Not all Nevada casino operators are on board with changes to ‘Right to Return’ legislation

A division has emerged among Nevada Resort Association members over revisions to legislation that would allow laid-off gaming and tourism workers to return to their jobs. One company vows to oppose the modified bill and even seek a veto from Gov. Steve Sisolak.

In an email sent Wednesday morning to the casino industry trade groups representatives, South Point Casino-Hotel attorney Barry Lieberman said many of the changes in SB386 – referred to as “Right to Return” legislation – were “particularly onerous for non-union smaller nonrestricted licensees.”

Lieberman, a long time Nevada gaming attorney and a close adviser to South Point owner Michael Gaughan, voiced concern over several sections of the revised legislation that was passed out of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Tuesday evening in a split vote. A deal on the bill was reportedly reached between gaming industry representatives and negotiators for Culinary Workers Union Local 226 with less than a week left before the end of the state's 120-day legislative session.

“We voted to oppose SB386 and seek a veto of the bill by the Governor if the bill passed the Senate and the Assembly,” Lieberman wrote.

Lawmakers voted along party lines, 12-9, in the Senate early Wednesday evening, less than 24 hours after the measure passed out of committee. The changes in the bill are apparently backed by some of the casino industry's largest companies, including MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts and Caesars Entertainment — Nevada Resort Association lobbyist Bob Ostrovsky told lawmakers on Tuesday that the association “officially on a majority position is neutral, and we will not support the bill and we will not work against the bill as an association, we are neutral.”

In an interview, Lieberman said the legislation treats “non-union resorts in the same manner” as properties with collective bargaining agreements. Representatives from other casino companies declined comment.

Lieberman termed several amendments to SB368 as “a confusing patchwork of vague, burdensome and non-helpful requirements.” He said the changes force employers “to guess at their peril as to what the bill actually requires them to do.”

He suggested the changes to the bill “impairs” an employer’s right to rehire casino workers who have “superior skills” as opposed to other laid-off workers.

Lieberman said the Nevada legislation’s passage will actually “discourage employers from hiring new employees.” Under the legislation, properties cannot hire a new employee for a position until all the provisions for full-time and part time employees “have been satisfied.”

Four sections in the legislation fail “to draw any distinctions between on-call, part time or full-time employees,” the attorney wrote in analyzing the 20-page document. The new language, Lieberman said, is “ambiguous” in describing the timelines for laid off workers and could be viewed as more favorable to part time employees as opposed to full-time employees.

The section requiring businesses to notify laid-off workers of layoffs “makes no sense.”

In the email, Lieberman said a decision was made by a majority of members of the Resort Association’s executive committee to remain neutral “in exchange for negotiating out of SB386 some of the more onerous provisions.” He said the decision was opposed by South Point.

The Culinary Union, which represents some 60,000 non-gaming workers in Nevada’s hotel-casino industry, has said just 50 percent of the workforce has been hired back since gaming reopened following a 78-day shutdown last year. Labor organization officials said SB386 is needed to ensure its members are able to return to their previous jobs.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rusty McAllister, in a statement, called the legislation a “common-sense measure that is urgently needed to create stability in Nevada’s workforce.”

As part of the agreement between the casinos and the union, revisions will be made to SB4, a bill from the 2020 special session last summer that includes government-imposed health and safety standards meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as expanded liability protections for major casino resorts. The amendment relaxes requirements on cleaning, such as cleaning minibars, headboards and decorative items on beds, and changes directives to clean throughout the day to instead call for cleaning daily.

Bill sponsor and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) credited the Culinary Union, Nevada Resort Association and the governor’s office for working together to arrive at a consensus on the high-profile legislation.

SB386 would allow workers in the gaming and travel sectors a right to return to their jobs. The bill covers those workers laid off after March 12, 2020 and who were employed for at least six months in the year prior to the governor’s first COVID-19 emergency declaration.

The legislation is similar to at least a half-dozen other bills backed by the labor organization in other states. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed legislation last month that requires hospitality and service industry employers to offer new positions to laid off workers. 

This story was updated on May 26 at 8:18 p.m. to reflect that the bill passed out of the Senate.

As Las Vegas' rebound picks up steam, hospitality workers still waiting for callbacks push for "Right to Return" bill

Mario Sandoval was a waiter at Binion's Gambling Hall and Hotel’s steakhouse in downtown Las Vegas for 36 years but has not worked since mid-March of 2020 — when casinos were closed because of the pandemic — along with thousands of Nevadans in the tourism and hotel industry. 

Months passed and several hotels, casinos and restaurants reopened with capacity limits, including Binion’s, but the restaurant where Sandoval worked remained closed.

In January of this year, he received a letter informing him that he had been terminated. Sandoval, who is 53 years old, says he does not have the time or skills to pursue a new career, nor can he retire early.

“What we're seeing is a lot of older workers who are in their 50s or 60s, they just have maybe 10 years to retirement or five years to retirement, and they are really worried that they won't get these jobs now that they're competing with everyone else for the job they had previously,” said Bethany Khan, a spokeswoman for the Culinary Workers Union.

Thanks to his daughter, who lives with Sandoval, he was able to get by during the pandemic. Sandoval said his daughter never stopped working and took on the responsibility of covering household expenses and supporting him.

Although Binion’s has a contract with the Culinary Union, Sandoval fears his former restaurant managers will not call him back, preferring to hire someone new with a lower salary. He not only fears for himself, but also for his colleagues in other hotels and casinos who do not have contracts with the union.

“Companies should not waste time and money trying to hire and train new people when there are people like me with so much experience just waiting for our workplaces to bring us back,” Sandoval told The Nevada Independent. “I should not be replaced or abandoned for a younger worker when I have spent my life working for this company. I should not have to start my career over when I am so close to retiring with dignity.”

Culinary Union officials hope to avoid that competition with SB386, the so-called “Right to Return” bill, which would require companies to offer any employees laid off during the pandemic their jobs back, but negotiations between the resorts and Culinary Union are ongoing.

During the bill's first hearing, opposing testimony from the Las Vegas Chamber, Henderson Chamber of Commerce, Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce, Southwest Airlines, Boyd Gaming Corporation and Caesars Entertainment included objections about a provision they said would cause unnecessary litigation: It would allow workers to bring civil actions against employers who do not comply with the requirements of the bill.

Some opponents of the bill also said that companies have supported their employees through the pandemic and that the measure would hinder efforts to bring back employees because of its “time-consuming” requirements and the potential of distracting management from its rehiring efforts to deal with lawsuits.

A statement from an attorney with South Point Hotel Casino and Spa submitted in opposition said that management continued to pay health insurance premiums after furloughing employees out of a “concern for the employees’ welfare.” 

Mario Sandoval, a Culinary Workers Union member who was a waiter at Binion's Hotel Casino's steakhouse for 36 years, he was furloughed during the pandemic. Bethany Khan/Culinary Workers Union

The proposal

The measure was presented on April 7 by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) and aims to ensure that laid-off hospitality and tourism employees are granted the option to return to their prior positions.

If passed, the law would apply to workers who were laid off after March 12, 2020 and who were employed for at least six months prior to the first COVID-19 emergency declaration issued by Sisolak.

The measure received a waiver so negotiations could continue past legislative deadlines between the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, the Culinary Workers Union and hotel companies.

Khan declined to elaborate on the state of negotiations this week. Asked about the status of negotiations on Thursday, Virginia Valentine of the Nevada Resort Association said her group is carefully watching the bill and having conversations about it.

“It’s a complicated bill with a lot of stakeholders so I wouldn’t expect to hear anything right away,” she told The Nevada Independent

Khan said one of the benefits of the bill for union members would be the right to be recalled from a layoff for up to two years, depending on contracts with the company.

