Las Vegas Sun

October 22, 2017

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Judge lets Harrah’s proceed with petition to build sports arena

CARSON CITY — A District Court judge has allowed Harrah’s Entertainment to go ahead with an initiative petition to build a 20,000-seat sports arena on the Las Vegas Strip.

Judge Todd Russell on Tuesday rejected arguments by MGM Resorts International that an initiative petition being circulated by Harrah’s was invalid.

He said the petition was straight forward and not a case of logrolling as maintained by attorneys for MGM.

Harrah’s is now circulating an initiative petition statewide that would impose a 0.9 cent sales tax in a taxing district near the proposed arena. The proceeds from the tax would finance bonds to construct the arena.

Russell said during arguments in the case that he expected it to be appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Harrah’s must gather the signatures of 97,000 voters statewide by Nov. 9 for the issue to be presented to the 2011 Legislature, Deputy Secretary of State Matt Griffin said. He said the Legislature must act in 40 days. The Legislature can approve setting up the taxing district or present an alternative to be on the election ballot for the voters to decide.

Alan Feldman, senior vice president for public affairs for MGM, said no decision on an appeal has been made. He said all options must be considered.

Attorney Scott Scherer, who represented MGM, told the judge that the initiative petition misleads voters. It doesn’t make it clear that only one site can be selected for the arena, he argued.

Five locations qualified for the sports arena. Three of them are controlled by Harrah’s, which has agreed to donate 1,700 acres for the project.

Scherer argued there are two subjects on the petition — the imposition of the tax and the description of the site — but the law allows only one subject.

Todd Bice, a lawyer for Harrah’s, said the Clark County Commission did not approve any of the proposals submitted to it to build a sports arena. So opponents to the Harrah’s petition “are trying to make sure this proposal does not see the light of day,” Bice said.

He said the voters should decide the issue.

The petition is valid, Bice said, and the issue is a policy question whether voters would approve imposing the sales tax in the district that includes 95,000 hotel rooms.

The process of gathering signatures is under way, and if Russell changed one word in the petition, Harrah’s would have to start all over, he said.

After the hearing, Bice said he did not know how many signatures had been gathered so far.

Russell said the petition talks about a “gaming enterprise district” and questioned how the average voter would know what that is. But he said the petition meets the standard of the law and can go forward.

If the petition ends up on the ballot, all voters in Nevada would decide the issue, not just those in Clark County, Griffin said.

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