Don't Make Travel Decisions Based on Politics

I've written before about the hardships caused by well-meaning people who make travel decisions based on politics. The people it really hurts are working men and women, just trying to make a living helping visitors have a good time. Penn Jillette says it much more entertainingly than I can. The following editorial appeared on

Editor's note: Penn Jillette -- the larger, louder half of Penn & Teller -- is a magician, comedian, actor, author and producer. At a February 2 town hall in Nashua, New Hampshire, President Obama said, "You don't blow a bunch of cash on Vegas when you're trying to save for college."

Las Vegas, Nevada (CNN) -- President Obama made a couple of stupid little jokes about Vegas. He uses our Las Vegas as a symbol. Everyone knows what Vegas means. Doc Pomus wrote "Viva Las Vegas" for Elvis years before Doc ever visited Sin City and got everything right.

Vegas means ... wild, irresponsible, what-happens-here-stays-here. Smoke cigars, have sex with strangers, get wasted and see stupid shows with stupid Elvis impersonators doing stupid impressions of that stupid hillbilly.

That's an image we know and love in Vegas. It's the image we spend our stupidly low tax money to promote. "What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas" was an official slogan.

It's the Vegas image Katy Perry has in her video, "Waking Up in Vegas," and Penn & Teller do a cameo in that video. We all promote that image. In Vegas, our service industry services that nutty image. We make money off people thinking Vegas is a place to get stupid and waste money.

I know a joke when it bites me in the ass. And I've done plenty of jokes biting other people's asses. It's my job.

It seemed like Obama was off-prompter for his Vegas bashing. His attacks weren't like Ford trashing New York City (I lived in NYC when Ford was doing all the Big Apple trashing - maybe it's ME the presidents hate). Gerald Ford and Jesse Jackson meant it about NYC.

I know Obama doesn't really hate Vegas. I bet he'd have a blast here, if he were still welcome. Obama's good-natured symbolic joke was an applause line. People knew what he meant and agreed. Yeah, don't waste money on Vegas, send the children to college!

The last time Obama made a negative comment about Vegas, some jumpy, patriotic, image-conscious corporations canceled some trips here. That's what we figure here in Vegas. There's no way to really know if many people really canceled.

Do people really go to the president for travel advice? But in Vegas, most of us make our money from tourism or serving others who make their money from tourism.

Tourism is what we really, really do in the Silver State. It's not like Obama is giving the Mojave subsidies for not growing soybeans. It's too easy to not grow soybeans in the stinking desert; we do it for free. Not farming is one of our vegan gifts to the rest of the country.

We don't know how much, but when the president of the United States of America makes his jokes about Vegas -- he costs real people real money.

Obama knows that no one cares if Penn Jillette has less money. Obama is pretty happy to say that the rich (and, man, am I rich. I don't have even 10 percent of the money Obama has, but I'm rich by my hometown standards) should have more money taken from them.

Who cares about a magician losing money? Not even me. I'll be fine. My children will go to college if they want.

But, when people cancel trips to Vegas, I'm not the one who gets laid off. A few less people go to the Penn & Teller Theater, and we still do fine, but the hotels lay off other people. It's the people downstream of me who get punished for the president's joke.

We all know what Obama thinks is so laughable about Vegas. We know why we're a symbol of wasteful stupidity.

We're a city built on gambling. It's gambling no matter how much PR calls it "gaming." Things have changed over the past 10 years. The shows and the restaurants are no longer loss leaders, we make real money on things other than gaming. There's a wonderful, normal suburban community here, but the symbol is still gambling.

We have gambling with money, but we also symbolize all sorts of other real-life gambling. After your fiance dumps you, maybe you'll fly to Vegas with the boys and someone who happens in Vegas will stay with you the rest of your life. Maybe you'll really get lucky.

Teller and I moved to Vegas to do our own show in our own theater. We took a big chance. Vegas also stands for stupid gambling like that. Vegas is gambling in the broad sense, the idea that taking a wild chance on an unknown might turn out to be a good thing.

What's the main thing that drives stupid gambling? Hope. I'm not sure how I feel about hope. I don't gamble in the casinos. That kind of regimented hope seems less fun to me. I'm a skeptic. I'm pro-science.

I like to say I don't believe in hope, but I had the hope to move to Vegas to do a magic show. And I do hope that Vegas pulls through this bad economic time and people come and visit us and we do our stupid shows for all the stupid, hopeful people.

Obama, please remember, it was those stupid, very hopeful people who took the over on a stupid point spread on Obama with a stupid hope to help our country, which includes stupid Vegas.

The gamble Obama took with his run for president and the gamble that the American people took on him sure weren't taken at good odds. It wasn't putting everything we had on red in roulette, or "don't pass" in craps, or carefully counting cards in blackjack.

Obama's presidency is more than all of us putting our whole future on 00 in roulette. It was more like putting everything we had on one slot pull at the stupid Elvis impersonator slot machine in the stupid Elvis casino for the stupid hillbillies who are filled with hope.

Maybe the Vegas jokes in the Beltway should stay in the Beltway.

Shortly after Obama's comments, he sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, saying, "I wasn't saying anything negative about Las Vegas...there is no place better to have fun than Vegas, one of our country's great destinations.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Penn Jillette.


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