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Adrienne Packer
 

Nevada Casino Impacts County Elections

12 December 2003

NEVADA -- A suburban casino project that pits developers against nearby residents once again has put a bull's eye on a Clark County commissioner facing re-election.

Three years ago, Lance Malone crossed locals gaming giant Station Casinos by changing his mind and supporting a competitor's proposal for Spring Valley.

"All an elected official has sometimes is his word, and this time I'll have to back off my word," Malone said of his 2000 swing vote.

Malone's missteps and Station's assault on his campaign cleared the way for political newcomer Chip Maxfield, who crushed the incumbent in that year's Republican primary and went on to capture the commission District C seat.

But now Maxfield's seat is getting hot.

This time, it's over Station's plan to build a 1,500-room resort with a 300-foot tower in Summerlin. Residents near the site, at Charleston Boulevard and the Las Vegas Beltway, want commissioners to uphold current zoning and allow a hotel no taller than 100 feet.

"I don't want to have to be the one to make a decision," Maxfield said last week when he told developers and homeowners to come up with a compromise and present it to commissioners on Jan. 7.

The casino site is in Commissioner Mark James' district, but many of the residents affected by the new Red Rock Station live in Maxfield's district.

James took a firm stance against the project, but Maxfield declined to take a position.

Some of Maxfield's constituents, who live on the north side of Charleston, say they'll remember his hesitancy in next year's election.

"I'm sad Chip Maxfield decided not to stand up for his constituents," said Kim Bennett, a Summerlin homeowner. "It makes me sick, actually. What he doesn't know is that by him not taking a stance at that meeting seals his fate."

Bennett said former Maxfield supporters are concerned that the commissioner will favor Station Casinos because the company is a generous campaign contributor.

"We feel like we were snowed," Bennett said. "He represents us, not

Station Casinos. Therefore, he should do what we asked him to do, not what he feels is best for Station."

Bennett and fellow homeowners who crowded commission chambers last week strongly oppose the proposed Red Rock Station casino's tower because of its proximity to Red Rock Canyon and their neighborhoods. They also fear it will block views of the Spring Mountains.

Station executives tout their new project as a high-end destination resort. And The Howard Hughes Corp., the master-planners of Summerlin, say the casino and hotel tower are ideal for their planned downtown called Summerlin Centre.

During his campaign in 2000, Maxfield collected a total of $70,000 from Station Casinos and Howard Hughes, two companies that abandoned Malone toward the end of his term.

Maxfield said he has no association with Station Casinos. He said he never met with its representatives when he ran for office and only knew of the company because of the Las Vegas Valley casinos bearing the Station name.

"Station is like everyone else who comes before the commission every two weeks with land-use issues," Maxfield said. "My level-headed approach is a testament to my last three years in office."

Members of the Summerlin community asked to meet with Maxfield well before the Dec. 3 hearing, Bennett said, but were told the commissioner wouldn't meet with the group until the day before the meeting.

Gabriel Lither, founder of the group Summerlin Residents for Smart Growth, said he understands Maxfield's push for a compromise, but wished the commissioner would have been as supportive as James.

"This is a one-issue deal for him," Lither said of Maxfield. "If he votes for (a 300-foot tower), there will be a huge backlash with his core supporters, conservative, family-oriented neighborhood people who helped him get elected."

After the Dec. 3 hearing, Maxfield said commissioners would make a decision if the two sides couldn't reach an agreement.

"There is a huge difference between what the landowner wants to do and what residents think is appropriate," Maxfield said. "They need to work it out as best they can."

Maxfield said he has always tried to distance himself from the nasty battle between Malone and Station Casinos, a clash that ultimately ended Malone's political career.

"At some point in time, that was four years ago and water is so far under the bridge," Maxfield said. "I feel an obligation to everyone to be fair and reasonable."

Station Casinos waged war against Malone in early 2000 after the commissioner's last-minute decision to vote in favor of a competing neighborhood casino.

Station Casinos sent out fliers indicating Malone's vote was up for sale. The company was fined because the fliers were sent anonymously, a violation of state election laws.

Approval of the casino eventually was overturned by the Nevada Gaming Policy Committee review panel, which found it was in violation of a law that created gaming enterprise zones.

James pointed out he sponsored that bill when he was a state senator in 1997. The law, Senate Bill 208, created districts for neighborhood casinos, keeping the gaming halls out of areas designated for homes.

Master-planned communities, such as Summerlin, were exempt from the law because development in those neighborhoods is mapped out before residents buy their homes. According to the bill, projects that have not been built must be outlined in detailed disclosure forms for prospective home buyers.

In Summerlin, homeowners signed disclosure statements acknowledging they were aware of a planned casino that would feature a 100-foot tower.

James reminded fellow commissioners that the law withstood its first and only test when the court overturned the board's Spring Valley casino decision.

Maxfield isn't the only sitting commission member who has collected campaign contributions from Station Casinos and Howard Hughes, according to county records.

The two corporations gave Commissioner Bruce Woodbury a total of $70,000 during his last bid for re-election. Newcomer Rory Reid received a total of $60,000, and James collected $53,000.

Incumbent Myrna Williams received $28,000 from the two companies during her campaign in 2002; Mary Kincaid-Chauncey in 2000 received $70,000. Commissioner Yvonne Atkinson Gates received no money from Station Casinos during her last run for commission, but she received $30,000 from The Howard Hughes Corp.

Nevada Casino Impacts County Elections is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.