Obama to Sin City: 'I Love Vegas'

Although he contributed to the AIG effect last year when he criticized Las Vegas meetings, President Barack Obama sent a love letter to Sin City last week, according to local media reports, when he delivered a speech to an audience of tourism officials at Aria, the Strip's newest hotel-casino-resort.

"Let me set the record straight. I love Vegas, always have," Obama said on Friday. "I enjoy myself every time I've got an opportunity to visit."

The president was heavily criticized by Las Vegas officials last spring when he told an audience in Elkhart, Ind., "You can't get corporate jets. You can't go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer's dime."

Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons was so angry at his comments that he refused to meet with the president during a May 26 pit stop in Las Vegas. "I am not interested in a handshake and a hello from President Obama," Gibbons said. "I am interested in an apology and plan to undo the damage the president did."

Although it wasn't a formal apology, Friday's speech—during which Obama outlined his plans to provide more than $1 billion in aid to the states most harmed by the housing market collapse—was a big hit among local tourism officials, who applauded when the president said, "I don't want Vegas to be just getting by. I want Vegas to be thriving."

"He hit a home run," Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) said after Obama's speech, according to the Las Vegas Sun. "He said everything he needed to say."

The president even impressed U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow, who applauded Obama for promising to champion the Travel Promotion Act alongside Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "The travel community appreciates President Obama's recognition of the importance of travel promotion to stimulate the economy and create new jobs while helping us compete with other countries in attracting high-value international travelers," Dow said in a statement. "His support of Senate Majority Leader Reid's leadership in gaining final passage of the Travel Promotion Act comes at a welcome time for America's great cities and destinations, which are the lifeblood of a travel community that directly employs 7.7 million workers."

Friday was Obama's second trip to Las Vegas since taking office as president. "I look forward to coming back to Las Vegas," he concluded, then joked, "but my mother-in-law is going to get here first. She comes quite frequently—maybe I shouldn't say that in front of the press."