Las Vegas civic boosters are betting on Obama's visit

LAS VEGAS — When President Barack Obama visits Las Vegas this week for the first time since he improbably turned the swing state blue, civic leaders will be yearning for an all-out embrace of Sin City.

In recent months, Las Vegas' unemployment rate has soared to 10.4 percent as gaming industry revenues and visitation numbers have plummeted. In February, the president made an offhand remark that appeared to link Las Vegas to corporate excess and officials, blaming it for a wave of convention cancellations.

The city has been smarting ever since.

The mayor wrung weeks of news coverage out of demanding an apology. The Republican governor, claiming it cost Las Vegas $100 million, has repeatedly bashed the president.

"Maybe he didn't understand his comment was kind of flippant, but it had a tremendous impact on our economy," said Jeff Voyles, a gaming industry consultant who teaches at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Voyles views Obama's visit as a potential rift-mender — and the television coverage as free advertising for the Strip. "I can't imagine us not all shaking hands, hugging each other and saying let's get our economy back on track," he said.

Obama's appearance Tuesday at Caesars Palace is as Fundraiser-in-Chief for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; Bette Midler and Sheryl Crow will perform.

On Wednesday, Obama is scheduled to visit Nellis Air Force Base to tout the federal stimulus package before heading to Los Angeles.

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