Fold democracy and let casinos rule by memo


Expanded from the 6-6-99 Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune

Everybody knows the dice are loaded.
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed.
Everybody knows the war is over.
Everybody knows the good guys lost.
Everybody knows the fight was fixed.
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich.
That's how it goes. Everybody knows.

---Leonard Cohen

A sane person dropped into an insane asylum will eventually begin to exhibit symptoms of insanity. Like an astronaut's body adapts to weightlessness, our minds adjust to the conditions around us.

Honest people, when dropped into a corrupt and corrosive environment such as the Nevada Legislature, will soon adapt and approach the norm.

That's the best explanation I can muster for many otherwise good folks who sojourn to the Carson City petting zoo every two years.

The record of the recently adjourned legislative session makes a strong argument for letting the gambling industry govern by memo. It would certainly prove cheaper than maintaining the fiction of democracy.

You and I will continue to pay dearly to feed organized gambling's appetites. Casino interests once again facilitated new taxes on everyone else while lowering their own.

Residents of three counties (Clark, Douglas and Washoe) now fork over higher sales taxes just because gambling says so. (See "Stabbing the Taxpayer on the Ides of March.")

Washoe's new room taxes are in the process of being used to put the county into debt to subsidize casinos and Union Pacific Railroad. Homeowners and renters - you and I - act as co-signers. Should cash flow fall short, our property taxes and rents will be raised to make up the difference.

Las Vegas casino billionaire Steve Wynn succeeded in making the tax exemption for his art collection retroactive to 1996. Senate Bill 521 will cost school children millions for years to come. (See "Cash Hemorrhage".)

Here are the names of the stalwart few who dared oppose him: Republican Sens. Ann O'Connell of Las Vegas and Mark Amodei, Carson-Lyon-Storey. Democrats: Las Vegas Sens. Terry Care, Bob Coffin, Dina Titus and Valerie Wiener; Sen. Joe Neal, North Las Vegas. Assembly members: Sharron Angle-R and Sheila Leslie-D, both Reno; Bonnie Parnell-D, Reno-Carson; Morse Arberry, Doug Bache, Chris Giunchigliani and Wendell Williams, all Las Vegas Democrats; John Carpenter, R-Elko; Sandra Tiffany, R-Henderson. Excused: Merle Berman, R-Las Vegas, and Jan Evans, D-Sparks. Ripe tomatoes are in order for all 45 others.

Sen. Neal not only saw his proposal to repeal the Wynn loophole assassinated outright, but his attempt to kill the casino lucky bucks tax break was never even given a hearing. Neal and Senate Minority Leader Titus wanted to disallow the casino license to print money.

Fat chance. Nevada clubs will still be able to deduct from their state taxes the face value of lucky bucks and complimentary chips given to customers.

The mining industry turned similar tricks a decade ago. The late Assemblyman Marvin Sedway, D-Las Vegas, tried several times to extract a fair share of taxes from these largely foreign corporations. They pay almost nothing above the normal cost of doing business and take their profits from our natural resources out of the country.

The industry makes the argument that it creates jobs and that's plenty. But we have been getting peanuts for irreplaceable minerals for well over 100 years. Mines leave pollution and a damaged land which cosmetic repair and pretty TV spots cannot make right. Despite gold prices hovering below $300 per ounce, some Nevada mines produce gold for under $100 an ounce.

Dr. Sedway wanted justice. He lost. The industry got the legislature to call a special election in 1989. Seeing nothing but an unopposed advertising campaign, Nevada voters passed a constitutional amendment granting mining the equivalent of Hollywood accounting - a tax on the net profit if there ever is one.

These guys learn from each other. Steve Wynn will avoid taxes on his art gallery admissions in exactly the same way. There will never be a net. No wonder the state has trouble paying its bills.

Now comes the Nevada State Education Association which recently announced a petition drive to impose a new five percent (before federal taxes) state levy on business profits. Details were sketchy, but Hugh Jackson, editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, pinned them down a few days ago.

Mining, of course, would already be exempt thanks to the 1989 law. Although Nevada's gaming tax is the lowest in the world, the teachers agree with the industry that gambling pays its fair share. NSEA Executive Director Ken Lange admitted that discussions had taken place with gaming lobbyists, but each side denied "officially" consulting with the other.

Lange actually told the Business Press that those who genuinely support economic diversification in Nevada should welcome the prospect of non-gaming businesses taking more responsibility for the state's public needs. Circus Circus VP Mike Sloan, of course, agreed.

The teachers tried a corporate profits tax in 1990 and lost badly at the polls.

I recommend that you read Jackson's story "Profits tax proposal exempts casinos." See also "NSEA, casinos: two of a kind" by Ken Ward in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

DOTSHOTS: Anybody who wants to pass the high school proficiency exam need not worry about preparation. Just wait till they dump the trash at the state printing plant in Carson City and pick up a fresh copy of the test for yourself. Management controls are that lax...Reno Teamsters Union leaders seem increasingly resigned to the likelihood of a Washoe County Citifare bus system strike this Friday night. Management seems intent on provoking a shutdown and turning its customers into hitch-hikers. Perhaps they should turn negotiations over to gambling lobbyists.

Be well. Raise hell.


Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a 30-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and head of Casinos Out of Politics (COP). In 1998 he served as gubernatorial campaign manager for State Senator Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas.
Since 1988 Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune, where an earlier version of this column appeared on 6/6/99.

Read more about it:
Corporate Welfare in Nevada
Legislature '99
Guinn Watch '99: All Guinn, All the Time

Top of the Page

This site created and maintained by The NevadaWeb
We welcome your comments and suggestions.