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Obama says go to college, not slots; Vegas irate

February 2, 2010 |  6:17 pm

How appropriate that it’s Groundhog Day (or Marmot Day in Alaska): In the eponymous movie, Bill Murray’s character keeps repeating the same silly mistakes.

And so it was that on Tuesday, President Obama, speaking in a state whose economic well-being does not solely depend on tourism, used Las Vegas as a symbol of profligate spending – which it is. (For a time, a downtown strip club’s marquee even touted the, ahem, stimulus its dancers could provide.)

Hours later, Obama apologized. It was inevitable.

But Obama (sort of) did the same thing last year and got harangued by Mayor Oscar Goodman (a Bombay Sapphire spokesman) and the governor (Jim Gibbons, known more for his cast of lady friends than his gubernatorial initiatives). Their chest-thumping got national attention, mostly because Nevada’s one-note tourism economy is indeed in shambles.

Perhaps Obama blocked out the brouhaha?

A recap:

Last year, the president was assailing bailout-coddled bankers while in Indiana, when he said, “You can't get corporate jets, you can't go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer's dime.” The comment may have been innocuous – do taxpayers really want to underwrite a Goldman Sachs bacchanal? – but the furor was such that Obama had to make nice with Vegas when he came to raise money for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Even after Caesars Palace upgraded Obama to a high-roller suite during his May appearance, the president apparently forgot to find another synonym for decadence. On Tuesday while in New Hampshire, he said, “When times are tough, you tighten your belts. 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.”

The Nevada congressional delegation quickly...

... worked itself into a lather (as did Goodman and Gibbons). Even Reid fired off a terse statement, saying “the president needs to lay off Las Vegas and stop making it the poster child for where people shouldn’t be spending their money."

Obama then sent a letter to Reid, who is facing a tough reelection fight, saying he never intended to knock Vegas. "I was making the simple point that families use vacation dollars, not college tuition money, to have fun," the president said. "There is no better place to have fun than Vegas, one of our country's great destinations."

You see, Mr. President, that might be sound financial advice, but Las Vegas exists only because tourists have long fed their college savings -- and the rest of their disposable income -- into Megabucks machines. Considering the 13.1% local unemployment rate is partly due to tourism layoffs, the locals think the visitors are saving way, WAY too much.

--Ashley Powers

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Photo: Associated Press.