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July 18, 2018

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MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren weighs in on Clinton, Trump and the issues

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Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO Jim Murren speaks during the grand opening of T-Mobile Arena Wednesday, April 6, 2016.

MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren announced on Monday that, despite being a lifelong Republican, he is backing Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.

Murren has never publicly endorsed a candidate before but said that he felt he needed to lend his voice to "some of the bigger issues” this election cycle after an “accumulation of vitriol” from Trump.

He said there wasn’t a defining moment that solidified his support for Clinton, but that his decision was more cumulative — pointing to a number of controversial remarks Trump has made about Arizona Sen. John McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, a disabled reporter, women, Muslims and Mexicans.

Here are some highlights from Murren's Thursday interview with the Sun, including why he is backing Clinton, what he thinks of Trump as a businessman, and his latest thoughts on the proposal to build an NFL stadium in Las Vegas.

On why he is supporting Clinton:

Murren recalled the excitement with which he voted in his first presidential primary — for George Bush, who lost the Republican nomination to Ronald Reagan — and in his first presidential election, for the combined Reagan-Bush ticket.

This year, his 18- and 21-year-old sons will be able to vote in the presidential election for the first time, so they talk a lot about the issues as a family, Murren said. For him, those issues include immigration, diversity and inclusion, trade, and sustainability.

Murren said that he has always been impressed with Clinton’s preparedness when they've met in business settings. He recounted how he and his wife once met then-Sen. Clinton on the U.S. Capitol subway system, where they gave her a brief elevator pitch about the Nevada Cancer Institute they were developing at the time.

Though Clinton was in a hurry, Murren said she absorbed all the information and, months later, when they met again in a different setting, she was able to recount every point they'd made.

“The retention of information and the concentration and the absorption of information — I was very impressed,” Murren said, adding that it wasn't typical of the experiences he’d had in the seat of American government. “I don’t see that enough in Washington, frankly, when I meet with elected officials. The first question is, ‘So, what do you want to talk about?’ That’s disrespectful.”

Though he has disagreed with some of Clinton’s policy positions, Murren said he’s always known that they were well-thought out and thoroughly researched.

On Trump as a businessman:

Murren was curt: “I don’t admire his approach to business at all.”

Murren pointed to Kirk Kerkorian, the billionaire businessman and philanthropist who founded MGM Resorts, as an example of a “true businessman.”

“He taught me, and I’ve tried to practice, the concept of transactions and business where there aren’t necessarily winners and losers,” Murren said. “You find middle ground and compromise. That’s not a weakness. I don’t believe in the approach of bluffing and bravado and extreme negotiating style that has been obvious in his career his entire professional life.”

Murren said that he and Trump don’t really run in the same circles — Murren prefers being with his family here, while Trump has a “rarified billionaire-star air.” Plus, Trump went bankrupt in Atlantic City before Murren became MGM Resorts’ CEO, and his hotel here is essentially a “non-event” compared to the Las Vegas properties of MGM Resorts and their competitors, Murren said.

He said he recognizes that working at a company is about developing motivated teams, being inclusive and encouraging diverse points of view — “none of which I see evidenced in Donald Trump.”

MGM Resorts employs 55,000 people in Las Vegas alone — 68,000 across the country — and the company is adding another 7,000 over the next two years. Of those, 66 percent are minorities.

“There is no resemblance to business practices that I admire from a standpoint of compromise, clarity, teamwork, integrity and excellence that I see evidenced in Donald Trump as a business person,” Murren said.

On the candidate's hardball tactics, Murren said he reacts “very violently toward bullies” in business, particularly in situations where a company is working with small businesses, including those owned by women and minorities.

Still, Murren considers himself an optimist, and thinks the Republican party is “long overdue for a tremendous overhaul.” In the meantime, he thinks that Clinton will be a “very fine president.”

On business, international tourism and Trump:

Generally, Murren stressed the importance of stability in capital markets, whether the stock market, bond market or foreign currencies.

“Even Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters would have to agree he’s unpredictable, and that’s not good for financial markets,” Murren said.

With regard to international tourism, Murren said he thinks a Trump presidency would be “very damaging” for the industry in Las Vegas. In all of his travels to China, Murren said there is an “intense interest” in U.S. politics among senior party officials and a “clear level of consternation” concerning Trump’s comments about China.

Trump has said in his campaign speeches that China’s economy is succeeding at the United States' expense, promising to take a tougher stance on Chinese trade violations and renegotiate trade deals with a host of countries, including China.

Murren called it a “critical and exciting time” for international tourism here, particularly with the recent announcement that Hainan Airlines will begin operating nonstop flights between Las Vegas and China. Closer to home, Trump could alienate Canadian and Mexican tourists by renegotiating or withdrawing altogether from the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he strongly opposes in its current form.

That would be bad for Las Vegas, Murren said, because international tourists represent 16 percent of all visitors and spend twice as much as domestic tourists, as well as being more likely to stimulate the economy beyond the Strip as they stay longer and generally venture farther away to locales like the Hoover Dam and Bryce Canyon.

On immigration:

Whoever is elected president will have “broad ramifications” for Las Vegas and Nevada as a whole, Murren said, when you consider the demographic makeup. “The real joy that I have, being part of an industry that welcomes immigrants, in many cases, to their first jobs in the United States, I just am struck by the opportunities that have been presented to immigrants from around the world,” Murren said.

He pointed to his own immigrant ancestors, who fled the famine in Ireland and settled in Connecticut at a time when the Irish were vilified. He said some of his ancestors were sent over on boats alone as young children, hopefully to be met on the other side by distant relatives.

“This is happening today. It happens. It will always happen, and that is what’s so great about America,” Murren said.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, speaks during the grand opening of The Park Monday, April 4, 2016. MGM Resorts International Chairman/CEO Jim Murren listens at right. The new pocket park, lined with restaurants and seating for outdoor dining, runs from the Las Vegas Strip to the new T-Mobile Arena.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, speaks during the grand opening of The Park Monday, April 4, 2016. MGM Resorts International Chairman/CEO Jim Murren listens at right. The new pocket park, lined with restaurants and seating for outdoor dining, runs from the Las Vegas Strip to the new T-Mobile Arena.

On the proposed NFL stadium:

To start with, Murren praised the Southern Nevada Infrastructure and Tourism Committee for backing an increase to the room tax to pay for improvements and the expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center, in particular Gov. Brian Sandoval and Steve Hill, who helms economic development operations in the state.

Talk of a special session of the Legislature to approve public funding for a football stadium in Las Vegas to house the Raiders is already in the air, despite the fact that the location for the stadium, the cost of the project and the amount of public and private funding it would take remain uncertain.

However, Murren said that he would be in favor of a special session, at the very least, to approve the room-tax increase for the convention center.

“Every day we wait on that is a lost opportunity,” Murren said. “We cannot afford to wait for the general session. Every month we wait is a month beyond what we need.”

Murren said that, as a football fan, he would love to see an NFL team in Las Vegas and that some level of public funding is appropriate. However, he said he doesn’t have enough information to be able to say what that level should be — the cost of the stadium, other infrastructure costs, how the capital will be pulled together, or what the burden is on the taxpayer.

“Without all that information it’s difficult to say I’m a big fan,” Murren said.

Plus, he said that he chafes at the suggestion that the public wouldn’t be paying for the stadium by virtue of tourists covering the room tax, since a significant chunk of the money goes toward education as well as other funds across the state.

Another issue that needs to be considered, Murren said, is the rate of the room tax, which is 12 percent in Las Vegas and 12.5 percent in Orlando, our biggest competitor for conventions. If the tax is raised 0.5 percentage points for the convention center, any further increases could make Las Vegas a harder sell, Murren said. “We have one more bite at this room-tax apple. I’m not saying it shouldn’t go toward a stadium on some level, but we’ve got to be darn sure about the total economic package.”

On Clinton’s and Trump’s stances on energy:

Trump often talks about the “war on coal” during his campaign stump, while Clinton praises the benefits of renewable energy such as solar, wind and geothermal. But Murren framed Trump’s coal friendliness as nothing more than an effort to “curry favor” among voters in certain swing states.

“To just say there is a war on coal as if there is a war against people that have worked in coal plants is wrong,” said Murren, adding that while he feels for those who've lost jobs due to plant closures, that doesn’t mean coal is the right approach. “It is utterly wrong as an approach to energy. Long ago, we should’ve reduced and eliminated our dependence on fossil fuels.”

Murren noted that sustainability is a core value of MGM Resorts, which has the largest rooftop-solar array in the country on top of Mandalay Bay.

“I feel very strongly that we need to lead the way here in the state,” Murren said.

On NV Energy and exiting the grid:

MGM Resorts earlier this year announced that it would pay to exit NV Energy’s grid and purchase its own electricity on the wholesale market. Las Vegas Sands Corp. took a different approach to leaving the system — funding a ballot measure, known as the Energy Choice Initiative, that would end the power utility’s monopoly on supplying energy in the state.

Despite their decision to exit, MGM Resorts supports that effort and has contributed some money to the PAC behind the initiative, Murren said. He said he thinks that, as a capitalist and free-market supporter, deregulation is good in principle, though complicated.

“It's similar to the stadium or any other complex issue, it really comes down to the details of how it will be implemented,” Murren said. “It requires tremendous energy experts and regulatory experts and an engaged elected body to really make sure that the small businesses and homeowners are not harmed.”

Murren said that’s why MGM Resorts is paying the exit fee. He thinks the roughly $86.9 million is too high, but he doesn't not want to saddle ratepayers with extra costs.

“As the largest taxpayer in the state and one of the largest energy users, we did not want to get close to any kind of adversarial position with the men and women that live and work here in this state,” Murren said. “I feel strongly about ensuring that the individuals, the homeowners, the small business, are not harmed inadvertently.”

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