The Worst Night Ever?

Las Vegas took it on the chin the second weekend in June. Saturday should have been great: a championship boxing match, sportsbook action for an NBA Game 7 and hockey’s Stanley Cup Finals, and the second night of the Electric Daisy Carnival, an event that’s been hyped for months. It’s safe to say that thousands of visitors were primed to have the best night ever.

But that’s not how it turned out. Earlier in the week, the reservation system for all MGM Resorts International hotels apparently gave up the ghost; thousands of check-ins, who had paid premium rates for such a slamming weekend, waited up to 12 hours to get their rooms—definitely something that would try the patience of even the most laid-back visitor. Then the big title fight ended with a eyeball-defying split decision for Timothy Bradley over Manny Pacquiao that left even the promoter, Bob Arum, embarrassed for the sport. Finally, the Electric Daisy Carnival had to shut down its seven main stages at about 1 a.m. Sunday because of high winds.

There are a few reasonable ways to spin what happened: Fight fans got thrilling boxing action; MGM guests got the chance to spend more time in hotel lobbies close to the Vegas action; EDC-ers learned that Insomniac Events places a premium on their safety.

And of course one could simply say that the wheel of fortune is always turning, that the cards went against Las Vegas this weekend, but our luck is sure to turn soon, so don’t worry. But neither of those avenues will get this town very far. So, what’s the best way to manage what, for the hospitality business, would have to qualify as a PR crisis?

First of all, it’s essential to give something back to guests whose hard-earned money didn’t quite get them what they paid for, through no fault of their own. Whether that means a round of drinks or two at the casino bar or a serious refund or credit for future events, I don’t know. EDC organizers took a step in the right direction when they allowed festival-goers with Saturday-only tickets to return for free on Sunday.

Second, those associated with each of the weekend’s disappointments need to take a look at what, if anything, they might have done differently.

There aren’t any easy answers here. It’s difficult to have a contingency plan when the system you use to check guests into about 41,000 rooms stops working. It wouldn’t be cheap, and in all likelihood it would never be used. But, as this weekend proved, it would be a good thing to have.

The boxing decision that left such a sour taste in most fans’ mouths is even more difficult to fix (oops, poor word choice). Would it make sense for Nevada State Athletic Commission chairman Raymond “Skip” Avansino Jr. to apologize for the decision? What then? Where do you draw the line—any moderately controversial decision would have fans and fighters screaming for an apology. Boxing’s traditional way to deal with these things is to stage a big-money rematch—but that only feeds the conspiracy-theorist imagination.

For EDC, meanwhile, promoters had to balance the desire to give guests what they pay for with legitimate safety concerns. If the festival had gone on and strong winds had caused a collapse like last summer’s disaster at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, it’s pretty likely that there wouldn’t be another Electric Daisy Carnival next summer.

Nevertheless, the Las Vegas hospitality business was built not only on the notion that the improbable is possible, but on the confidence that when things go awry, we find a way to make the experience better next time.

It’s a given for most people who come to Las Vegas that the city, one way or another, is going to take their money. But when people stop getting their money’s worth, they vote with their feet and their wallets. As an Atlantic City native, I can tell you this isn’t a pretty thing.

The folks associated with each of these minor (in the cosmic scheme of things) disasters might justifiably contend that they were victims of fate. But that’s not good enough. Everyone’s a genius when the cards are falling in their favor. The real talent comes to the fore when they start going the other way.