Las Vegas Sun

September 21, 2019

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Jeff German: Stupak silences his critics with Stratosphere’s opening

MAKING BELIEVERS out of his harshest critics, Bob Stupak has ensured his place in Las Vegas history as the visionary behind the Stratosphere.

Stupak built the 1,149-foot tower and resort complex, one of the world's tallest structures, and the invited VIPs came by the thousands Monday night to witness its splendor.

Even Stupak, his love Phyllis McGuire on his arm, seemed in awe of his massive accomplishment as he paused to chat with me in the crowded casino in front of a horde of cameras, moments before he strolled to the podium to accept accolades.

Gov. Bob Miller, who led a host of celebrities and local dignitaries on hand for the festivities, summed up Stupak's life the best.

"In a town that was built on odds, no one has defied the odds with success more than Bob Stupak," he told the hundreds of well-wishers.

Indeed, Stupak has.

He survived a near-fatal motorcycle accident, years of sparring with state gaming regulators, who viewed him more as a Barnum & Bailey ringmaster than a visionary, and even more years of being ribbed by his friends and detractors as the self-promoting "Polish Maverick" who lacked the substance and depth to become part of mainstream Las Vegas.

On Monday night, however, as chairman of the board of Stratosphere Corp., Stupak fulfilled his dreams and may have erased those images of old that have been haunting him all these years.

And now that the Stratosphere has opened its lofty doors, Stupak's job is over. He'll be moving on to other projects in the months ahead.

Some say the Stratosphere may be only his first attempt at reaching toward the sky. They say that from now on, the sky's the limit for Stupak.

You know, they may be right.

On the street, they're saying the black market ring of ticket scalpers has been in existence at the airport the past decade and may have cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At least one Nevada Taxicab Authority officer has been fired and a cab company supervisor demoted for allegedly re-selling tickets collected from the drivers at a cut rate.

Others are suspected of being involved in the ring, but the Taxicab Authority has had a hard time obtaining evidence in the investigation.

Cabbies buy the tickets to cover a $1.20 tax for a trip from the airport. The tax is then included in the fare.

"Nothing has been done about this," charges one cabbie in the know. "Nobody has been brought to justice."

Taxicab Authority Administrator Bob Anselmo says his agency has done the best it can in getting to the bottom of the scandal.

"They should put their money where their mouths are," Anselmo says. "If somebody has further information, we'd love to talk to them."

Anselmo doubts that hundreds of thousands of dollars are missing, but he doesn't rule out the possibility the scam has been going on for years.

"Anything is possible," he says.

Last week, Reid and Bryan, fearing the war is being lost, told the gaming industry's chief lobbyist, Frank Fahrenkopf, that the bill creating the study should have been stopped before it sailed through the House.

The two senators also suggested that Fahrenkopf shouldn't settle for anything less than no subpoena power in the Senate version of the bill.

The gaming industry is concerned that any study panel given the ability to subpoena casino records will destroy the industry's confidential relationship with its high-rollers.

There's been talk that Fahrenkopf, facing mounting pressure from congressional leaders and the religious right, might have to agree to limited subpoena power.

In Las Vegas Monday, even House Speaker Newt Gingrich reaffirmed his support for the mighty subpoena.