Essentially, employers would be required to reinstate a laid-off employee before hiring someone new for that same position. For example, if a former employee has not worked since March 2020, the employee could return to work at the company until March 2022 — if their employment contract allows for that two-year recall period, Khan said.

Under this protection, union members would be called back to work by seniority, and would keep the same job title, benefits, salary and health care plan.

The risk

Maria Balandrán was a buffet cook assistant for 18 years at Green Valley Ranch Resort in Henderson, a Station Casinos property that does not have a contract with the Culinary Workers Union. 

Balandrán and her fellow employees voted to unionize in 2017, but the company legally challenged the formation of a union. A D.C. Circuit Court denied the company’s final appeal in 2020, but no union contract has yet been established. 

In May 2020, someone told Balandrán to check a Facebook page where the names of people who had been terminated had just been published. And there she saw her name.

Balandrán has no guarantee the resort will hire her again in her same position. As it stands, she will have to reapply for work alongside dozens of people who have lived the same situation and are also looking for work. 

“My daughters depend on me and on what I earn. When they took us out of work I had to ask for unemployment. I had never asked for unemployment, I have always worked,” Balandrán said in Spanish in an interview with The Nevada Independent. “And I had to apply for [Medicaid] for my daughters, and I had to apply for food stamps, things that I had never done. It is the first time that I have had to depend on these benefits in order to support my daughters.”

Since then, Balandrán, who is a single mother of three daughters, has been able to survive and support her family with help from the state and federal government, including unemployment support, food stamps and stimulus checks. 

“Workers like Maria that are terminated and want to go back to work, would have to reapply, reinterview, compete with other workers for her job but she had before. And then be at risk of getting paid $3 to $4 less an hour for the same exact job she was doing for 18 years,” Khan said.

A Station Casinos spokesperson testified in opposition to the measure during the bill’s hearing, saying that the measure would “damage those employers who are still fighting to recover from the pandemic by creating burdensome, time-consuming requirements that complicate and discourage rehiring.”

The spokesperson did not answer The Nevada Independent’s inquiries about the company's rehiring processes — or about former employees finding out about terminations through a Facebook post.

“I know it is difficult because everyone is unemployed, and finding another job again is very difficult. In whatever that is available, the point is that I have to support my family,” said Balandrán. "What I would like is that they give us the right to return, that they pass SB386 so that they give us the right to return to work with our salary, our benefits as we had before ... I hope the politicians pass this law.”

Unemployed casino worker Maria Balandrán stands outside her home in Las Vegas on Friday, April 30, 2021. She has been unemployed since March of 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The reopening

Sandoval is hopeful that when business capacity returns to 100 percent, many of his industry colleagues will be able to return to their jobs. In recent months, some local hotels and casinos have held several job fairs to fill open positions. 

“We know those companies are going to open, and they're going to open soon because June 1 is coming. And they’re supposed to change the [capacity] mandate to 100 percent, and that's when you're going to see money,” Sandoval said. “We're a well-trained staff and ready to go back to work. Don't have to train you, or any of it. We're just ready, and been waiting.” 

A year after Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered nonessential businesses in the state to shut their doors, including hotels and casinos, most have reopened and the number of visitors is increasing.

McCarran International Airport announced that it saw nearly one million more domestic flight passengers in March, a 60 percent increase compared to February. And Nevada casinos made more than $1 billion in gambing winnings last month, the state’s highest monthly gaming win in eight years, according to new data from the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

Starting May 1, Clark County will increase the indoor capacity limit for businesses to 80 percent, outdoor service will have no capacity limit and the social distancing requirement will be reduced to three feet. Buffets, adult entertainment venues and nightclubs can all reopen under these new regulations.

This week Wynn Resorts and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas announced that more than 80 percent of their active workforce has been vaccinated against COVID-19. As a result, the Nevada Gaming Control Board will allow the properties to open their casino floors to 100 percent capacity. 

Valentine said many large casino companies are already doing callbacks “to a large extent.”

“We're bringing people back to work as fast as we can,” she said. “We're confident that we're going to bring as many people as possible, and obviously getting everybody vaccinated will help us a lot with getting fully open. The more people are vaccinated, the more people that are going back to work.”

According to the Culinary Union, 50 percent of the 60,000 members of the Culinary Workers Union have returned to work, but the other half are still waiting.

That figure does not include the hundreds of employees of properties that do not have a contract with the union.

Boyd Gaming told The Nevada Independent that its rehiring process includes first calling past employees to verify that they are interested in returning, but some have decided not to return and so the company has had to hire new team members. David Strow, spokesman for Boyd Gaming also said that as demand increases and business continues to recover, the company will “step up” its hiring efforts. 

When asked about their rehiring process, Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts chose not to answer. MGM Resorts International did not immediately respond to a request for comment.  

Khan said SB386 would guarantee workers are not penalized or abandoned by their employers.

“Our stance is we cannot have a full recovery in Nevada without workers who make the number one industry in Nevada, which is tourism and hospitality,” Khan said. “Workers cannot be cut out or left out of the recovery.”

Third quarter fundraising race tightens in competitive congressional districts as election day nears

Incumbent Democrats no longer universally led the money race in Nevada’s most competitive congressional districts, marking the first quarter this election cycle that a Republican — District 3’s Dan Rodimer — led all fundraising among the state’s congressional hopefuls. 

With no statewide race at the top of the ticket, much of the attention — and therefore campaign dollars — has gone to the state’s two potentially competitive House elections in Southern Nevada. Rodimer topped fundraising efforts among Nevada’s House candidates with more than $1.4 million raised, while District 3 incumbent Susie Lee trailed with roughly $1 million raised.

In District 4, seen as marginally less competitive than District 3 because of voter registration figures favoring Democrats, incumbent Democrat Steven Horsford maintained a comfortable lead in the money race as he brought in roughly $680,000 to Republican Jim Marchant’s $492,000. 

Below is a breakdown of campaign fundraising and expenditure reports in each of Nevada’s four congressional districts, with districts ordered from greatest cumulative fundraising to least. 


DISTRICT 3

Susie Lee - Democrat (incumbent)

  • Q3 receipts: $1,005,787
  • Q3 spending: $2,501,619
  • Cash on hand: $924,353

Locked in likely the most competitive race in Nevada this election cycle, Lee dipped deep into her campaign warchest this quarter in spending more than $2.5 million over just the last three months — roughly $363,000 more than she spent in the same time period in 2018. 

A vast majority of that spending went to advertising, including three payments totaling more than $2 million to Virginia-based Screen Strategies Media. Two of those payments, one of $500,000 and another of $1.16 million, came on Sept. 11, not long before Lee launched a major ad campaign targeting Rodimer on his run-ins with police. 

Lee’s contributions, meanwhile, came primarily from individual donors ($623,173), with the rest coming from a number of PACs ($201,427) and committee transfers ($176,471). Most contributions were below federal maximum contribution limits, though Lee did see maximum $5,000 PAC donations from Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s PAC, All for Our Country Leadership, the American Resort Development Association, Barrick Gold, Cox Communications and Culinary Union-parent UNITE Here, among others. 

Dan Rodimer - Republican

  • Q3 receipts: $1,412,578
  • Q3 spending: $946,308
  • Cash on hand: $719,485

Rodimer’s campaign reported a massive gain in campaign contributions last quarter, raising roughly seven times as much as it did in the second quarter during the heat of District 3’s Republican primary. Rodimer’s $1.4 million in banked contributions also puts it among the largest single-quarter hauls in the district’s history, topping the $1.38 million Lee managed to raise during the third quarter of her well-financed bid in 2018. 

Still, with less cash on hand entering the quarter, Rodimer’s campaign lagged Lee in spending and enters the final weeks of the campaign with a roughly $200,000 cash on hand deficit. 

