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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston
 

'Green' building brings hotshot firm to Vegas

8 February 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A high-profile Los Angeles law firm to movie studios, record companies and Kirk Kerkorian is opening a Las Vegas practice specializing in real estate, corporate law — and shepherding clients through the cumbersome but ultimately lucrative process of being declared environmentally friendly.

The first order of business for the 110-attorney Century City-based firm of Christensen, Glaser, Fink, Jacobs, Weil & Shapiro was to lure away at least three attorneys from the Las Vegas office of Snell & Wilmer.

The L.A. firm's Las Vegas connections go back more than 40 years, including handling landmark casino deals for MGM Mirage majority shareholder Kerkorian and others involving the Dunes, the Riviera and the Stardust.

The local shop will help companies achieve "LEED" certification from the standard-bearer of environmentally sensitive building approval, the U.S. Green Building Council, partner Peter Weil said.

With its unprecedented building boom on the Strip and generous green tax breaks, Nevada has emerged as a center for green projects even as "most developers have no idea what LEED stands for or what constitutes a LEED rating," said attorney Jerry Katz, who leads the firm's environmental law practice. Few other law firms have developed expertise in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design process.

MGM Mirage's CityCenter, which is seeking a silver-level LEED certification as the largest green project of its kind in the world, is already a client and has motivated other companies to investigate green certification, Katz said. The $7.8 billion CityCenter is projected to benefit from $218 million in green tax savings over 15 years.

The law firm will focus on coordinating the process of launching green projects rather than participating in litigation over Nevada's green tax breaks, which have plunged the state into an unexpected political and budgetary quagmire.

"We believe that green building will be imperative in the future and that the state of Nevada is doing a good job trying to balance the two sides," Katz said.

•••

One of the recent revelations about casino operator Columbia Sussex is that the payroll folks at the company's Horizon Casino Resort at Lake Tahoe were tripped up by Nevada's "eight-hour rule."

Nevada is one of only a few states that require overtime pay for employees who work more than eight hours in a day — even if they don't clock more than 40 hours in a week.

Apparently, a lot of companies in addition to Columbia Sussex don't know that.

Most states simply follow federal labor laws, which require employers to pay overtime to employees who work more than 40 hours in one week. A laborer might put in 12 hours one day but only three on another day, and not qualify for overtime by week's end under those rules.

Miscalculating overtime is a recurring problem, especially among employers who are new to Nevada, state Labor Commissioner Michael Tanchek said.

Reviewing and correcting past payroll records can be difficult and time-consuming, Tanchek said.

"If the system isn't set up to catch this in the first place you almost have to go back in and enter it by hand," he said.

•••

Remember all the fuss about California a decade ago, when Las Vegas companies bankrolled efforts to fight a proposition allowing tribes to open Las Vegas-style casinos?

On Tuesday, voters in California allowed several tribes to offer as many as 22,500 additional slot machines at their casinos. But any trembling here is more positive than negative.

Wall Street analysts are bully for slot manufacturers and note that the Strip has only grown since California's tribal casinos began cultivating new gamblers and potential Las Vegas customers a few years ago.

"People who are going to stay at home and gamble are going to do so and people who are going to go to Vegas are going to go to Vegas," Morgan Stanley stock analyst Celeste Mellet Brown said.