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November 27, 2015

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Peddlers, performers clogging the Strip are troubling to casinos


Steve Marcus

A man hands out cards advertising outcall “entertainers” on the Las Vegas Strip Sunday July 24, 2011.

Strip disorder

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

Concerns have escalated in corner offices up and down the Strip about smut peddlers and the X-rated litter their leaflets create along Las Vegas Boulevard as well as the proliferation of homeless people, costumed performers and unlicensed vendors.

One casino executive Tuesday called it a crisis that’s tarnishing the Strip’s image as a safe and fun place for tourists and is threatening the state’s economic engine.

“Our failure to enact comprehensive solutions in a reasonable manner is jeopardizing the image of Las Vegas,” said Jan Jones, senior vice president of communications and government relations at Caesars Entertainment. “It’s reached the point that there’s a dangerous perception of our city.”

Jones’ comments come amid suggestions by Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak to create a tax district to generate money for additional police officers on the Strip. Besides nuisance concerns, the Strip is the site of three much-publicized deaths recently — two from stabbings, one from a punch.

Resort representatives say they have long expressed concerns to county commissioners about various nuisances — handbillers of sexual entertainment in particular. Little progress has been made, however, with some critics saying the county has pursued expensive and fruitless court battles.

In 2007, a federal judge declared unconstitutional a county ordinance preventing commercial leafleting on the Strip — a law aimed at X-rated material. It’s one of multiple First Amendment victories for Strip handbillers even as resort operators field complaints from tourists about card-sized ads for erotic entertainers that often end up on sidewalks or in gutters.

County officials and Metro Police have acknowledged that recent case law protects the free-speech right of street performers to perform for tips without a business license, said Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel of ACLU of Nevada.

The ACLU has successfully argued on behalf of leafleteers, street performers and activists on the Strip and downtown over the years. There’s room for compromise, although county officials have historically been unwilling to pursue other options outside of court, Lichtenstein said.

That may be changing, however.

Sheriff Doug Gillespie recently initiated meetings with Metro Police, handbillers and the ACLU to address complaints about aggressive handbillers who tend to clump in certain areas of the Strip, obstructing pedestrian traffic “so people feel like they’re running a gauntlet,” Lichtenstein said. One proposed solution would require that handbillers are widely disbursed along the Strip and not gathering in a particular place, he said.

“I would like to see representatives of the hotels also involved in these discussions so everyone could work together to protect First Amendment rights while relieving ancillary problems that go on with such activities, like the litter on the sidewalks,” he said.

Sisolak has proposed forming a committee of resort owners, county and immigration officials and Metro Police to address growing nuisance and safety concerns.

Jones said her company hopes to continue long-standing discussions with the ACLU and the county to find a compromise solution like other tourist cities have done with ordinances that limit where and when performers and leafleteers can operate. Caesars is also open to discussion about paying for an enhanced police force to enforce such an ordinance.

Honolulu is among multiple cities that have lessened such nuisances while also protecting free-speech rights, Jones said.

After years spent discussing the problem, the Nevada Resort Association, which represents many of the major hotels along the Strip, is also hopeful.

“Any solution is going to take a coordinated effort with the property owners, the county, the district attorney, the sheriff, the ACLU and the handbillers and will take a commitment of resources for both maintenance and enforcement and possibly even some improvement projects to ... protect unobstructed pathways and aid in enforcement,” resort association President Virginia Valentine said.

Rather than spending money for more police officers, the hotels should first seek an accounting of room tax money earmarked annually for Strip improvements, an amount that totaled $34 million last year, said Las Vegas political and marketing consultant Billy Vassiliadis, CEO of R&R Partners. Budget cuts may have hurt efforts by maintenance crews to clean the Strip, for example, he said.

“These problems have gotten worse, and there’s more riding on the success of tourism now. The folks on the Strip are eager to participate in discussions with policymakers.”

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