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Inside Vegas - Steve Miller

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman. In 1991, the readers of the Las Vegas Review Journal voted him the "Most Effective Public Official" in Southern Nevada. Visit his website at:

Build It and They Will Come...
But you'll be surprised who "They" are!
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
May 31, 2004

Las Vegas has always been a town of dreamers. This week, another dream project bit the desert dust. "Neonopolis," an ill-conceived shopping mall on Fremont Street gave up the fight after the city invested $32 million for an underground parking structure.

Two term ex-Mayor Jan Jones left a legacy of failed projects. In addition to squandering tax dollars on Neonopolis and a canopy over Fremont St., two other dream undertakings she boosted folded soon after their grand openings: Bob Snow's Main Street Station Hotel and Casino went belly up in 1991, and the Race Rock Cafe located across from Neonopolis closed in 2001.

Ex-Mayor Jones (LV SUN)

After she retired from politics, Jones went on to become a highly paid executive with Harrah's Entertainment. She now promotes competitive to Nevada casinos located on California roads leading into the city she once represented. The California gamblers she now caters to were once the bread and butter of our Downtown casinos.

Harrah's just bought the failed Horseshoe Club on Fremont St. and is planning to take its "Horseshoe" brand name and famed World Series of Poker to a venue outside the city limits leaving a skeleton in their wake.

In the case of Bob Snow's project, a dangerous precedent began. Snow, a Florida man with a dream, invested his fortune in his new found home town, then went broke leaving the expensive spoils to be picked up at bargain basement prices by people with ties to Jones.

Taxpayer dollars supplemented Snow's personal investment of $47 million. When completed, the Main Street Station cost in excess of $60 million. It opened and closed during Jones' first year in office. Within months of its closing, Bank of America Arizona, a bank in which Jones was a stockholder, picked up the spoils for $17 million then immediately sold the project to the Boyd Group, a well connected local casino consortium who now have turned the place around.

Since its opening in 2002 , there was never a doubt that Neonopolis would fail. Downtown Las Vegas does not warrant a high rise shopping mall with no space for a major retailer. However, the structure is impressive and I'm sure it too will soon be converted into another profitable tax-boosted casino by a politically connected local group for dimes on the dollar. Meanwhile, the same casino companies complain that they themselves are being overtaxed in Nevada at 6.75% when casinos in Atlantic City pay 13% and those in Biloxi pay 21%!

The precedent has been set and the writing is on the wall. Past and present Vegas city government officials may be involved in enticing out of state investors to build elaborate, expensive structures, some aided by huge infusions of taxpayer dollars for parking garages and other nearby amenities. The projects are designed to fail. Then, if tax dollars were involved, the city fathers threaten to  repossess the property. One way or the other, the property usually ends up being sold to one of their buddies for a song.

Most recently, City of Las Vegas officials are taking a slightly different tack. They now appear to be abusing their power to grant -- then revoke -- privileged business licenses in an alleged scheme to entice a new breed of sucker into a newly laid trap.

The city government in 2003 begrudgingly granted a temporary liquor license to Ali and Hassan Davari,, the controversial owners of a gentlemen's club in Texas. Not knowing they would only be granted a temporary license, the brothers had invested over $30 million in a palatial structure now called Treasures Gentleman's Club located within the city limits.

              Treasures  (The $30 million spoils?)

Within weeks of its opening, City Code Enforcement Officers were obediently crawling all over the Davari's business finding all manner of fault from solicitation for prostitution, to dance code violations. Meanwhile, the Crazy Horse Too, a nearby competitor with political connections, was -- with impunity -- reportedly ripping off customer's credit cards and beating up or crippling those who refused to sign bogus charge slips.

Police and paramedics respond to Crazy Horse (photo by Jim Barrier)

The far more heinous crimes reported at the Crazy Horse went unabated while Treasures was cited again and again for much lessor offenses. Now, the Davaris are fighting the City to keep their license and stay open. Meanwhile the vultures are circling overhead as was the case when Mr. Snow's project entered troubled waters years ago.

Rumor has it that the City is in cahoots with another topless bar owner who wants to pick up Treasures for a song. All that's needed now is a little more help from City Hall, and that's being dished out in spades by City Attorney Brad Jerbic who works at the pleasure of the Mayor who has close ties to the owners of the Crazy Horse Too.

Guess who's rumored to be the lucky recipient of the Treasures spoils in the event their liquor license is revoked?

But this is not the first time Sin City public officials have been accused of aiding and abetting Rick Rizzolo, the purported owner of the Crazy Horse Too. Back in 1998, Rizzolo wanted to expand his bar. A nifty 6,000 square foot space sat right next door, but unfortunately it was occupied by an adult book store called LA Hot. And there were other problems like a severe lack of on site parking, and a pesky city code that prohibited sexually oriented businesses from being within 1,000 feet of each other. No problem for Rizzolo. City Hall to the rescue!

