Indy Gaming: Arizona sports betting fuels the age-old question: ‘Will Las Vegas be hurt?’

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A few hours before Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin defense of their Super Bowl title on Sept. 9 in the traditional Thursday night start of the National Football League season, Arizona gaming authorities will flip the switch on the state’s legal sports betting apparatus.

More than a dozen operators are expected to go live – primarily through mobile platforms – as Arizona becomes the 23rd state to legalize sports betting. 

The gaming industry has been awaiting an Arizona launch since the end of January, when legislation was introduced following an agreement between the governor, tribal casinos and the state’s professional sports teams and franchises.

Arizona has attracted the industry’s largest players, including DraftKings, FanDuel, Caesars Sportsbook, BetMGM, Penn National/Barstool Sports, WynnBet and BallyBet. All are expected to launch mobile sports betting next week or during the NFL season.

Analysts believe Arizona could produce numbers similar to Colorado, where sports betting went live in May 2020 and quickly emerged as one of the top 10 state markets. Through May, Colorado sportsbooks took in nearly $2 billion in total wagers, rivaling Indiana and Michigan for the fifth and sixth spots in the overall ranking.

“Colorado and Indiana are two states where the density and variety of sports betting brands and distribution channels feel similar to Arizona,” said Eilers & Krejcik Gaming analyst Chris Grove.

Global Market Advisors Partner Brendan Bussmann said Arizona’s “strong centric fan base” provides some similarities to Colorado.

“With mobile, it will offer sports bettors a wide range of options as well as some synergies with Nevada operators that have developed partnerships with tribes and teams,” Bussmann said.

But could the neighboring state ultimately slice into Nevada’s sports betting market?

Currently, Nevada is the second largest state in sports wagers and revenues behind only New Jersey. Nevada’s sportsbooks are also on track toward smashing records set in 2019 —  $329.1 million in revenues and $5.319 billion in wagers.

There are some mitigating factors for Arizona, which is home to Phoenix, the nation’s fifth-largest populous city and home of professional sports franchises in all four major leagues.

Drawing in DraftKings, FanDuel and Barstool gives Arizona sports gamblers options currently not found in Nevada.

Grove suggested that even if Arizona cuts into some of Nevada’s sports betting business, the loss will be offset by new gaming consumers drawn not only to sports betting, but other forms of gaming.

“That's a group that now has a new reason to visit Vegas and a new type of gambling to try when they do visit,” Grove said. “We continue to believe that sports betting will behave much like poker in that a rising tide will lift all boards, including Vegas. The one caveat is that Vegas must continue to develop experiences that you can only have in Vegas to avoid losing demand to regional operators.”

Bussmann suggested some sports gamblers in Arizona border communities would stay home with betting options in place. But the Las Vegas experience, he said, is unmatched.

“People have predicted the fall of Las Vegas since the inception of Atlantic City,” Bussmann said. “Sports betting will remain strong in Nevada, but it does need to modernize with the times to allow mobile registration like you will have in Arizona.”

Maryland-based sports betting consultant Sara Slane, who advised some of the businesses soon to operate in Arizona, agreed that Nevada sports betting is hurt by lack of remote registration for customers — meaning gamblers need to go to sportsbooks in person to register, as opposed to signing up online. She also expects operators to have healthy marketing budgets to attract customers.

Caesars Entertainment CEO Tom Reeg told the investment community in early August the company will spend $1 billion or more over the next two-and-half-years to build out its customer base for the newly launched Caesars Sportsbook, the casino operator’s expanding sports betting operation.

Top of the list for Ceasars? Arizona.

In addition to a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks to build a sportsbook at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix, the company struck a multi-year partnership with organizers of the Fiesta Bowl, one of college football’s premier bowl games, to become a primary sponsor and create a fan experience at the New Year’s Day game. 

A spokesman said Caesars is still looking at bringing a retail sportsbook to the Harrah’s Ak-Chin resort in south Phoenix, a casino that the company has operated for the Ak-Chin Indian Community for more than 25 years.

Barstool Sports, a digital media platform that serves as the sports betting extension for regional casino operator Penn National Gaming, was named title sponsor and broadcast partner in July for the Arizona Bowl in Tucson, which will be renamed the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl. Terms of the multi-year deal were not announced.

Barstool is also developing a retail sportsbook at the Phoenix Speedway.

But the Arizona process hasn’t been without a few stumbles.

The Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe near Prescott sued the state, claiming the sports betting law was unconstitutional. Turf Paradise Racetrack in Phoenix also sued, saying it was cut out of the licensing process. Hearings on both lawsuits are scheduled for Friday.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Department of Gaming authorized and then rescinded a license to a partnership between PointsBet and Yavapai Apache Nation.

“Despite its fumbles to the starting line, Arizona can and should be a good sports betting market,” Bussmann said.

The future site of Stations Casinos resort beside Durango Road south of I-215. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Culinary questions need for ‘can’t miss’ Durango Station project

Red Rock Resorts recently peeled back the curtain on a hotel and casino development in fast-growing southwest Las Vegas. But the project has drawn opposition from the company’s longstanding adversary – Culinary Workers Local 226.

In plans submitted to the Clark County Department of Comprehensive Planning, Red Rock – through its Station Casinos operating subsidiary – said it wants to build a 452-room hotel-casino with nearly 95,000 square feet of gaming space and multiple non-gaming amenities, including restaurants and a movie theater. The company said it would develop the 71-acre site at Durango Drive and the 215 Beltway in two phases.

On its past two quarterly earnings conference calls, Red Rock discussed “Durango Station” as a project that would cater to an area of the Las Vegas Valley that lacks casino-style gaming and has steadily grown in population since the company first acquired the land in the early 2000s.

The site is nearly 11 miles from the South Point on south Las Vegas Boulevard and roughly nine miles from Red Rock Resort in Summerlin. Residential development, including the Rhodes Ranch community, surrounds the site.

Gaming analysts believe Durango Station is a “can’t miss” opportunity since it is the only non-restricted gaming location within that area of southwest Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas locals gaming market continues to exceed pre-pandemic gaming revenue totals for the areas outside the Strip and downtown, with figures up 16.1 percent for the first seven months of 2021 compared to 2019. July alone was a nearly 13.5 percent increase. 

“Our primary focus right now has really been on Durango, which we think is a great development opportunity in the most underserved part of the Las Vegas Valley,” Red Rock Resorts CEO Frank Fertitta III said on the company’s quarterly conference call in July.

Station Casinos was scheduled to present its plans to the Spring Valley Town Advisory Board on Tuesday and the Clark County Commission on Sept. 22.

But the Culinary Union, which has attempted to organize the Red Rock’s non-gaming employees for nearly two decades, is questioning the need for the property at the location.

In addition to the residential growth, developers broke ground in February on UnCommons, a $400 million mixed-use development with office space, retail, a movie theater and apartments on 40 acres directly across from the proposed Durango Station site.

“The project has the potential to generate even more traffic on top of what is already anticipated,” the union said in a statement.

Plans for Durango Station were originally filed with Clark County in 2008, but Station Casinos halted the project because of the recession and its corporate bankruptcy reorganization that was settled in 2011. The union noted the current plans for the site are smaller than the original project and use just 50 acres of the property.

The Culinary recently sent mailers into the neighborhoods surrounding the site that question the proximity of an entrance to the planned development off Maule Street that is less than a half-mile from Wayne Tanaka Elementary School.

Also, the union questioned why Red Rock has not reopened the Fiesta properties in Henderson and North Las Vegas and Texas Station in North Las Vegas that have been closed for nearly 18 months.

