|By Benjamin Spillman, Las Vegas
Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 3, 2010--President Barack Obama once again used Las Vegas as the punch line in a crack about wasting money.
The Hill, a Washington, D.C., publication, quoted Obama warning an audience in New Hampshire against the danger of wasting "a bunch of cash in Vegas."
The remark was reminiscent of a statement last year in which Obama said companies getting government bailout money shouldn't use it in Las Vegas.
That remark generated strong rebukes from Las Vegas boosters and criticism from convention industry people who said it unfairly marked the destination as a wasteful location for events.
"When times are tough, you tighten your belts," The Hill quoted Obama saying today at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire." You don't go buying a boat when you can barely pay your mortgage. You don't blow a bunch of cash in Vegas when you're trying to save for college."
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he spoke to the White House following Obama's comments.
"While the President is correct that people saving for college need to be fiscally responsible, the President needs to lay off Las Vegas and stop making it the poster child for where people shouldn't be spending their money," Reid said in a statement.
"Nevada is the nation's top destination for tourism and conventions," the statement continued. "It is more popular than any other place in the country, and for good reason: it's affordable, easy to get to from anywhere and the weather is perfect.
"To truly re-energize our economy, we need people to travel to Las Vegas. I would much rather tourists and business travelers spend their money in Las Vegas than spend it overseas."
In response, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman raised his voice repeatedly during a hastily arranged news conference in his office.
"I want to assure you when he comes I will do everything I can to give him the boot back to Washington and to visit his failures back there," Goodman said of Obama's pending visit later this month. Goodman said the visit is scheduled for Feb. 18.
When asked how a mayor could give the president "the boot," Goodman responded, "You tell him he is not really welcome in this city until he straightens this out."
Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said in a news release, "I have called the White House to lodge a complaint, and I am in the process of writing the President to explain the negative impact of his words on the businesses and families that call Las Vegas home."
Gov. Jim Gibbons said Obama's comments "are disgraceful and he should immediately apologize to the working families of Las Vegas."
Gibbons, in a news release, also said Obama "has no problem coming to Las Vegas to raise campaign cash for the Democratic Party, but insults the city when it fits the President's agenda."
This afternoon, Obama sent a letter to Reid addressing the controversy.
It read: "I hope you know that during my Town Hall today, I wasn't saying anything negative about Las Vegas. I was making the simple point that families use vacation dollars, not college tuition money, to have fun. There is no place better to have fun than Vegas, one of our country's great destinations. I have always enjoyed my visits, look forward to visiting in a few weeks, and hope folks will visit in record numbers this year."
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