Fighting words, monopoly games
and brothel roulette


From the 11-2-2003 Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune
And the 11-6-2003 Comstock Chronicle

You will never witness a better example of company town journalism than the Reno Gazette-Journal's front page treatment of Caesar's/Park Place putting the Reno Hilton on the chopping block. At least someone had the presence of mind to get a statement from a worker.

"One of the reasons we got the union in is so we could get a raise every year because bills go up, but it was also for job protection in case the hotel would ever get sold," said 18-year bartender Mary Marshall.

She has a point. When the venerable Harolds Club was sold, everyone was terminated so that the new owners could retain whomever they pleased. Sundowner Hotel workers have praised management for giving them 60 days' notice of the Reno property's impending closure. As with the shutdown of the Riverboat a few years ago, management apparently failed to inform the workers that generosity has nothing to do with it. Federal law requires a minimum of 60 days from firms employing more than 100.

But is the Hilton story that big? "I heard about it Sept. 1," bartender Marshall told the RGJ. If the story was so hot, why did it take almost two months to see ink?

Maybe because it's not a very hot item in the first place. Since its 1978 incarnation as the MGM Grand Reno, the hotel has been profitable, just not up to Gomorrah South standards. MGM sold the place to the formerly mobbed up Bally's, which sold it to Hilton a few years later.

Hilton has done an admirable job of hyping profits notwithstanding that its Reno license to steal generates less than LV. They have followed the lead of John Ascuaga's Nugget of applying for and getting huge property tax breaks whenever cash flow takes a downturn.

Don't you wish you could get a tax break every time your boss cuts your hours or you have to take a new job for less pay? Hilton also hired the brutal Ferenc Szony to run the place into the ground. Szony thought nothing of breaking labor laws on a wholesale basis. His greatest claim to fame came when he imposed an inflexible sick leave policy which pushed workers into showing up when they should have stayed home in bed.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control identified "fecal-oral" food contamination generated by sick employees as the cause of a food poisoning outbreak which sickened large numbers of hotel guests and other workers. (Szony was axed not long thereafter and has taken his union-busting act to the Sands Regency. The Reno Hilton became almost totally unionized after his unlamented departure.)

I discount completely any worry that the 2003-room property might close. Corporate suits just need to bring in some people who can think outside the box. There are plenty of ways to broaden the marketing base of the huge complex. I spared every effort and expense asking a few fictionalized heavy hitters for suggestions.

"The place has a long and distinguished track record of dodging taxes, something I have a bit of a talent for," stated brothel pioneer Joe Conforte, speaking from an undisclosed location somewhere under the Amazon canopy.

"With all that convention space, they could develop a thriving business producing tax avoidance seminars. You wouldn't even need to advertise. Just get some sanctimonious, politically ambitious district attorney to threaten to torch the place," Conforte added. I heard Brazilian samba music over the satellite phone just before the connection to the pimp from Ipanema faded.

Lawyers for current brotheliers Lance Gilman, David Burgess and Dennis Hoff all had the same reaction to Conforte's advice: Don't anyone dare use the disputed brand name of Mustang.

"Them's fightin' words," stated local Ford dealer Richard West.

Former Sparks Mayor Bruce Breslow gave the viewpoint of the local jockocracy: "Don't anybody do anything until we assess the potential of putting a baseball field onto the casino floor. Build it and they will come."

Sundowner Hotel owner George Karadanis made an offer Hilton may not be able to refuse: "Let me sell it like I sold the Mapes to the City of Reno. Nobody can rip off local governments like I can."

"Them's fightin' words," stated former Pioneer Hotel-Casino owner Don Carano.

Sparks Mayor Tony Armstrong was quite prepared when the for-sale sign went up.

"If you're looking for some signs, by God I've got a few I can let you have," he gushed. "We can have a meeting anytime, any place," he added.

"I can show the new owners how to get the taxpayers to subsidize my art collection as a hotel attraction," said LV casino mogul and world class egotist Steve Wynn. "In return, all I ask is that a 50-foot bronze statue of me be put up in front of the hotel, facing the freeway. Make that 100 feet."

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman offered to do everything in his power to help the new owners prosper. "I can get you major sponsorship from both Bombay Gin and the Chicago mob," the world class defense attorney boasted.

"And I really didn't mean what I said about opening up downtown Las Vegas to legalized prostitution."

"Them's fightin' words" said Gilman, Hoff and Burgess.

"I'm available for consulting," Mr. Conforte said. "You can reach me care of General Delivery, Rio de Janeiro. You'll find that I'm the best of the best at running and manipulating things from hiding."

"Them's fightin' words," stated Vice-President Dick Cheney in a note delivered by stealth carrier pigeon to the Tribune newsroom.

Be well. Raise hell. | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
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Copyright © 1982-2003 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 34-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.


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