Fishing for Wishes

Wave of fountain thievery on the Strip represents more than a loss of coin

Hundreds of times throughout the day, tourists and locals take a coin from their pocket, make a wish and hurl it into the nearest fountain. We’ve all seen it, probably all done it.

Often those coins are donated to local charities. The Forum Shops at Caesars, for example, collects $10,000 to $12,000 a year from its fountains and donates the money to Simon Youth Foundation, which helps at-risk youth through educational opportunities.

But sometimes the coins don’t last that long, as people have actually been wading into that fountain to partake of what they must mistake for a coin buffet.

“This activity is common with any fountain venue that is exposed and offers easy access to the public,” says Maureen Crampton, director of marketing and business development at the Forum Shops. “These coins represent people’s wishes and hopes of good fortune. Unfortunately, there are those who take advantage of the public access.”

One local witness (who preferred to remain anonymous) recently got a glimpse of just how common the fountain thievery is. On March 19, she was eating lunch at the patio outside La Salsa at the Forum Shops. She noticed a young male wade into the water, scoop up change and hand it to a female accomplice beside the fountain. Then he went back in for more. A half-hour later, an older man waded in and filled a two-gallon water jug about halfway. Soon after, yet another man waded into the fountain and filled his pockets. This time, Metropolitan Police officers handcuffed and arrested him.

As it turns out, the apprehension had nothing to do with petty larceny in the fountain. According to the Metro report, police took action because the man had a warrant out for trespassing.

When asked if this fountain thievery happens frequently, Metro Public Information Officer Barbara Morgan is adamant it doesn’t.

“That’s pretty rare,” she says. “I mean, c’mon, have you ever seen anyone fish money out of a fountain? I have never.”

She should speak with David Galvan, the manager of La Salsa, who has seen it nearly every day for the three years he’s worked at the restaurant.

“Normally they just look around and see if there’s any security guys around,” he says. “If they don’t, they just pull up their pants a little bit and they jump in and start picking up the coins.”

Evidently it’s more of a worldwide tradition than a recession-related problem along the Strip. Rome’s Trevi Fountain is practically as famous among petty larcenists as it is with wish-makers, and earlier this month a man was caught stealing 600 euros from the fountain. In Naples, Fla., a man was arrested for taking 42 cents from a fountain in July 2008. Last August in Kentucky, two teens were arrested for stealing nearly $160 from a fountain.

And in Las Vegas, fountain coin thieves have even been on the reality TV show Cops and take up some bandwidth on YouTube (namely, at Caesars).

Throwing away money in Las Vegas is nothing new, but coins thrown into a fountain might be considered a purer form of wish-making, Crampton says.

“The money in the fountains not only represents peoples’ wishes,” she says, “but also ultimately benefits children and scholarships.”

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