Fertitta told analysts in July the company “continues to evaluate” the closed locations and will only reopen the properties “when we think they can add to the absolute profitability of the company going forward.”

A fourth property, the off-Strip Palms, was sold to Southern California’s San Manuel Indian Tribe for $650 million and won’t reopen until after the sale is approved by Nevada gaming regulators.

In July, a federal judge ordered Station Casinos to negotiate a contract with the Culinary for more than 1,350 non-gaming employees at the Red Rock Resort, despite workers voting down the representation nearly 18 months ago.

Two Sundays ago, more than 100 employees of Red Rock’s Palace Station and Boulder Station casinos protested in front of the union’s offices, demanding the Culinary drop its NLRB challenge to reverse a union representation vote at the two properties in which employees rejected representation.

Add Durango Station to the latest chapter in the Station Casinos-Culinary feud.

A marquee at Caesars Palace on Saturday, March 27, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Shuffle up and get a COVID-19 jab: World Series of Poker requires player vaccinations

The World Series of Poker, which is owned by Caesars Entertainment, announced last week all participants in the upcoming tournament in Las Vegas are required to provide proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to registration.

The 52nd tournament runs Sept. 30 through Nov. 23 at the Rio Hotel Casino and will have 88 events, culminating with the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em World Championship.

Last year’s tournament was canceled because of the pandemic, but a smaller tournament was held online.

“This is not a decision we have taken lightly,” said tournament Executive Director Ty Stewart. “It is made with no agenda beyond protecting player eligibility and the operations of a unique televised gaming event. The nature of poker is to be in close proximity with your opponents for extended periods of time, and a seat at the World Series of Poker is a commitment for both our company and the participants.”

But the vaccine mandate doesn’t cover Caesars employees. Company spokeswoman Kate Whiteley said both Caesars Entertainment and World Series of Poker employees “are strongly encouraged to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Caesars is committed to making vaccination easy and accessible for all team members. Additionally, the company is providing significant incentives for team members who choose to be vaccinated.”

The tournament’s announcement drew support from many of the top names in poker.

“You have the freedom to play the WSOP if you abide by the rules. Wear a shirt. Wear shoes. Get vaccinated. It is your choice to do any of those three things. If you do, you get to play!” six-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner Daniel Negreanu wrote on Twitter.

Other items of interest:

A Las Vegas conference organized by a group closely linked to the far-right conspiracy-driven QAnon movement was canceled. It was unclear who pulled the plug on the “For God & Country Patriot Double Down” that was planned for late October at the Caesars Forum Conference Center behind the Linq on the Strip. “We can confirm that the Patriot Double Down will no longer be held at Caesars Entertainment properties,” company spokeswoman Kate Whiteley said Tuesday in an emailed statement. Previously, Caesars said the conference attendees would have to comply with all state and local COVID-19 protocols, including a mask mandate. QAnon has been recognized by the FBI as a potential domestic terror threat. The event’s hosting organization has been linked to the group. Confirmed speakers include former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was granted a presidential pardon after twice pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.

The Global Gaming Expo announced Tuesday it will require all attendees to the tradeshow and conference in Las Vegas to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. The event, Oct. 4-7 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center, is produced by the American Gaming Association and RX. “We know how important vaccines are to continuing gaming’s strong recovery,” AGA Vice President of Global Events Meredith Pallante said in a statement. “Vaccinations are also one more tool to help us safely welcome the industry back to Las Vegas for another fantastic show.” The vaccine mandate was supported by the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers. “We are continuously following government and public health guidance and having data-driven conversations with health and safety experts to guide our decision making,” said G2E Event Coordinator Korbi Carrison. G2E will still require masks to be worn by all attendees.

Three sports betting ballot initiatives could land in front of California voters next year. A measure backed by seven sports betting operators – all of which have ties to Nevada – announced the California Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support Act – which would use revenues from legal and regulated sports gambling – retail and mobile – to fund social programs in the state. In a statement, the group said the campaign already has $100 million in the bank to fund the effort, which needs to be approved by California’s attorney general and collect nearly 1 million signatures to be listed on the November 2022 ballot. One referendum backed by California’s tribal casino community has already qualified for the ballot. A second initiative backed by several cities and counties with cardroom casinos has submitted paperwork to the attorney general. Backers of the third question said Tuesday the initiative was “complimentary” to the tribal referendum, which only allows for in-person sports betting. The measure states that any online sports betting operator seeking to participate in the California marketplace must do so by partnering with a tribe. “California, which represents the world’s fifth-largest economy, is an extraordinary opportunity to expand on the success of online sports betting experienced now by nearly two dozen states,” backers of the initiative said in a joint statement.

ESPN believes licensing its brand to a participant in the competitive legal sports betting industry could be worth $3 billion through a multi-year deal. The Wall Street Journal reported last Friday that ESPN, which is owned by the Disney Corp., already held preliminary discussions with Caesars Entertainment and DraftKings and expects to talk with other sports betting operators. ESPN already has marketing partnerships with both companies. In Las Vegas, ESPN built a studio at Caesars’ Linq development overlooking the Strip and Caesars Palace. The studio serves as the base for the network’s Daily Wager show, which is dedicated to sports betting. According to the Wall Street Journal, the ultimate ESPN partner would be able to use ESPN's name for branding and potentially renaming its sportsbook operations after the network.

Ben Affleck’s gambling excursions to Las Vegas have long been documented, including his ban from the former Hard Rock Las Vegas for counting cards at blackjack. But he’s been welcomed with open arms at Wynn Las Vegas. The two-time Academy Award winner directs and stars in an advertising campaign for WynnBet, the company’s sports betting arm that is currently in six states. Affleck, who won an Oscar in 1998 for co-writing Good Will Hunting and another in 2013 for producing Argo, appears in the spot with former NBA standout Shaquille O’Neal and actor Melvin Gregg as they chat with fans and friends around the Wynn Las Vegas casino floor and sportsbook. They discuss wagers made on the WynnBet mobile app. “Every detail of this shoot was carefully considered, and Ben did a great job hand-picking the cast and crew as well as developing the characters to capture the fun involved with winning together,” said Wynn Interactive CEO Craig Billings. Also appearing in the video as a slot machine player is Guadalupe Rodríguez, the mother of actress-singer and current Affleck partner Jennifer Lopez.

DraftKings-branded sportsbook in Las Vegas a possibility through Golden Nugget Online Gaming deal

DraftKings could eventually operate retail and online sportsbooks in Nevada after the Boston-based company’s planned $1.56 billion acquisition of Golden Nugget Online Gaming, a business owned by billionaire Tilman Fertitta.

On Monday, DraftKings unveiled the all-stock transaction, which includes a commercial agreement with Fertitta Entertainment, the Texas mogul’s holding company that controls businesses across gaming, lodging, dining and entertainment sectors, including Golden Nugget casinos in downtown Las Vegas, Laughlin and three other states.

Fertitta owns 46 percent of Golden Nugget Online Gaming and will join the DraftKings board.

“Let’s be honest, they are the market leader. They are the brand,” Fertitta said of DraftKings on an early morning conference call to discuss the deal. “There is going to be a lot of consolidation in this space. We want to be part of somebody bigger. I only wanted stock so we can ride this up with them.”

Fertitta is a cousin of Red Rock Resorts CEO Frank Fertitta III and Vice Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta and is not involved in the company that controls locals gaming operator Station Casinos.  

DraftKings has grown in the past three years from a daily fantasy sports provider into a sports betting giant currently operating retail and online sportsbooks in 14 states. The company is considered either the No. 1 or No. 2 sports betting provider in those markets.

