Governor appoints Culinary Union leader Arguello-Kline to stadium authority after county commissioners passed her over

Geoconda Arguello-Kline in a red shirt

Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Monday he appointed Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Union, to the Las Vegas Stadium Authority Board of Directors after the Clark County Commission chose another candidate instead of her last month. 

The announcement came after the Clark County Commission’s controversial decision to re-appoint Laborers Union Secretary Tommy White to the board on Dec. 17. Both of Nevada’s sitting senators had endorsed Argüello-Kline for the position, and Argüello-Kline described White’s appointment as a missed opportunity for the board, which at the time only included one woman and one person of color.

“We deserve better representation on the Stadium Authority Board. The Clark County Commission let Nevadans down today with their refusal to appoint to the board a qualified candidate who understands hospitality jobs and workforce development,” Argüello-Kline said in a statement released by the Culinary Union after the commission vote.

Commissioners said they chose White, who previously held the seat, because he would bring “consistency” to the board that oversees the under-construction Allegiant Stadium for the Raiders.

There was no mention of the county commissioners’ decision from a couple of weeks ago or Argüello-Kline’s previous nomination for the board in Sisloak’s press release on the appointments. He also noted he was reappointing Steve Hill, the former director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and current chair of the stadium authority, to the board.

“I’m pleased to reappoint Steve Hill as Chair and appoint Geoconda Argüello-Kline to the Stadium Authority,” Sisolak said. “I’m confident that Steve’s steady leadership and expertise, combined with Geo’s deep understanding of Nevada’s service industry and experience in workforce development, will create necessary continuity and dynamic representation on this Board.”

Argüello-Kline will join the nine-seat board after more than 30 years in Las Vegas’ hospitality industry and is replacing former Station Casinos executive Scott Nielson. Terms last four years, and members of the board are appointed by the governor, county commissioners, UNLV and the stadium authority board.

Culinary union boss gets boost from U.S. senators, Reid in push for appointment to stadium authority

Geoconda Arguello-Kline in a red shirt

With less than a week to go before the Clark County Commission votes to fill a soon-to-be-vacant seat on the Las Vegas Stadium Authority, Geoconda Arguello-Kline — secretary-treasurer of the powerful Culinary Union — received weighty endorsements for her own bid for the seat from Nevada’s sitting U.S. senators, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen, as well as a nod from former Sen. Harry Reid. 

In their letter to the commission dated Nov. 21, more than 10 days before Arguello-Kline submitted her application for the appointment, Cortez Masto and Rosen praised Arguello-Kline as “leader in our community when it comes to diversity, inclusion and workers' rights for decades,” touting her experience in the industry as crucial as the newly-named Allegiant Stadium nears completion next year. 

And in his own letter to Commissioner Michael Naft, Reid said much the same, imploring that “we must now look toward the next chapter: the hospitality phase for the stadium.” 

Arguello-Kline filed a last-minute application last Monday for a seat currently held by Laborers Union head Tommy White, whose appointed term to the stadium board expires at the end of the year. The commission opened up those applications to the public in October, and White has since also re-applied for his appointment. 

But Arguello-Kline, who is Hispanic, has been a vocal critic of the board’s diversity, which includes just one member of color and two women, of which one is a non-voting ex-officio member. Speaking to The Nevada Independent following the last of the Culinary Union’s presidential town halls Wednesday, Arguello-Kline made those criticisms once more. 

“I think the board needs diversity,” Arguello-Kline said. “It is very important to have diversity in the group, in the board, and people who have experience in the jobs they are going to need at the stadium.”

With the days ticking down before the commission makes its vote, Arguello-Kline and her supporters have also begun to circulate an ad taking a jab at the board’s lack of diversity, showing a collage of the faces that is almost entirely white. 

White did not immediately return a request for comment. 

During deliberations over the stadium deal in 2016, the Culinary and Laborers Unions stood in stark contrast to each other over the question of public funding. In particular, Culinary took aim at the “billionaires” who would profit from the deal, while the Laborers saw the proposal as an economic boon that would create thousands of construction jobs.  

