The problems with a company town; Just when you get a great idea that can benefit the tourists as well as the city, moving in the right direction, it gets filled in with dirty Nevada politics and open corruption that has defined the state since its birth. Enter exhibit 2000, the Domed Stadium.
Las Vegas and the State would benefit greatly from having a 60,000 seat domed stadium near the Las Vegas Strip and the UNLV campus. The revenue it could generate would help fund a lot of other great tourist projects and employ a lot of people along the way. Not to mention get the creative juices flowing once again in finding new and creative ways to fill the stadium with attractions and events . But that will not happen since the powers that be decided to bring in the usual suspects and the familiar crime families to either derail the deal or make it their private cash cow.
People who oppose the Raiders moving to Las Vegas always cite the “ghetto fans” or “shady characters” that seem to define the Raider fan who attend the games on sports forums and discussion groups. Those ghetto-fans have nothing on the shady characters that are now leading the charge for the $700 million room tax subsidy to build and maintain the proposed domed stadium.
On Thursday, The Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee stripped out any profit sharing with the public as well as removing any protection for the public if the costs exceed expectations and sent its “thumbs up” on the $700 million room tax subsidy to the Governor. So now its a free for all with the democratic State Legislature and a RINO Governor who needs to call a special session to pass the laws that need to be made to add another increase to the room tax and put the State on the hook for anything these shysters want to add to the stadium.
What Went Wrong
I was all for a domed stadium when the project first surfaced several years ago. As UNLV Alumni started to buy land patches around the north end of the airport, close to the UNLV campus. They were shopping for a big booster to help give the plan legs and momentum. They found that booster in Sheldon Adelson. The billionaire and chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which owns and operates The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino and the Sands Expo and Convention Center.
The moment Adelson mentioned “Room Tax” as part of the financing to build the stadium, MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren got his panties in a bind and came out opposing the deal, even if his company would be the biggest benefactor. The portion of the room tax the state sends back to Las Vegas for tourism is managed by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). Jim Murren has had his way with the LVCVA for as long as he has been CEO of the MGM corporation. It’s as if the LVCVA is his private slush fund. Jim Murren was not going to let Sheldon Adelson have any say in how that tax money is to be spent no matter what it meant to MGM overall.
Jim’s big pet project is the expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center. He wants to direct any increase to the room tax to go only for the convention center expansion. Using lame reasonings to why a room tax should go to support a project that competes with similar projects funded by private corporations except stadiums was laughable. Both projects offer the same benefits to Las Vegas tourism and both projects compete against similar privately financed projects.
The only difference is one project, (convention center) is being championed by a politicly connected CEO and one, (domed stadium) is being championed by a successful business owner.
Sheldon’s downfall and what started to sour me on the whole deal was when he brought in Majestic Reality and gave them control of it. If you do any research on this company, they do some fantastic major real estate development deals and they do it meticulously and they fund it all privately. Except, in this case, they immediately went public and started to snoop out the political offerings before even considering the private options and opportunities. Hemming and hawing publicly on every detail until they smelled a deal that gave them a direction to follow. They found it with the usual suspects.
Having a land package handed to them without many strings, other than that it includes the UNLV, wasn’t going to fly for them. Too easy. So they found a friend in Southwest Airlines who said building it too close to the runway is a bad deal. So Majestic says “Nope, need to move it”… They spotted some open land across from Mandalay Bay and took an option on it but did not seal the deal while they poked around the Wild West casino site. Wild West Casino is owned by Stations Casino/Red Rock Resort. The Fertitta Brothers who run the company, just scored it big with the sale of the UFC, so could this be the cash cow for Majestic?? Sorry Charlie. Thanks, but no thanks said Stations. They wanted no part of this deal as they are already making new plans for that site. So Majestic ruled them out.
All of a sudden, the Bali Hai Golf Course land became their prime focus. Almost as if it were handed to them on a silver platter with the initials MGM engraved on the plate. Bali Hi is owned by Clark County politician’s biggest donor and greatest land scammer/developer, Bill Walters. A man who can magically turn land deeded for a cemetery into land deeded for megastore development anchored by WalMart for the same low price. Presto, instant millions in profits!!
Bill Walters is currently trying to convince the Clark County board that the land lease he has from them on Bali Hai, needs to be re-written (but not renegotiated) so he can turn it into warehousing and get more money from the land. Apparently, high-end golfing on cheap land takes too much work to keep up and can’t be as profitable as big warehouses or domed stadiums.
Bali Hai sits right at the end of the Las Vegas Strip, just south of Mandalay Bay, an MGM property and it also faces the busiest and largest runway at McCarren International Airport, but apparently now Southwest Airlines concerns aren’t relevant to the discussion.
Let’s not forget that the formerly bankrupt nonprofit, yet private company called the Las Vegas Monorail wants to tap into the governing body that runs the public transportation in Las Vegas to sell bonds to pay for its expansion to the south end of the Strip (but not to the airport). Once again, who profits from that? Three letters: M.G.M.
So, once again, a great idea that would make Las Vegas the absolute premiere tourist destination is being saddled with the usual political crime and corruption that will ultimately kill its ability to work for the good fo city and state. The only thing missing is the Senator Harry Reid family connection. Usually, in a pork belly filled package like this, you would find some relative of his benefiting from it all. But having Jim Murren and Bill Walters now a part of the package, you could say they were his family surrogates.
I do believe that Las Vegas needs the domed stadium. But not with the recent changes to the funding that creates a free-for-all in the spending and removing protections for the State of Nevada on cost overruns. However, if you want to argue we need to raise the room tax to pay for the convention center expansion, then I say you need to include the financing for a domed stadium. Both projects serve the same people and they offer Las Vegas the same benefits. Both projects compete with similar privately financed projects.
I can guarantee you that if Jim Murren was first to propose a $700 million boost to a domed stadium project, paid for by raising the room tax without any protections for the public, every media whore in Las Vegas would be yelling “HELL YES!!” at the top of their lungs. But because the original big booster for this was Sheldon Adelson, this has to be opposed at all costs. That’s how a company town works.