Nevada is not one of DraftKings’ markets.

However, one of the benefits listed in the investor presentation provided with the announcement was the rebranding of retail sportsbooks under the DraftKings name “at current and future Golden Nugget casinos.”

A DraftKings spokesman said in an email he couldn’t “elaborate any further” on the potential for a DraftKings sportsbook in Las Vegas. He said the investor presentation offered “very high-level touches” on market access.

During the call, Fertitta said the deal with DraftKings would remove a regulatory stipulation that prohibits Golden Nugget sportsbooks from accepting wagers on games involving the NBA’s Houston Rockets. The team is owned by Fertitta Entertainment.

“This is something that has been an issue for us being a major sports team owner,” Fertitta said. “Not being able to take bets on an iconic team like the Houston Rockets is extremely difficult anytime we enter a market. Getting rid of that problem is important to us.”

A spokesman for the Gaming Control Board said DraftKings had not filed an application for a gaming license covering the two casinos as of Monday morning. The deal between DraftKings and Golden Nugget Online Gaming is expected to close in the first three months of 2022.

“As sports betting continues to grow across the country, there are still several operators that have been looking at Nevada from the outside trying to find access,” Global Market Advisors partner Brendan Bussmann. “DraftKings may have found their way into the market through the Golden Nugget but will face some challenges with its limited location over other operators like Caesars, MGM, and Station Casinos that already have strong market access.”

Eilers & Krejcik gaming analyst Chris Grove also thought DraftKings would have a tough time gaining market share in Nevada, “where the company will be competing against deeply entrenched brands.”

DraftKings CEO Jason Robins did not address a Nevada sportsbook during the conference call. He also did not take questions. Robins said the deal expands the company’s consumer reach to include members of loyalty programs from the Golden Nugget casinos and Landry’s multiple restaurant chains and entertainment attractions. The combined programs cover more than 5.5 million members.

Robins said Fertitta would “take an active role in helping me shape the company.”

The deal gives DraftKings market access with the Rockets, including building a sportsbook at the team’s arena in Houston should Texas legalize sports betting.

Other Las Vegas ventures for DraftKings

In 2015, Nevada gaming regulators told DraftKings, FanDuel and other daily fantasy companies they had to be licensed as sports betting operators if they wanted to continue to offer daily fantasy sports in the state.

Grove suggested DraftKings lost a “key competitive advantage” in Nevada by not operating daily fantasy in the state during the past six years. 

“Therefore (the company) hasn't built the same sort of player database that has been a major contributor to DraftKings' sports betting success,” Grove said.

DraftKings never filed a license application. However, in 2020, DraftKings opened a large office presence in the Town Square complex on south Las Vegas Boulevard for its growing nationwide back-of-the-house support services. That same year, the company signed a multiyear agreement with UNLV to become a primary sponsor of its Center for Gaming Innovation, inside the university’s International Gaming Institute.

DraftKings co-founder Matt Kalish, who serves as the company’s North America president, said in a 2020 interview that Nevada “is the ground zero for sports betting, and we need to be a part of that market.”

Grove said DraftKings, despite its sports betting presence, “badly needed” access to casino player databases. He said the company may be feeling the heat from other online gaming and sports betting competitors.

Grove said MGM Resorts International’s BetMGM “appears to have found a way to tap into (MGM’s) database of land-based casino customers.” Also, Caesars Entertainment said last week it would spend $1 billion to market and promote its sports betting brand to its casino player database over the next two years.

“A DraftKings-Golden Nugget online casino pairing will be immediately game-changing,” Grove said. “We see this pairing as a longer-term defensive hedge against the ascendancy of BetMGM, Caesars, and even Penn National, which has barely begun to scratch the surface of its online casino capabilities.”

Boyd Gaming owns 5 percent of DraftKings’ rival FanDuel, which operates sports betting and online gaming at several of the company’s regional casinos outside Nevada.

In April, Boyd CEO Keith Smith was noncommittal concerning a potential move into Nevada for FanDuel in connection with the company’s casinos in the Las Vegas Valley and downtown.

DraftKings, FanDuel and Caesars were named in April as the official sports betting partners of the National Football League.

Golden Nugget’s online casino and sports betting business currently has market access for nine states but is only active in two markets — New Jersey and Michigan. Nevada is one of five states with online gaming, but it is a poker-only market.

“While the merits of this deal are surely visible, so are the question marks around it,” said Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Carlo Santarelli. “We believe it will be some time until one can measure the ultimate success of the transaction fairly, and in the interim, we expect the market climate to determine investor perception.”

Updated at 2:15 p.m. on Aug. 10, 2021, to reflect DraftKings' licensing status in Nevada.

Federal judge orders Station Casinos to negotiate a Culinary Union contract covering Red Rock Resort

Joe Biden

A federal judge in Las Vegas has ordered Station Casinos to negotiate a contract with the Culinary Union that covers more than 1,350 non-gaming employees at the company’s Red Rock Resort, despite workers voting down the representation nearly 18 months ago.

In a 34-page ruling dated Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Gloria Navarro agreed with arguments by the National Labor Relations Board’s regional office that the casino operator’s announcement of a new incentives and benefits package for employees was timed to interfere with the union election at the company’s flagship property in Summerlin.

In her ruling, Navarro suggested the NLRB’s regional director would likely prevail in a trial in front of the national board. She issued a 10(j) bargaining order, mandating the company recognize the Culinary and its affiliated Bartenders Union as official bargaining representatives.

In a statement, the Culinary Union said the labor group had never been granted such an order in its 86 years.

In her ruling, Navarro cited evidence that Station Casinos’ then-newly hired human resources vice president Phil Fortino launched the health and welfare and benefits program just ahead of a December 2019 union representation election that the Culinary lost in a 627 to 534 vote.

Station Casinos is the operating subsidiary of Red Rock Resorts.

In a statement provided by a spokesman, the company said it was still reviewing the court’s decision.

“We firmly and respectfully disagree with the result, which overturns the clear vote of the Red Rock team members in their rejection of the Culinary Union,” according to the statement. “The decision punishes Red Rock team members and the Red Rock property because Station Casinos treated its team members too well.”

In her ruling, Navarro said the court “does not doubt that Station Casinos had competitive incentives to offer the new benefits at its properties, including Red Rock, but the evidence indicates that the benefits’ quality and rollout was intended to deter Red Rock employees’ exercise of their collective bargaining rights.” 

She added that “direct evidence shows that Red Rock intended to counter the union’s allure when putting together the benefits.”

The company, in its statement, said it “does not believe it is correct or consistent with the purpose and stated mission of the National Labor Relations Act to punish Station Casinos and its team members for providing best-in-class benefits to team members based on a dubious theory that doing so 'undermines' the union.”

The judge said the timing of the announcement was done to “successfully blunt the draw of unionization.” She added that evidence showed Fortino sent the chief operating officer of Station Casinos a text message “indicating that they needed to announce the benefits as soon as possible because of the Union’s petition for election.”

Navarro also ordered the gaming company to “cease and desist” from 15 different actions, including “interrogating employees about their union support and activities, and the sympathies of other employees.”

In a statement, Culinary Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline called the federal court’s ruling “extraordinary and vindicating.” She said the labor organization looks forward to “negotiating and winning a union contract to protect workers.”

The Culinary began a public campaign in 2010 to organize the Station Casinos properties, which are primarily located in areas outside the Las Vegas Strip and cater to largely local customers. Station Casinos has long fought the organizing effort, which has included court battles over allegations the company had engaged in unfair labor practices. 

