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Emily Kumler

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Frustrated Executives Form New Coalition

17 Nov 2004

By Emily Kumler

Down the street from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce office, a group of businessmen announced the formation of a new coalition they say will protect and promote the business interests of the gaming industry's suppliers and vendors.

The unveiling of the Nevada Tourism Alliance on Tuesday comes in the wake of disputes over the chamber's decision to oppose new broad-based business taxes during the last legislative session.

In the past couple of years, the Chamber of Commerce lost many of its largest members: Coast Casinos in 2001, Station Casinos in June 2003 and MGM Mirage in July 2003 -- gaming companies that argued the chamber wasn't looking out for their industry's best interests.

However, the new consortium of resort-related business and organizations said, while it was formed out of frustration sparked by the recent taxation legislation and the casino industry's belief it was not able to effectively get its message out to other businesses, its main goal will be to improve communications and education about important legislative issues.

"The inescapable reality is that without a new voice of reason, gaming-related businesses are vulnerable to attacks made on the No. 1 industry," said Larry Ruvo, senior managing director of Southern Nevada Wine & Spirits and co-chairman of the Nevada Tourism Alliance with former Gov. Bob Miller.

"During last year's bitter and divisive debate over state taxation policy, Larry (Ruvo) and I grew increasingly concerned the policy decisions being reached in Carson City could hamper the gaming industry's future ability to contribute to Nevada's overall long-term economic health," Miller said. "Quite simply, we felt that if government policies hinder the gaming industry from performing at top levels, businesses like ours would be similarly hampered."

The group's current membership includes Brady Industries, Southern Nevada Wine & Spirits, YESCO Outdoor Media and Mission Industries, although Miller said the alliance hopes to attract more gaming-related businesses as members.

Lorenzo Fertitta, president of Station Casinos and chairman of the Nevada Resort Association, which will be working with the alliance, said at Tuesday's news conference the frustration companies like his felt after the last legislative session "was difficult on a lot of people." Fertitta, Miller, Ruvo and Bill Bible, president of Nevada Resort Association, mobilized in reaction to the legislative decision to start thinking about a new coalition.

"We need an effective way to come up with strategies," Fertitta said.

The alliance stresses that the business community at large is directly affected by resort industry decisions and that the business community needs more information in order to make informed decisions.

"Our purpose isn't to lobby, it's to educate our members," Miller said.

The Nevada Tourism Alliance, however, denies it is duplicating the chamber's efforts to represent business.

"We may have some government overlap, but our priority is to better inform those in regard to the number one industry," Ruvo said, reiterating his point that businesses in the community require a better understanding of the link between the local business environment and the tourism industry.

"The financial well-being of our industry is not just a concern to our industry but to most if not all businesses in this valley," Miller said, adding that many local businesses were silent in the last legislative go-around, but the group's goal is to give them a voice so they can have an influence.

"The industry is too narrowly defined as just a few big casinos, but it should include the suppliers and vendors," Miller said.

Kara Kelley, president and chief financial officer at the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, later Tuesday downplayed the alliance's announcement, noting the chamber has to consider the broader base of businesses in the community.

"It is not the chamber's responsibility to advocate for the service industry," Kelley said. "With 7,000 members there is no way to please all the people all the time," she said, adding that the one characteristic all chamber members have in common is that they own or operate a business.

Kelley said that the chamber considers last year's tax battle a success.

"Out of our 7,000 members less than 20 left because of the tax situation, which says resoundingly that we did the right thing for our membership," she said.

While Kelley said anytime income from members leaves the chamber it hurts, she said the exodus of gaming companies from the chamber in the past few years had no significant economic impact. She also said she wasn't worried about the chamber's future.

"We've been a part of the community since 1911," Kelley said. "Our history is rich, with nearly 100 years of history. I am sure as other associations come and go this chamber will be here in another 100 years talking about what a dynamic business environment we have here."

The new alliance is offering charter memberships for $5,000 but plans to offer less expensive memberships once its members have ironed out questions about its infrastructure and priorities.

While the group said it doesn't have an eye on any specific legislative issues, it expects the government propositions introduced over the next two months will guide its direction. Miller said the group's audience will dictate its priorities, although he imagines it will concentrate on regulatory issues.

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