(Photo: Bridget Bennett)
The time-honored practice of attracting visitors to Las Vegas via free and discounted rooms may be threatened, just when the hospitality industry could use it to fill rooms emptied by the pandemic.
A proposed amendment to county ordinance would redefine “gross receipts” and make “the value of discounts, room allowances or complimentary rooms” not deductible from the Transient Lodging Tax.
“Recent audits of resort hotels have brought to light that different operations are interpreting provisions of the transient lodging tax code in ways not intended by the drafter,” says the county’s agenda item.
“In its current form, we can’t support the ordinance,” Nevada Resort Association president Virginia Valentine told the Commission, noting it taxes revenue that has not been received and compromises a time-honored means of attracting visitors.
Monthly visitation to Las Vegas in October was about half of that enjoyed the previous year, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Valentine asked the Commission to delay a vote on the amendment for two weeks, pending negotiations with the industry to make the measure revenue neutral, as the county intended, she said.
“With this change, it is potentially a tax increase,” she said.
“I’m trying to ensure that I can make my bonds and do all those things,” Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick said, asking whether a two-week delay would likely lead to a compromise.
Commissioner Jim Gibson asked what the county’s bondholders “expect from us?”
County official Jessica Colvin said the taxes in question “would have amounted” to about $9 million of the total $730 million collected in fiscal year 2019.
“I don’t know that it would have a material impact,” Colvin said of the potential revenue loss to the county.
Commissioner Larry Brown suggested it’s up to the gaming industry to come up with a means of replacing revenue lost because of a court ruling regarding tax payments by the Paris.
“Is the industry acknowledging the fact that we are losing money with the Paris interpretation?” Brown asked.
“I don’t think the industry views it that way,” said gaming attorney Mark Rubenstein, who said some resorts have overpaid room taxes for years.
“It’s costing the county revenue we anticipated,” Brown said before issuing an ultimatum to the gaming industry. “Either you help us get to that place we were before the Paris interpretation or I think it’s incumbent upon us to protect the bonds and protect our revenue streams and do something more Draconian.”
Rubenstein said the questions related to the amendment are unrelated to the county’s revenue projections.
“It’s a separate issue as to how you make up for that deficit,” he said.
Brown said “negotiations are going nowhere” unless the gaming industry acknowledges its tax collection methods are costing the county money and said the two week delay amounted to a “stall tactic.”
Valentine said the room incentives are an important means of attracting visitors to Southern Nevada.
“Our objective is not to further cripple an industry that is in critical straits,” Gibson said, encouraging staff to “narrow the differences we have.”
Kirkpatrick said staff has worked tirelessly and said it’s now on the gaming industry to come up with language to make the measure revenue neutral. “We’ve got no more to give.”
Boring plan advances
The first leg of a plan to move tourists along the Las Vegas Strip and possibly beyond via a labyrinth of underground tunnels received approval Tuesday from the Clark County Commission.
The Boring Company, which has been connecting the Las Vegas Convention Center via tunnels, intends to extend its route from the Convention Center to the Encore.
County officials said plans in the works for a route from the Convention Center to Resorts World have not been submitted.
Bird Ride gets brush off
A pilot program to test “micromobility” concepts such as Bird e-scooter sharing got mixed reactions from commissioners.
The scooters, which share the sidewalk with pedestrians, are marketed as a solution for “last mile” transportation. A company representative acknowledged there are places e-scooters do not belong, such as on the Las Vegas Strip.
Commissioner Tick Segerblom wants to facilitate a pilot program for Bird Rides on Maryland Parkway and the UNLV campus.
Other commissioners were not as enthusiastic.
“They are very concerned,” Commissioner Gibson said of UNLV officials, who he says wrote to him.
Metro police expressed “great angst” about the pilot program and scooters interacting with traffic.
It’s the third time the company has made a presentation to the County Commission.
Segerblom pleads with Justice Court to halt evictions
Segerblom implored Las Vegas Justice Court to hold off on evictions until the county can connect landlords with rental assistance sitting in county coffers.
“We have money to give landlords,” Segerblom said. “We don’t have a process in place to get that connection.”
“It seems crazy this month, particularly, to let people be evicted when we could help them financially,” Segerblom said, noting the holiday season.
Las Vegas Justice Court Chief Judge Suzan Baucum said she had not heard of Segerblom’s request, but said she is working on a response “to something similar from someone in the Governor’s office.”
Commissioners said they are receiving reports of people living in cars and asked staff to streamline the process for getting assistance to residents.
“There are a lot of people who have never been in this situation in their entire life,” Kirkpatrick said. “They don’t even know where government offices are.”
The county has assistance available through CHAP — the CARES Housing Assistance Program — for residents who “have suffered substantial financial hardship and now lack sufficient income or resources to pay their housing costs and utilities because of the COVID-19 emergency or the response to that emergency.”
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