September, county officials informed the state that it would transfer day care licensing to the state Department of Health and Human Services in a year, just as the city of Las Vegas had done. The year notice is required under state law.
The agency will have to hire several people to handle the heftier workload for handling the permanent licenses, which include ensuring the site is safe, checking child care providers and investigating complaints, said Ben Kieckhefer, department spokesman.
No one has studied the cost of dealing with temporary licenses for the estimated 1,600 conventions held each year in the unincorporated areas of the county, Kieckhefer said. The increased work will outstrip the federal grant money that is funding the state's day care licensing, he said.
The state could charge fees large enough to cover staffing costs, he said, though he cautioned that this hasn't been discussed.
"I'm confident something will get worked out," Kieckhefer said.
Contact reporter Scott Wyland at email@example.com or 702-455-4519.
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