Poltroons and pickpockets in public service
Expanded from the 8-13-00 Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
God created the world. Mankind built the cities. The devil invented the small town. So goes the old saying and so it goes here in the High Desert Outback of the American Dream.
Despite having been one of the fastest growing states for decades, we remain a small town spread across a huge and fascinating geography.
"There's nothing wrong with Reno that about a dozen selected funerals can't cure," an oldtime gambler told me 30 years ago. He knew of whence he spoke. He had once been a pro player for cowboy mafioso Bill Graham, operater of the Golden Hotel. It was destroyed by a legendary fire four decades ago, allowing Bill Harrah to acquire the site.
Alas, the old card sharp was wrong. All of those selected funerals have now happened, but nothing's really changed. The children of the old oligarchy have perpetuated the policies of the sagebrush plantation.
"Reno is just so damned incestuous," said an old friend of mine who's lived here longer than me. His comment applies to Nevada as a whole.
Late last week came a maddeningly perfect example of our inbred environment. You may need a program to tell the players.
PIERGATE, PART DEUX. In the waning days of the 1999 legislative session, gambling industry lawyer-lobbyist and Red Hawk golf course entrepreneur Harvey Whittemore perpetrated Piergate. Darth Harvey got State Sen. Mark James, R-Las Vegas, to insert an amendment into a bill which would have allowed Whittemore and his Lake Tahoe neighbor, Larry Ruvo, to build a personal pier at their posh homes in exclusive Glenbrook.
When longtime Associated Press Carson City Bureau Chief Brendan Riley revealed the scam, James pulled the amendment. Not long afterward, he pulled out of his inchoate candidacy for congress.
DRUNK WITH POWER. Ruvo is a wealthy Las Vegas liquor distributor. Lately, he has been fronting an organization called "Nevadans Concerned About Our Economic Future." Must be doing the Lord's work, right?
Ruvo's front group is paying for the circulation of an advisory petition in opposition to the gaming tax increase initiative sponsored by Sen. Joe. Neal, D-N. Las Vegas. California mercenaries are blanketing the state, soliciting the signatures of anyone who will sign -- adults and children, Nevadans and Californians, citizens and aliens, illegal or not. The "petition" will be used to provide political cover to lawmakers at the 2001 legislative session. If Neal's petition gets the required signatures by November 14, the legislature must either pass it or it goes on the 2002 ballot.
His proposal would raise the world's lowest gaming tax on Nevada's largest, most profitable clubs. The Nevada Gaming Control Board last week announced that the state's casinos just scored their biggest win in a decade.
Read more about it
NOT SO STRANGE BEDFELLOWS. Ruvo's outfit recently wallpapered rural Nevada with a letter from former Rep. Barbara Vucanovich, R-Nev. Along with former Elko and Winnemucca officials, Vucanovich threatened the rural counties with loss of local health clinics if they supported Neal's petition. Vucanovich is no stranger to shilling for the casino industry. While in office, she advocated slot machines as "healthy" and "cost effective" recreational activity useful for keeping young soldiers off the streets and away from drugs and other illegal activities. While in office, she was married to an executive with Bally's, the company selling the slots to the military. She took campaign money from that company and its mob-associated CEO.
THE DON IS ALL WET. Whittemore and Ruvo have upped the ante on their lakefront neighbors and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. Eldorado/Silver Legacy/Pioneer Inn casino mogul Don Carano is one of the applicants for the new pier. Opponents fear that it will open up the residential area for commercial uses.
That's fantasyland. How could anyone think that these benevolent millionaires could contemplate such a thing. Whittemore owns golf courses all over the west, including Tahoe. Carano and Whittemore would never think of using their Tahoe pier and lakefront properties as a way to romance high rollers. Don't give them a copy of this column, because I know they would never think of it themselves.
DEREGULATION RAPE AND PILLAGE, PART DEUX. Last week, I warned of the power company's new power to raise rates on a monthly basis. (The Reno Gazette-Journal apparently still doesn't consider it worth readers' attention.) I didn't want to break all the bad news at once. The state's major utilities for years have been allowed to build into their rates allowances for new power plants, essentially charging you upfront for something which didn't exist. The plants have never been built. Where'd our money go? Sen. Neal, as part of his bill draft to unwind deregulation, has promised me that he will research it.
The push for deregulation was led by none other than Lord Harvey. The gambling-industrial complex is licking its chops to start cutting deals for cheap power and sticking residential ratepayers for the difference.
The Don of Carano is likewise no public benefactor. While trashing Neal's proposal to raise the gaming tax which has not been hiked in 13 years, he's been quietly looking into investing his profits in California tribal casinos.
SEEING SPARKS. The Rail City has long enjoyed a reputation of being the best managed in the state. Recently, however, city officials have warned of looming deficits while proposing bond issues for basic services. I will oppose all new public levies until gaming starts paying its fair share.
PLANTING SEEDS. Thanks to all the folks who showed up to sign Sen. Neal's petition at the Farmers' Market on Victorian Square last Thursday. We got hundreds of signatures and several dozen new circulators.
HELP WANTED. As always, we need additional volunteers to complete the process and bring this guerrilla campaign home a winner. You may fill out the volunteer form at JoeNeal.org or give us a call. In southern Nevada, contact Sen. Neal personally at (702) 399-2114. In northern Nevada, call (775) 333-0955.
Be well. Raise hell.
© Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a 31-year Nevadan, member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of U-News, where the past four years of columns may be accessed. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Sparks Tribune since 1988.
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