Las Vegas comment matters… but not for those yelling about it


I’m going to admit something up front. For those of you that visit my site and frequently read my efforts, it likely won’t be an admission that causes great surprise. But in this particular case, since I’m starting so far away from the subject at hand it might not be obvious what I’m doing, so I’m going to say this up front… stay with me on this, because I’m going to go off the path a few times in this piece. Hopefully, at the end, alot of it arrives in the same place…

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My employer offers a bonus to staff for perfect attendance. Actually, that’s not completely accurate. In reality, the company offers several bonuses for perfect attendance. One of the programs that offers such recognition happens to fall under my care. And over the years I’ve noticed something a bit strange…

Of those qualifying, the vast majority don’t care about it.

Ok… so that’s not really the truth. They all care about it when they qualify. Heck… extra money… rewards… they all care about it.

Instead, what I mean is that the bonus awarded often has absolutely nothing to do with the performance recognized. And what I mean is simple enough… most of these people would have perfect attendance regardless of the existence of recognition for it. My experience has shown, virtually without exception, that they’re driven by something else. There’s an element of self-motivation… personal initiative… a sense of obligation… or, well, use any similar word or idea that you’d like to insert. These people are driven by their own purposes and dedication, and the added incentives are the cherry on top and not an essential part of the sundae.

Lesson one – People do what they do for reasons many of us may not be able to explain or agree with or even be motivated by in a similar way. Some times it’s good… some times it’s bad… and some times it’s simply inexplicable.

I have written before about how funny it is to watch all of these so-called advisors. They sell books… write articles… buy television infomercial time… look so self-important and confident during interviews…

And more often than not… they’re idiots.

Ok… idiots is a bit strong. What I mean is that they seldom offer anything you didn’t already know, but they act as if they’ve discovered the secret to world peace.

A few years ago, I was looking at a booklet from the benefit’s office of my employer that outlined different support services. It was a diverse and long listing of places to turn for help or advice or discounts with everything from auto repair to cell phone providers, financial planning to health care. Having recently purchased a new home, I requested some of the materials on financial planning. Figured it couldn’t hurt to learn more about retirement planning, home improvement loans and other possible money-management issues. I was stunned by what I received. (Or… umm… by how little I received.)

Did you know that one way to stay out of credit card debt is to not use credit cards?

Did you know that one way to get rid of credit card debt the fastest is to pay more than the minimum monthly payment?

Did you know that… well… come on. The idea here is simple to see… the advice is way too simple.

Pay more than the monthly minimum? Yeah, that had never occurred to any of us before. And even if you want to cut them some slack… heck, many of us know we should be paying more than the minimum but don’t… they show a complete lack of understanding about the situation. It’s not that many people pay only the minimum because that’s what the bill says to pay… they pay the minimum because that’s what they can afford to pay.

Lesson two – There’s some advice that isn’t worth giving. Everyone knows it. By saying it, even if you have your reasons for saying it, you aren’t preventing people from acting in a certain way.

Several years ago I remember the comedian Gallagher talking about watching a football game. He made the observation that for all of the celebration performed after a player shredded the defense for a long touchdown run, there was an official running step-for-step with him … and he was about 30-years older than the wide receiver sprinting with the ball… and he was blowing a whistle and holding his hands in the air while he ran.

Sure… an exaggeration. But consider the observation itself. The focus is on the player. The story is about the player. It’s considered a truth that the best officials aren’t noticed. Ahh… but you couldn’t have a game without them. And occasionally, what is happening that you don’t notice contributes significantly to what you do notice.

Lesson three – Pay attention to some other things. Stop for a moment before reacting to the world.

And now… President Obama and Las Vegas…

As you’ve probably heard, Las Vegas is upset with President Obama.

Frankly… on the surface… I don’t get all the fuss. More accurately… I don’t personally get all the fuss, but I can understand why some people are upset.

See, on one side of this argument, I understand that Las Vegas is ticked about being used as an example of reckless spending and indulgences. It’s not good for business when the basic image of your city is a person standing over a toilet, cash in hand, preparing to drop the cash and then flush.

