My son and his family live in London, where he is an executive for a large travel company. Every time there is a terrorist event there (too often, unfortunately), I check in with him to make sure everyone is safe.
The last one, a fizzled bomb on a subway train, occurred just two tube stops away from his home. He frequently travels through the airport in Brussels that was bombed last year. I have been very concerned about his well-being while he’s living in Europe, and even while visiting, I’m always watchful when I’m in crowds with my two grandsons.
So it felt strange the night before G2E was to open that I was the one texting him that we were OK and safe in our hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. We were about a mile away from the scene of carnage and could hear the sirens of all the first responders and police heading to the site.
Waking up on Monday, it was difficult to see how we could conduct business on the heels of such insanity. It was almost a malaise that engulfed everyone I spoke to that morning. That the horror happened on properties owned by one of the major companies in our industry only made it worse.
But then something remarkable happened. People started to rally. We weren’t going to let one lunatic change our lives, even though he so tragically took the lives of so many others.
Hearing about the heroes who responded so positively during the shooting made it even more imperative to get on with our normal lives, at the same time keeping in mind those who had lost theirs or who had been injured. The stories were inspirational and heartbreaking, and somehow gave us hope that not all humans are as evil as the shooter.
Much credit needs to go to the American Gaming Association for the dramatic turnaround and positive attitude that emerged at G2E. The staff had to be nimble and responsive, while understanding the sensitivities of the victims and the potential for politicizing the tragedy.
Geoff Freeman walked that tightrope with skill and aplomb, and bringing in former Boston Police Chief Ed Davis, who presided over the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, was a stroke of genius. Davis’ actions during that terrible situation gave the industry confidence we’d get through this, no matter how difficult it felt at the time.
Making matters worse is the shooter was a gambler who was known at many of the Strip and locals casinos in Las Vegas. But even Steve Wynn acknowledged that there was no reason to expect anything untoward about the video poker player—nothing to make any casino operator suspicious. He said the shooter and his girlfriend were always well-behaved and never drank or abused their comps.
But if the shooter’s goal (and no one to this day understands his motive) was to demoralize Las Vegas and the casino industry, he completely missed his mark. In addition to drawing the casino industry closer together, Las Vegas demonstrated that it’s more than just a collection of transients—it’s a true community. The day after the shooting, thousands of Las Vegans stood in lines of four hours or more just to give blood. A GoFundMe account set up to benefit the victims and their families reached its goal of $2 million in less than two days and now stands at more than $10 million, with large contributions from many gaming companies.
Many casino executives and Las Vegas officials felt this day was inevitable. Las Vegas is the capital of decadence and indulgence in the American culture and a huge symbolic target. Ever since it was revealed that several of the 9/11 terrorists had cased the Las Vegas casinos, officials have had their guard up. But no one could have predicted and foreseen the madness brought to the Strip by the shooter, and we may never know the reasons.
But we all know now that there is no place that is truly safe. Whether it’s London or Las Vegas or anyplace in between, we must remain diligent, protect our communities as best possible, and love each other so we can erase the silly divisions that keep us apart.
In this way, we can all remain #VegasStrong.