Cortez Masto, Susie Lee again lead second quarter fundraising tallies as 2022 money race ramps up

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto speaking into a microphone behind a podium

Nevada’s incumbent Democrats padded their campaign war chests through the second quarter, with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Rep. Susie Lee leading their respective fields, according to data reported this week by the Federal Election Commission. 

Cortez Masto raked in nearly $2.8 million, exceeding her first quarter fundraising by nearly half a million dollars. Lee, meanwhile, raised more than $615,000, an amount roughly equaling her own first quarter numbers. 

With just under a year remaining before next year’s primary elections, fields in every race remain relatively small. Still, a handful of new entrants have emerged in the state’s key congressional battlegrounds, including three Republicans each in District 3 and 4 (both held by Democrats), and a primary challenger to Democratic Rep. Dina Titus in the deep blue District 1. 

Below are additional campaign finance numbers for each candidate who filed with the FEC as of Friday, broken down by congressional race and ordered from greatest cumulative fundraising to least. 

Catherine Cortez Masto (D) - incumbent

With no declared challengers through the entirety of the second quarter, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto boosted her campaign warchest with more than $2.7 million in contributions. Even after spending nearly $900,000, that sum lifted her cash on hand to nearly $6.6 million.

Cortez Masto’s campaign touted that cash on hand cushion as a crucial advantage this week, though the race to take or hold her seat in the Senate will likely draw millions more in fundraising for both major parties as next year’s general election approaches.

Still, her quarterly fundraising total was the lowest of any of the four Democratic Senate incumbents running in states rated as “Lean Democratic” by the Cook Political Report, a group of candidates that also includes Kelly ($6 million raised), Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock ($7.2 million) and New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan ($3.3 million). 

A vast majority of her second quarter fundraising — more than $2.3 million — came from individuals. Another $342,000 came from PACs, with the remainder flowing from committee transfers ($101,000), expenditure offsets and other receipts.

Almost a quarter of Cortez Masto’s spending — more than $218,000 — went to expenses related to fundraising mailers, including consultants, printing and postage, with even more ($343,000) dedicated to online fundraising expenses. 

Two Republican candidates, Sharelle Mendenhall and Sam Brown, formed campaign committees in July and did not report fundraising in the second quarter, which ended in June. 

Susie Lee (D) - incumbent 

Frequently the top House fundraiser in Nevada, Democratic Rep. Susie Lee once again led the state’s congressional candidates in the money race with more than $615,000 in second quarter contributions, pushing her cash on hand to nearly $955,000. 

Almost three-quarters of Lee’s fundraising, about $447,000, came from individual contributions, with another $156,000 coming from PACs. Much of the total also came from big-money donations, including eight contributions of the $5,000 maximum from PACs, and another 85 contributions of the maximum $2,900 for individuals (all totaling for a combined $286,500).

Lee’s spending last quarter neared $144,000, with sizable chunks of that money flowing to consultants — who combined for $45,700 in expenses — and advertising, including $20,000 for a digital ad campaign from Washington, D.C.-based firm Break Something. 

April Becker (R)

A one-time 2020 Nevada Senate hopeful-turned congressional challenger, April Becker led the district’s field of Republicans last quarter with nearly $251,000 in contributions, as well as roughly $259,000 cash on hand. 

Almost all of Becker’s fundraising came from individual contributions, with some major donors including several linked to the Meruelo Group — including maximum $5,800 contributions from Alex Meruelo, his wife Liset, and Meruelo Enterprises Vice President Luis Armona — and members of the Station Casinos-owning Fertitta family, including $5,800 contributions from Frank Fertitta III, Jill Fertitta, Lorenzo Fertitta and Teresa Fertitta. 

Becker also far outspent her rivals, dropping nearly $123,000, including more than $84,000 on expenses related to consulting or advertising. Of that money, more than $17,000 went to Las Vegas-based consulting firm November Inc., and nearly $19,000 went to October Inc.

Mark Robertson (R)

Another early entrant into the District 3 race, veteran Mark Robertson trailed Becker with $104,000 in contributions and nearly $117,000 in cash on hand. 

Nearly all of his fundraising, roughly $97,000, came from individual contributions, with another $3,000 coming from PACs and $3,600 coming from candidate loans. Many of Robertson’s biggest donors were Las Vegas-based business owners, including America’s Mart owners Nick and Kristy Willden ($5,800 each), Sunrise Paving’s Glenn and Jill Warren ($5,800 each) and Patrick’s Signs CFO Tiffani Dean ($5,800). 

Robertson reported spending only $31,000 last quarter, with much of it split between consulting, advertising and event fees. 

Noah Malgeri (R)

The newest Republican challenger in the field who entered the race in early June — just before the quarter ended — Republican attorney and business owner Noah Malgeri trailed the rest of the field with nearly $39,000 in second quarter fundraising and $32,400 cash on hand. 

That money stems mostly from more than $31,100 in candidate loans, buoyed by another $7,750 in individual contributions. 

Of the $6,300 Malgeri spent last quarter, almost all of it ($6,033) went to Las Vegas-based firm McShane, LLC. 

One other candidate, Republican Reinier Prijten, briefly filed in April before formally terminating his campaign committee in May.

Steven Horsford (D) - incumbent

Touting record off-year fundraising for a single quarter, Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford pulled in more than $581,000 last quarter, boosting his cash on hand to more than $1.2 million — a massive sum larger even than Nevada’s usual fundraising frontrunner, Susie Lee, and almost eight times as much money as his next nearest Republican competitor. 

A slight majority of Horsford’s fundraising ($305,800) came from individual contributions, with the remaining $275,000 coming from PAC money. Like Lee, Horsford also saw most of his money flow from big-dollar fundraising and maximum contributions, including 15 $5,000 maximum contributions from PACs, and another 127 individual contributions between the maximum $2,900 and $2,000. 

Together, those major contributions combine for more than $414,000. 

Horsford’s campaign spent more than $127,000 through the quarter, including more than $11,000 on online advertising and more than $22,000 on consulting.   

Sam Peters (R)

The runner-up in last year’s Republican primary in District 4, veteran and insurance salesman Sam Peters entered this year’s race with a fundraising edge on his Republican rivals. That edge continued into the second quarter, where he raised more than $119,000 and was left with more than $155,000 cash on hand. 

Peters saw a handful of maximum individual contributions through the quarter, with most coming from retirees or real estate-related donors. 

Peters was the only Republican spending large amounts last quarter, dropping more than $76,000. A sizable chunk of that spending, almost $34,000, went to Las Vegas-based consulting firm McShane, while another $18,700 went to credit card fees. 

Carolina Serrano (R) 

Though she was a relatively late entrant into the race, only forming her campaign committee in June, former Trump campaign staffer Carolina Serrano still banked more than $49,000 last quarter and enters the third quarter with more than $42,000 left on hand. 

A majority of that fundraising came from a handful of big names (both current and former) in the gaming industry. That includes maximum $5,800 contributions from former Wynn CEO Steve Wynn and his wife, Andrea, as well as another $5,800 from Meruelo Group President Alex Meruelo, $4,200 from his wife Liset, $5,800 from Meruelo Group Executive Vice President Luis Armona and $4,200 from his wife, Margaret. 

Together, those six contributions alone total $31,600, or roughly two-thirds of all the money Serrano raised. 

Serrano spent comparatively little last quarter — just $6,200 — though nearly all of it came through a $5,000 digital ad buy.  

Tony Lane (R)

A former player for the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in the mid-90s and now a Las Vegas business owner, Tony Lane raised the least of any Republican in the race with just $3,942. He spent nearly all of it — $3,362 — leaving just under $580 cash on hand. 

