March 3, 2009 / 9:21 PM / in 9 years

Vegas mogul slams corporate spending backlash

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Las Vegas casino legend Sheldon Adelson launched a quest for America’s most boring city on Tuesday in a comeback to President Barack Obama’s criticism of bankers who hold meetings in the famous gaming capital.

Obama last month warned companies that get bailout cash against spending it on activities potentially seen as perks -- sparking a row with hotel and resort operators who say they are already struggling to fill rooms and may have to cut jobs.

“The good news is that Las Vegas has become a synonym for a good time for adults. Let me not say adults, I’ll say grown-ups, I don’t want to give the wrong impression,” Adelson, majority owner of casino operator Las Vegas Sands, said.

“The bad news is that because it is a place for a good time, President Obama says that he doesn’t want taxpayer’s money to go there,” Adelson told the Reuters Travel and Leisure Summit.

“But I‘m going to conduct a survey and I‘m going to provide a prize for people who will submit the name of the worst city in the country to go to, where people can enjoy it the least. Because that’s the alternative. The alternative is you go to a place where you enjoy, or you go to a place you don’t enjoy.”

The self-made billionaire, who tore down the original Sands to build the Venetian Resort complete with canals, and brought business conventions to Las Vegas, declined to nominate places for his ‘dive prize’ but took a swipe at Obama’s home town.

“Look, Chicago has got nine casinos. Now God forbid if they hold a convention there someone should go to one of those casinos and enjoy themselves. God forbid. And then they’d say ‘oh I can’t go there’,” he said.

“If you are going to vilify Las Vegas because it’s a great place to go, let’s vilify all 30 states that legalized gaming...What’s the implication here? That the government on taxpayer money will only allow people to go to places where they will not enjoy themselves, where they are going to hate it.”

A scandal over perks erupted in October after insurer AIG flew top brokers and executives to a Southern California resort at a cost of $440,000 shortly after it received an $85 billion government bailout.

“You can’t take a trip to Las Vegas or down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers’ dime,” Obama commented last month.

Adelson is one of several industry leaders who have complained about the backlash against corporate expenses. Airlines say it is worsening a travel slump and could cost jobs.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher; editing by Carol Bishopric)

Additional reporting by Nicole Volpe

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