Nevada's delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives today introduced legislation to stop the practice by federal agencies of cancelling or avoiding meetings and conferences at resorts and casinos, despite the taxpayer-value that such facilities can offer. Introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei (NV-2) along with original cosponsors Reps. Joe Heck (NV-3), Dina Titus (NV-1), and Steven Horsford (NV-4), the "Protecting Resort Cities from Discrimination Act" would prohibit policies that blacklist these properties from hosting legitimate federal government business.
Following the General Services Administration (GSA) convention scandal in Henderson, resorts across Nevada and other well-known tourism destinations have experienced a high number of cancellations by federal clients. In many cases, these meetings were moved to other, often more expensive, locations solely to avoid any stigma associated with the "resort" or "casino" name.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association reported that the following agencies implemented formal limits on federal government travel to "resort" locations: Department of Agriculture, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice (DOJ), Federal Bureau of Investigation, GSA, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Social Security Administration. Also, many Department of Defense branches have informally prohibited conferences in locations where gambling is permitted.
DOJ's policy, established during the Bush administration and continued under President Obama, specifically singles out Las Vegas, Reno, and Lake Tahoe. Last year, DOJ grantee and Reno-based National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) was forced at the last minute to cancel its tribal judges conference at the Atlantis in Reno when DOJ rejected the location. Given that experience, NCJFCJ subsequently moved its annual conference to New Orleans, even though the expense was largely paid by the conference attendees.
"In the wake of the scandal involving the wasting of taxpayer funds on lavish conferences and trips by government bureaucrats at the GSA, it is entirely appropriate that we scrutinize what defines an acceptable use of taxpayer dollars. However, after the GSA issue was exposed, the city of Las Vegas was unfairly targeted as somehow being the cause of the wasteful spending," said Rep. Heck. "Anyone who has ever traveled to Las Vegas can tell you that it is often cheaper to rent rooms and conference space there because of the competition for business and abundance of space. Resort cities like Las Vegas are not the problem here. Irresponsible federal workers are. I am pleased to be working with the delegation to ensure that cities like Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, and other resort cities are not unfairly punished simply because a handful of government workers failed to exercise good judgment in the planning and execution of a conference held at taxpayer expense."
"These prohibitions, emphasize optics over real fiscal restraint, because they have been implemented without concern for whether the banned resorts and casinos present a better value for taxpayers," said Rep. Amodei. "Nevada's hospitality industry offers the most competitive rates in the country and the expertise to affordability host large and small meetings. Such policies also ignore the numerous federal government installations that operate within Nevada, as well as its central location among western states."
"Las Vegas' premier amenities and resources attract over 21,000 conventions and meetings every year, making it one of the world's top travel destinations for businesses. Federal agencies have a responsibility to maximize taxpayer dollars in conducting official business, and no place provides greater value and convenience for conventioneers than Las Vegas," said Rep. Titus. "Travel and tourism are the life-blood of our economy and we must do all that we can to encourage travel and strengthen investment in Southern Nevada."
"Our state has rightfully built a reputation as a world-class resort destination, and we should not be the victims of our own success," said Rep. Horsford. "Nevada's top-notch hospitality industry offers excellent value for visitors of all kinds. Hundreds of thousands of Nevada workers depend on travel and tourism for employment, and I fully support allowing the selection of our state as a location for official conferences or events."