Las Vegas has been victimized by its own marketing strategy

At the height of an unprecedented national crisis, a group of American leaders traveled to one of the country’s most expensive tourist destinations, where they set about the business of righting the ship of state. There were plenty of distractions in their decadent surroundings, and many in the group gambled nightly.

These were not banking executives secluding themselves at Mandalay Bay to salvage their assets or develop a plan for mitigating their toxic loans. No, this was the Second Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia from 1775 to 1777 and, responding forcefully to British provocations, created the basis for the United States of America.

Philadelphia then was one of the colonies‘ largest and most cosmopolitan cities and the delegates to the Congress availed themselves of its numerous social activities. Thomas Jefferson’s diary notes his exact losses at the backgammon tables during the weeks that he was writing the Declaration of Independence.

Faced with calamity for their countrymen and personal ruin if they failed, the delegates chose to meet in a city, not an isolated rural town with no temptation. They knew that while their business was important, it didn’t demand complete self-sacrifice.

Today’s fiscal leaders, who had been rebuked into forsaking corporate meetings in Las Vegas, should heed the example of our Founding Fathers. There’s no reason that disciplined executives and employees can’t take care of business during the day and have some fun at night.

Business meetings in Las Vegas might be more entertaining than those in other markets, but that hardly makes convention travel to Las Vegas a frivolous expense.

It is the nature of today’s business that, from time to time, companies and industries need to host large gatherings of delegates from all over the country, and even world. This is never cheap, but it is a cost of business, and is in the long run less expensive than the alternatives.

If groups of people have to meet for business purposes, there is no ethical reason why Las Vegas isn’t as good a destination as Orlando, Fla., or San Francisco. In a sense, Las Vegas is a victim of the success of its own marketers, who have been painting the city as a riotous debauch free from personal responsibility for years.

So we shouldn’t be totally surprised when a president demanding a show of accountability from executives cites a Las Vegas convention as an extravagance. It’s not logical, but it is understandable.

Those who sell Las Vegas to both leisure and business travelers are facing a tremendous challenge: How to keep the city safe for both business and fun?

The answer is realizing that the two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive. Business travelers shouldn’t have to don sackcloth and ashes just because they’re acting in a professional capacity.

Las Vegas is a city that every banking executive and corporate bigwig should visit, since its casinos provide empirical evidence that risk is not always its own reward. „Bet with your head, not over it“ has been a casino mantra since before many of us were born; it’s a shame that the people who got us into this financial mess never took that lesson to heart.

Las Vegas, then, is not a frivolous escape from today’s economic problems — it contains, perhaps, the psychological antidote to them.

David G. Schwartz is director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His latest book is „Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling.“