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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

INSIDE GAMING: MGM Mirage has same cause despite change

22 December 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- If the business community thinks it will have an easier ride in the upcoming legislative session following the retirement of Terry Lanni, they are sorely mistaken.

New MGM Mirage Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jim Murren is just as committed and passionate as his predecessor about getting Nevada's funding framework reworked.

"The state's tax structure and the state's economy are broken and they need to be thoughtfully addressed," Murren said. "The challenges have become more grave as the months have progressed. They require more significant changes as a result."

Lanni wanted lawmakers to grow revenues by increasing the modified business tax and hotel room tax.

Lanni took his suggestions to the Nevada Development Authority's annual membership luncheon last year. In a Bellagio ballroom filled with bankers, retailers and auto dealers, Lanni bluntly said they should be "part of the solution rather than part of the problem."

Murren supported Lanni's suggestions and will continue the fight. Like Lanni, Murren won't mince words.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the tax burden needs to be shared by a broad array of businesses that have managed to wiggle away and escape what is logically their obligation," Murren said. "That is not acceptable."

Murren said MGM Mirage has a right to sit at the negotiating table. The company is the state's largest taxpayer and largest private employer with about 54,000 workers. The company controls 10 Strip resorts and is building the $9.1 billion CityCenter, which will add another 12,000 employees.

Murren spent 14 years as an analyst on Wall Street before joining MGM Mirage in 1998. He saw the gaming industry suffer during a recession in the 1990s and after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The current economic crisis, which has seen Nevada gaming revenues fall 8.3 percent through October, tops past catastrophes.

Murren founded the nonprofit Nevada Cancer Institute with his wife, Heather. He said the state is not properly funding education, medicine, transportation and other services. Gaming can't pick up the whole tab.

"We have learned painfully what happens when the gaming industry suffers," Murren said. "It's selfish to expect that a handful of organizations carry the load."

MGM Mirage has seen revenues decline, budgets cut and workers laid off in 2008, but the company has reacted. Murren said lawmakers need to react.

"We can't keep putting Band-Aids on the problem and hope for a future," Murren said. "We just can't hope the economy gets better."

Murren took a cue from MGM Mirage board member Gen. Alexander Haig.

"He told me, 'No good strategy is based on hope.'"

INSIDE GAMING: MGM Mirage has same cause despite change is republished from