The Stadium Authority was created in 2016 as part of the state’s expansive legislation establishing the means and methods for an eventual move by the Oakland Raiders football team to Las Vegas, including raising $750 million in funding through a bump in Las Vegas’ room tax.

Though a Raiders subsidiary has spearheaded stadium construction and events management, the Stadium Authority will ultimately retain ownership of the stadium itself in addition to the land on which it sits. 

Comprised of nine members and a tenth non-voting “ex-officio” member, the job of appointing the board is split between the governor, the county commission, the board itself and the president of UNLV. 

Ahead of the next round of appointments this month, five of the nine members will see their terms expire by the end of the year. 

Arguello-Kline Recommendation - Rosen, CCM by Jacob Solis on Scribd

Arguello-Kline Recommendation - Reid by Jacob Solis on Scribd

Water authority would pay $30 million to Raiders under proposed decade-long advertising contract for water conservation

Rendering of football stadium to the left of I-15 in Las Vegas

The Southern Nevada Water Authority is proposing a 10-year marketing deal with the future Las Vegas Raiders that will pay the NFL franchise more than $30 million in tax dollars over the next decade, enabling the agency to use team logos and place advertising in the $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium.

The deal, which is up for approval at the water authority’s board meeting on Thursday, is worth $2.5 million with an automatic annual four percent increase that will see the annual payment top out at about $3.5 million by 2029.

Scott Huntley, a public services senior manager with the authority, said that the marketing contract price was the same for a group of roughly 20 “founding partners” including Caesars Entertainment, Desert Ford Dealers and Cox Communications that have initial advertising rights at the Allegiant Stadium, which is partially funded by $750 million in Las Vegas hotel room taxes. 

Huntley said the Raiders had contacted the water authority’s general manager John Entsminger about potentially advertising in the new stadium earlier this year, and that the two sides have been in contract negotiations since July. 

The proposed contract is a major expansion of the SNWA’s marketing budget with professional sports teams; agency spokesman Bronson Mack said the water authority’s advertising budget with UNLV, minor league baseball team Las Vegas Aviators, Las Vegas Lights FC and the National Hockey League’s Golden Knights is only about $500,000 in total. SNWA’s total advertising campaign for water compliance and conservation is roughly $4.9 million a year, he said.

But Huntley said the proposed advertising contract would reap many positive water conservation benefits for the authority, including an estimated 169 million impressions and would help SNWA target a larger and more diverse audience of Raiders fans than a normal marketing campaign or through partnerships with other sports teams.

“It is a big, big audience and it is an audience that we very much would like to get to,” he said.

The contract gives the water authority wide advertising privileges — focused on water conservation and restriction programs — at the stadium and during NFL games, including the ability to place English and Spanish television ads for games controlled by the Raiders and other ads during other team television and social media programming. 

The contract buys the regional water authority digital and physical advertising spaces on TV, radio, social media and physically at the stadium, including the sponsorship of a two-minute warning, a large sign in the stadium’s main concourse and a “marquee signage package” allowing SNWA material to appear on a team-operated billboard near the stadium on Interstate 15.

On the digital side, the contract affords the SNWA branding and a rotating advertisement on the team’s desktop, tablet and mobile sites (plus the team’s official app) with an entitlement of 1 million impressions a year, plus rights of up to 250,000 15-second pre-roll advertisements on the team’s digital platforms. It also guarantees a full page color advertisements in the team’s gameday magazine.

The water authority would also be designated as the “presenting sponsor” of the team’s final non-nationally televised preseason game. The contract also allows the water authority to have advertising privileges in bathrooms throughout the upper and lower concourse of the stadium; something Huntley said was advantageous given the connection to water in bathrooms and the presence of a “captive audience.”

“We like to use a lot of humor in our advertising and the jokes in bathrooms almost write themselves,” he said.

The contract will also give the authority license to potentially use Raiders players in advertisements — something that SNWA used to great success with Golden Knights fan favorite Ryan Reaves in a television ad with more than 117,000 views on YouTube. Mack said the agency had the “exact intention” to use the Raiders in the same way in future advertising and marketing material.

“We're hit with over 5,000 ads and messages a day as Americans from media, and you only have that 1.3 (to) 1.5 seconds to capture that attention and get that message through and cut through the noise,” he said. “And that's one of the things that Ryan Reeves really helped us do, because those ads are so over the top, and really kind of silly...but those ads are cutting through the noise and they're getting people to stop (and) listen to the message.”

Mack added that the water authority had found in research that in residential homes, the individual most often responsible for setting or changing the sprinkler clock is a male, making sports advertising (and its predominantly male audience) suitable for conservation messaging.

“Utilizing sports and communicating through sports is just a great way for us to reach that target demographic,” he said.

The contract also gives the SNWA the ability to use various designations, including “Official Water Conservation Partner of the Raiders” and “Official Water Conservation Partner of Allegiant Stadium.” 

Additionally, the contract requires the Raiders to annually donate $600,000 for the installation or upgrade of two Clark County School District football fields from grass to synthetic turf. The school district will select which fields to upgrade. The contract allows the Raiders to make “reasonable efforts” to secure NFL grants for similar donations and for the schools to use turf previously used by the Raiders.

That portion of the contract also requires the Raiders to invite a “mutually agreed number” of SNWA Youth Advisory Council for a tour of the stadium, including an appearance by a Raiders executive, a catered meal and a social media post by the team.

The SNWA will also receive some other benefits through the contract, including guaranteed annual appearances by six Raiders alumni, six appearances by at least two Raiderettes and three appearances by the Raider’s mascot. The appearances are limited to an hour, must be in Clark County and specific alumnus and Raiderettes are up to the team’s discretion.

The contract also gives the SNWA an annual $100,000 “Activation Fund” credit, which can be used to purchase stadium tour tickets, rental of the team’s practice facility, advertising inventory and other “mutually agreed inventory.” The water authority is the latest public agency in the state to become financially involved with the Raiders, who agreed to move to Las Vegas after state lawmakers in 2016 approved allocating $750 million in hotel room taxes to fund construction of the stadium.

The city of Henderson gave the football team a $6 million discount on a sale of unused land for the team’s headquarters in early 2018, and NV Energy — the state’s incumbent electric monopoly — reached a deal with the football team in October for a specially designed, discounted electric rate model for stadium operations.

Daniel Rothberg contributed to this story.

Tax the tourists, while you still can

The front of the US Supreme Court Building

Taxing tourists, if you’re a politician, is a win-win. You get the revenue you need to provide the services your constituents demand and, in return, you get to take that revenue from people who will never, ever vote against you. Unlike other taxes, where you have to balance people’s willingness to vote for better funded public services against their unwillingness to pay for them (sorry, Clark County School District), politicians can optimize for revenue maximization. 

Why does the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority collect a 13-13.5 percent tax on hotel stays? Why does Clark County charge similar rates? Simple: who’s going to stop them? Most local voters aren’t staying in local hotels, after all, and on the rare occasion when they do, it’s usually temporary. Consequently, hotel and gaming taxes are two of the most politically popular taxes to raise in Nevada, at least if you talk to voters instead of industry lobbyists. 

There’s just one small problem: What if tourist-targeted taxes are unconstitutional? 

This might sound unlikely at first glance, given how Nevada’s government has been historically funded. If taxing tourists is wrong, Nevada hasn’t been right since at least the Great Depression. However, the Constitution, via the Commerce Clause, implicitly prohibits states from interfering in interstate commerce — meaning, as tempting as it might be (some days) to build a wall on top of the Sierras and make California pay for it, Nevada does not actually have the right to prevent Californians from coming to Nevada to do business, nor vice-versa. Additionally, the Privileges and Immunities Clause prohibits states from applying laws against out-of-state residents that aren’t also applied to in-state residents. 

That is the argument being presented to the U.S. Supreme Court in Saban Rent-A-Car v. Arizona Department of Revenue. Maricopa County, home to America’s favorite presidentially pardoned ex-sheriff (one would think “law and order” conservatives in particular would have little patience for taxpayer-funded lawbreaking, but what do I know), had a problem. Phoenix’s sports facilities were out of date, and, as luck would have it, the Arizona Cardinals were every bit as interested in paying to upgrade them as the Oakland Los Angeles Oakland Las Vegas Paradise Raiders were to upgrade theirs (namely, not at all). Trouble is, taxpayers, at least those outside of Nevada, are getting wiser about the hazards of throwing billions of taxpayer dollars into public stadiums that have shorter shelf lives than most apartment complexes. 

No problem, thought Maricopa County. We won’t tax constituents. We’ll tax tourists instead.

With an assist from the Arizona Legislature, Maricopa County passed a tax on short-term car rentals and hotel stays, two services far more popular with out-of-state tourists than with Phoenix residents. It was, incidentally, wildly successful. By all accounts, at least three-fourths of the revenue collected by the tax collected was from out-of-state visitors. There was much rejoicing

The rejoicing stopped when Saban Rent-A-Car sued the Arizona Department of Revenue. The rejoicing turned to panic when Saban Rent-A-Car won and demanded its money back. The panic turned to muted relief when the Arizona Department of Revenue won its appeal in the Arizona Supreme Court, which brings us to where we are today. 

If the logic of using tourist-focused taxes to pay for stadiums sounds awfully familiar, it should. In a contentious special session in 2016, the rare Republican majority in both houses of the Nevada Legislature decided their last act would be the passage of two tax increases. One of those tax increases was a fairly explicit tourist-targeting tax of hotel room stays within 20 miles of what will soon become Allegiant Stadium. The plan — economically unlikely under the rosiest of predictions — was to attract Raiders fans to Las Vegas, who would then stay in Las Vegas hotels, pay the increased room tax, and thus pay for their favorite team’s stadium. 

As things stand, funding for the stadium is already shaky. Room taxes weren’t as high as originally projected through much of 2018, and, if the numbers improved, surely one of Las Vegas’ newspapers would happily trumpet them as they did during the one month when they exceeded expectations. Additionally, per the state’s agreement with the Raiders, Nevada can’t target Raiders fans for additional tax hikes. If — and, admittedly, this is a big if — the Supreme Court agrees with Saban Rent-A-Car that tourist-targeted taxes violate the Commerce Clause, it will financially capsize Nevada just by way of the billion dollar commitment to the stadium.

As for the rest of our state government’s commitments, now would be a good time to take a good, hard look at how much government we’re willing to pay for ourselves — and how much we’re willing to accept as long as tourists pick up the tab. 

David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at david.colborne@lpnevada.org.

Raiders stadium follies

A photo rendering of the Las Vegas Stadium

by Alan Snel

A lovely little Nevada sideshow to Trump’s national reign via 140 characters has been the Raiders football stadium follies assuming center stage in Las Vegas.

It was a remarkable feat by the casino tycoon of the Mojave -- Nevada’s richest man, Sheldon Adelson -- to politically massage the state Legislature into ratifying a Clark County hotel room tax increase that would generate $750 million in public dollars toward a $1.9 billion domed stadium for the Raiders.

What has been less often reported, if at all, is that the public would have to actually pay closer to $1.45 billion after all the bond repayments -- $750 million at 5 percent over 30 years -- are done. When one factors in the actual sum total of bond payments, $1.9 billion becomes closer to $2.5 billion.   

That astounding little nugget aside, what kind of bizarro stadium deal involves the state’s most powerful player -- in this case, Adelson -- winning a huge jackpot from the public only to bail on the plan to build the palatial sports palace for the Raiders?

I have covered stadium deals in Denver, South Florida, Seattle and Tampa Bay and have tracked others around the country. I’m unaware of any sports facility where the person who triggered the stadium subsidy process and paid for the subsidy lobbying backed out of the deal after the public was on the hook for the dough.

To be sure, I checked with Don Muret, a writer who covers sports facilities for the Sports Business Journal, the trade publication that covers the sports industry from the business side.

He is also unaware of any stadium deal where the person responsible for the approved public contribution just walked away.

Adelson said he dropped out because he was blindsided by the Raiders’ proposed stadium lease that called for the team to rent the publicly-owned stadium for a buck a year while also keeping nearly all the revenues. And When Adelson took his $650 million off the table, it left Raiders owner Mark Davis with the task of refilling that funding vacuum.

A Davis surrogate recently stood before Las Vegas area leaders who serve as the public stadium board and claimed (if there was ever a correct use of this word, it’s here) that investors were practically breaking down the Raiders’ door to offer the $650 million investment.

Who are they? The Raiders representative -- its team president -- didn’t say. His message was something like, you’ll just have to believe us.

Sure.

Welcome to fashioning stadium public policy by throwing spaghetti at the ceiling and hoping it sticks.

The fact that Southern Nevada is going along for this stadium ride runs counter to its longtime legacy of standing up to stadium wheeler dealers -- and there have been a few of those through the past few decades.

The reason was simple. Las Vegas has always been a major league entertainment market and sports have simply been one of those genres. Las Vegas didn’t need a big league sports team to define its identity (though, if a major league team wanted to move to Las Vegas and build its own stadium with its own money, that would be fine by me.)

Ironically, more than the NFL or even the NHL, which has expanded to the Strip, Las Vegas’s most organic big-time sports DNA can be traced to the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels when Tark the Shark was the city’s marquee celebrity three decades ago. They were college basketball’s version of Showtime and the sports team united Las Vegas in a way that few major league teams could.

All these years later, a public stadium handout got traction when Adelson dangled the Oakland Raiders before Gov. Sandoval and his trusty economic development sidekick, Steve Hill.

We’ve seen the Raiders stadium economic numbers. Sports economists picked them apart like Tom Brady carving up the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth quarter of this past Super Bowl.

Hill criticized the nationally-known sports economists rather than cast a skeptical eye toward the claims that a stadium would generate hundreds of millions of new dollars for the local economy. Sadly, I’ve seen this bedazzled look in many eyes in other markets, blinded by the glint of possible major league teams coming to town.

When I covered the business side of sports for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, I could not help but notice that Las Vegas was already a major league sports town -- just of a different type.

Las Vegas didn’t have the NFL, NBA or MLB, but it did have the big leagues of car racing, golf and rodeo visiting on an annual basis. And though not pro sports, there were even college basketball league tournaments. The first weekend of March Madness was like an unofficial holiday on the Strip.

More than anything else, Las Vegas is an event town -- and it has mastered the staging of the One-Off sports event. It could be a professional soccer match or spring training Major League Baseball games or the Los Angeles Kings and Los Angeles Lakers coming to town for pre-season matches.

Just because the public is presently on the hook for $750 million doesn’t mean the Las Vegas stadium is a done deal. The Silver and Black will only move to Las Vegas if a minimum of 24 of the 32 team owners approve the Raiders leaving Oakland for Las Vegas. That vote could happen as early as next month.

Meanwhile, Sandoval, Hill and their NFL-infatuated pals are curious about who will come off the bench to replace Adelson and cough up $650 million for a fancy big-time football playground in Las Vegas. The Raiders claim (that word again!) they will come up with their own $500 million.

If someone actually does step up to stroke a $650 million check, it raises one simple question:

If the Raiders bring $500 million to the table, and a Raiders-loving investor comes up with another $650 million, why doesn’t the team just build a nice open-air football stadium for $1.15 billion in Oakland so southern Nevada can opt to put that $750 million to a better public use?

Alan Snel has covered stadium deals for the Denver Post, South Florida (Fort Lauderdale) Sun-Sentinel, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Tampa Tribune. He worked at the Las Vegas Review-Journal from November 2012 to February 2016 . He now lives in Vero Beach, FL.