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VIDEO VAULT | Las Vegas turns its attention to Operation Desert Storm

Billboard on Paradise.jpg
A billboard in Las Vegas shares support for U.S. armed forces as Operation Desert Storm begins in 1991.

This weekend will mark 30 years since the beginning of Operation Desert Storm. That was the operational name for the first Gulf War, which was also the first major military conflict for the United States since the Vietnam War had ended 16 years earlier.

Coalition forces led by the U.S. had been mobilizing for months in what was initially called Operation Desert Shield. Casino operators, along with everyone else, were nervous.

"There's no question at all, if the war starts, it's going to impact business severely," said Showboat vice president of marketing Dave Verbon in mid-January of 1991. "I think certainly for a few days even in the local market you're going to have people that are glued to their TV sets."

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The Showboat catered largely to locals. At the Tropicana, there was concern about the tourist trade.

"I think initially, there'll be some decision making if war breaks out by people who have made plans for vacation," speculated Tropicana publicist Ira David Sternberg. "But I think in terms of the long-term, those kinds of plans won't be changed."

When bombs started falling in Baghdad, TV monitors in the Stardust sportsbook were showing not just college basketball, but also Tom Brokaw.

"All right thanks very much," the NBC news anchor could be heard saying to a war correspondent. "Rick Davis in Saudi Arabia tonight..."

"The games are secondary right now," one sportsbook patron told News 3. "I think what's going on worldwide is primary. It affects all of us one way or the other."

"They do have the sound on the TV with the war correspondents," said a casual bettor. "So I'm keeping an eye on both at the same time."

One slot machine player News 3 spoke with was more reflective.

"It's a different feeling," he said while pausing his play. "You know I've been down here before with nothing going on. Now it's a little uneasy feeling. We're here, they're over there. You don't know whether you should be down here doing this now when things are going off over there."

A couple of days later, reporter Steve Eagar was noticing support in the Resort Corridor. The sign in front of the Sands Hotel described the shows and dining options inside, but also included the words "Good Luck to Our Troops in the Gulf."

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"As the war progresses, you'll probably be seeing more of these displays of support for our troops in the Persian Gulf," Eagar told viewers. "But for now, Terrible Herbst seems to be the first chain to have jumped on the bandwagon. Every one of their car washes has 'God Bless America' written on the marquee, and a yellow ribbon hanging from the pole."

Meanwhile, the Showboat was weighing its options.

"If it looks as if it's going to be a prolonged, painful experience for the nation, then we're going to have a very major challenge for us here," concluded Verbon.

As it would turn out, coalition forces moved in with overwhelming force and speed and the conflict ended five and half weeks later, sustaining relatively light U.S. casualties. But 30 years ago this week, no one knew just what to expect as the country went to war overseas.

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