Vegas resort gambles on pandas

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The Independent US

Plans by a Las Vegas casino to exhibit a pair of Chinese pandas have been criticised by animal conservationists.

Plans by a Las Vegas casino to exhibit a pair of Chinese pandas have been criticised by animal conservationists.

The proposal by the Mandalay Bay, one of the newer resorts in Las Vegas, faces many months of lobbying for federal approval, but could mean considerable financial gain for the casino, which already boasts a shark aquarium.

Some animal conservationists, however, are aghast. Only about 10,000 pandas remain in the wild in China anda few hundred are in captivity. Using the species to boost earnings at the slots seems almost blasphemous. "I find it hard to imagine how housing pandas under the same roof with showgirls and blackjack tables furthers panda conservation," Ginette Hemley, vice-president for species conservation at the World Wildlife Fund, told The Washington Post. "It smacks of commercial exploitation." The casino plans to construct a domed glass pavilion for the pandas in an area adjacent to its shark reef, far removed from the gambling areas. It expects to pay the Chinese government about $10m for a pair and reap $50m a year in ticket sales.

It may succeed, first because it has promised to give all that money back to China. Presumably it expects to make its own extra money by steering animal-loving tourists into the gaming areas of the resort. It has been wooing the animal rights lobby as well, and not everyone is ruling out the idea. "There's a knee-jerk negative reaction to having pandas in casinos, and everyone shares that," said David Towne, chairman of the Giant Panda Conservation Foundation. "We have no right to prejudge them without first going through all the hoops."

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