Darth beetles, chopped liver & Casinos Out of Politics


Last Wednesday, I showed up at the Nevada Legislature to support Senate Bill 86, Sen. Joe Neal's attempt to loosen the gambling industry's stranglehold over Nevada politics and government.

The hearing room was packed — with all the wrong people. Casino lobbyists in expensive black suits carpeted the place like an infestation of beetles. Interested spectators, avoiding the insects, cowered from the back of the bus.

After Sen. Neal, D-North Las Vegas, had presented his case, Sen. Ann O'Connell, R-Las Vegas, called for testimony from supporters. Only two stood up — myself and Patricia Fladager, former chair of Common Cause Nevada and mother of Elderport, now known as the CitiLift transportation service for Reno-Sparks area senior citizens and the disabled.

Shamefully, every freaking organization which has harped for years about the need for campaign finance reform failed to show and testify. Maybe they were out buying spray cans of Raid.

I quoted my Daily Sparks Tribune colleague in columny Orland T. Outland, another former Common Cause chair who recently said "there's only one issue on the books, and that's campaign financing. Decisions are made before the gavel falls. The average person will be impotent in changing Nevada's tax system as long as major casinos bankroll legislators' campaigns."

It's so bad that Sen. Neal's attempt to repeal casino owner Steve Wynn's art collection tax break [see] now requires a two-thirds vote of each house. This is the result of the 1996 "Tax Restraint Initiative" pushed by Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev.

Supposed to make taxes harder to raise, it's had the reverse effect, making tax loopholes impossible to close. Gambling lobbyists easily engineered an end run by allowing county commissioners to jack up sales taxes for corporate welfare programs like depressing the Union Pacific railroad tracks through downtown Reno.

In Gomorrah South, a huge water pipeline project will be paid for by the great unwashed with not one penny from gaming, which caused the growth necessitating the plumbing.

PASS THE CRACKERS. I now know how chopped liver feels. The news media reported nothing from us peons who testified on behalf of the bill.

The worst offender, as usual, was the Reno Gazette-Journal. Other daily papers around Nevada printed an account of the hearing. The Reno paper chose to ignore the most important campaign finance reform ever proposed in the state.

They did devote barrels of ink to a closed meeting, hosted by the Gazette-Journal, at which casino execs divvied up new room taxes which the industry wants. The paper editorialized glowingly about the corporate huddle, never bothering to disclaim its conflicts of interest. Its publisher sits on Harrah's board of directors and derives a substantial salary therefrom. Harrah's will be a principal beneficiary of the room tax-subsidized programs.

Worse, the Kazoo-Journal still refuses to inform its readers that two Union Pacific executives sit on the board of its corporate parent, Gannett Newspapers. One of them is Reagan-era secretary of transportation Drew Lewis, the man responsible for the railroad track depression project.

MISPLACED HYPHEN. Sparks resident Jerry Watson wrote that even the Gazette-Journal's headline proved misleading. "Casinos Back Room-Tax Hike" should have read "Casinos Back-Room Tax Hike."

ROLL YOUR OWN. Aesop concluded one of his fables with wise advice: If you want something done, do it yourself.

After the hearing, I went downstairs and registered as an unpaid lobbyist for an organization I'm forming called Casinos Out of Politics, or COP. We diehards will show up to support reform for the rest of this legislative session, but my expectations are lower than the morals of an average corporate casino president.

I've been collecting pledges of support for months. A lot of people and organizations must stay in the closet until the legislative session concludes at the end of May. To come out early means risking retaliation by the all-powerful gambling lobby.

Fine by me. That broadly based statewide coalition of tax protestors and progressives is growing. I recruit new troops every day.

Initiative petitions, anyone?

They go great with chopped liver.

ROUND TWO: Senate Bill 88, Sen. Neal's measure to increase the gross gaming tax on the largest, most obscenely profitable casinos, will be heard on Tuesday, March 9, at 2:00 p.m. before the Senate Committee on Taxation in Room 2135 at the legislative building in Carson City. Look for information leading up to the hearing at a new Casinos Out of Politics section coming soon to Breaking news may be posted at any hour at the "bulletins" site of

UNCLE SAM WANTS YOU. The U.S. General Accounting Office is doubly researching our second-favorite vice. Last week, a gentleman named John Baldwin asked me if I knew of "any studies where the overall benefits of gambling have been compared to the overall costs to society from gambling and conclusions were made as to whether gambling is a net benefit or liability?"

If you have any information along that line, please call him at (202) 512-4535 or send him an e-mail.

The GAO has two gambling-related inquiries underway. One is a review of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission requested by newly lame duck Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev. The other, to gauge the impacts of casino gambling, was requested by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., a gaming industry foe.

DARTH VADER AND GOD. After last Wednesday's legislative juice job, Sparks golf course developer and top gun casino lawyer Harvey Whittemore came up to me and Ms. Fladager. He asserted that support for the bill to reduce gaming's influence in politics came from just "you and Joe."

Last year, Sen. Neal and I listened to the Rev. Lewis M. Anthony deliver the Martin Luther King., Jr., Holiday keynote address before the Northern Nevada Black Cultural Awareness Society at John Ascuaga's Nugget.

"The Lord never sends an army. He sends one man. One man to gather an army," Rev. Anthony said.

Dark Harvey should go read his Bible before he underestimates the power of one man and an idea.

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a Reno-based syndicated columnist, a 30-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and was campaign manager for Democratic candidate for Governor, State Senator Joe Neal.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this column were originally published 2/21/99.

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