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Chris Jones

Mayor Fretting About Defense

9 November 2005

Racking up an abundance of high-cost legal fees made Oscar Goodman a multimillionaire in his days as an elite trial defense attorney.

These days, however, the Las Vegas mayor is questioning whether the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority should spend too much time in a courtroom protecting marketing trademarks such as "What happens here, stays here."

At Tuesday's November board meeting, Goodman asked Luke Puschnig, the authority's in-house legal counsel, to next month present to the board the pros and cons of legal action related to trademark infringement.

Since June, the room tax-funded agency has spent more than $500,000 in legal fees stemming from a dispute with California businesswoman Dorothy Tovar, whose company markets products that say "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."

In addition to hiring a team of San Francisco attorneys to draft new board policies in the wake of that dispute, the authority could likely incur tens of thousands of dollars in new legal bills should the Tovar case go to trial in U.S. District Court in Reno.

On Tuesday, the authority separately retained the Las Vegas law firm Schreck Brignone to assist with at least eight more potential trademark infringement disputes, Puschnig said.

Though he supported hiring that firm, Goodman called for the further review of the authority's trademark defense tactics going forward.

"If (other disputes are) anything even close to the Tovar bill, I think we have to find a way of balancing," Goodman said.

The mayor and authority board chairman hopes the 14-member board can form a consensus on which type of suspected trademark infringement should be prosecuted, as well as which type should be ignored.

Businesses such as the Palms, Cheetah's strip club and have used or continue to use ads with slogans that play off of the authority's popular "What happens here, stays here" campaign, which was developed by the local marketing firm R&R Partners.

In other business, the convention authority board:

Approved a request to spend $4.5 million over three years to bring the Professional Golfers' Association of America's Grand Slam of Golf to Southern Nevada beginning in 2006.

Authority President Rossi Ralenkotter said he hopes to complete a deal with the PGA within the next two weeks.

The November event -- which pits four of golf's top players in a $1 million, 36-hole playoff -- is expected to bring $8 million in free media exposure in each of its three years here. The authority would also share in revenue generated through ticket and apparel sales at the event.

Received an update on the pending renovation of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Michael Musgrave, a consultant hired to work on the authority's program-management team, said focus groups will reconvene today to discuss potential changes to the 3.2 million-square-foot venue.

Over the next several weeks, plans will be further refined with a final proposal likely to come before the board in January, Ralenkotter said.

Financing, scheduling and construction plans will be discussed over several board meetings to allow authority leaders to better consider potential changes, Ralenkotter added. A final budget has not been set, though he believes the project will require approximately $450 million to $500 million to complete.

Augmented the current fiscal-year budget by allocating another $17.5 million to general-fund expenses such as marketing and advertising, and another $52 million toward capital improvements and replacements.

Better-than-expected room tax revenue and decreased spending enabled the augmentation, Finance Director Brenda Siddall said.