Like Lee, most of Rodimer’s largest expenditures went to advertising, including two payments totaling $157,000 to the Maryland firm OnMessage Inc. Rodimer also spent big on campaign consulting, including $432,000 on ads and fundraising consulting services from Las Vegas-based Top AD Consulting LLC. 

A large majority of Rodimer’s fundraising ($1.23 million) came in the form of individual contributions, including $699,000 in itemized contributions and $532,000 in unitemized contributions. An additional $76,800 in PAC contributions and $103,000 in committee pushed Rodimer’s total fundraising on the quarter to more than $1.4 million.

Like Lee, many of Rodimer’s individual contributions came through online fundraising, this time through the Republican platform WinRed. He also saw maximum $5,000 PAC contributions from groups linked to current and former GOP elected officials, including South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, ex-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Rodimer also saw a $68,000 windfall from a joint-fundraising transfer from the Cruz 20 for 20 Victory Fund, a group linked to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.  

DISTRICT 4

Steven Horsford - Democrat (incumbent)

  • Q3 receipts: $692,759
  • Q3 spending: $704,709
  • Cash on hand: $1,557,543

Running for a second consecutive term and third overall term for District 4, Horsford dipped slightly into his campaign reserves last quarter with about $12,000 more spent than earned. 

Horsford’s single largest expense, like most candidates, came in the form of advertising. The Horsford campaign spent $406,214 on just one advertising firm, Sage Media Planning & Placement, including a $333,000 payment made one day before launching a TV ad campaign touting his work on pandemic relief. 

Horsford’s fundraising was roughly evenly split between individual and PAC contributions, with $329,000 raised from individuals and $304,000 from PACs. It marks the first quarter this cycle in which a majority of Horsford’s fundraising came through individuals, though he still saw maximum $5,000 PAC donations from groups linked to Sen. Cortez Masto, the American Resort Development Association, South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the Communications Workers of America and Cox Communications, among others.

Jim Marchant - Republican

  • Q3 receipts: $492,641
  • Q3 spending: $406,559
  • Cash on hand: $228,018

Though he lagged behind Horsford’s fundraising for another quarter, former one-term Assemblyman Marchant still more than doubled contributions from the second quarter, when he raised just $187,000. 

With $382,000 in individual contributions, $35,000 from PACs and $74,000 from committee transfers, Marchant’s biggest single contributions came largely through current and former Republican politicians, including a $62,250 joint committee transfer from the Cruz 20 for 20 Victory Fund. 

Marchant also received maximum PAC contributions from the Gun Owners of America (and an additional $1,000 from the National Rifle Association) and the Conservative Leadership PAC, a group that bills itself as targeting “the millennial generation for conservative candidates.”

Marchant’s biggest expense was the nearly $241,000 spent on media placement through the consulting firm McShane LLC, which received more than $308,000 from Marchant during the quarter — about two-thirds of the candidate’s spending. 

DISTRICT 2

Mark Amodei - Republican (incumbent)

  • Q3 receipts: $297,676
  • Q3 spending: $168,173
  • Cash on hand: $395,808

Amodei’s contributions include several donations from Nevada casino owners, including a combined $11,200 from four members of the Stations Casino-owning Fertitta family, and $2,800 from South Point owner Michael Gaughan. The congressman also banked $79,300 from a number of PACs, including $5,000 each from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, Barrick Gold and NV Energy.

Much of Amodei’s spending in the third quarter fell to a handful of advertising campaigns. Of note, the campaign paid nearly $43,000 to Reno-based Lamar Advertising Company, with roughly another $32,000 spent on a radio advertising campaign from Carson City-based Wyman & Associates. 

Patricia Ackerman - Democrat

  • Q3 receipts: $238,304
  • Q3 spending: $172,507
  • Cash on hand: $101,391

Mounting a longshot bid to unseat Amodei in deep-red District 2, Ackerman has raised an uncharacteristically high amount for a Democratic bid in the mostly-rural district through the third quarter. 

With nearly $240,000 raised last quarter alone and more than $101,000 left in the warchest through the final weeks of the election, Ackerman’s cumulative fundraising of more than $338,000 more than doubles the roughly-$162,000 raised by Democrat Clint Koble during his District 2 challenge in 2018

Nearly all of Ackerman’s fundraising came through small-dollar individual contributions made through the Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue, though she also received $2,500 from Reno-area Assemblywoman Sarah Peters and $1,000 from a PAC linked to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. 

Much of Ackerman’s spending went to consulting and advertising costs. That includes nearly $49,000 spent on advertising through California-based Pantograph Labs, which bills itself in part as a “boutique progressive digital firm.” 

DISTRICT 1

Dina Titus - Democrat (incumbent)

  • Q3 receipts: $121,928
  • Q3 spending: $53,716
  • Cash on hand: $394,646

Running for a fifth term in the bluest congressional district in the state, incumbent Democrat Dina Titus reported raising roughly $122,000 in the third quarter, roughly tripling the $42,000 she raised through the quarter prior.

A majority of that money, $72,325, came through PAC contributions, while the remaining $49,603 came through individual donations. Titus’ largest donors included the Coeur Mining company, the national REALTORS PAC, the Service Employees International Union, the Transportation Workers Union and the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union, all of which gave the maximum $5,000.  

Running against a little-known Republican challenger, Joyce Bentley, in a rematch of 2018, Titus reported spending just under $54,000. Of that, the single largest payments went to consulting, including more than $12,000 to Maryland-based Kalik & Associates and another $4,500 to Washington, D.C.-based Next Level Partners. 

Joyce Bentley - Republican

As of Friday morning, Bentley had not filed a contributions and expenditures report with the FEC or such a report was not yet available through the FEC website.

This story will be updated as those documents become available.

Election Preview: Democrats largely lead in funding for seats on the state’s most powerful board

Clark County Government Center

Nevada’s most powerful local government body has been faced with major challenges this year, including a budget slashed as a result of a pandemic-induced economic downturn and the pressure of helping to reopen the economy in the state’s most populous county.

Ten candidates are entering the final weeks of their campaigns for the Clark County Commission, campaigns begun months before COVID-19 was on their radar. Democrats are dramatically outpacing their challengers in funding for three of these spots while a fourth is host to a high-dollar contest between two high profile politicians.

Of the commission’s seven seats, four are being contested this cycle, including those of the commission’s chair, Marilyn Kirkpatrick, in District B and incumbent Michael Naft, who’s raised more than $1 million since his 2019 appointment to the board, in District A. 

Crowded Democratic primaries in Districts C and D have whittled the field to two high profile nominees. In District C, Democrat and former Secretary of State Ross Miller is taking on Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony, a Republican challenger in a district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, but neither party holds a majority.

District D sees Democratic Party Chair William McCurdy II take on three nonpartisan opponents, with former Las Vegas fire chief David Washington putting up the strongest fight. McCurdy has been heavily endorsed and financially backed by commission members in the only up-for-grabs district with a Democratic majority of registered voters.

Commission members earn $86,000 per year, far more for their positions than state legislators make for their part time work, and whoever wins a seat on this board will oversee three quarters of the state’s population and one of its most famous and lucrative assets — the Las Vegas Strip.

District C

District C, which incorporates the northwest portion of the Las Vegas Valley, is host to a high-spending faceoff between Republican Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony and the former secretary of state, Democrat Ross Miller.

Democrats make up 38 percent of registered voters in District C while Republicans make up 32 percent and nonpartisans account for 23. Democrat Larry Brown, who currently holds the seat, has reached his term limit after serving on the board since 2009. 

Anthony, who was recently appointed mayor pro tem for the City of Las Vegas, is fighting to overcome Democrat’s slight registration lead and take the seat back for his party. The city councilman ran unopposed in June’s primary election while Miller won a six-Democrat race for the nomination with 38 percent of the vote.

Miller has been critical of his Republican opponent, condemning him on Twitter for statements Anthony made about holding “violent rioters” in Jean prison following Black Lives Matter protests in June and referring to the councilman as a “Trump crony.”

“I think there’s two issues that, in my mind, people care about,” Miller said during an interview with The Nevada Independent. “One is how to put the economy back on track and the other is making sure we keep people safe, both in terms of public health and also public safety. In both of those areas, I’ve got a lot of experience.”

Clark County Commission candidate Ross Miller.

When asked about his experience with economic issues and how he’d handle budget shortages in the county, Miller, the son of former Gov. Bob Miller, referenced his time serving on the Board of Economic Development under former Gov. Brian Sandoval as well as his two-term tenure as secretary of state during the last economic recession.

“My agency implemented deeper cuts than perhaps any other… and there weren’t easy answers,” he said. “We had to cut in all areas. I would imagine that the county process will be very similar.”

One department he believes should be prioritized when it comes to funding, Miller says, is the Las Vegas Metro Police Department. The Clark County Commission along with the Las Vegas City Council determines the budget of the LVMPD, and the county contributes 64 percent of its funding.

Miller shares this viewpoint with his opponent. Anthony, a retired police captain who worked with Metro for 29 years.

Clark County Commission candidate Stavros Anthony.

“My priority is to make sure that Metro is funded appropriately,” Anthony said. “That we have the best paid and the best equipped and the best trained police officers in the country and that we have code enforcement officers that are out there making sure that we have great neighborhoods.”

Although both candidates say public safety funding is vital to helping District C recover from the economic devastation of COVID-19, they have different priorities when it comes to helping the region become more economically resilient moving forward.

Anthony said that his priority, first and foremost, is opening businesses and getting people back to work. He intends to focus on reducing regulations, taxes, and licensing fees in order to help current businesses grow and encourage new businesses to open.

“Once people get back to work then they can start taking care of their families and they can start paying their tax bills,” he said, going on to emphasize that government mandates “have to start opening up” to allow people to get back to work. At the moment in the county, restaurants, stores, and event venues still have capacity limits in place to ensure social distancing.

“I think if businesses want their customers to wear a mask in their business, customers are going to want to wear a mask,” Anthony said.

Miller indicated that his approach may be more cautious, deferring to state guidance that he believes will ensure businesses “reopen safely,” while still acknowledging the need to reopen the economy for workers.

“I think it’s critical both to expand as safely as possible and try to reopen our economy,” he said.

According to Miller, the county needs to set its sights on long-term solutions that will ensure economic diversity and prevent losses in gaming from devastating the region.

“We can potentially move much more aggressively towards the development of many other target sectors,” Miller said. “Beyond gaming, where we’ve suffered so many layoffs.”

Both candidates have reported large contributions and high spending in the second quarter of the year. Anthony’s spending began even earlier: the candidate reported more than $200,000 in spending heading into the primary — even though he was running unopposed.

In the second quarter, Anthony reported $45,700 in contributions including major donations from NV Energy, developer Touchstone Living, which regularly presents development projects to the planning commission, and philanthropist Kris Engelstad McGarry, trustee of the Engelstad Family Foundation. He spent more than $63,000 on consulting and advertising in the same quarter and reported a cash on hand balance of nearly $212,000.

Miller has also seen large donations from developers, including $5,000 from Brass Cap Development, which recently began construction on a new industrial space located near Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, a project approved by the commission. Both candidates also received $5,000 donations from South Point. Miller received financial support from the Southern Nevada Building Trades Union’s PAC. The union also endorsed Miller in the race.

Additionally, Miller received a $5,000 donation from the campaign of the commission’s District F incumbent, Justin Jones.

Miller’s campaign reported $89,741 in spending, more than $74,000 of which went to Consili, Inc., a Democratic campaign management agency based in Las Vegas and run by political consultant Jim Ferrence. At the end of quarter two, Miller’s cash on hand balance was $3,640.

District D

In the heavily Democratic District D, which includes portions of North Las Vegas as well as downtown Las Vegas’ Fremont Street, Assemblyman and Nevada Democratic Party Chairman William McCurdy II is hoping to transition from Legislature to the County Commission. 

He faces three nonpartisan challengers on his quest, including a former Las Vegas fire chief with a history of community involvement, David Washington. Henry Thorns and Stanley Washington are also campaigning for the seat without a party affiliation.

McCurdy, who has represented District 6 in the Nevada Assembly since 2017, says that he sees “untapped potential” in Clark County’s District D.

Clark County Commission candidate William McCurdy II.

“I’m passionate about my district. I’ve been here my entire life as well in residence, and my family, it’s where my family has been since the early 40s,” McCurdy said. “I believe that we haven’t achieved our truest potential in terms of economic development or economic investment, and I believe that we can do a better job in terms of the social infrastructure.”

McCurdy pointed to long-term economic development focused on highlighting the district’s culture and ethnic diversity, expanding workforce development in order to help the area’s homeless population on their path to self-sufficiency, and improving resources for seniors in the region as some of his major goals if he’s elected.

While the pandemic has not changed those goals for him, he says it has changed his timeline, as his short-term focus is on providing his constituents with resources to help with the health and economic impacts of the virus. He says that his experience in the Legislature during the first several months of this crisis will position him perfectly to do this.

“My legislative experience will help me to be able to perform and be ready to go, day one,” he said. “COVID has greatly altered the way that I would have been going in, but having an ability to deal with that at a legislative level, work really closely with lawmakers who are helping us get the resources that we need from the federal level, will perfectly position me to be the greatest advocate that I can.”

McCurdy reported more than $88,000 in contributions in the second quarter of the year, including a $10,000 donation from the campaign of District A incumbent Naft.

Naft isn’t the only commission incumbent to show financial support for the assemblyman, who also received a $5,000 donation from District F incumbent Jones. McCurdy also received a $10,000 donation from the Southern Nevada Stronger PAC, which lists Jones as its main contact. The campaign also reported donations in the second quarter from Eva Segerblom and Carl Segerblom, two children of District E incumbent Tick Segerblom.

McCurdy’s campaign has spent $80,714 during this same period on office expenses, consulting and advertising fees, and special event costs. More than $10,000 in expenses were reported by the campaign for Consili, Inc., the same agency utilized by both Miller and Naft.

While Thorns and Stanley Washington have reported no contributions, spending, or cash on hand in either of the year’s first two quarters, David Washington has had a more financially active campaign.

Washington reported $6,915 in donations to the campaign last quarter and spent $6,751 in the same period. The majority of his spending went towards advertising expenses and a special event held in June at Chili’s Grill and Bar in Las Vegas. The candidate’s campaign reported a cash on hand balance of $11,841 at the end of June.

Clark County Commission candidate David Washington.

David Washington is a member of the Clark County Economic Opportunity Board, which administers Economic Opportunity Act funding to create programs and provide resources with the goal of helping low-income families achieve self-sufficiency. In an email to The Nevada Independent, David Washington said he is running for the position because of his experience in public safety as a fire chief.

“I have 29 years experience in a leadership role where I was responsible for budgets and staff supervision. Eight years, I served at the senior staff level. My last six years, I served as fire chief for the City of Las Vegas with a $100 million dollar budget,” Washington said. 

He also cited his time on the Governor’s Commission on Homeland Security. The fire chief of each county in the state with a population above 100,000 has a seat on the commission, and Washington fulfilled that role during his time with the department.

If elected to the commission, Washington says, he would attempt to help the county recover economically by continuing policies such as the county’s decision to suspend labor contracts in April, a decision that Washington praised. When asked about his budget priorities, he referred to public safety as a “big expense to any government agency” but said he would need to review all department’s budgets before deciding what to preserve and what to cut.

While McCurdy said he didn’t feel comfortable citing specific budget priorities, his views on how to better position the county to be more resilient in the future focus less on economics and more on social services. The candidate referenced better equipping food distribution sites as well as expanding programs to help those in danger of and struggling with homelessness as essential to creating a more resilient region.

“There were some people who were already one paycheck shy of losing it all,” the Democratic candidate said. “So, what kind of services can we provide him and what kind of emergency funds do we have put up that we can work with our community stakeholders and partners to capture those folks before they lose their home?”

The District D seat is held by the commission’s vice chairman, Lawrence Weekly, who has reached his term limit this year. It is the only district with a contested seat this cycle with a Democratic majority, with Democrats making up 50 percent of active registered voters while nonpartisans come in second with 25 percent and Republicans trail at 13 percent.

Neither Henry Thorns nor Stanley Washington responded to attempts to reach them for interviews for this story.

District A

In District A in the south of the county, incumbent Michael Naft is defending his seat against Republican challenger Michael Thomas, spending more than any other candidate for the board in an effort to preserve what he calls his role as his “neighbor’s representative.”

“I believe it is my responsibility to help make Clark County more accessible and user-friendly, and have been devoted to providing the services people need,” Naft said in an email to The Nevada Independent.

Clark County Commission candidate Michael Naft.

Naft, who was appointed to his seat in 2019 by Gov. Steve Sisolak, faced one opponent in the Democratic primary whom he defeated, garnering 74 percent of the vote. Democrats make up 39 percent of active registered voters in his district while Republicans make up 31 percent and nonpartisans account for 25 percent.

Naft has been spending heavily throughout his campaign, reporting more than $343,000 in expenses since January, including more than $194,000 in quarter two alone. His spending has been on a variety of things such as events at local businesses, consulting fees with multiple campaign strategy agencies both local and national, and contributions to other Democratic campaigns, including District D candidate William McCurdy.

Naft also saw many large donations during the second quarter, reporting $107,000 in contributions, the most of any commission candidate. He’s received major donations from NV Energy, the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Henderson Chamber of Commerce and the Nevada Service Employees Union.

The incumbent has also been endorsed by the Culinary Union, the Las Vegas Police Protective Association and the Nevada Conservation League, among others. His reported cash on hand balance is $754,279.

Naft says that serving on the commission during the COVID-19 pandemic has changed “everything” about his priorities for the county.

“I have responded to this health crisis with a two-pronged approach … We have focused on managing health and wellness as a means to mitigate the economic impact,” he said. “I have advocated for utilizing a portion of our federal allocation of CARES Act dollars to help our local small business community.  By awarding grants to local businesses we have been able to support the people they employ and the businesses they work with.”

Naft’s opponent, Michael Thomas, a retired police officer, has reported no contributions, spending, or cash on hand in either quarter this year. Thomas ran for the District A seat against then-incumbent Sisolak in 2016 as well, receiving 43 percent of the vote.

Thomas did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.

District B

Democratic Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick is running a re-election campaign in northern Clark County’s District B against two opponents, Independent Warren Markowitz and Republican Kevin Williams.

Kirkpatrick has served on the commission since 2015 and was voted in as chair in 2019. Although the short-term needs of the county have changed in the past several months, Kirkpatrick says the pandemic has not changed her long-term priorities for the region.

Clark County Commission candidate Marilyn Kirkpatrick.

“We have to continue to move forward … There [are] some things that I might have to push aside for a little bit,” she said. “I wouldn’t say that it has impacted our priorities. More so, probably, highlighted the need for the priority.”

Kirkpatrick was the only candidate for the seat to report contributions and spending during the first two quarters of the year. She has held the seat since 2015 and previously served as a Nevada assemblywoman. She has received major endorsements from Nevada state AFL-CIO, the Culinary Union, and the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, among others.

The chair listed public safety and the police department as one of her top two priorities when it comes to funding in the county. Her second major priority, she says, is social services, including programs addressing homelessness and truancy that she has spearheaded during her time on the board. The county provides social services throughout the region, for every city in the county in addition to unincorporated areas.

“We also have a huge responsibility to ensure social services needs are met,” she said. “And we are really the safety net for many, many constituents out there, regardless of what entity they live in.”

During quarter two, Kirkpatrick reported $31,850 in contributions including a $1,500 donation from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. 

The candidate also received $30,000 in the first two quarters from six companies that are all registered with the same Republic Services address in Las Vegas. The waste management company has a franchise agreement with the county and with the City of Las Vegas and operates the region’s landfill.

Kirkpatrick said that she does not think any companies have “tried” to give over the contribution limit and that the Republic Services contract with the county was in place “long before” she started on the commission. The company’s current agreement with the county was put in place in 1999 and extends through 2035.

“I don’t look at my campaign contributions, and, in that respect, it doesn’t get anybody any more than my constituents,” she said.

The chair has spent more than $78,000 this quarter on a variety of expenses related to special events, office supplies and consulting. She reported nearly $16,000 in expenses paid to Accretive Consulting, a firm based in Las Vegas and owned by Kami Dempsey-Goudie. Her cash on hand balance at the end of June was $289,520.

Similar to District A, Democrats make up a plurality but not a majority of voters in District B. Active registered voters in the region are 40 percent Democrat, 31 percent Republican and 23 percent nonpartisan. Additionally, 4 percent of voters in the district are registered with the Independent American Party.

Markowitz, a member of the Independent American Party, is a Las Vegas attorney and founder of the Markowitz Law Firm. The candidate says that he’s running to “return the county and it’s government back to the electorate without playing favorites.”

Clark County Commission candidate Warren Ross Markowitz.

One of the candidate’s major priorities is reopening the county, both by allowing businesses to resume operations at full capacity and opening schools in the Clark County School District, which are currently employing an online learning model.

“I would advance the concept of reversing the quarantine of the healthy, to that of the sick by moving to open businesses to their full capacity, removing feel good ideas that have little or no benefit, and getting schools back open,” he said in an email to The Nevada Independent.

The commission has oversight of business operations and can set stricter standards than the state but has to abide by minimum statewide standards that set capacity limits. The board also does not make decisions about school policies in the region; those decisions are made by the board of trustees.

Markowitz has run for a variety of seats in the past, including unsuccessful campaigns for state Senate, state controller, Clark County School Board trustee and the District B seat on the commission in 2012.

Republican candidate Williams, the facility director for Boyd Gaming, also ran for the seat against Kirkpatrick in 2016, receiving 42 percent of the vote. While he didn’t report any contributions or spending during the first two quarters of the year, his quarter three report shows $250 in contributions and $34 in expenses, leaving the candidate with a cash on hand balance of $148 at the end of September.

Williams did not respond to requests for interviews for this story.

This story was updated on October 14, 2020, at 12:05 p.m. to include comments from District B candidate Warren Ross Markowitz.

Sisolak calls for state office closures, limits on large gatherings to slow ‘rapid spread’ of coronavirus

Steve Sisolak at press conference

Gov. Steve Sisolak said that while a testing kit shortage makes it impossible to tell how much coronavirus has affected Nevada, the pace of the virus’ spread around the world means Nevada must “act quickly” to slow it — including taking drastic measures such as shutting state offices, limiting the size of gatherings and encouraging employees to work from home if possible.

In his second press conference of the day on Sunday evening, the governor asked local governments to enforce a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guideline that all events with attendance above 50 be canceled or postponed for the next eight weeks. And he gave a pointed call to students to take seriously his announcement earlier in the day that school statewide would be canceled for at least the next three weeks.

“This is not an extended spring break. We are closing our schools for your safety, and for the safety of your families and neighbors. This needs to be taken seriously,” he said, urging young people not to ignore the situation because they’re healthy. “What you do over the next few weeks will directly impact your family’s health. I’m counting on you to step in and step up, and show the rest of Nevada what you’re made of.”

He also referenced the 2017 mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip and called on Nevadans to rise to the occasion and help their neighbors as they did then.

“After the tragedy of 1 October, the citizens of this state showed the nation what it meant to stand together, to unite against all odds, and put our neighbors before ourselves,” he said. “Tonight I’m asking my fellow Nevadans to do it with more commitment and more compassion than [ever before].”

While some resort companies have voluntarily announced full closures, Sisolak listed a number of specific sanitation steps casinos must take if they decide to remain open. But he stopped short of directing all restaurants and bars to close — a measure that some states including California have taken.

“We’ve got … social distancing policies in place. We will continue to analyze this on a day-by-day basis, and multiple times during the day,” Sisolak said. 

In addition to an expansion of paid administrative leave for state employees during the current state of emergency, he directed agency leaders to decide whether full office closures or remote work would be most appropriate. Sisolak also announced a hiring freeze within state government and encouraged agencies to limit spending to “essential emergency purchases.”

He said he was directing leaders of essential service agencies including the DMV, Medicaid, welfare, unemployment insurance and others to wind down in-person public services and transition as much of that work to online or phone services.

Sisolak also addressed concerns regarding the state supply of test kits for COVID-19. As of Friday, health officials in Southern Nevada said they had conducted a little over 200 tests and had supplies to conduct about 1,000 more.

“We have not been provided the sufficient number of test kits to meet demand for our state,” Sisolak said. “As a result, we don't know the full extent of what we're dealing with. But based on the rapid spread of the virus around the world and what we've already seen in Nevada, we know that we must act quickly — very quickly.”

Sisolak said he is in daily contact with the office of Vice President Mike Pence, who is spearheading the federal COVID-19 response, and has been “clear as humanly possible” about the short supply. He said Nevada’s federal delegation is working to obtain more kits.

Sisolak’s remarks came shortly after some of the state’s largest casino properties, including MGM and Wynn Resorts, announced temporary or indefinite closures. The governor didn’t call for others to follow suit but said “we're analyzing this and gathering more information” on a constant basis.

Still, he went on to describe some conditions casinos staying open must comply with in the meantime, such as no more than three chairs at table games and the cleaning and sanitizing of gaming machines every two hours. Additionally, any buffets that remain open must have employees serving food, and casino floors are expected to be in compliance with “the latest social gathering distancing,” he said.

Asked about what the state might be doing to help furloughed or laid-off workers at the casinos, Sisolak noted that “we have a healthy unemployment fund. Right now we’re in relatively good shape, not forever.”

Casinos have been “extremely cooperative” in trying to provide compensation for their workers for a period of time during business closures, Sisolak said, and Nevada is working with members of the congressional delegation to get some financial relief from the federal government.

Sisolak pointed out that some companies already are rising to the occasion — noting that Boyd Gaming, Station Casinos and the South Point Hotel and Casino have agreed to work with authorities on food distribution for students and their families. More details about meal services for students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will be released by local school districts, he said.

“Rest assured, our children who rely on these programs will not go hungry during closure,” Sisolak said.

He said the state will “undoubtedly face hardships” including inconvenience and loss of incomes, but “I ask every Nevadan to call your neighbors, call and check on the elderly who may be alone and may be in need.”

The gist of his remarks was about maintaining the health and safety of Nevada residents. When asked about the possibility of calling a special session to deal with the fallout, Sisolak said that would be evaluated moving forward.

“We'll deal with the monetary situation in the future,” he said.

Sisolak declined to directly address fears that Nevada hospitals are unprepared for an influx of sick patients, encouraging the public to “deal with facts, not rumor and innuendo.”

“I’m going to tell you the truth as I know it. I’m going to tell you the facts as I know them,” he said. “I want to be totally candid with our citizens. I believe that they can handle the truth.”

Sisolak campaign raises $1.6 million in 2019, has $2.3 million in cash more than three years before next election

Gov. Steve Sisolak raised more than $1.6 million and substantially padded his campaign war chest during the first year of his term, giving the state’s first Democratic governor in 20 years a significant financial advantage ahead of an expected re-election campaign in 2022.

Sisolak’s Contributions and Expenses report was released on Wednesday and shows the governor’s campaign spent $164,000 throughout the year while pushing his cash on hand total to more than $2.3 million. The report covers all contributions and expenses in 2019.

Almost all of the funds raised came after the close of the 120-day legislative session, owing to a state law that prohibits the governor, lieutenant governor and members of the Legislature from accepting campaign contributions during and immediately before and after the body is in session.

“That level of support shows a wide cross-section of Nevadans appreciate that the Governor fought for better schools, great jobs and affordable, accessible healthcare,” Sisolak finance director Eva Black said in a statement. “People are responding in unprecedented fashion to the governor’s agenda of enhanced opportunity for all Nevadans.”

In addition to his campaign account, two political action committees affiliated with Sisolak reported raising another $1.7 million throughout 2019. The Sisolak Inaugural Committee, which funded inauguration events for the new governor, raised more than $1.5 million throughout the year, and the Homes Means Nevada PAC (which has run ads supporting the governor on TV and online) raised another $947,000 (which includes a $686,000 transfer from the inaugural PAC).

Sisolak’s total contributions tops the figures reported by Nevada’s past governors over the first year of their term; former Gov. Jim Gibbons reported raising $110,200 after his first year in office, and former Gov. Brian Sandoval’s campaign raised nearly $673,000 during his first year.

It also highlights the wide variety of business and other interests that have sought to influence or win favor with the state’s new governor, including casino companies, mining corporations, developers, Las Vegas-based businesses and labor unions. Most of the donations came from big-money donors; only $1,458 was raised by individuals giving $100 or less, while the campaign received 81 contributions of $10,000, the largest allowable amount.

The largest individual source of contributions came from Las Vegas contractor and developer Steve Menzies, who directly and through nine affiliated business entities contributed $100,000 to Sisolak’s campaign. He also received maximum contributions from a pair of donors mostly linked to Republican political efforts; South Point casino owner Michael Gaughan and Treasure Island Casino owner Phil Ruffin, a business partner with President Donald Trump.

Notable individuals who gave maximum contributions to Sisolak’s campaign include former Diamond Resorts CEO and Democratic Party megadonor Stephen Cloobeck, former Congressman and lobbyist Jon Porter, longtime Sisolak confidant and lobbyist Jay Brown, prominent criminal defense attorney David Chesnoff and wife Diane, and lobbyist Alisa Nave-Worth. 

Many well-known businesses also made maximum contributions to the campaign, including $10,000 each from mining giants Barrick Gold and Newmont, $30,000 from entities associated with M Resort President Anthony Marnell, and a maximum contribution from pharmaceutical industry lobbying group PhRMA.

Sisolak raised more than $11.1 million for his gubernatorial bid through 2017 and 2018, a larger total than the amount raised by his general election opponent, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt. 

Political contributions to state candidates are capped at $10,000 per election cycle ($5,000 each for primary and general elections), but donors can easily circumnavigate those limits through making contributions through multiple business entities or through political action committees.

Top contributors to Sisolak's campaign account include the following:

  • $100,000 total from entities related to Las Vegas contractor and developer Steve Menzies; Focus Concrete, Focus Electric, Focus Fire Protection, Focus Framing, Focus Plumbing LLC, GTI General Account, HB Commercial Holdings LLC Steve Menzies, PostRoad LLC and Seashore Holdings LLC ($10,000 from each entity)
  • $30,000 from entities associated with Anthony Marnell; Benny’s Holdco LLC, Anthony Marnell and Marnell Gaming
  • $20,000 total from Treasure Island Hotel and Casino owner Phil Ruffin and his wife, Oleksandra
  • $20,000 from long-time Sisolak confidante and lobbyist Jay Brown
  • $20,00 from Diana and David Chesnoff, a prominent criminal defense attorney in Las Vegas
  • $12,500 from political action committees funded by the Laborers Local 872 union; $2,500 each from 872 PAC, DNC PAC, G.O.P PAC, Laborers’ for Solid State Leadership and Nevada Progressives United PAC
  • $10,000 from The Cosmopolitan
  • $10,000 from Steelman Partners, an international architectural design firm based in Southern Nevada
  • $11,000 from Wildcat Properties and Power House Plastering, Inc.
  • $10,000 from former Diamond Resorts CEO Stephen Cloobeck
  • $20,000 from South Point Las Vegas owner Michael Gauchan and the casino itself ($10,000 from each)
  • $10,000 from F&M Advertising
  • $10,000 from Centennial Hills Animal Hospital
  • $10,000 from Jayana Dils, a retired nurse from Las Vegas
  • $10,000 from Home Building Industry PAC
  • $10,000 from James Nave, a prominent southern Nevada veterinarian and owner of Centennial Hills Animal Hospital
  • $10,000 from lobbyist Alisa Nave-Worth
  • $10,000 from South Valley Animal Hospital
  • $10,000 from attorney James Awad
  • $10,000 from the trust of Fennemore Craig attorney Samuel Lionel
  • $10,000 from Nevada Heart & Vascular LLP
  • $10,000 from The D operator and owner Derek Stevens
  • $10,000 from Konami Gaming
  • $10,000 from Lee’s Discount Liquor
  • $10,000 from former casino operator Jack Binion
  • $10,000 from David Ducommun, an executive with Cannae Holdings, Inc
  • $10,000 from the campaign account of former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid
  • $10,000 from Richard Massey, a former bank executive who lives in Little Rock, Ark. 
  • $10,000 from Resorts World, Las Vegas
  • $10,000 from Terrance Kwiatkowski, a doctor in Las Vegas
  • $10,000 from Lawrence Canarelli, a developer in Las Vegas
  • $10,000 from Coyote Springs Investment LLC
  • $10,000 from casino developer Gary Primm
  • $10,000 from Red Hawk Land Company
  • $10,000 from Village Pub Management LLC
  • $10,000 from International Union of Operating Engineers Local 12
  • $10,000 from Union City Partners, LLC
  • $10,000 from Peter Palivos, an attorney and businessman in Las Vegas
  • $10,000 from Caesar’s Enterprise Services
  • $10,000 from health insurance giant Centene Management Company
  • $10,000 from personal injury law firm Eglet Prince
  • $10,000 from Marshall Retail Group, a specialty retailer focusing on airports and casinos
  • $10,000 from the Peppermill Casino
  • $10,000 from Warren Volker, founder and CEO of WellHealth Quality Care
  • $10,000 from Ernest Lee, a land developer in Las Vegas
  • $10,000 from Ainsworth Game Technology
  • $10,000 from Barrick Gold
  • $10,000 from the law firm of Bradley, Drendel & Jeanney
  • $10,000 from Cortez Gold Mine
  • $10,000 from Republic Services
  • $10,000 from Eric Kurtzman, an attorney in Las Vegas
  • $10,000 from Rudolph Family Trust
  • $10,000 from Judith Siegel, an executive with Las Vegas-based real estate firm The Siegel Group
  • $10,000 from Switch
  • $10,000 from BPS Management Services
  • $10,000 from Linda Schimberg
  • $10,000 from Todd Marshall, the former CEO and a board member at Marshall Retail Group
  • $10,000 from Mohave Dermatology
  • $10,000 from Reshma Shah
  • $10,000 from PhRMA
  • $10,000 from Sunrise Health Care System
  • $10,000 from Southern Highlands Investment Partners
  • $10,000 from Las Vegas Paving Corporation
  • $10,000 from Newmont Ventures Limited
  • $10,000 from former Nevada Rep. John Porter
  • $10,000 from Southwest Gas Company
  • $10,000 from Thomas Dolan, founder of Dolan Auto Group in Reno
  • $10,000 from Westar Development Corp.

Updated at 3:56 p.m. on Jan. 15, 2020 to include more details on Sisolak's fundraising with affiliated PACs.

NV Energy to pay $1.1 million annually to keep Clark County in the fold

Clark County Government Center

Clark County Commissioners have adopted a five-year agreement with NV Energy that will see the state’s primary utility pay the county $1.1 million a year for promising not to leave its electric service.

Commission members voted unanimously on Tuesday to adopt the proposed contract, which makes the county at least the fourth government agency to receive direct cash payments from NV Energy in return for a promise not to consider leaving NV Energy for another electric provider.

Already, the utility has entered into similar contracts with the city of Henderson, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the Clark County School District exchanging cash payments for both a commitment not to leave the utility and a promise to enroll in a special Optional Pricing Program Rate (OPPR) for large utility customers by 2022.

In a statement, NV Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Schuricht said that approval of the contract would help the utility “actually protect other customers from potential cost increases.”

“NV Energy is pleased that the Clark County Commission is considering a multi-year agreement to remain a customer, which will provide them with long-term value without increasing rates for other customers,” she said in an email on Monday. “Our large business and government entity customers are seeking tailored solutions that meet their unique needs and we are responding to this demand.”

Since May, NV Energy has announced similar long-term arrangements or deals with several other customers, including Station Casinos, the Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas Sands, the Atlantis, Golden Gaming and South Point. NV Energy has declined to say whether those deals, which are not required to be publicly disclosed to the Public Utilities Commission, included similar payments as part of their arrangements to stick with the utility.

The additional $1.1 million that will flow annually to Clark County every year would bring total payments from the utility to government agencies up to $3 million a year, including $1.5 million to CCSD, $250,000 to Henderson and $650,000 to the LVCVA. If similar financial payments are part of the deals struck with private businesses, the utility could be paying tens of millions of dollars annually to keep the business of its largest customers.

The contract itself largely follows the same outline as the contracts with other Southern Nevada agencies — guaranteeing $1.1 million in payments for 2019, 2020 and 2021, and requiring the county enroll in the OPPR program by 2022. The proposed OPPR pricing program, which would offer a flat rate based on new large-scale solar projects, has been touted by the utility as an alternative for large businesses that have flirted with leaving the utility, but has faced criticism as too generous to participants (the utility temporarily withdrew its OPPR application in June).

The exact savings under the OPPR program are still unclear, though in at least one example, the utility estimated that the Nevada System of Higher Education would save $381,000 on its power bills every year under the initially proposed program.

The growing number of large customers who have sought to leave the utility for another power provider under the 704B process — the state law allowing large power users to use an alternative power provider in return for an exit fee designed to keep other ratepayers whole — has prompted worries from NV Energy, which has warned in rate filings and public statements that the departure of its largest customers would cripple future electric demand and likely shift millions of dollars in costs to its other customers.

Since mid-2018, at least 14 large Nevada businesses and government agencies filed 704B applications with the PUC; six have withdrawn their applications, seven were granted the right to leave and one (the under-construction resort The Drew) is still pending.

The contract with Clark County — which never filed a 704B application — also contains language noting the utility plans to file for a $120 million rate reduction in 2021 and includes a requirement to reduce incentive payments based on estimated savings if the PUC approves a higher rate reduction. It also contains a promise to continue cash payments into 2022 and 2023 if the savings from the OPPR rate don’t reach at least $1.1 million annually, and a requirement that Clark County refund all “incentive” payments if the five-year agreement is terminated early for any reason.

And as with the other contracts, the proposal with Clark County contains a confidentiality notice prohibiting either party from issuing “press releases or similar public announcements” without prior written consent of the other party.

Updated at 10:59 a.m. to reflect that the county commission approved the contract.

NV Energy withdraws, plans to re-file program offering special lower rates for large customers

NV Energy has withdrawn and plans to rework its application to create a new, renewably powered special rate designed to keep large power customers in the company’s fold.

In a filing last week, NV Energy attorneys withdrew the utility’s pending application for its Optional Pricing Program Rate (OPPR), stopping regulatory approval on an alternative pricing mechanism proposed by the utility last year as a way to keep multiple large businesses from filing or continuing with applications to leave the utility.

In a statement, NV Energy spokeswoman Andrea Smith said the company was still working on the pricing program and planned to eventually refile a similar application with the Public Utilities Commission.

“We understand we still have some work to do with various stakeholders to reach a balanced outcome on this program and have withdrawn our original filing in order to take the time to work toward that balanced outcome,” she said in an email. “We fully intend to resubmit the program in the very near future so we can offer this important product to our customers.”

Although the company had already opened up an application window for the program (fulfilled in 20 seconds of opening in Southern Nevada), the program was never approved by the Public Utilities Commission, and commission staff and the Bureau of Consumer Protection had raised concerns that the program would end up costing normal residential ratepayers and benefited an arbitrarily-picked group of customers.

NV Energy filed a motion to delay processing of the OPPR application in late May, before withdrawing the application entirely on June 14.

As proposed, the OPPR rate would have been available only to utility customers eligible to leave its service through the 704B process, used by a handful of major casinos and other large-scale energy users to depart the utility and buy power from other third party providers in return for a usually substantial “exit fee” to ensure new costs aren’t fostered onto other utility customers.

The rate would have been composed of certain non-bypassable charges (such as gas transmission) but would have replaced the standard electric rate with a flat charge based on the utility’s six new major solar power plants adding 1,001 megawatts of solar electricity to the company’s fuel mix.

Although the projected price savings from the program were largely kept private, the Nevada System of Higher Education (which is eligible for the program) estimated that it could save roughly $381,000 a year from enrolling in the program statewide.

But the pricing program has been criticized by commission staff and the Bureau of Consumer Protection, which called it “inconsistent with the very premise of planning and operating the utility as a system for all ratepayers.” The agency estimated that the initial version of the program would have seen roughly 48 percent of the benefits from the new renewable energy contracts — or roughly $65 million — go to OPPR customers, who only represent roughly 5 percent of total electric sales from the utility.

Since initially proposing the OPPR program last year, NV Energy has announced arrangements with some of its largest customers who had flirted with leaving utility service but ultimately decided to stay, including Station Casinos, the Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas Sands, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Grand Sierra Resort, the Atlantis, Golden Gaming and South Point.

NV Energy also supported a bill in the 2019 Legislature that added multiple barriers and new requirements for businesses seeking to leave NV Energy, but allowed the roughly dozen or so businesses that have pending applications before the commission to continue under the old system. That measure was approved nearly unanimously and signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak.

South Point agrees to stick with NV Energy, withdraw exit application

South Point Hotel Casino and Spa announced today that it will withdraw its application to leave NV Energy and instead will continue receiving electric service from the utility.

The two companies have agreed to a fully bundled energy service, leading South Point to withdraw its application with the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada that would have allowed the casino company to buy electric power from another provider.

“I’ve been in Las Vegas a long time and it is important to me that we continue to work with companies who are similarly invested in our community,” South Point Owner Michael Gaughan said in a statement.

This announcement comes a week after the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced that it would stay with NV Energy under a five year deal. Other companies that have reached similar deals with the utility in recent weeks include the Venetian, Atlantis Casino Resort, Grand Sierra Resort and Golden Entertainment.

“All of us at NV Energy take these 704B applications personally. Simply put, we do not want to lose any of our customers and we remain committed to finding solutions that satisfy our largest customers’ evolving business needs,” said Doug Cannon, NV Energy’s president and chief executive officer. “NV Energy is delighted to have reached an agreement with South Point and looks forward to continuing our partnership for many years to come.”

This deal is one of many in the wake of multiple companies threatening to or have already moved away from the energy giant, including Boyd Gaming, the Raiders Stadium, Station Casinos and the SLS.

Gaming companies spent more than $1.6 million on legislators last cycle

A view of Las Vegas Boulevard in the evening

The casino industry has long been considered the top power player on Nevada’s political landscape, and in 2018 the industry backed that assertion up by opening up its pocketbook for almost every state lawmaker.

Casinos, resorts and industry executives contributed $1.68 million to 59 of the state’s 63 legislators through the 2018 campaign cycle, or about 14 percent of all campaign contributions reported over the last two years. Only three appointees — Assemblyman Greg Hafen and Assemblywomen Rochelle Nguyen and Bea Duran — as well as Sen. Pete Goicoechea, who represents many of Nevada’s rural counties and was not up for re-election in 2018, reported receiving no money from the industry.

But casinos pulled back on total legislative spending in 2018, likely because it was not a presidential year, which usually drives up campaign spending. The industry contributed about $200,000 less than during the 2016 campaign cycle, dropping the industry’s share of all campaign contributions to just 14 percent compared to 20 percent in the last election cycle.

This analysis does not reflect the money donated to political action committees or through inter-candidate transfers, nor does it account for money contributed to losing candidates.

Seven casinos gave a total of more than six figures to elected lawmakers, driven largely by properties owned by MGM Resorts ($345,000) and Las Vegas Sands ($240,000), which together amounted for more than a third of all gaming-related contributions.

There are limits to big-money campaign spending in Nevada — $10,000 per candidate per election cycle, with $5,000 limits for the primary and general elections — but those limits can be easily sidestepped by companies with many subsidiaries.

MGM Resorts, for instance, donated $10,000 from the Bellagio, the MGM Grand and MGM Resorts International to Democratic Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro — one of five lawmakers who received more than $10,000 total from the casino’s affiliated companies. The casino giant’s political contributions to lawmakers dipped slightly compared to the last election cycle — contributing a total of $345,000 over the last two years compared to $351,000 contributed to legislators during the 2016 campaign cycle.

The Las Vegas Sands operated in a similar fashion, donating $10,000 each from the Venetian, the Sands Expo and Convention Center, the Sheldon Adelson-owned Interface Group and the Sands’ parent company to individual lawmakers. Total contributions also dropped compared to the 2016 election cycle; the Sands gave $310,500 to lawmakers then and $240,500 through the 2018 election cycle.

Other big spenders include the South Point ($160,000), Boyd Gaming ($153,500), Dotty’s parent company Nevada Restaurant Services Inc.($136,000), Station Casinos ($108,500) and Wynn Resorts ($103,000).

Much of that money — nearly $992,000 — went to Democrats, though their GOP counterparts still received nearly $691,000 over the last two years. And because there were far fewer elected Republicans receiving donations, the caucus received about 13 percent more per average contribution from casino companies than Democrats —  $2,900 per donation versus $2,500, respectively.

The top recipient of casino contributions was Republican Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, who took in more than $117,000 from casino companies in his re-election bid. Behind Kieckhefer in fundraising totals are Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson ($112,500), Republican Sen. Keith Pickard ($84,500), Republican Senate Leader James Settelmeyer ($68,500) and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson ($68,000).

The 42 members of the Assembly took in a larger share of the casino contribution pie ($911,500) than the 21 senators ($771,000). Though per donation, Assembly members ($2,343 on average) took in about 30 percent less than senators ($3,381 on average).

As always, we’ve triple checked the math. But if any figures seem off, feel free to contact us at rsnyder@thenvindy.com or jacob@thenvindy.com.