alchemist Wynn turns high art into low taxes
from the 4-18-99 Sunday Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune
Last week, the Nevada
State Senate voted 14 to 7 to grant Las Vegas billionaire Steve Wynn
corporate welfare beyond the wildest dreams of greed.
Senate Bill 521 is
so bad it stands to bankrupt the state by making Nevada casinos tax
Our gambling halls
already pay the lowest taxes in the world. They are also the state's
biggest welfare queens.
They shunt property
taxes to downtown redevelopment projects. They skim room tax money for
casino advertising, railroad trenches and convention halls.
All this comes as the
fastest-growing state in the nation encounters trouble paying for that
growth. Las Vegas needs to open a new school every 40 days for the next
10 years but the school district has recently had to fight the Las Vegas
Convention and Visitors Authority, the gambling industry's tax-subsidized
promotional arm, for school construction money. LVCVA has been trying
to steal $12 million a year from room tax funds promised for schools.
(Go to http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/text/1999/apr/12/508652325.html
Screwing the schools
is really what SB 521 is all about. In the name of art education, casino
mogul Wynn stands to rip off millions from Nevada students for many
years to come.
Wynn thinks school
children should subsidize his $300 million Bellagio Resort art collection.
The tax break passed in 1997 lets Wynn keep money which would otherwise
go to schools if he allows free student viewing 20 hours a week for
35 weeks a year.
Wynn has insisted on
charging everyone, telling reporters last year that he did not want
to "cheapen the experience" by admitting anybody gratis.
"It won't bust anyone
if I make it ten bucks," Wynn told the Reno Gazette-Journal last October.
He has since upped the ante to $12. Wynn personally earned $3.75 million
in salary and bonuses in 1998.
"People want to be
near it. If I have fine art, I'll be flattering the people," he told
the Reno paper.
These are the ethics
of Baby Doc Duvalier, the brutal former Haitian dictator who nationally
televised a lavish presidential palace banquet. He was sure that his
starving people loved him so much that they would find relief just by
viewing him pigging out on food they could only dream of.
I guess he was flattering
them. They immediately rioted and overthrew the government. Baby Doc
barely escaped with his life.
He should have let
them eat cake.
Last November, Mr.
Wynn sued the Nevada Tax Commission which had refused to let him have
his cake and eat it, too. SB 521 would allow Mr. Wynn to do just that.
The full proportions
of Wynn's bill to "clarify" current law were not known until Sen.
Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, brought out the facts in senate debate
on Friday, April 16.
Casino lobbyist Harvey
Whittemore had amended the original bill so that the loophole became
big enough to drive a state through.
SB 521 will allow a
casino to designate just about anything as original art. The coffee
shop silverware and crockery with fancy casino logos. The awful carpet
with patterns designed to cover up the mess left by a sick drunk. Old
cars. Antiques. Chandeliers. Slot machines. Draperies. Wall paper. Cocktail
napkins and swizzle sticks. Towels, matches, ash trays.
Flying to Paris or
Rio on the corporate jet to shop for casino paintings can be written
off against one's art collection.
Just like Nevada mines
or Hollywood movies, Wynn's art will be taxed on the net-net-net. There
are plenty of things in this bill to make sure there will never be a
net profit. Any contribution to art education or juvenile delinquency
programs becomes a tax break double-dip, deductible against state as
well as federal taxes.
Levies currently paid
on non-art gallery property, such as hotel-casino furnishings, equipment
and vehicles, could be avoided if charged against a casino's museum.
From whisk brooms to parking lot street sweepers. From golf carts to
room service carts.
"For the owner of a
casino, this deduction would include personal property taxes on all
the furniture, equipment, vehicles and so forth used by the casino,"
wrote Paul Mouritsen, principal research
analyst of the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau's research division.
"Since this amount
is so large, it seems unlikely that the owner of a casino would pay
any tax on the works of art," Mouritsen concluded in an analysis appropriately
dated April 15. Sen. Neal has sent Mouritsen's memo to every member
of the assembly.
Steve Wynn has even
redefined the calendar. A year may be 12 months to you and me, but it's
eight months whenever Mr. Wynn says "show me the Monet." He may take
a full year's tax break on a work displayed just eight months. SB 521
also applies retroactively to pieces Wynn purchased as long as two years
before the Bellagio gallery opened.
Give this damned thing
a little time and creative casino accountants will redefine everything
down to toothpicks as tax-deductible masterpieces.
The Wynn art tax loophole
will drive public budgets to a breaking point. Casinos already pay a
rapidly decreasing share of state taxes. Last year, the gambling tax
dropped to fourth behind the sales tax.
In 1997, the Nevada
gambling industry paid about $570 million in taxes, fees and licenses.