In order to get rid of the sexually oriented book store and replace it with a another sexually oriented business, someone in city government needed to go on a psudo-crusade against porn.

Ex-cop-cum-City Councilman Mike McDonald rode to the rescue. McDonald had for years been closely linked to Rizzolo including the time he was on the Vegas police force. He was so close that he regularly abstained on matters Rizzolo brought before the Council. Nonetheless, it was McDonald who suddenly became righteously indignant over adult businesses in his ward, especially LA Hot. He proclaimed that the adult book store was just too immoral to remain in business. Jan Jones joined him in his crusade without disclosing her own personal ties to Rizzolo.

(McDonald was defeated in 2003 by a candidate who sent mailers exposing his connections to Rizzolo, et. al. McDonald is now employed at another topless bar)

                                       2003 political mailer approved and paid for by Janet Moncrief

To no one's surprise, there soon was a vacant 6,000 square foot storefront sitting right next door to the Crazy Horse. Then by coincidence -- and without fanfare -- the Crazy Horse increased its girth by exactly 6,000 square feet, but with a notable caveat emptor.

It seemed that Mr. Rizzolo felt exempt from zoning laws and other annoyances such as having to pull building permits, get a fire inspection, conduct a parking and traffic study, or apply for a Certificate of Occupancy -- so he just skipped the rudimentaries and opened the space for business.

After he opened the addition and before any permits were issued, the sexy voice on the club's answering machine proclaimed: "Welcome to the all new, bigger and better than ever Crazy Horse Too." In the meantime, neighboring business and apartment house owners began seeing their limited parking spaces filled with bar customers. One neighbor even set up concrete barriers to keep bar patron's cars off his commercial property.

One of the biggest juice jobs in Sin City's history had just gone down -- and few knew about it! Neighboring business owners hired an attorney to argue that Rizzolo was allowed to open his expansion without the mandatory parking and traffic studies required of all other business owners.

I authored the first newspaper story on the subject, and the shit hit the fan! After the scheme was exposed, Rizzolo told the Review Journal, "It's really all my risk involved," adding he likely will sue if the City of Las Vegas denies him the ability to keep his secret addition open.

A special meeting of the City Council was called for February 8, 1999. At the meeting Jones was so angered by my exposing the scam that she blamed me personally for fanning the flames. The 2/9/99 Las Vegas Review Journal reported: "Jones said controversy about expansion was fanned by former City Councilman Steve Miller, a relentless foe of the mayor's. During the meeting, she produced a recent issue of the Las Vegas Tribune, which featured a front page story penned by Miller on the Crazy Horse Too expansion. 'For ... Mr. Miller to use this for political purposes is inappropriate,' Jones said," as she waved my article in the air for all to see.

The Review Journal story continued: "Chuck Gardner, an attorney representing an expansion opponent, said Rizzolo 'put the crazy before the horse' when he decided to complete the addition without the variance, risking an $800,000 investment if the council voted against the variance."

The Mayor and Council ignored the pleadings of Gardner, a former Deputy Nevada Attorney General, who was tersely warned by Jones not to say anything about parking or she would call him out of order.

Soon after the Council meeting, Jones obediently issued all the permits after-the-fact apparently not caring that the expansion had been open and illegally operating for several weeks. As for parking? No problem. Jones simply ignored the subject as did the subservient City Fire Department when faced with protests over their failing to recalculate the bar's fire capacity to determine additional parking needs.

Jones obviously couldn't care less what people thought, and why should she? There were only three months remaining in her term, she had fulfilled her pay backs, and a lucrative job awaited her after politics. Furthermore, she knew her successor would continue coddling Mr. Rizzolo and his associates.

That was 1999. Today, its no surprise to see the politically spoiled Crazy Horse circling vulture-like over the Davari's palace. Mike McDonald and Jan Jones are history, but a new Rizzolo lackey replaced them on the City Council in the form of mob attorney-cum-Mayor Oscar Goodman.

Goodman made his fortune representing Rizzolo's friends in their time of need, so the writing's on the wall. With Goodman's likely City Hall help, Rizzolo, just like the Boyd Group in 1991, may be about to pick up two dreamer's spoils for dimes on the dollar -- possibly with enough left over to dole out a few cash bonuses to several carefully selected local attorneys.

To add fuel to the speculation fire, a reliable source reported that he heard Rick's dad, Bart Rizzolo, last week tell several people, "We're going to get out of this shitty building soon." Calls for confirmation were not returned.

But this time, if my speculation is correct, there may be a catch. Though the "Build It and They Will Come" scheme may have worked in the past, now the FBI and IRS are circling over their own prey a few blocks north of Treasures.

Rizzolo and his lackeys at City Hall might not realize it yet, but their vulture-like Crazy Horse may be about to crash from orbit at the hands of the feds, bringing with it a slew of crooked politicians and a few local law enforcement types who have been bingeing at the Horse's trough.

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