LAS VEGAS, Nevada — The casinos of Las Vegas may be glittering on the outside, but behind the bright lights the reality for many workers here, especially Latinos, has been pretty grim for the last few years.
And President Barack Obama, who counted partly on the Latino vote to secure his White House victory in 2008, faces a stark warning: many of those voters may not cast their ballots for him again next year.
Like many south and southwestern US states, Nevada has a huge Latino community -- 26.5 percent of the population are of Hispanic or Latino origin, according to 2010 data from the US Census Bureau.
Some 100,000 workers, many Hispanic immigrants, lost their jobs in the construction industry after tourist numbers went off a cliff following the world financial crisis three years ago.
"Obama abandoned Latinos, and Latinos are abandoning Obama in droves. Many Latinos don't give a whit about Obama's re-election," said Rene Cantu Jr., head of the Nevada gambling city's Latin Chamber of Commerce Community Foundation.
He added: "Latinos suffered great economic losses in Nevada with the recession and housing bust... With the fall in gaming and resort revenue many Latino service workers lost their jobs in the casinos."
"Coupled with the housing crisis, many Latino families lost both jobs and houses almost simultaneously. These issues are critical to Latinos here -- jobs, jobs, jobs," he said.
Republican candidates, in Las Vegas last week for the latest of their TV debates, used the opportunity to try to woo Latino voters, as well as the record numbers of unemployed and those facing foreclosure on their homes.
Nevada's hispanic governor Brian Sandoval has already come out and backed the candidacy of Texas governor Rick Perry for the Republican nomination to take on Obama next year.
Sandoval turned out at the GOP televized debate to back Perry, who is struggling to regain ground against frontrunner Mitt Romney and surprise surge candidate Herman Cain.
"I really appreciated the fact that governor Perry (pointed out ) that if we could remove unnecesssary regulations that we can get" people back to work, he told reporters after the debate.
A study by research group Latino Decisions this week found that barely half of Latinos say they are "certain" to vote in November 2012 presidential polls for Obama, who was backed by two thirds of Latino votes in 2008.
But Zach Hudson, spokesman for the Nevada Democrats, said he was confident the state's Latinos would stick with the Democrats when they actually come to vote -- not least because of the Republican threat to health care for the poor.
"When Nevada's Latino community enters the polling place next year, they will understand the clear choice in this election," he told AFP.
That choice was "between President Obama and Democrats who are committed to creating jobs, fighting for the middle class and passing comprehensive immigration reform, and Republicans .. who are focused on ending Medicare by turning it over to private insurance companies," he added.
David Damore, associated professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), said the Latino vote in Nevada remains "very important" for the Democrats.
He pointed out how US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid narrowly defeated Republican rival Sharon Angle in mid-term elections last year, largely because Latino voters turned out for the Democrat.
"That was essentially the difference maker, the ability to mobilize Latino voters," he told AFP, noting that a number of Latinos were also running for elected office as Democrats.
Latinos are "the fastest growing demographic in this state, and so far the Republicans don't really have much to talk to that group about," he added.
The Latin Chamber of Commerce Community Foundation said that, after the 2008 economic collapse, many Latinos left Nevada, but most stayed in the Las Vegas valley.
"Of those who stayed, many exhausted their unemployment or are on extension," said Cantu Jr. noting that the Foundation helps in retraining for different jobs, notably in the health sector or the green economy.
"We see people every day who have lost work and are at a loss for what comes next," he added.