The Reno Gannett-Journal: corporate Pinocchio
gambling-industrial complex has panicked. The unrest among the great unwashed
has increased from candlelight vigils along the Truckee River to a firestorm
on the Las Vegas Strip. Down in Gomorrah South, angry senior citizens are
organizing an initiative to double the gambling industry tax. A
Negrogasp!state senator has endorsed them and may run for
That irritating longhaired
David Farside is again questioning the legalities of how Washoe County spends
its room tax millions. With revolution smoldering statewide, the Reno
Gazette-Journal sprang to action on behalf of the ruling
Last Sunday, the newspaper
began a five-day series entitled "If Gaming Dies..." With its publication,
the critics who have for years wrongly accused the Reno Gazette-Journal of
being a corporate mouthpiece now have all the evidence they need, printed
right in the paper. The ethics of talk radio have come to the front page
of Gannett's high-profit western flagship.
Setting up straw men as easy
targets to knock down was once the preserve of talk-show poltroons ("Did
Clinton murder Vince Foster?") and pulp-fiction politicians ("When did my
opponent stop beating his wife?").
By asking "If Gaming Dies...",
the Gazette-Journal lifted the impossible question technique prevalent in
the heyday of yellow journalism a hundred years ago. No matter how you answer,
you lose. William Randolph Hearst would be proud.
The series title isn't even
original. The Gannetteers borrowed the concept from a shabby but successful
marketing ploy used by a book misnamed "The End of History." It's actually
about the thaw in the Cold War, but the title worked wonders for a vapid
As a result, some four dozen
authors now pimp everything from the end of racism to the demise of broccoli.
On the first page or soon thereafter, they write that they were just kidding,
but by then, the sale has been made. Sensational sloganeering always sells
well. Just ask William Randolph Hearst, who once sold us a war in exactly
the same way.
Why would the Reno Gazette-Journal
run such drivel in the first place? We can learn much from what was not
On January 2, the day after
the series ended, came the disclosure that three more Reno casinos have applied
for a huge tax break not available to you and me. The Sands, the Pioneer
and the Riverboat want their property taxes cut on grounds that they are
not making enough money. John Ascuaga's Nugget and the Reno Hilton have saved
hundreds of thousands a year since they crawled through the same loophole.
Unlike big business, homeowners cannot apply for a property tax break should
their income drop from one year to the next.
In a masterful exercise of
guilt-trip travel agentry, business writer John Stearns wrote a sidebar puff
piece portraying casinos as a workers paradise. He told of longtime John
Ascuaga's Nugget employees retiring comfortably thanks to "an industry that
often is unfairly tagged as dead-end."
One Nugget worker told Stearns
"without higher education, (the gambling industry) supports your kids. You
can have a family off this job."
It's not that easy. A couple
of years ago, the Nugget made a big splash announcing a miserly $20 per week
child-care allowance for some of its workers. No one bothered to ask how
much child care one Andrew Jackson will buy. I talked to a card dealer who
got nothing and was quite irritated by the publicity. He told me of a woman
who worked a low-paid job at the Nugget because she needed the health plan.
"She puts in her eight hours
here, then rushes to a second full-time job for her family's food and rent,"
the dealer told me.
Stearns failed to note how
much more Las Vegas casino workers make in a town with a far lower cost of
living. Low pay causes tremendous hardship throughout the region, but Stearns
was not about to let facts get in the way of a good story.
Covering almost 13 full pages,
the Gazette-Journal articles interlarded fact, opinion, old quotes, hyperbole
and industry press releases into the nastiest piece of scare-the-peons
pseudo-journalism I've ever seen perpetrated in these parts.
The series painted a portrait
of a great depression should the gambling industry suddenly leave town. The
paper's Picture of Dorian Gray of course included the specter of a state
income tax and statistics about the low-tax paradise we enjoy thanks to casino
generosity. Facts to the contrary have been printed in the Tribune for years.
(Where is Ralph Heller when we need him?)
"If gaming dies...taxes,
joblessness likely to rise" read the Dec. 29 front page.
Who says? Is Don Carano closing
the Eldorado? That well-managed property has netted an annual pre-tax profit
of well over $40 million for years. Even the poorly-run Reno Hilton scores
about $20 million a year. Harrah's usually makes a consistent 17 percent
return on investment and may soon expand.
Given all the corporate welfare
handed to Nevada fat cats, it really takes effort to lose money in a casino.
In addition to skimming the room tax to pay its promotional bills for the
past 38 years, the local industry has shunted more than $150 million in
Reno-Sparks property taxes to downtown redevelopment. The governor just announced
a move to give employers a whopping 22 percent cut in injured worker insurance
after years of slicing benefits to victims.
Adding insult to injury, the
1997 legislature gave casinos substantial tax breaks while facilitating higher,
regressive sales taxes on their workers.
Nevada gambling outfits are
even allowed to print money. They can now deduct the full face value of "lucky
bucks." A coupon costing perhaps a thousandth of a cent to print can generate
a state tax deduction of $1 or $5 or more.
Any wonder why the populace
is puked off?
The Las Vegas senior citizen
initiative proposes doubling the gaming tax to 12 percent, still just half
of what many Nevada companies pay in other states.
Sen. Joe Neal (D-North Las Vegas), a possible gubernatorial candidate,
proposed an increase to eight percent during last year's legislative session
and has endorsed the seniors' crusade. [Editor's note: Sen. Neal formally
declared his candidacy for governor the day after this column ran.]
The shabby reportage begins
to make sense when viewed as inoculation against that petition drive.
All of which makes Gazette-Journal
columnist Rollan Melton's assertion doubly surprising. Assembly Speaker Joe
Dini (D-Yerington) "might be our next governor if his campaign platform would
strongly urge a big increase in Nevada's gambling taxes - to levels of other
states. No one would vote for Joe," Melton wrote on Dec. 29, "except the
Melton's comment did not run
as part of the series. Recently retired from Gazette-Journal parent Gannett's
board of directors, he outranks the publisher and has the clout to write
what the underlings cannot.
One embarrassingly contradictory
passage did slip through in the series' first installment: "Perception: When
California gets gaming, we can count on Reno going down the tubes. Reality:
The consensus (of experts) is that as a destination, Reno will continue to
have an appeal and attract loyal visitors."
So why publish another dozen
pages? Corporate PR presents the only plausible answer. The impetus for the
gaming tax increase comes from Las Vegas, but firing back locally would merely
fan the flames. Better to begin the petition assassination in Reno where
the boss of the major paper scores well over $30,000 a year just for sitting
on Harrah's board of directors.
Publisher Sue Clark-Johnson's
outfit does not like admitting its conflicts of interest. The Reno
Gazette-Journal has intentionally witheld from its readers the fact that
two Gannett board members work for Union Pacific, a trainwreck of a corporation
which could destroy the community. The railroad won't pay a penny to re-route
its tracks around downtown Reno-Sparks despite doubling or tripling its traffic,
including nuclear and other hazardous cargos.
On New Year's Day, the paper
did reprint a full page noting its employees' "community involvements," ranking
the publisher's casino directorship with the church and charity work of others
from janitor to salesman. The two railroad execs were not mentioned at all.
The Gazette-Journal's unlucky
13 pages present a preview of the political puppet show this election year
Be well. Raise hell.