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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:

The Big Squeeze
The Desert Inn Golf Course was the most beautiful residential community in our city for over fifty years, and those who had the good taste and good fortune to enjoy a lifetime residing in that lovely enclave deserve more respect than they are getting. Unlike the indigent senior citizens who once lived at the World Wide Mobile Home Park, the Desert Inn Estates homeowners can afford attorneys to fight for their homes. Meanwhile, their alacrity will once again prove that Steve Wynn and his unnatural political control of local government agencies is one of our state’s most appalling problems.
Desert Inn Golf Course and Estates                    Steve Wynn
(LORI CAIN / LAS VEGAS SUN)            (Associated Press Photo)

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
November 17, 2003

LAS VEGAS - Long-time Desert Inn Estates residents have refused to move from their beautiful homes to make way for a resort being built by former Mirage owner Steve Wynn. The homeowners claim that Wynn has cut off access to their neighborhood by dedicating part of Country Club Lane to Clark County for the widening of Sands Avenue. The strangulation technique they describe is becoming commonplace as our local political power shifts away from citizen control.

The ten long-time homeowners who remain in the golf course neighborhood that borders the future site of Wynn's resort say the private road wasn't Wynn's to give to the county, and his giving it away blocks the access to their homes - a maneuver they believe was by design to make their lives miserable and cause them to sell at Wynn's price.

Meanwhile, many Las Vegas residents are left wondering why something as beautiful as the historic Desert Inn Country Club and most of the luxury homes surrounding it had to be imploded, especially at a time when Las Vegas is desperately searching for its roots? Its also unknown whether new homes to suit Wynn's personal tastes will replace those torn down?

"This eliminates ingress and egress to our houses," said one homeowner. "How this can be approved is beyond me. It not only takes our property rights away, but it landlocks us." The homeowners believe there is collusion between Wynn and Clark County officials to make this possible. Wynn was historically one of the biggest political campaign contributors in Nevada.

John Netzorg, the homeowners' attorney, says that Wynn's company thinks it owns the street and can hand it over to the county without the residents' input, thereby landlocking his clients. "The whole process in front of the county has been a farce, and that is being charitable," Netzorg said.

Homeowners have fought Wynn since his purchase of the Desert Inn in June 2000. Wynn claims that the purchase made it possible for him to do away with all the covenants, codes and restrictions (CC&R's) of the D.I. Homeowner's Association making it possible for him to not only build a high berm between residents' open back yards and his golf course, but also construct a noisy cement and gravel mixing facility on one of the vacant lots in the neighborhood. Even in the face of what is being called harassment, the neighbors - many pioneer citizens - will not move away from their once-beautiful and pristine neighborhood.

The remaining residents claim that former residential swimming pools now owned by Wynn are green with algae and are breeding disease carrying mosquitoes. Rats have also been reported. All this allegedly under the watchful eye of Clark County health and code enforcement authorities that are obediently turning their backs on resident's complaints, along with a new Homeowner's Association board of directors chosen by Wynn.

Wynn counters by accusing the residents of trying to shake him down for more money for their properties. He has paid cooperating homeowners ten percent above appraisal. He also told a TV news audience that the main issue is "leverage."

Ironically, it was Wynn who in the 1960s bought a small piece of land on the corner of Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Blvd. to allegedly throw a monkey wrench into plans to build Caesars Palace. He bought several adjacent acres and allegedly threatened to build a low-end slot “grind joint” there if Caesar's did not buy him out. They did, and he used the money to buy out the Doumani Brothers at the Golden Nugget. The rest is history.

This all reminds me of a situation that occurred in 1997 when Michael Flores would not sell his Villa De Flores apartment house to Wynn at the price offered. Wynn wanted to expand the Mirage, and Flores' tiny apartment house stood in the way. Wynn offered $3 million; Flores wanted $6 million. As a tribute to Flores' tenacity, the apartment house remains in the middle of the Mirage parking lot to this day. However, Mr. Flores has since learned a valuable lesson about local politics when he was refused permission by Clark County Commissioners to convert his property into a time-share vacation facility. Nonetheless, he also realizes that Villa De Flores still sits in the way of further expansion of the Treasure Island and Mirage, and the new owner may succumb to his financial demands - someday.

Since the Carol Pappas eminent domain case in downtown Las Vegas when the city seized private property she had nurtured for 50 years and turned it over to casinos including one owned by Wynn, government is finding it increasingly difficult to illegally take one private property for the benefit of another private developer, especially a casino. The Pappas case is presently before the US Supreme Court.

Another unlikely champion is emerging in the plight of citizens fighting untoward political influence. The latest warrior is Buffalo Jim Barrier, a former professional wrestler who owns an auto garage that is standing in the way of the expansion of a politically connected topless bar.

Barrier, who has often been featured on these pages, is the victim of an obvious political favor recently rendered by city hall. After twenty-seven years of running a garage business at the same location, a new landlord with political clout wants to squeeze Barrier out of his long-term lease to make way for the expansion of the Crazy Horse Too.

           City issues tickets on private property during the day...
Within weeks of the new landlord taking possession of the property, under color of law the Las Vegas Fire Department posted "No Parking - Fire Lane" signs alongside Barrier's business. Then the city began sending Parking Enforcement personnel to the topless bar on a daily basis to enforce the new no parking zone during the day - only ticketing cars owned by Barrier's customers - while ignoring Crazy Horse customer's cars at night when the fire lane is most needed - a government assisted squeeze tactic now becoming familiar.

                        ...while ignoring violations at night
No one will challenge Steve Wynn in the county, and even our happy mayor shies away from challenging Barrier's landlord in the city. Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, prior to being elected, was the criminal defense attorney for several of the landlord's cronies.

