Paper can’t resist one more dig at departing CEO

This just might be the definition of beating a dead horse.

After numerous banner stories about lavish spending at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the use of taxpayer purchased airline gift cards for personal travel and the golden parachute for retiring CEO Rossi Ralenkottter, the morning newspaper manages to lob one more dart in the form of a banner story.

This piece quotes Ralenkotter as saying at a board meeting this past week about the hotel room tax that funds the operation, “It’s not a tax that’s on the people who live here, and we need to continue that messaging.”

The next paragraph begs to differ, noting that, while the vast majority of the hotel room tax is paid by tourists, state residents pay “tens of millions of dollars” in room taxes. The story then goes on to regale with accounts of poor people living in hotels, people from other counties coming to Clark County for business or pleasure and locals on so-called staycations. The story reports that a government survey of the homeless found about 2 percent typically stay at a hotel or motel at night, which costs an extra 13 to 14 percent due to the room tax.

The headline on an emailed alert about this story sent out Monday evening really rubbed it in: “Clark County room tax hauls in millions from poor Nevadans.”

Not until the last leg of the jump is it reported that the LVCVA itself estimates that 5 percent of the room tax is paid by state residents — or $36.9 million out of $738 million.

One last dig at the departing Ralenkotter? We doubt it.

This account did not end with the obligatory italicized disclaimer stating that the paper is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson and that company operates a convention center that competes with the LVCVA. An oversight surely.

One of these things is not like the other

Two banner stories. Same topic. Different conclusions.

The morning newspaper and its insert both bannered accounts of a police investigation into spending at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The morning paper quoted a letter delivered to the authority by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police: “At this time, there is insufficient facts to support a criminal case against Mr. Ralenkotter.” It also noted that LVCVA Chairman Lawrence Weekly told board members that police had found “insufficient evidence” to charge CEO Rossi Ralenkotter, but he failed to mention the letter’s “at this time” qualifier.

The insert flatly stated that Ralenkotter was cleared and quoted Weekly as saying, “This afternoon I received word from the Las Vegas Metro Police Department that they have found insufficient evidence to proceed with any criminal charges against Mr. Ralenkotter. As you know, this reaffirms the findings from our auditors and legal counsel, as reported in the April 2018 board meeting, that Mr. Ralenkotter demonstrated no criminal intent or criminal wrongdoing.”

Nine paragraphs into the morning paper’s story readers are told: “But the police investigation into the mishandling of $90,000 worth of Southwest Airlines gift cards secretly bought by the agency is just beginning. Police have done little beyond picking up records from the convention authority on June 28, the Review-Journal has learned.”

The “has learned” is not attributed to any source.

Ralenkotter reportedly used $17,000 worth of those airline gift cards for personal travel and reimbursed the authority. The audit found $50,000 in gift cards unaccounted for. Ralenkotter has said he thought the cards were given to the LVCVA as part of a promotion.

The morning paper’s story goes on to quote three different lawyers commenting on events as if the investigation is ongoing.

So, has Ralenkotter been cleared or is the investigation ongoing? Stay tuned.

Anyone want to lay odds on whether Metro will ever charge anyone with anything?








Revamped newspaper targets a favorite target of its owner

On the same day the editor-in-chief of the Las Vegas newspaper takes to the front page to tout changes being made at the paper — changes that were already touted for a week on the front pages — the big investigative piece on the same front page was about lavish spending by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

While the headline on the editor’s piece touted “We’ve changed for the better,” that investigative piece suggested something else entirely. You see the owner of the paper is casino mogul Sheldon Adelson who also owns the Sands Expo Center.

In 1999 Adelson sued the LVCVA, saying the convention authority and a group of trade shows was in a “conspiracy to steal business from me.”

Adelson said plans to expand the convention center was unfair competition with his Sands Expo because LVCVA was offering discounted rates.

“Their predatory pricing behavior is against the law, as is tortious interference,” Adelson told the Las Vegas Sun at the time. “You’re not supposed to go after someone else’s customers. There are legal remedies for people who try to destroy business relationships. The LVCVA has conspired with one or more show managers to achieve the result of taking away our business. Trust me, I know this. The convention authority drafted the terms of the expansion and had proxies solicit the consortium members for them. And when we sue the people involved, everyone will run for cover and tell the truth.”

The suit was settled a year later.


When the LVCVA started talking about expanding again this past year, some suspect Adelson floated the idea of using room tax money for a football stadium for the Oakland Raiders as a way of funneling funds away from that expansion.

He told his newspaper at the time, “I have no economic reason or rationale to object to the convention center expansion, except to say that based on my experience that a stadium in Las Vegas is a must-have and the convention center expansion is not even a nice-to-have.”

