Reflective "death ray" torments Vegas sunbathers

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - MGM Resorts International is taking the heat for an intense beam of searing desert sunlight, jokingly dubbed the “death ray,” that some hotel guests say poses a risk of severe burns to bathers lounging poolside.

The Vdara Hotel & Spa is seen during the opening of the condo-hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada December 1, 2009. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

The beam is actually a concentrated reflection of solar rays bouncing off the gleaming glass facade of the concave-shaped, high-rise Vdara hotel and condominium, which opened on the Las Vegas “strip” in December.

Local media, as well as some hotel staff and guests, have come to refer to the reflection as the “death ray,” but MGM Resorts officials prefer to call it a “solar convergence phenomenon.”

“The refraction moves across the pool deck over a period 90 minutes,” company spokesman Gordon Absher told Reuters. “It’s never in the same place from day to day or week to week because the sun its changing its elevation in the sky.”

MGM Resorts, which owns the property, has sought to correct the problem by installing a high-tech solar film over each of the 3,000 glass panes covering the south facade of the Vdara

to scatter the rays.

But the concentrated sunlight remains hot enough at certain times, in certain spots, to melt plastic and singe hair, said William Pintas, 49, a Chicago lawyer and Vdara condo owner who first encountered the effect earlier after a dip in the pool.

When his head started burning, he thought it was from chemicals in the pool.

“So I just laid down in the chair, and that’s when my back and the back of my legs started burning, and I ran under a nearby umbrella. And I’m under the umbrella and there is no shading from the light or heat,” he recounted. “It was the strangest thing.”

Pintas said he could even smell his hair starting to burn.

Astonished and angry, he alerted hotel staff, then called the local newspaper to draw attention to the problem.

Absher said MGM Resorts is “now looking into further mitigation procedures,” including more umbrellas, additional foliage or shade structures.

He said not everyone has complained. On cooler days, he said, he has seen sunbathers deliberately lay their blankets on the convergence spot for additional warmth.

But Pintas said he worries that sooner or later, someone will end up seriously burned if they fall asleep in the path of the ray, even if under an umbrella, because as he found the concentrated light can penetrate the shade.

“In Vegas, people are out drinking the night before, so it’s not hard to imagine people being unconscious there under an umbrella,” he said.

Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Bohan