And yet… on the other side… I can understand the use of Las Vegas as an example of reckless spending and indulgences since that’s the very image they advertise. Oh sure, they want you to believe you can get a great meal (you can) and be entertained by top notch performances (again, you can) and will even be happy to flush in exchange for the memories and thrills (oh yes, you will). But that winking, adults-only theme isn’t an accident folks. There’s a certain dirty feel to Vegas, and it’s an image that the very defenders of Las Vegas in this debate actually encourage. They don’t want it to be a urine-scented, gambling the mortgage, alcoholic dirty feel. They’d rather it be a fun-fun-fun, hardly dressed women ready to provide for every man’s fantasy, money gone but happily so dirty feel. It’s still there though. And if they want to advertise that what happens there, stays there… well… then no complaining about us being aware of what that is. Short version… if you’re happy to offer roulette tables and naked breasts, you can’t complain that people consider your city a center of gambling and porn.

Funny thing… I don’t care about either of these sides.

See… if the president makes a comment about Las Vegas not being a place that everyone can afford to visit right now (sort of the intent of his comments), the reality is he’s not completely wrong. Some people can’t afford to go to Vegas. Or Disney World. Or to a baseball game at the stadium this summer. Some people are making minimum payments on their credit cards so they can buy oil to heat their homes or put food on the table for the kids.

All of these people so apparently livid about his comments may have a point that he shouldn’t have singled them out… but to a degree, that’s just a public relations twist that doesn’t change the realities.

Hold on for one more second though. Let’s add up our lessons.

When it comes to telling everyone that they need to be careful about spending their money, I don’t think any of us need the president to be so specific. (Lesson two.) He could talk about tightening our belts. He could talk about being responsible. He doesn’t need to talk about boats and Las Vegas.

And part of the reason he doesn’t need to do that is because people are people. They are going to do the right thing… and the wrong thing… and at times they will do it regardless of knowing right from wrong. (Lesson one. Partly lesson two.)

Amazingly though, the critics seem to be missing the best target in all of this… what’s happening in the background. (Lesson three.)

See… I believe the real problem with Obama’s comments is that he got the government involved. (Sort of.) The real problem has nothing to do with actually going to Vegas. It’s the reaction that’s possible for someone that has gone to Vegas.

Remember a year ago when all of those companies were getting support? Financial bracing… bailouts. Remember? And then came the hammer… when reporters sunk their teeth into corporate retreats… taking private planes when the company manufactures cars… bonuses still being paid… and all the excesses. Can’t be giving a company billions of money to get their affairs in order when a month from now they have three floors of a Vegas hotel rented out for a week… pardon me, the joke is too easy… a week in order to have their affairs.

Places like Vegas rely on business travelers… for meetings, conventions, expositions, etc… as much as they rely on individuals traveling for personal reasons. (If not more so.) And when the president essentially calls those trips out as being a waste of money… I think you can see where this one is going. It’s not good. And, for several, it can be disastrous.

President Obama needs to watch his mouth. (There… that was a simple summary. Seems a bit less rude with the full explanation.) The more in depth version of this simple comment is that what may seem charming and folksy… identifying with the people… bringing the message in a language we can all understand… just isn’t honesty being the best policy.

Let’s keep in mind… this isn’t the first time Obama has said something he later regretted. If it was, you might be even more willing to let it slide and consider it nothing more than a crazy oops. But ask Special Olympics… ask police officers in Massachusetts… ask travel and tourism representatives in Las Vegas if they believe Obama is aware of what he’s saying (or if he’s learned his lessons about it from past errors).

Amazingly… well, perhaps amazingly… in most of these cases the message he wanted to deliver shouldn’t have caused a problem. It’s not what he’s saying. It’s not the content. (Really… does anyone want to debate whether or not it’s a good idea to be fiscally responsible? Ok… good. Then we agree… the thought might be well intended.) It’s how he’s saying it. It’s being aware of how it’s received. It’s knowing his audience.

And because of that, Las Vegas matters.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at