He went on to say, “No shows are going to leave Las Vegas for another city. I’ve personally spoken to organizers, including the ones referenced by the LVCVA, and only one said his show could fit in another city — but he had no intention of even considering that. … Additionally, the likelihood of attracting new shows remains extremely unlikely. Many of the shows the LVCVA has targeted to bring to Las Vegas want to come during times early in the year when all of the hotel rooms in town are already booked with existing conventions.”

When the Nevada Policy Research Institute wrote about lavish spending by the LVCVA in 2007 it was criticized because Adelson was a contributor.

So, why was the first big investigative piece of the revamped newspaper about the LVCVA? (By the way, the paper also is touting a revamped and easier to navigate website coming Monday, but today I could not find the LVCVA investigative piece on that website. There is an item saying the investigative piece is coming soon.)


Editorial: Lawmakers should reject public funding for football stadium

Stadium rendering via RJ

Billionaire casino and newspaper owner Sheldon Adelson is threatening to take his football and go home if Nevada legislators don’t raise room taxes in Clark County to provide $750 million toward construction costs of his proposed $1.9 billion domed football stadium that would become home to the Las Vegas Raiders and UNLV football teams.

To which we reply: Don’t forget your ball on the way out, Sheldon.

At a meeting of the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee this past week, Las Vegas Sands President Rob Goldstein, who indicated he was speaking on behalf of Sands owner Adelson, reportedly said, “Not to be difficult, but we’re not negotiable. If we can’t get 750, we respectfully thank you but we’re going to move on.”

According to press accounts of the meeting, various stadium supporters went out of their way to emphasize that the tax would be paid by tourists and not residents and the room tax would increase by just less than 1 percent, costing most tourists about a dollar a night.

Yes, a dollar a night 750 million times.

Money is fungible. That $750 million could be spent on a stadium or something else. According to a 2014 economic impact study for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, $140 million of Clark County’s room tax went into the statewide distributive school account, $130 million for parks, recreation and transportation and nearly $80 million to Clark County schools. Fully 39 percent of the room tax revenues went to fund education.

By comparison, $750 million is about half the tax hike approved by the 2015 Legislature — the largest in history.

Some casino executives have warned that raising the room tax could make Las Vegas less competitive in the lucrative convention business. The Clark County room tax rate currently tops out at 12 percent, while top competitor Orlando’s rate is 12.5 percent. There are already plans to increase the Clark County rate by half a percent to pay for a convention center expansion. Adding another point to that makes the rate nearly 13.5 percent, and might result in reduced visitor volume and thus less revenue. Visitors have budgets, and money spent on rooms is not spent on gambling, dining and merchandise — all of which are taxed by the state.

Strangely enough, stadium backers are now making the pitch that the tax money would not be supporting a privately owned stadium but a publicly owned stadium.

“There’s been a lot of conversation on why are we giving money to billionaires,” Steve Hill, chair of the infrastructure committee and head of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, was quoted as saying. “The public is not making a contribution to a privately owned stadium.”

Great, the public will be on the hook for capitalizing the project and will take the hit if the stadium operations lose money. What can possibly go wrong?

Even Adelson admitted in an interview with his own paper Sunday that stadiums don’t make a lot of money: “The amount of money that can be made by this stadium is so small that we [Las Vegas Sands], as the largest gaming operator in the world, make that same amount of money in one or two days, maybe three sometimes.”

The stadium proponents want the governor to call a special session of the Legislature in September to pass the tax hike and create a public stadium board of directors, though some lawmakers reportedly want to wait until after the November election.

Not that anyone is trying to sway them, mind you, unless you find nefarious motives in a leaked email from an editor to reporters covering legislative races for the Adelson owned Las Vegas Review-Journal. The email, posted online by political blogger Jon Ralston, reportedly instructs reporters to ask candidates whether they support using room tax money to build a stadium, but also pointedly states that this information will not be published. Then why ask, pray tell? To determine to whom contribution checks should go?

Also, football teams are quite fickle. The Raiders moved to Los Angeles in 1982 and back to Oakland in 1995. Oakland is still paying for the stadium renovations completed to lure the Raiders back. Now the team owners are courting Las Vegas for a new home, at least until the paint on a new stadium begins to fade and before the mortgage is paid off.

“NFL stadiums do not generate significant local economic growth, and the incremental tax revenue is not sufficient to cover any significant financial contribution by the city,” says Roger Noll, an economics professor at Stanford University.

Public funding for football stadiums is a notoriously bad economic investment — creating part-time, minimum wage jobs that are more of a drain on a state than a boost.

Nevada lawmakers should take a pass on this terrible sports bet.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Update: An RJ editor now says the paper always intended to publish the answers by lawmakers as to whether they support public money for a stadium.