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Rod Smith

Emergency Plans Stir Up Confusion

20 January 2004

Despite a Jan. 1 deadline for hotel-casinos to file emergency response plans with the state Division of Emergency Management, major confusion prevails over which properties have complied.

The confusion has arisen over a state homeland security law enacted last summer. That law set a Nov. 1 deadline for hotel-casinos with 200 guest rooms or more to file emergency response plans with state and local law enforcement agencies, with the division acting as lead agency. The deadline was later postponed to Jan. 1.

The new law says plans must include the location of emergency equipment and hazardous materials, an evacuation program and a description of internal and external access routes.

Records maintained by state and local agencies show that as many as 100 major hotel-casinos have never filed a required emergency response plan. But enforcement officials and casino executives indicate compliance is really closer to 100 percent.

There's even disagreement over how many hotel-casinos should report. One official said no one knows. But a colleague said 155 local casinos meet the reporting criteria.

Nevada Homeland Security Adviser Jerry Bussell said there is little the state can do about possible violations because the new law has no enforcement provisions. And casino operators say sorting out the facts in the local war on terror is reminiscent of a scene from "Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops."

At one point, Emergency Management spokesman Gary Kirke said no more than 49 hotel-casinos had complied. At the same time that Nevada Homeland Security Advisor Jerry Bussell said "no major casino had not complied." And both said no one knew how many should report.

"There's a disconnect in the count. I don't understand why in the world a property would not comply," Bussell said.

The compliance issue also rankles the operators, which say the state is wrong and that they have generally complied.

The exceptions include Caesars Entertainment, which spokesman Robert Stewart concedes owes the state a plan for Caesars Palace. Stewart said the plan is being updated to account for the recently announced construction of a new tower and will be delivered within 10 days.

And Binion's Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas seems to have filed no documents, but the property was closed Jan. 9.

However, for Station Casinos, documents provided by the state show the company filed a report for Fiesta, but has filed no reports for its other six properties in Las Vegas -- Boulder Station, Green Valley Ranch Station, Palace Station, Santa Fe Station, Sunset Station and Texas Station. Wildfire Casino and Barley's are not listed because neither has 200 hotel rooms. Wild Wild West is not listed because the state believes it has fewer than 200 rooms, but in fact it has 258.

Station spokeswoman Lesley Pittman said the state is simply wrong about the company's compliance, but the company said Friday it was resubmitting all its reports.

"We're 100 percent confident we filed all our reports. We're looking into what ... is happening here," she said.

Boyd Gaming Corp.'s records appear even more confused. The Division of Emergency Management's records show reports were filed for the Stardust and Sam's Town.

But according to state records, the company has four downtown casinos, none of which have complied. However, the company has only three downtown properties, the Fremont, the California Hotel and Main Street Station. Also, state records list Boyd hotel-casinos on Industrial Road and Ogden Avenue, each with 1,181 rooms.

However, none of the Boyd properties have anything near 1,181 rooms, and the Industrial Road site is Boyd headquarters.

"We're totally in full compliance," Boyd spokesman Rob Stillwell said. "I can assure you I think it's the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. It's government."

The story is similar at MGM Mirage. Spokesman Alan Feldman said the company complied with the initial Nov. 1 deadline for all of its six Las Vegas properties: Bellagio, Golden Nugget, MGM Grand, The Mirage, New York-New York and Treasure Island.

Different state lists show different levels of compliance, but the latest list provided to the Review-Journal shows no reports were received from Bellagio, MGM Grand or New York-New York. On Thursday, the MGM Mirage resubmitted its documents.

"(The Emergency Management staff) has had trouble logging them. They've had a hard time. There's a strong possibility they were just lost or miscategorized when they came in," Feldman said.

"The bottom line is they just couldn't find three of our properties and (we) have had them delivered again. This is the reality of their administration," he said.

Some company officials said they were reluctant to comment because they fear recrimination. But they also said the state's records would be funny if the situation were not so serious. One likened it to Bud Abbott and Lou Costello's "Who's on First?"

But state officials said it's the casino company executives who are confused, and Bussell said the confusion will be resolved Thursday when the state Homeland Security Commission meets at the Sawyer Building.