One other candidate, non-partisan John Johnson, did not report fundraising for this period, despite forming a campaign committee in February. 

Dina Titus (D) - incumbent

Facing what could be her first serious primary challenge since winning District 1 in 2012, Democratic Rep. Dina Titus roughly tripled her fundraising from the first quarter to the second, raking in more than $152,000 and lifting her cash on hand to more than $463,000. 

Of all Nevada’s federal-level midterms next year, Titus’ race could become the center of a split between the establishment wing of the state party and a surging group of left-wing activists. 

Those activists won a key victory in March of this year, electing a slate of progressives to party leadership positions. Ahead of that loss, the party apparatus hemorrhaged staffers and hundreds of thousands in money was transferred from state party accounts to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. 

Establishment Democrats have since launched a new campaign apparatus, the Nevada Democratic Victory campaign. 

Titus’ fundraising was almost even split between individual contributions ($80,000) and PAC money ($72,000), with some of Titus’ largest fundraisers including Las Vegas mega-donor Stephen Cloobeck ($2,800), Las Vegas-based attorney and political director for the state Senate Democrats Alisa Nave ($5,600) and Las Vegas-based doctor and frequent Democratic donor Nic Spirtos ($5,800).

Titus spent little in comparison to her fellow incumbents, logging just under $29,000 in expenditures last quarter. Most of that money, almost $20,000, went to consultants, including more than $12,000 for fundraising consulting. 

Amy Vilela (D)

A third-place runner up in the 2018 race to fill the open seat left in District 4 by the departure of Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen (a race ultimately won by Steven Horsford), Amy Vilela has entered 2022’s primary for District 1 as a progressive challenge to the establishment-backed Titus.

Touting her efforts for the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2020 and, more recently, an endorsement from progressive Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, Vilela posted nearly $82,000 in second-quarter fundraising, with almost $58,000 cash on hand. 

All of that fundraising came from individual contributions, and all came through the online Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue. As a result, much of her fundraising came from out-of-state. Of 56 unique contributors to Vilela’s campaign, just 10 listed a Nevada address.

Vilela reported just $23,300 in spending, with almost all of it dedicated to operating expenses, including $2,500 spent on consulting. 

Mark Amodei (R) - incumbent

As he has continued to leave the door open for a possible run at the governor’s mansion, Republican incumbent Mark Amodei nearly outspent his fundraising through the second quarter, burning through more than $88,000 of the $90,000 raised, leaving roughly $325,500 cash on hand. 

Outside one $2,900 contribution from Cashell Enterprises CEO Rob Cashell Jr., most of Amodei’s major donations came from PACs or corporate donors. That includes $5,000 from Las Vegas Sands, $5,000 from the Credit Union Legislative Action Council, and $2,500 each from NV Energy, the American Bakers Association, construction materials company CalPortland and the law firm Holland & Hart. 

Some of Amodei’s spending went to a number of contributions to other Republican incumbents, including $1,000 each for Iowa Rep. Ashley Hinson, New York Rep. Claudia Tenney, Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson, Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, and California Rep. David Valadao. 

However, Amodei also spent large sums on consulting ($37,500) and “contributor relations” expenses ($15,400). 

One other candidate, Democrat Aaron Michael Sims, formed a campaign committee in the second quarter but did not file a campaign finance report as of Friday morning.

Red Rock Resorts’ long-delayed California casino receives another legal setback

A California appellate court tossed a roadblock in front of Red Rock Resorts’ planned development of a tribal-owned casino near Fresno that has been tied up in legal maneuverings for some 18 years.

A three-judge panel said the defeat of a 2014 statewide ballot referendum precluded California’s governor from signing a gaming compact with the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians. The tribe has an agreement with Las Vegas-based Red Rock Resorts subsidiary Station Casinos to develop and manage the $350 million to $400 million off-reservation gaming project.

However, the ruling by the judges contradicted a separate decision by the California Supreme Court last fall that green-lighted the project. The ruling allowed Gov. Gavin Newsome to accept a U.S. Department of Interior ruling that permitted the tribe to utilize a 305-acre off-reservation site for the casino.

The competing court rulings leave Red Rock Resorts’ Indian gaming venture in limbo.

The company is without a tribal gaming contract after its three previous management deals – two in California and one in Michigan – expired.

Red Rock Resorts Chief Financial Officer Stephen Cootey said last month the casino operator and the North Fork tribe expected “to have a shovel in the ground” shortly after the end of June, which would begin a 15-to-18-months construction project.

“We’re excited to begin the development of this very attractive project on behalf of North Fork Tribe,” Cootey said during the company’s first-quarter earnings conference call last month.

Red Rock Resorts spokesman Michael Britt declined comment Monday on the California ruling.

A spokesman for North Fork Rancheria Tribal Chairwoman Elaine Bethel-Fink provided a statement.

“The North Fork Rancheria and its development partner, Station Casinos, are digesting this most recent ruling," the tribe said in an email. "We will have a more comprehensive statement when we have had a chance to discern the implications of this decision and the appropriate next steps.”

Cootey said in May the gaming operator was having “discussions with our lending partners as to how we can most efficiently finance this project.”

The North Fork Casino is planned for 2,000 slot machines, 40 table games, two stand-alone restaurants and a food court. Hotel rooms and other amenities are expected to be built at a later date.

Red Rock’s most recent casino management contract with the Graton Rancheria Tribe near Santa Rosa expired in February after seven years. In the three-month period that ended on March 31, Red Rock’s cash flow from its tribal operation was $7.6 million, a 56.8 percent decrease from a year earlier, due largely to the termination of the Graton contract.

Red Rock – then operating as Station Casinos – first signed an agreement with the North Fork tribe in 2003 to build and manage the gaming complex. The tribe has a 61-acre reservation near the town of North Fork, but long maintained the site was too small and too far removed for a casino.

The off-reservation site designated for the casino complex is in the town of Madera off Highway 99, roughly 42 miles from the tribe’s reservation and just 30 miles north of Fresno.

North Fork faced numerous legal obstacles from the beginning over the taking of non-reservation land into trust, a move that must gain Interior Department approval and is often opposed by competing tribes. California is the nation’s largest Indian gaming state, and its 70 tribal casinos produced nearly $9 billion in annual gaming revenues prior to the pandemic. The total was nearly one-quarter of all tribal gaming revenues annually according to statistics compiled by Washington D.C.’s National Indian Gaming Association.

The appellate court ruling was based on a lawsuit filed in 2013 by “Stand Up for California!” an anti-gaming public affairs organization that opposed the casino and the land-into-trust issue. The case suffered a loss in a lower court decision, where the judge agreed with the arguments brought by the defendants, which included the state, then-California Gov. Jerry Brown and California gaming regulators.

However, the appellate court, despite last September’s Supreme Court decision, agreed with the arguments raised by plaintiffs pointing to the defeat of the 2014 ballot referendum by 61 percent to 39 percent, prevented Brown from signing off on the land-into-trust issue. If the ballot question had passed, the casino would have been approved.

“We conclude the people retained the power to annul a concurrence by the governor and the voters exercised this retained power at the 2014 election by impliedly revoking the concurrence for the Madera site,” the appellate judges wrote.

Gaming and labor leaders reach a compromise on ‘Right to Return’ legislation

Gaming and Culinary Union negotiators have tentatively agreed to revisions in legislation that would guarantee the rights of laid-off gaming and tourism industry workers to return to their jobs.

A deal on SB386 – referred to as “Right to Return” legislation – was reached with less than a week left before the end of the state's 120-day legislative session. Lawmakers wasted little time processing the bill — several hours after the initial publication of this story on Tuesday afternoon, members of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee moved quickly to pass the amended bill out of committee on a split vote.