It got back roughly a third, and perhaps more, in subsidies and loopholes.
Redefining everything with a logo on it as artwork will widen the corporate
Cities and counties
are increasingly unable to pay the costs of growth stimulated by gambling
Localities are forced
to saddle taxpayers with ever-higher fees and property taxes for necessities
like parks, roads, police and fire protection. This is why angry homeowners
will soon circulate a Nevada version of California's Proposition 13.
Gov. Guinn has promised
tax reform in 2001 but has already hinted that higher property taxes
will be his solution. The property tax-cutting petition and Sen. Neal's
initiative to raise the gross gaming tax will both hit the ballot in
November, 2002, if the 2001 legislature fails to enact them.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
who voted against Wynn - Republican Sens. O'Connell of Las Vegas and
Amodei, Carson-Lyon-Storey. Democrats: Las Vegas Sens. Care, Coffin,
Titus and Wiener; Sen. Neal, North Las Vegas.
THE OBSCENE 14 who
bowed to the king - Republicans: Las Vegans James, O'Donnell and Rawson;
Raggio and Townsend, both Reno; Jacobsen, Washoe-Carson-Douglas; McGinness
representing Fallon and central Nevada; Porter of Henderson; Rhoads
representing Northern Nevada outside Washoe-Carson; Washington-Sparks.
Democrats: Carlton and Schneider of Las Vegas; Martin-Mathews, Sparks-Reno;
Shaffer, North Las Vegas.
THE THREE BLIND MICE
who voted against Wynn in 1997 but for him last week: Martin-Mathews
(D), McGinness (R), Porter (R).
ONE LAST EXERCISE IN
FUTILITY -- The Nevada Assembly Committee on Taxation will hear the
Wynn freebie bill on Thursday, April 29, at 1:30 p.m. in hearing room
3142. Show up to testify or contact your representative. Here is the
Las Vegas Democrats:
Committee Chair David Goldwater; Morse Arberry, John Lee, Mark Manendo,
Harry Mortenson. Other Southern Nevadans: Bob Price, D-North Las Vegas;
Sandra Tiffany, R-Henderson.
From rural Nevada:
Committee Vice-Chair Roy Neighbors, D-Esmeralda, Lincoln, Mineral and
Nye counties; John Marvel, R-Battle Mountain, representing northeastern
From Reno: Greg Brower
(R), Vivian Freeman (D), Dawn Gibbons (R).
addresses are made up of the lawmaker's first-name initial and full
last name followed by @asm.state.nv.us. Here's an example for Bob
You can leave a phone
message at the legislative hotlines: (775) 687-4848 in northwestern
Nevada, (702) 384-2225 in the Las Vegas area or (800) 978-2878 toll-free.
You can fax any assemblymember at (775) 684-8888 and any senator at
(775) 687-5898. Make sure to include the bill number, SB 521, on everything.
You also have a bit
of time to use the U.S. Postal Service. Many lawmakers still give great
weight to paper and diminish e-mail. You may send letters to lawmakers
at the Legislative Building, Capitol Complex, Carson City NV 89701-4747.
Please call, fax, e-mail,
U.S. Mail (or all of the above) your local lawmaker before it's too
DON'T SAY LIE, JUST
SAY CLARIFY. Steve Wynn's lobbyists have long repeated the shuck that
SB 521 changes nothing and merely clarifies legislative intent from
1997. Mr. Mouritsen's memo pretty much knocks that one through the looking
glass to Tweedle Dum Wonderland.
A more egregious bit
of corporate propaganda has even been repeated by some lawmakers in
support of the bill. They've been defending themselves saying that Nevada
would never have had the chance to host this collection without the
1997 tax break.
Bull. Wynn began collecting
the pieces well before his last-minute push to grant himself a loophole.
WYNN'S NUMBER ONE.
The San Francisco Chronicle last year called the Bellagio gallery "pro-rated
on a per-painting basis...the most expensive museum in the world" to
get into. (Go to http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/1998/10/19
AND WE'RE NUMBER ONE!
"Nevada prison inmates lead the nation in hourly wages for prisoners,"
reports "Nevada News--The newspaper of the University of Nevada, Reno."
Nice to know that the underdog is making progress somewhere out here
in the High Desert Outback of the American Dream.
Be well. Raise hell.
UPDATE: CORPORATE WELFARE QUEEN WYNN WANTS MORE
Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a 30-year Nevadan,
editor of U-News and
head of Casinos
Out of Politics (COP). In 1998 he served as gubernatorial
campaign manager for State Senator
Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas.
Since 1988 Barbwire
by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune,
where an earlier version of this column appeared on 4/18/99.