Nevada's 'Gaming' Industry
From Furtive Looks to Poobahood
-- In Just a Couple of Generations


by Steve Miller
copyright (c) 1997, Electric Nevada

It appeared on our doorstep back in the hard-luck Thirties, a sort of down-at-the-heels vagrant, reeking of stale tobacco smoke and bad booze.
It alternated between apologetically shuffling its feet and furtively glancing back over its shoulder, eastward. But it also made promises -- all kinds of promises -- about 'oh, how well it would behave,' and 'oh, how much money it would raise.'
Money for our kids' education. Money to pay the bills. Money for high culture in the Silver State. Money for all the good things of life.
Free money.
All Nevada had to do, it pleaded, was just give it a chance. Just let it into the house, it said, and we'd see how very very good it could be.
Now, six decades later, the gambling biz no longer stands hat in hand on Nevada's doorstep, seeking approval. Now it stands astride the state, an arrogant behemoth, before which all institutions in the state now ritually bend the knee.
But don't think that the gambling biz has forgotten the Nevada taxpayers to whom they once promised so much. No indeed. The casinos have plans for Nevada taxpayers.
Under a recipe being pushed furtively (some things never change) at the 1997 Legislature, money is now to be routed from the pockets of Nevada taxpayers



into those of the Nevada gambling industry's Grand Poobahs.
The scheme is this: To continue expanding, casinos (and developers) need a guaranteed water supply big enough for their plans. To get that amount of water, they'll need -- and so have prepared -- the Southern Nevada Water Authority's proposed water-treatment and transportation project.
However, at an estimated cost of $1.7 billion, that project -- designed to raise total water delivered to the Las Vegas Valley from Lake Mead to over a billion gallons a day -- would be, experts say, the most expensive water project ever built in the U.S. without federal subsidy. And so casinos are now at the front of a coalition asking the state legislators to raise Clark County sales taxes to help pay for the project.
Of course, the casinos and the developers who have such a vested interest in the water project most likely could finance it themselves, through industrial revenue bonds. But that would mean that they, rather than taxpayers, would run the financial risks of their project. Far more appealing is the other


 
scenario: just suck up the gravy later, after the state's common citizens have been made to provide the capital investment.
Of course there's also, theoretically, the possibility of a little direct democracy: putting the issue before Clark County voters, and letting them decide. The problem with that, of course, is Clark County voters themselves. They don't seem at all eager to finance more urban growth -- growth that promises, while further enriching the gambling-developer Poobah complex, to just degrade most voters' daily quality of life.
A statewide poll released Friday details the resistance. While 69 percent of Nevadans polled favor an increase in taxes on gaming (70% in Clark County), only 35 percent support an increase in the sales tax.




So that's why the gamers and developers stalk the halls of the Ledge in Carson City. They want the pols who've fed at their campaign-contributions trough to make this decision, not the taxpayers themselves.
And even though almost all the legislators have visited the gamers' money trough, the lawmakers, too, can read the tea leaves. None, so far, seem to show any kind of eagerness for either kind of tax hike. The gamer-developers-Southern Nevada-Water-Authority coalition is even having trouble finding anyone to merely introduce its bill.
What the pols are all doing, it seems, is apologetically looking at their feet and furtively glancing over their shoulders.


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