In an interview prior to the committee vote, 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.

“I think you're really seeing what is a recognition of the greater good and how do we get started to work together to get everything back to where we need it to be,” she said.

As part of the agreement, 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.

Critics of the legislation had raised concerns that the bill in its original form would make it too easy for former employees to sue. The bill now offers recourse through the Labor Commissioner or through the courts, but only after the employee notifies their employer of the alleged violation and gives them at least 15 days to fix the issue.

“I think we've heard a lot of those concerns. We've tried to make sure that the bill still allows for enforcement while not opening up the doors of litigation,” Cannizzaro said.

In its original form, the bill required employers who declined to call back a former employee because that former worker lacked qualifications — and instead hired someone else for the job — to provide the person they passed over with a written notice and reasoning for the decision within 30 days of making it. The amendment limits the callback requirement, covering employees only if they accept or decline the job offer within 24 hours (revised down from 10 days in the initial bill) and are available within five days of receiving an offer.

Employers are also cleared of their obligations to re-hire someone if their job offers are turned down three times over a period of at least six weeks, or if mail or email is returned as undeliverable or a phone line is out of service.

The amendment specifies that managers and stage performers are also excluded from the provisions, and its provisions would not supersede or preempt any collective bargaining agreement already in place.

The amendment also covers areas of a resort casino that are leased to another operator, such as retail shops, restaurants, bars, and parking facilities.

Also, the amendment exempted restricted gaming operators which have 15 or fewer slot machines, such as bars, taverns, convenience stores, and grocery chains.

Bob Ostrovsky, a lobbyist representing the Nevada Resort Association, said the amended version of the bill would leave the association as officially “neutral” — promising not to support or oppose the bill as an association.  

He estimated that the industry was currently down about 66,000 casino resort employees from its pre-pandemic high, but estimated that only about 70 percent of the casino’s pre-pandemic workforce would end up returning to their previous positions, based on turnover history.

“We certainly have to think in terms of the masses of employees and the masses of paperwork that are required here, but I got to tell you, our members care,” he said. “Experienced and dedicated employees are what make these operations work. It's one thing to build a billion-dollar building. To operate it, you really need a well-honed team.”

Cannizzaro added in an interview prior to the committee vote that she hopes the bill will get bipartisan support because it “has a lot of buy-in,” although it does not need a two-thirds majority to move forward. 

Still, several Republican senators on the committee questioned portions of the bill. Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) asked why the measure did not have a small business exemption, and Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) said he was concerned about the proposed remedies for civil action.

“I think in many respects, this is better than some of the [collective bargaining agreements] I’ve reviewed in the past, and this is applying to nonunion shops that don’t ordinarily have to deal with these,” Pickard said. “I think it’s going to be a significant burden.”

Union leader softens testimony

Union and gaming negotiators had spent months trying to hammer out a compromise on SB386. The bill has a waiver that exempts it from legislative deadlines. Gaming sources have said there are stark disagreements between union and business interests over the bill’s language.

Earlier Tuesday, UNITE HERE President D. Taylor was prepared to tell a U.S. Senate subcommittee about the labor group’s support for SB386, but he departed from his prepared remarks that were posted to the subcommittee’s website that accused certain employers – including the Nevada casino resort industry – of using the pandemic to “reduce” jobs and leaving workers out of an economic comeback.

In April, Taylor testified in the only public hearing for SB386. The Culinary Union has hosted rallies and engaged in door hanging campaigns aimed at pressuring lawmakers to pass the legislation. 

Taylor, who spent 26 years in leadership for Culinary Workers Local 226 before being appointed UNITE HERE president in 2012, told the panel that is chaired by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) that the state’s hospitality workers play a frontline role in providing resort industry guests a safe and secure environment.

“The idea is not to view workers as a cost item but viewed as a service product that brings back (consumer) loyalty,” Taylor told the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion in response to a question from Rosen.

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. 

Taylor, in testifying Tuesday, softened his message in some areas, but stuck to the script in others.

He said employment is “lagging” in destination markets, such as Las Vegas, where 50 percent of union members in gaming have returned to work. In New Orleans, just 32 percent of the labor organization’s membership is back on the job.

Regional gaming markets, Taylor said, have had better success at bringing back employees, including Atlantic City, Ohio, Detroit and Mississippi. Those communities have returned 65 percent to 75 percent of UNITE HERE workers to their jobs.

In the prepared remarks, Taylor said opposition to SB368 by Station Casinos, the operating subsidiary of Red Rock Resorts, denies casino, hospitality, stadium and travel-related workers in Nevada their recall rights.

“In most cases, unless you have a union contract, there’s nothing that requires your employer to bring you back when the business returns,” Taylor wrote. “Workers who are terminated and replaced rather than 'recalled' make on average 11.8 percent less in wages when they get a new job,” Taylor said. “Of older workers who are laid off involuntarily, only one in 10 will ever earn as much again.”

At the outset of the pandemic, Station Casinos was one of just three casino operators, along with Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands, that committed to pay employees through shutdown.  

During his appearance, Taylor named Wynn Resorts, along with Disney in Florida, as companies that have stepped up to support their workforces.

In an interview following Taylor’s testimony, Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline said SB386 is needed to ensure the labor organization’s members are able to return to their previous jobs.

Las Vegas casino operators have held nearly a dozen different job fairs in efforts to restaff hotel-casinos that were closed for 78 days a year ago and were hampered throughout the year by capacity restrictions and other COVID-19 operating procedures. Most casinos in Nevada are expected to return to 100 percent occupancy levels on June 1.

The $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas is facing challenges filling out its planned 5,000-person workforce.

Scott Sibella, president of the 3,506-room Strip property that opens June 24, told the Nevada Gaming Commission last week some 120,000 potential workers applied for jobs during the pandemic.

"We feel comfortable and made offers, but we're concerned about people changing their minds," Sibella said. He added that Resorts World has contingency plans in place for bringing on workers.

Sibella, a former president of MGM Grand Las Vegas, told the commissioners the resort is competing with other Las Vegas resorts in filling jobs.

"The Venetian is holding a job fair. They haven't done a job fair in 20 years,” Sibella said.

Updated at 8:44 p.m. to add additional details on the amendment and reflect that the committee passed the bill.

Henderson and Reno rise as pandemic driven casino closures skew national gaming revenue ranks

Casinos along Boulder Highway and much of Henderson make up the ninth-largest gaming revenue market in the U.S., according to the American Gaming Association.

The Northern Nevada area that includes casinos in Reno and Sparks is now ranked No. 12 among the Top 20 U.S. gaming markets.

Both regions jumped up two spots in the AGA’s annual “State of the States” commercial casino industry survey, which was released Thursday.

The standings, however, are most likely a one-year anomaly.

A spokeswoman for the AGA said the shifting market rankings were solely attributable to the number of days casinos were closed in specific markets. Nationwide, the organization said the commercial casino industry lost a combined 45,600 days of operation because of pandemic related closures – roughly 27 percent of potential operating days.

The Washington, D.C.-based trade organization said COVID-19-influenced casino closures and pandemic-related operating restrictions across the country during 2020 had varying influences on different communities.

Combined, national gaming revenues in 2020 for commercial casinos – non-Indian gaming properties – fell 31 percent to $30 billion, the lowest annual figure since 2003.

“While 2020 was a rough year for the industry, it will end up being an asterisk as we look at revenue over the course of time,” said Global Market Advisors partner Brendan Bussmann. “The more defining stat will be how quickly each of these markets rebounds, sustains, and grows.”

In calculating the rankings, the AGA subtracted sports betting revenues from the 21 states that had legal operations in order to offer a fundamentally similar comparison to states that didn’t have legal sports betting.

The Strip, which saw gaming revenues decline 43.3 percent to $3.73 billion ($3.65 billion under the AGA’s estimate), remained the nation’s largest gaming market.

Atlantic City held on to the second slot with $1.4 billion.

As for the rest of the top 20, only three jurisdictions – Lake Charles, Louisiana; Kansas City and Cincinnati – remained in their 2019 slots.

“The revenue stat will end up being a blip on the radar,” Bussmann said.

The Boulder Strip and Henderson region collectively brought in $642 million in gaming revenues – $655 million with sports betting added, according to Nevada Gaming Control Board figures – cracking the top 10.

The Reno/Sparks casino market rose two slots with $577 million according to the AGA – $595.5 million using the Control Board’s number.

During the first two months of 2020, U.S. commercial gaming revenue was up 11.4 percent compared to the same time in 2019.

"Last year was certainly one of the most challenging years in gaming's history,” said AGA Senior Vice President of Communications Casey Clark.

Nevada casinos were closed for 78 days between mid-March and the first week of June. Surges in COVID-19 cases limited operations for much of the fall, and several casinos reduced hours for certain amenities or shutdown operations during the middle of the week because of lack of business. In Southern Nevada, four casinos owned by Red Rock Resorts – Palms, Texas Station, Fiesta Henderson and Fiesta Rancho – and two Boyd Gaming properties – Main Street Station and Eastside Cannery – remain closed.

Other casino areas in the country, such as Detroit and the Poconos in Pennsylvania, fell four places in the AGA listing.

Downtown Las Vegas casinos fell three spots to No. 19 with $387 million in gaming revenues – $464 million with sports betting included.

Despite every state reporting steep casino revenue declines, there were certain positive signs in 2020. Nationwide, sports betting revenues grew 69 percent while the combined online casino gaming revenues in four states tripled 2019’s figure.

“This year’s report reflects both the highs and lows of the past year,” said AGA CEO Bill Miller.

The AGA, however, believes the casino industry will come back quicker than previously anticipated. Commercial casino revenue was more than $11 billion in the first three months of 2021, according to the AGA. The figure matched the third quarter of 2019 as the industry’s highest-ever three-month revenue period.

Nevada casinos collected more than $1 billion in gaming revenues in March.

“With reopenings and capacity restrictions easing in most areas, we're already beginning to see gaming revenue climbing to pre-pandemic levels,” Clark said.

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.”

'Right to Return' bill would guarantee laid-off hospitality employees the opportunity to return to their old jobs

After the pandemic brought thousands of layoffs to Nevada’s hospitality industry and devastated the state’s economy, lawmakers are considering a “Right to Return” bill that would give casino, hospitality, stadium and travel-related workers in Nevada the right to return to their former jobs.

The bill, SB386, garnered emotional support testimony Wednesday from laid-off workers looking to return to work and the backing of labor unions, while businesses, including some Las Vegas casinos, opposed the measure, arguing that it would result in inappropriate costs and litigation.

“I should not be replaced or abandoned. I have spent my life working for this company. I should not have to start my career over,” Mario Sandoval, a food worker and Culinary Union member of 39 years who lost his job amid the pandemic, said during a hearing for the bill. “I could have hope if I was guaranteed my job back, something that company has taken away from us.”

With events canceled, travel restrictions in effect and casinos shut down for several weeks during the pandemic, the hospitality industry was forced to scale back immensely over the past year. Data from the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation shows that from March to May last year, the state’s hospitality industry lost nearly 200,000 jobs.

Sandoval’s sentiment was echoed by other hospitality workers, including Cristina Lopez, who was laid off in May at her job at Station Casinos’ Texas Station after 10 years with the company.

“This crisis is not our fault. It took us all by surprise,” Lopez said. “I have applied at 15 different jobs, but I am told that I am overqualified to work at fast-food restaurants or that I don’t have enough experience for another job. The only hope I have is for my job to come back to the way it was.”

The bill applies to workers in the casino, hospitality, stadium and travel-related economic sectors who were 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.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) presented the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee bill, invoking her own parents, who were members of the Culinary Union.

“Growing up, I was the very proud daughter of a waitress and a bartender, both of whom are members of Culinary Union 226,” she said during the hearing. “Because I grew up in a family who relied on exactly the type of jobs that have been so hard hit by this pandemic, I can only imagine what these workers and their families have been through the past year.”

The bill would require employers to offer a laid-off employee each job that the employee is qualified for (e.g. someone who conducted cleaning work for a business could be eligible for other jobs associated with maintaining COVID-19 health and safety protocols). Employers also would be required to give employees who are not hired back an explanation of why they were not offered a job within 30 days of the decision.

During the bill presentation, Cannizzaro was joined by D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, a hospitality labor union with more than 300,000 members and the parent to the Las Vegas culinary union. Taylor argued that bringing back already-trained workers would benefit the recovering economy.

“This is good for the economy and businesses. This legislation provides for already-trained and experienced staff — a staff that was praised a year ago by the same companies,” Taylor said. “To get back to work immediately, there's no retraining necessary. They're ready day one.”

However, some senators expressed a concern that businesses would not be able to hire back all of their laid-off employees given the ongoing economic struggles related to the pandemic.

“The reopening is certainly uneven, and it's slow. And so my concern is, if an employer were to say, you know, they laid off 1,000 people… The employer is likely not to hire every employee that they laid off on the same day,” said Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson). “Now they're going to have to face a court to justify why they laid off a certain person.”

Opponents of the bill — including the Las Vegas Chamber, Henderson Chamber of Commerce, Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce, Southwest Airlines, Boyd Gaming Corporation and Caesars Entertainment — argued that one provision of the bill would invite unnecessary litigation, as the legislation would allow employees to bring a civil action against employers that fail to comply with the bill requirements.

“Why diminish the entrepreneurial spirit and fail to recognize what it has taken to weather through this pandemic?” Ann Silver, CEO for the Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce, said during the hearing. “There are federal and state laws to protect against discrimination and unfair labor practices. And there was enough work for lawyers. Let's not create new legislation that begs for litigation and class action lawsuits.”

Paul More, a Las Vegas-based labor lawyer, explained that employers would be able to defend themselves from civil lawsuits, if there was a legitimate business reason for not being able to bring an employee back to work.

Opponents of the bill also pointed to benefits that already were offered to employees through the pandemic and noted ongoing efforts to bring workers back.

“During the height of the pandemic, we initially continued full pay for all team members including tip income for the greater portion of the time our properties were closed,” said Erin Midby, vice president of government affairs for Boyd Gaming. “Since the shutdown, Boyd Gaming has brought more than 6,000 team members back to work and are continually bringing more back.”

Many of the labor unions supporting the “Right to Return” measure, including the Culinary Union, AFL-CIO and United Food and Commercial Workers Union, called it a “common sense” solution and said it was time to bring people back to work.

“Let's pass this bill and let's give people back work,” Rusty McAllister, secretary-treasurer for the AFL-CIO, said during the hearing. “This is not a complex issue. Just hire the people back that were laid off through no fault of their own.”

Wednesday’s meeting marked the first hearing for the bill. The committee did not vote on the measure.

Follow the Money: Breaking down more than $769,000 in gaming-industry spending on legislative campaigns

Amid the most dire threat to casino profits in the history of the Las Vegas Strip, a gaming industry hobbled by the COVID-19 pandemic still gave more than $769,000 to 52 state lawmakers over the course of the 2020 campaign cycle. 

Even so, the effect of the pandemic on campaign spending was clear: Industry campaign contributions dropped by roughly 52 percent compared to the $1.6 million spent in 2018, and almost 60 percent compared to the $1.9 million spent in 2016. 

Among some donors, that drop was even steeper. MGM Resorts International has for years been by far the largest single gaming donor, contributing upwards of $340,000 on average, of which more than two-thirds usually went to Democrats. 

But in 2020 — in the midst of the pandemic, land sales and a broader restructuring — MGM gave just $42,000 across its properties and subsidiaries. It’s a drop of roughly 88 percent compared to 2018, and it puts the casino giant in the same spending realm as Boyd Gaming ($58,000); the Meruelo Group, which owns the Sahara in Las Vegas and the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno ($52,500); and Golden Entertainment, which owns the STRAT and PT’s Pubs, among other casino properties ($44,750).  

These spending trends come as a backdrop to the electoral reality of the 2020 cycle. Though Democrats continued control of both houses of the Legislature — extending their state government trifecta for another two years — Republican gains chipped away at the edges of that majority. Republicans gained one seat in the Senate, where they now trail 12-9, and another three in the Assembly, where they are behind 26-16. 

In order to assess broad trends in campaign spending, The Nevada Independent categorized and analyzed more than 7,700 individual contributions of more than $200 made to sitting lawmakers in 2019 and 2020. 

These contributions capture nearly all campaign spending in that period, and more generally show to whom the largest contributions flowed and how much they were worth overall. 

The data in this story show only a slice of the campaign finance pie: 276 contributions from 43 donors fell under the umbrella of the gaming industry. 

However, it is important to note that because parent companies often contribute to the same candidates through multiple subsidiaries — a process that effectively allows the largest companies to sidestep legal limits on maximum campaign contributions — this analysis treats those contributions as if they came from the parent company in order to simplify overall spending trends.

Also of note, two legislators are excluded from this analysis: Sen. Fabian Donate (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas). Both were appointed in February by the Clark County Commission to fill legislative vacancies, a point at which contributions to lawmakers had already been frozen ahead of the start of the legislative session. 

Though 53 legislators reported receiving at least some money from the gaming industry last cycle, a vast majority of it went to just five lawmakers: Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert ($161,000), Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro ($106,500), Sen. Carrie Buck ($63,500), Sen. Scott Hammond ($60,500) and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson ($59,500). 

Together, those five combined to receive $451,000 in gaming contributions, or about 59 percent of all the money donated by the industry last cycle. 

Based on broader trends in campaign fundraising, it comes as little surprise that these five legislators are the biggest fundraisers, as they all were either in highly competitive elections (such as Gansert (R-Reno), Buck (R-Las Vegas) and Hammond (R-Las Vegas)) or were expected to reprise a role in leadership (such as Frierson (D-Las Vegas) — or both (Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas). 

Still, no legislator saw as much gaming money as Gansert, whose $161,000 was more than a fifth of all gaming contributions. Most of that money came in the form of large contributions from the biggest gaming operators, including $30,000 from companies linked to Las Vegas Sands; $20,000 each from Station Casinos properties and companies linked to Marnell Gaming; $17,500 from Golden Entertainment and its subsidiary, American Casino and Entertainment Properties; and $10,000 each from Peppermill Casinos, the Meruelo Group, Caesars Entertainment and Boyd Gaming. 

Outside the top five, legislators generally saw little in the way of gaming contributions. 37 of the remaining 47 recipients received less than $10,000, and the median legislative fundraising haul from these gaming donors was just $4,500. 

While most industries will have a handful of individual donors contributing a plurality, or even majority of the campaign money, the gaming industry was unique in that it was functionally dominated by the top-10 donors, who combined for nearly 88 percent of all the industry money contributed last cycle. 

This is partly because of the construction of this analysis. Contributions by properties or LLCs owned by a parent company — such as the ownership of the Venetian by Las Vegas Sands or the Sahara by the Meruelo Group — were counted under the single umbrella of the parent company.  

However, the greater determining factor is simply the increased degree to which the largest gaming companies use their subsidiaries to donate $10,000 maximum contributions to the same candidates. In all, parent companies for Las Vegas Sands, Station Casinos, MGM Resorts International and Golden Entertainment all saw subsidiary companies contribute in combined amounts that exceeded $10,000 for at least one candidate. 

Similar spending patterns are relatively rare across other industries, where the mechanisms for spending in excess of that maximum are usually beyond the scope of most donors. Of note, only one other major donor — Nevada REALTORS — contributed more than $10,000 to one candidate, though it did so through a trio of PACs, not corporate entities. 

By far the single-largest industry donor and among the largest donors of the entire cycle, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and two of its subsidiaries, the Venetian Resort and the Sands Expo Convention Center, gave $161,000 to just 13 lawmakers last cycle. 

Even so, that total is a far cry from spending by the Sands in 2018 and 2016, when it doled out $240,000 and $310,500, respectively. 

That spending could also represent a final salvo for the company in Nevada politics, where it has long been among the biggest donors under the stewardship of billionaire founder and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Widely known for his status as a Republican mega-donor on the national stage, Adelson died in January following a lengthy illness, and the company has since sold its Las Vegas properties for $6.25 billion as it signaled an exit from the Strip and a focus on foreign markets.

Most of the Sands’ contributions flowed to state Republicans, with $30,000 each going to Sen. Scott Hammond, Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert and Sen. Carrie Buck. Some Democrats did see major contributions from Sands companies, however, including Cannizzaro ($30,000), Sen. Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) ($10,000) and Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas)($10,000). 

One lawmaker, Sen. Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas) received $5,000, though the remaining six — a group of five Republicans and one Democrat, all in the Assembly — received just $2,500. 

With $116,000 contributed across 41 legislators from a handful of different properties, Station Casinos was one of few gaming donors to actually contribute more in 2020 than it did in 2018, when it only gave $108,500. 

Station Casinos’ spending clearly favored legislative Republicans, who received $66,500 to the Democrats’ $49,500. On average, it meant individual Republicans received about 55 percent more than their Democratic counterparts, $3,500 to $2,250. 

Station Casinos’ single largest recipient was Gansert, who received $20,000 in the aggregate. One other lawmaker, Cannizzaro, received more than the maximum ($10,500), while another two — Buck and Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) —  received $10,000 even. 

Most other recipients generally received far less, however, and 32 lawmakers who received at least some money from Station Casinos properties saw $2,500 or less. 

Contributing $108,000 across 40 lawmakers, Caesars Entertainment was another gaming donor that saw contributions tick up in a dire 2020. In comparison, the company gave legislators $92,000 in the aggregate in 2018, making Caesars just the eighth-largest industry donor at the time. 

Though spending from Caesars slightly favored Democrats overall — $56,500 to the Republicans’ $51,500 — individual Republicans still received more money on average, $3,218 to the Democrats’ $2,354. 

Three lawmakers, Frierson, Gansert and Assemblywoman Heidi Kasama (R-Las Vegas), received the $10,000 maximum, while another three, Cannizzaro ($8,500), Hammond ($7,000) and Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) ($7,000), saw larger-than-average contributions. 

Most recipients received far smaller amounts, however, including 32 legislators who saw $2,500 or less. 

Tim Lenard, Riley Snyder and Sean Golonka contributed to this report.

As part of our Follow the Money series The Nevada Independent will be publishing deep dives over the coming weeks into the industries that dominated legislative campaign spending in the 2020 campaign cycle. To see previous installments, follow the links below: