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Editorial: Are Casinos Part Of The Public Trust?

By Chuckmonster on Wednesday, 21st May 2014 11:21am
  » filed under Las Vegas  comments: 5

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VT superfriend and holder of the VPP/VIMFP perfect attendance record (MIA at VT10) Mr. JeffInOKC (aka FFejniOKC) joins us today with thought provoking theories about the public trust, take it away FFej! -c

. . .

It might seem odd, since I live in Oklahoma City and see every day the benefit of the Thunder moving to our city, but one of my favorite documentaries of the last few years is Sonicsgate: Requiem For A Team. It's the lament of a jilted lover and quite one sided, but it does have some good concepts and is entertaining.

One of the key talking points they keep hitting on is Seattle SuperSonics team owner (at the time) Howard Schultz repeatedly referring to the team as a "part of the public trust". The concept that a team, or other entity, could be vital to the city's identity and image. Something that, by just existing, immediately reflects upon the city and drives thought their way. Because of it's civic importance it becomes the obligation of both the individual owners (if it's a private enterprise) and the local populace and government to protect, promote and improve it.

Schultz knew when he bought the Sonics that they were a money loser in it's current arena and the only solution was to replace it. Seattlites had already paid for new stadiums for the NFL and MLB teams and decided they didn't want to do it again. Schultz thought that, as a civic leader, he could get the deal sold just by his charm and genius. Instead, the locals became so angered by his approach, and he by their attitude, that he sold the team to people from OKC (whom he had to suspect were going to move the team) and SuperSonics jetted. The net result for Seattle is that they lost their entrant in the second most popular sports league in America, which was also the team that got Seattle recognition as a "big league city" in the eyes of the country over 35 years ago. They will now have to wait over 10 years and spend more than what was originally requested to get another team. This happens every time a sports franchise moves.

How does this relate to casinos in Las Vegas?

My direct argument is that the casinos on the Fremont Street Experience are an iconic part of the image of Las Vegas, in an historic district, which is also a geographically limited area. They should be seen as a part of the community fabric and jointly protected as a part of "the public trust".

I was told that, after the sale of the Las Vegas Club to Derek Stevens fell through, the owners of the property (Tamares Group) are negotiating to lease it to a drug store chain, such as Walgreens or CVS. I see this as a death blow to the property. The lease would have to be for at least 10 years and the ground floor square footage used would destroy any ability by new or existing property owners to maximize the normal casino and entertainment uses. The hotel towers would remain closed for decades, as it would be impossible or too disruptive to demolish them. The rest of the property would become a ghost town. A festering filth pit.

I maintain that this action would do irreversible damage to the Fremont Street Experience, and, by extension, the City of Las Vegas. I believe that the City, Fremont area property owners & operators, and the general public at large should band together and stop this proposal. I think they should work jointly to ensure that the area is protected from opportunistic speculation and short term profit grabs, and instead is provided a clear vision and demand that this limited space be protected for the common good and long term preservation of it's heritage and revenue potential.



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Comments & Discussion:

I like your thoughts here Jeff, while I'll agree that a sale to Walgreens/CVS should be prevented if at all possible, I'm not willing to concede of casinos as a public trust, at least not in all cases. (In the case of the Fremont casinos, I would consider them as such, but would be loathe to place that classification on for an example Horseshoe Cleveland).

Also while I'll agree that the amount a city has to pony up is typically what they would have had to pay to keep the team, the 10 year timeframe is not always absolute (although I'm sure that in most cases it is the case) as an example, the Cleveland Browns.

Fascinating. To me, the idea of public trust means that an item is partially held by the public and receive benefits from it... usage, tax dollars, tourism, civic pride. But when the public decides to revoke that trust - act in a way that causes the asset to dissolve - their rights dissolve as well. Every city is bent over a barrel to build sports stadiums. I've happily joined my fellow citizens in voting against every bond measure aimed at building a football stadium in Los Angeles... as a result we haven't had a football team in decades. The public of Los Angeles doesn't want to enter into a trust with an unknown team.

Re: Walgreens/CVS... the good news is that it isn't a Rite Aid. I doubt planning commission would allow this, plus CVS rental won't foot the bill of FSE fees.

Progress is progress. A few years ago, Fremont Street was teetering dangerously close to the edge of becoming Downtown Reno... more junk/pawn/gift/crap shops than casinos to support them. Fortunes have changed. Markets are dynamic... growing, contracting, redistributing - what is great for x is bad for y. In some sense, Binions is the bigger story here. The casino is open and full of folks, yet TLC has effectively given up on the hotel. For whatever reason - desire, finances, research - they don't see the value in putting Binion's and its big hotel towers, huge brand recognition and massive history back on line.

By the same token, could 'the public trust' require the opposite? That a casino/hotel should be demolished?

I look back at how Oscar Goodman several years ago made remarks about The Plaza and how it should be torn down (of course this was prior to the renovations and him getting his own place there) and he also lambasted the owners of the former Lady Luck about the delays in redeveloping the property. As Mayor, he saw the issues at both places as something of a negative towards Downtown as they reflected badly on his domain.

With Las Vegas Club, you have absentee ownership that doesn't care too much about what the place (but obviously enough to back out of a deal to sell it to someone who would have restored the luster to it). The tacky souvenir shop that they put in on the corner of the property facing Main Street is let another in a long line of sad things to happen to the place. The Fremont Street Experience folks had pretty much put the Plaza out of sight out of mind by building the zipline tower at that end of the Fremont Street Experience. Las Vegas Club is right there on Fremont Street essentially giving the casinos that are members of the Fremont Street Experience the bird since they are no longer part of the group. Considering they balked on the sale at the 11th hour, Tamares has no intentions of selling anytime soon as they don't give a damn.

Part of the problem is that demand for rooms Downtown is still down and this is even with the Downtown Grand opening late last year and the Golden Nugget opening the remainder of the rooms in the Rush Tower about 18 months ago (Not to mention the rooms at the Gold Spike being taken offline as the property ceased being a casino hotel last year.). We still keep hearing rumors of Binion's finally renovating their hotel and reopening it (I still can't believe it's been four and a half years since they closed the hotel side of the property.), but not real hard evidence of that actually happening (although TLC Enterprises has made improvements on the casino floor and replaced the carpet. The saddest thing for me is seeing the check-in space at Binion's being used as retail space for crappy Vegas shirts. Some 10 years after Becky Binion Behnen was forced to sell the place (after running it into the ground), subsequent ownership has still not completely fixed the place up. I know my two stays there in 2008 the rooms in the old Mint tower looked as though they hadn't been renovated since perhaps before the place was sold to the Binions. I heard the rooms in the old Horseshoe side were even worse than the ones in the Mint tower.

I'm still surprised that Tamares has been allowed to own the Plaza and Las Vegas Club without being forced to get a gaming license as they have been contracting the operations to a third party ever since they bought out Barrick Gaming's stake in the JV they had with them. Some say that the reason why the Sahara closed when it did was because the Gaming Control folks refused to allow the property to continue to contract the casino operations (Sam Nazarian never applied for a gaming license while the Sahara was still open and that still may be the case even with SLS opening in a couple of months.). For the most part, companies like Navegante are supposed to be short-term solutions to keep a casino open while the new owners get licensed and not there for the long term.

The lady luck really did dawdle until Fifth STREET Gaming got involved.

I don't see where it begins and ends. I have previously bemoaned that the Vegas Vic building is an ABC store instead of an anything, but I'm glad to see Gold Spike cleaned up. I don't consider La Bayou as sacred as Golden Nugget or Gate.

Who says the best use of the LV Club isn't a smaller casino and a CVS with condos above?

Actually where the ABC Store is where the original location for the Las Vegas Club. The Pioneer Club was originally a department store before being turned into a casino.

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