As is the case with Wynn in the county, city politicians are cooperating with an obvious ploy to benefit another generous political campaign contributor who also has grandiose plans.

"Like a Good Neighbor…Steve Wynn is There…"

FRANK CATANIA,  poses on his balcony
overlooking the Desert Inn Golf Course
Whether those who remain in their D.I. Estates homes are there because they truly do not want to relocate, are too old and frail to relocate, or because they want more money for their property is a mute point. Their lives are being made miserable and county authorities are helping to exasperate their problems by ignoring their health, safety and access complaints. But this is not the first time this story has been told.

Another example of the fate handed down to those who challenge Wynn was the 1993 case of 70 senior citizens who were forced out of their broken down trailers at the World Wide Mobile Home Park to make way for an employee parking lot. Many of the park residents were too old or too sick to move, and most did not have the funds to find another home. The saddest part was that a community had formed. The elderly World Wide residents were a coalescent support group for each other.

In stark contrast, former Circus Circus Enterprises chairman William G. Bennett was faced with the prospect of relocating the elderly residents of the Blue Sky Mobile Home Park in the late 1980s. Bennett needed the acreage to build the Excalibur hotel-casino. To the resident's delight, Bennett was sensitive to their needs and built a new park especially for them. He also bought new mobile homes in the event some were too frail to move, and paid all moving expenses. The coalescent community moved altogether without protest.

Wynn began his effort by reportedly offering World Wide residents about $4,000 each to move out early. If they did not go immediately, he reportedly began reducing the offer each month until they did. Many left, but many more stayed because they could not afford to go, were too sick, or did not want to leave their extended family. As the months wore on, Wynn reportedly began cutting off their life support systems one by one.

According to residents, the first service to be cut off was the pay phones; then the gardeners; then the security; and finally the water and power. A few more senior citizens moved, but most held their ground in what had been their humble homes for the past thirty years. Park residents appointed one of their younger neighbors as a spokeswoman. She went to the local press with the revolting story but few media outlets responded. Those that did downplayed the story, possibly not wanting to offend Wynn.

Out of desperation, the spokeswoman came to me. I helped her organize a demonstration on the once-public sidewalk in front of the Mirage. All local media was alerted. The day of the demonstration, several dozen senior citizen residents, many in wheelchairs, showed up telling anyone who would listen that Steve Wynn was heartlessly forcing them from their homes and not providing them with alternative housing. Unexplainably, not one media outlet covered their four-hour long demonstration, though hotel security taped the entire event.

Wynn’s only response to the demonstration was to have his attorneys prepare a bill draft to allow the privatization of Strip sidewalks -- effectively prohibiting such demonstrations in the future. The Nevada Legislature obediently passed the bill during their next session. That unconstitutional law is in force today. 

Defeated, the residents went back to their humble trailers. One 98 year old resident, a World War I veteran who spent the day protesting in front of the Mirage, passed away several days later. The local news blackout remained in effect until I managed to get several newspapers and TV stations in cities where Wynn was trying to build casinos, to tell the story about the mistreatment of the elderly citizens along with other pertinent information. His extra-Nevada casino ventures failed, and Wynn threatened to sue me. Still, the story went untold in Sin City where the First Amendment holds little weight when it comes to certain people.

Nine years later, Wynn also sued Desert Inn Estates homeowners for speaking out. "Anything that clouds our ability to develop our project has the ability to jeopardize financing," Wynn's attorney Marc Rubinstein said. "That's what the (lawsuit) is all about."

So what is to be the fate of the remaining Desert Inn Golf Course Estates homeowners? Since the Pappas case, the local courts and government agencies usually shy away from the improper use of eminent domain. Wynn cannot use his clout to force the county to uproot the homeowners for his whim without exposing the taxpayers to another Pappas-type court battle. The same Fifth Amendment rules apply in the case of the garage owner standing in the way of the topless bar.

I believe that Steve Wynn has already demonstrated that he has no respect for our town's pioneer citizens as shown by the Carol Pappas and World Wide examples, so the residents of D.I. Estates should prepare for the worse case. Wynn says he will "build around" the holdouts, and he will. But the holdouts should keep in mind that their beleaguered homes are blocking the full realization of Wynn’s latest dream, and he appears desperate to get his way. If the remaining homeowners can afford to move they should, but retain ownership of their appreciating D.I. properties. Wynn’s lackeys in the media will probably spin the story to say the remaining homeowners are the greedy ones, but who is actually so greedy when people are being displaced from their cherished homes?

Below are three articles that may help give insight into the political workings of Sin City:

A Gambling Impresario Leaves Little to Chance
The New York Times
Sunday, December 6, 1998

"Steve Wynn's control over politicians is all-encompassing," said Steve Miller, a former Las Vegas City Council member who has frequently been at odds with Wynn. "It's overwhelming. Either you work for him or he tries to get you out of office." Considered by many Nevadans to be the most powerful man in the state, Wynn gets roadways rerouted, public transportation projects scuttled and public land deeded over to his company.

March 1998
Special Report:

But critics say Las Vegas exploits eminent domain to heIp the powerful casino owners and developers at its citizen’s expense. "This is government for the casinos, of the casinos, and by the casinos - and the citizens be dammed," says former city councilman Steve Miller.

Tuesday, March 07, 2000
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
By Trevor Hayes
Observers: Wynn lofty visionary
A gaming titan bought out by a rival will give up the hotels he built, but his mark on the valley lingers.

Former Las Vegas Councilman Steve Miller also hopes Wynn will opt out of politics. "The influence peddling he has displayed in the state of Nevada ... has caused him to fall from favor not only of his fellow Nevadans but observers outside," Steve Miller said. Wynn should be remembered "as a blowhard and a manipulator and a corrupter of politicians," said the former councilman, once the target of a Wynn lawsuit.

Copyright © Steve Miller

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