Las Vegas Tribune

August 2, 1999

By Steve Miller

MGM opens casino in downtown Detroit with a $50 million gift

Newcomers to Las Vegas have told me that they would be proud to someday have the opportunity to meet the "True Las Vegans," guys like Terri Lanni and Steve Wynn. Guys who have become local celebrities, or at least legends in their own minds. Guys who like to call gambling "gaming." Lanni is the CEO of MGM Grand and Wynn is -- well -- you know what.

New residents are inclined to spend their time and money on the Strip or at local's venues such as Station Casinos located close to their new neighborhoods. Seldom if ever do these folks venture down Fremont Street or frequent a mom and pop owned local restaurant like the now defunct Green Shack. To the new LV resident, everything is rosy!

Recently it has become common place to see the "happy faces" of Lanni and Wynn on the front page of our local papers smiling over the opening of one of their new billion dollar mega-resorts, albeit, not in downtown Las Vegas, or even in Nevada! Pictured with them is usually a gaggle of Las Vegas' most prominent local yokels all somehow looking proud of their heroes (political campaign contributors) for opening casinos that are eventually going to drain parts of Las Vegas dry. The floundering Fremont St. Experience with its' 3.9% decline in "gaming" revenue comes to mind along with downtown Reno. Still, in light of the problems in Nevada's downtowns, there was Jan Jones and a bunch of Nevada's politicians pictured on the front page of the Sun and RJ -- but in Biloxi at the Beau Rivage -- just as though it was a new casino in Glitter Gulch.

To the uninitiated, it would seem that all the local admiration given these "happy faces" over their extra-Nevada expenditures is akin to being awarded the Citizen of the Year Award for doing good deeds to benefit Nevada. Alas, their good deeds are going to eventually have a much more ominous effect on Nevada's downtowns than the smiling moguls depict in their photos taken a long distance from here.

They are betraying the hand that fed them by giving Nevada-made-money to others far away while our downtowns are falling apart.

Local news media has underplayed the fact that Lanni just gave minority owned businesses in downtown Detroit a gift of $50 million, and Wynn is gifting Atlantic City two hundred million for a new tunnel while Las Vegas goes begging for the money to build a light rail system to free congestion on the Oran Gragson Expressway.

Also, it is seldom mentioned that Lanni and Wynn are gleefully willing to pay higher gross gambling taxes elsewhere while Nevada politicians continue threatening higher sales, fuel, and property taxes to fund desperately needed police, schools, parks, roads, etc. The "gamers" sorry excuse for being so cheap in Nevada? That there is less competition in Biloxi, Atlantic City, and Detroit!

The fact is -- they are buying new friends with money made on the backs of Nevadans!

Unless you just hopped off the turnip truck, take a look at the who's-who of Nevada's casino operators up and down the Biloxi Strip who are happily paying Mississippi's 13% tax on casinos.

Maybe the fans should swoon over the "gamers" rushing to build in Atlantic City, a town that enjoys an 8.5% gambling tax. Or they should ask for the autograph of the "stars" of the MGM and Mandolay Bay who are panting in anticipation of paying Michigan's whopping 18% tax on casinos while lavishing their new Detroit "friends" with $50 million dollar gifts! Meanwhile these same "stars" want to raise our gasoline tax to fund a downtown LV stadium to house a private sports team.

And Lanni and Wynn are still the LV newcomer's smiling local "heroes?"

Amazingly the men who should be receiving all of the gratitude for trying to stop this out of control squandering of Nevada's only resource are being scorned in the state they are inadvertently helping. The outspoken men who are yelling from the roof tops across the nation to stop the spread of "gaming" are constantly being slandered and defamed by "gaming's" high paid spinmeisters such as Frank Farenkopf and Al Feldman.

The Rev. Tom Grey and Rep. Frank Wolf are unintentionally the best friends Nevada's downtown's could ask for at a time such as this! Granted, neither man considers "gaming" an innocent form of "family entertainment" such as Farenkopf and Feldman are paid to propagate. In fact, Wolf would rather see all slot machines and other forms of gambling vanish from the face of the earth.

Rev. Grey has been much more academic in his approach to gambling. Tom Grey spends an ample amount of time in Las Vegas as my houseguest studying and getting to know first hand the movers and shakers in our major industry. Surprisingly, Rev. Grey has unilaterally gained the admiration and respect of everyone he has come in contact with on the Strip and Fremont St. Some savvy movers and shakers, though in total secrecy, have even exclaimed that the good Reverend is actually "helping" Nevada by slowing down the spread of competition outside our state.

Smiling Lanni and Wynn are doing just what their stockholders want them to do -- pumping up the bottom line at any expense -- even at the expense of their hometown!

Granted, the MGM, Mandolay Bay, and Bellagio will do OK with the outside competition; maybe even do better with clever promotions at properties in other states that offer packages with their LV affiliates. But what about the older Strip and downtown properties? Properties with no ties to out of state affiliates? This is why I am happy to host Rev. Grey and National Gambling Impact Study Commission Chairwoman Kay James when they visit our city.

As a true Las Vegan, I was thrilled when Chairwoman James stated that a "moratorium" should be placed on new casinos outside Nevada. I immediately realized that I had done just what other true Las Vegans would have wanted me to do when I showed Ms. James and other commissioners the "Las Vegas behind the mirage" while they were here conducting their hearings.

Farenkopf and Feldman tried to sell the idea that I showed the "seedier" side of LV. In fact I showed the Commissioners Scotch 80's, and Rancho Circle before turning east on McWilliams St. They came to their own conclusions about the contribution the casinos have made to improving the quality of life in our local communities over the past 50 years. A picture was worth a thousand words.

Chairwoman James' conclusion was that casinos are a poor corporate neighbor and cannot be depended upon to improve the quality of life in a community. I only drove the van; their conclusions were their own. They only had to look out the windows.

If local "gamers" do not want such conclusions to be drawn about their industry's impact on a town, they should clean up their own back yard before inviting guests. Instead they shoot the messenger.

Sure, the Lanni and Wynn minions will continue trying to slander and defame anyone who speaks against their lust outside Nevada. However, I am the proudest guy in town knowing what it personally feels like to be one of the few loyal Las Vegans.

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman and is the State Coordinator of the Nevada Coalition Against Gambling Expansion. Visit his website at: