Desert Companion

The Answers Issue

Q: What the heck is this?

A: It's The Answers Issue.

Q: The Answers Issue?

A: Yes! It's a rich, chunky stew of often-asked questions about life in Southern Nevada - from how to grow your own food in the desert to what's really going on at Area 51.

 
Q: What are you, a bunch of know-it-alls?

A: Actually, yes! We're experts on every facet of life in Nevada. Yes, in some cases, completely self-appointed.
 
Q: Sounds fun. But why The Answers Issue?

A: Why not? Read on!


History

Q: Why is Nevada called "the "Battle-Born State"?
A: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee didn't negotiate peace at the Foley Federal Building. Little Round Top at Gettysburg looks nothing like Yucca Mountain. Abraham Lincoln never visited Nevada or participated in a Republican debate in Las Vegas. But Nevada is called "the Battle-Born State" for its connections to the Civil War, and has taken considerable pride in that heritage.

Nevada became a territory and state because of the Civil War. None of that would have happened without the discovery of the Comstock Lode in 1859. The thousands of newcomers seeking riches in western Utah territory needed more government than the territorial officials in far-off Salt Lake City could or would provide. Congress was divided, as the country was, over slavery and whether to allow it to expand to new territories. But with Abraham Lincoln's election in November 1860 and the secession of seven southern states, the obstacles to creating Nevada territory went away. The legislation passed on March 2, 1861, six weeks before the firing on Fort Sumter began four years of war.

Support comes from


In 1864, the war was grinding on. Lincoln and his fellow Republicans feared for his prospects for re-election. They also wanted more votes in Congress and the country to support their policies for restoring the Union, freeing the slaves through the Thirteenth Amendment, and determining what civil rights the freedpeople would enjoy. That February, Congress passed an Enabling Act to allow several territories to seek statehood. Only Nevada took the bait. The territory's residents approved their constitution on Sept. 7. On October 31, Lincoln signed the statehood proclamation, in time for Nevada to vote for his re-election a week later. Created as a state during the Civil War, Nevada was truly "battle-born." - Michael Green


Dining

Q: Do I need to wear a suit and tie to dine in Las Vegas' best restaurants?

A: No - but it can't hurt. As a vacation town, Las Vegas may be one of the most casual dining cities in the country. After a day of golfing or lounging by the pool, a lot of people just don't want to dress formally for dinner, and local restaurants understand that.

As far as I know, none of this town's finest restaurants still require a tie as part of their dress code. In fact, most of the town's most expensive and most formal restaurants now officially list their dress code as "business casual." That generally means decent slacks and a jacket or, at the very least, a nice collared shirt.

Nonetheless, I've seen people wander into Michelin-starred restaurants in jeans, a short-sleeve shirt and no jacket and be seated. On a few occasions, I've even seen people seated in exclusive restaurants wearing shorts.

But they tend to look like jerks. Come on, if you're going to shell out several hundred to a thousand bucks on dinner for two, you should really dress to impress. Also keep in mind that plenty of Las Vegas restaurants still keep loaner jackets on hand for customers who show up dressed inappropriately. And there's nothing more embarrassing than being forced to wear someone else's clothes during a nice meal. - Al Mancini


How-to

Q: How much should I tip for valet parking?

A: For the last few years, I haven't been able to get myself to pass less than $3 to the valet, regardless of what I'm driving. I'm not sure why. I've tried fiscal analysis ("Three dollars is 20 percent of $15... Did I just not-pay $15 to park and scarf a $20 lunch?"), I've tried comparison ("I tip four bucks for a car wash, and that seems like a lot more work ..."), I've tried emotional justification ("The parking garage was packed and it's freezing/scorching/raining outside"). Nothing makes sense, except that once (before I started driving, I might add), we tipped a buck. Then it leaped to two bucks. Now it's three. Inflation! Keep in mind that this is for basic car return service only; if you need a spot to magically appear in the face of a "Valet Full" sign, expect to pre-tip $10-$20, depending on the location and event. If you want your new Aston-Martin (or old Mercedes-Benz) to be kept near the door, the same. And if you fancy yourself a generous, old Vegas kinda guy (or gal), $5 seems to be the standard return tariff. In fact, how much beyond $3 you tip is almost as much a factor of how you see your station in life as it is the service received. - James P. Reza


The Strip

Q: Will the Harmon be imploded?

A: The valley's newest parlor game is guessing when the Harmon Hotel will be imploded. The half-built blue-glass tower is part of CityCenter - the $8.5-billion mega-everything-resort between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo. Owner MGM Resorts International once had high hopes for the Harmon, which was designed by celebrity architect Norman Foster. The building now stands empty with its façade being used as a makeshift billboard.

So what happened? Harmon's troubles date back to 2008 when it was discovered that rebar, the supporting rods used in concrete, was improperly installed on 15 floors. A fix was doable, but costly. MGM decided to lop the building in half instead, cutting 207 planned residences of which less than half had sold. CityCenter broke ground during the real estate boom but opened in a deep recession. Shrinking the Harmon from 47 down to 26 stories made sense. It also saved about $800 million in building costs. CityCenter opened in December 2009, while the Harmon languished in limbo. A nasty, finger-pointing fight has since ensued between MGM and its contractor, Perini Building Company.

MGM claims the building is a lost cause. Perini says it can easily be repaired. Millions are still owed for work performed. Like all good spats, the disagreement is now in court. MGM wants to raze the Harmon, claiming it could topple over at any moment. But the county isn't buying it. They want proof. As a result, an implosion seems unlikely - at least in the near term. The building, after all, is evidence. The legal fight would first have to find firm footing before demolition could occur. - Tony Illia
 
Gambling

How-to

Q: I rarely gamble, but when I do, I want to have fun - not necessarily win a million bucks. What game offers the best entertainment value for the money?

A: What do you want most when you gamble? That's easy - you want to win. Sometimes it happens. Usually it doesn't. That's the nature of this beast. So, for many, the primary goal is to get a good run (and some fun) for their money. The industry refers to that as "time on game." The players call it "bang for the buck."

How do you get bang for the buck in gambling? There are three components to consider: return on game, size of wager, and speed of play. Let's look at each.

The game return is determined by the house edge. The lower the edge, the less the casino chops out of every bet. If the casino is taking less per play, your money lasts longer. Size of wager is the amount of your average bet - and the importance of that is easy to see. If you want to bet a steady amount and you have $100 to play with, you figure to last longer betting $5 per hand than $25.

Speed of play is often the most important and certainly the most dynamic of the three considerations, because you can do a lot to control it. You're typically at a disadvantage when gambling, which means the slower you play, the less you'll lose. In gambling, speed kills.

So where does this leave you? One thing's for sure: slots, video keno, and even video poker are out. You can find low minimums and a low house edge when you play video poker with good pay schedules, but it's still a machine, so the speed consideration eliminates it. Roulette? Nah. The 5.26 percent edge is too high and the spins come faster than you think. Baccarat? Nope. The edge is just a little over 1 percent, but the minimums are usually too high. Craps? Better, but you can do better yet. It's blackjack, right? That's the obvious answer, but there are also complications. Chief among them is the proliferation of the evil 6-5 game, on which natural blackjacks pay 6-5 rather than the traditional 3-2 (and on video blackjack games, naturals often pay only even money). If you play blackjack, make sure it's a game with a 3-2 payoff (it will say so on the felt) and try to play at full tables. Playing with other people isn't just more fun, it also slows down the game and that's one of your goals. So blackjack is good, but it's still not the bang-for-the-buck champ.

The best way to get action at the lowest cost is with a sports bet. The casino has a 4.5 percent edge on a typical bet-$11-to-win-$10 sports wager, which works out to an expected loss of 50¢. Divide that by the three hours it takes for a game to be played and you wind up with a 17¢-per-hour expected loss. You'll pay 30 times that rate just to go to a movie. Want to bet $110? Mathematically, your expected loss is less than $5, and again, that's for three hours of action.

Sports betting isn't just the best bang-for-your-buck gambling play, it's one of the greatest entertainment values in the world. But if you're set on playing something else, remember the two important rules above: Tables are better than machines - and slow is better than fast. - Anthony Curtis

Anthony Curtis is publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor and columnist for Vegas Seven magazine.

Yucca Mountain

Politics

Q: Is Yucca Mountain really dead? What are the chances they'll put nuclear waste there in my kids' lifetimes?

A: Yucca Mountain has been declared dead more times than Jason Voorhees, but like the "Friday the 13th" villain, it keeps coming back. That's because the underlying law that authorized Yucca Mountain as a repository for high-level nuclear waste - the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 - has never been repealed by Congress. Until it is, Yucca Mountain - which was designated as the national dump for nuclear waste by a 1987 amendment to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act - remains officially sanctioned by the government.

However, in recent years, efforts have been made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to choke off funding for the dump. President Barack Obama declared the dump dead, and ordered work on studying it and preparing for nuclear waste shipments there to stop. Hearings slated to start on Yucca Mountain have been called off, and workers at the dump site have been laid off. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu has said the government is exploring a long-term strategy for dealing with waste, which can continue to be stored at nuclear reactor sites around the nation. (A costly option: Energy companies that run nuclear power plants have sued the government for failing to take possession of the waste as promised in the late 1990s.)

Still, some members of Congress have not given up on Yucca, and continue efforts to try to ship waste there from the more than 100 nuclear reactor sites around the country. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., this year introduced an amendment to block funds from being cut off from Yucca Mountain. (He later dropped that bill.) Given that there are far more legislators in Washington D.C. who represent states and districts with nuclear waste piling up, and just five lawmakers from Nevada, this will be an ongoing battle until Congress changes the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to designate another solution. - Steve Sebelius

Steve Sebelius is the political columnist for the Review-Journal.


Politics Q: What is the great Northern/Southern Nevada divide?

A: Since Clark County began challenging Washoe's population primacy in the 1940s, friction between the two ends of the state has been a regular feature of election campaigns and legislatures. Washoe hung onto significant political power long after the population distribution justified it - and its legislators were pretty insufferable about it, which exacerbated the tension.

But north vs. south is mostly a thing of the past. The problems of Clark and Washoe counties now overlap more than they conflict. Growth, water, the unstable sales tax, gangs, drugs - these are urban maladies, not regional ones. What we are more likely to see in the future, if we have the sense to ignore those who promote north vs. south rivalry, is an urban/rural competition. The issue of Nevada's low mining taxes and a variety of environmental disputes are examples that appeared in the last legislature and will be back.

Politicians love to pit people against each other, and over the years Nevada has seen them come and go - James Bilbray as a university regent and, in the legislature, Marvin Sedway and Dina Titus from the south and William Raggio from the north all loved to create rich lodes of regional rivalry and then mine it. We journalists have unfortunately been their willing tools. When the notorious "fair share" tax distribution battle between Titus and Raggio happened in 1991, the Reno Gazette Journal became a player in that battle instead of an observer (one of its services to readers was titled "Who to blame").

But nowhere is it carved in stone that Nevadans need to buy into this stuff. The answer to Nevada's north vs. south problem is simple: Stop listening to people - whether politicians or journalists - who like to promote northern/southern cleavage for their own purposes. - Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers is a veteran reporter and former Nevada chief deputy secretary of state.


How-to

Q: I wanna get in on this locavorism thing and grow my own food. Is there a desert-friendly but low-maintenance plant I can try my green thumb on?

A: If you have room for a tree, try a pomegranate or a fig. Both do very well here and can even live in rock mulch, though they'd be happier and healthier with a cooler, organic (wood-chip) mulch. There are many different varieties available for both species, and you can order one to fit the size of space you have available.

Pomegranates are small trees, figs are medium-size or large. Local nurseries typically carry one or two varieties, but many more are available. Start your search online and ask your local nursery to order your selection for you. Both species are quite drought-tolerant once they've been in the ground for a couple of years, but make sure and plan for their growth by giving them access to the water provided by more than just a few emitters. A small pomegranate will need at least four or five emitters spread out around its base (with at least one emitter on the root system when planted), but a larger tree will need access to more, numbering in the dozens. Emitters should be spread around and be positioned no more than 4 or 5 feet apart. Any little plants growing underneath or nearby help by adding their water to the tree's resources.

In the years to come, you'll be able to enjoy repeat bounties of delicious, healthy fruit, while minimizing impact on the environment. - Norm Schilling

Norm Schilling is owner of the Schilling Horticultural Group and a certified arborist.


How-to

Q: I'm considering commuting to work by bike. What do I need to know?

A: In Las Vegas, it's never been a better time to start biking to work. Community planners have come up with more bike lanes and bike-safe routes than ever. First, go on Google Earth and map out a route. Get a bike-safe route map from the RTC. Look for low-traffic routes that have stop lights at major street crossings. Then, on the weekend, try it out to get a feel for the timing. (You don't want to make your boss mad the first time by being late.) And, for the most part, obey traffic rules as if you were in a car.

About the bike: Buy as much bike as you can afford. For commuting, you need a vehicle, not a toy. The bike needs to be functional and dependable. It's dark and cold these mornings and evenings, so you'll need some good layers to keep you warm. (A few years back I put together a chart with temps on one side and my various bike clothes on the other. Kind of geeky, huh? But I was always dressing too warm or too cool.) Good lights are a must when it's dark. Also, in traffic, you'll need a mirror.

You may experience a little sticker shock, but commuting will pay for itself in no time. At 50 cents a mile I easily save $1,000 a year. And the health benefits? Invaluable. - Kevin Eubanks

Kevin Eubanks is an engineer for Clark County who has logged 50,000 miles since he began riding his bicycle to work since 1989.


History

Q: Why isn't there gambling in Boulder City?

A: Many people think there's no gambling in Boulder City because the people who live there have a superior sense of morality. In truth, the absence of gambling in Boulder City is rooted in both Republican prudery and New Deal social engineering. When the Bureau of Reclamation decided to build Hoover Dam in Black Canyon, it needed a site for a workers' camp over which it could maintain legal control. Earlier, the government established the Boulder Canyon Project Federal Reservation around the construction site by withdrawing land from public access, thereby creating a federal "island" in Southern Nevada.

Las Vegas expected it was going to house the dam's workers, but Ray Lyman Wilbur, Herbert Hoover's Secretary of Interior, was not impressed by that dirty, raucous little town where gambling, liquor - despite Prohibition - and prostitution flourished. Instead, the bureau decided to build an entirely new town closer to the dam site on the reservation, where federal law, rather than Nevada law, had jurisdiction. That way, the government could "protect" its workers and their families from gambling, liquor and prostitution by proscribing all three. So Boulder City was built and deliberately fashioned into a model of propriety in the middle of one of the country's most hard-living states.

Even after the Hoover administration fell and Prohibition was repealed, the New Deal administration of Franklin Roosevelt didn't change much. Gambling and prostitution remained illegal, although the Department of Interior issued a memo legalizing sale and consumption of 3 percent "near beer" and 4 percent wine. The ban on liquor was not lifted until 1969, and prostitution, at least outside City Hall, remains illegal.

But throughout its history, there has been agitation to legalize gambling in town. Boulder City businessmen in the 1930s, '40s and '50s jealously watched Las Vegas develop into a lucrative gambling destination. Four prominent Las Vegas lawyers and businessmen bought the Boulder Dam Hotel in 1946 intending to open a casino. There was a failed effort to legalize gaming when Boulder City was incorporated in 1959. A Boulder City motel owner in the 1980s, overestimating his political influence in town, built a three-story addition to a small auto court and wired the entire top floor to accommodate gaming machines.

When Boulder City had the opportunity to annex Railroad Pass in 1985, they turned it down rather than invite gaming into the city limits. Today, 80 years after Boulder City was built, gambling is still illegal. It's a defining characteristic of the town - and unlikely ever to be seriously challenged. - Dennis McBride

Dennis McBride is a Boulder City native and curator of collections at the Nevada State Museum.


Lifestyle

Q: Why do I have to separate my recycling, if the collectors just throw it all into one big bin in the truck anyway?

A: Short answer? You don't. According to spokesman Bob Coyle, Republic Services spent about $20 million upgrading its recycling facility so that it can handle - and separate - loads in which glass, paper and plastic are commingled. So, even if you don't separate your stuff in order to let the guys driving the three-compartment trucks sort it into the appropriate bins, it gets separated at the facility anyway.

Long answer? Because of the trucks that collect recyclables. Bob Coyle, spokesman for Republic Services, says, "We still have some of the older three-compartment trucks, and we don't always know which truck is going to be on a given route. So, in the three-compartment trucks, they separate, but in the single-compartment trucks, they don't."

Now the real question: If they're separating the stuff, why do we have to? Coyle says he hopes we won't for too much longer. North Las Vegas already has single-stream recycling bins for customers, and he hopes Henderson and Las Vegas will follow suit soon. - Heidi Kyser

History

Q: Did Bugsy Siegel really found Las Vegas?

A: If only this historical misconception would die as easily as Bugsy did that night in Beverly Hills. I think the popular belief that Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel founded Las Vegas comes from two misconceptions: first, that the Flamingo Hotel and Casino was the beginning of modern Las Vegas, and, second, from the belief that Bugsy built the place.

So, first thing. If by "modern Las Vegas" people mean the city's identity as a destination resort with hotel-casinos, fancy restaurants and elaborate shows, that did not begin with the Flamingo. The first Las Vegas hotel-casino resort in the modern sense was the Meadows, built in 1931 several miles southeast of Fifth Street (Las Vegas Boulevard), near the intersection of Charleston Boulevard, Fremont Street and Boulder Highway. The Meadows was built by "Tony the Hat" Cornero, who later on built the Stardust - so maybe we can say Tony the Hat founded Las Vegas, not Bugsy Siegel. Ten years after the Meadows, California hotel man Tommy Hull built the El Rancho Vegas Hotel and Casino, the first resort on what became the Las Vegas Strip, and who was the first to envision Las Vegas as a destination resort. So maybe we can say it was Tommy Hull who founded Las Vegas, not Bugsy Siegel.

Second thing. Bugsy Siegel first visited Las Vegas in 1934 as an associate of mobster Meyer Lansky, but he hated the place. He hated the heat, he hated the desert, he hated the city's scruffy appearance. He wound up owning a few points in the race and sports book at the El Cortez Hotel and Casino on Fremont Street, which hardly made him a presence in the town he's wrongly credited with having founded. His association with the Flamingo Hotel and Casino came later when Meyer Lansky pressured him into representing Lansky's and his syndicate's interest in the developing resort on site in Las Vegas. Construction on the Flamingo was already under way, begun by Los Angeles publisher, nightclub owner and compulsive gambler William "Billy" Wilkerson. It was Wilkerson whose vision of Las Vegas as a destination resort inspired construction of the Flamingo with its radically modern design and layout.

When Wilkerson ran out of money before the hotel was finished, Lansky's syndicate gave him the funds to complete it in return for a two-thirds interest in the finished resort. Bugsy, who liked control, eventually muscled Wilkerson out of the project - allegedly threatening to kill him if he didn't give it up. Siegel finished building the Flamingo and got it open - but his greed and vanity led to breathtaking cost overruns and overselling of shares. On June 20, 1947, just six months after the Flamingo opened, Siegel was shot to death in the living room of girlfriend Virginia Hill's Beverly Hills home. No one then said that Bugsy Siegel had founded Las Vegas, and those today who say he did are wrong. - Dennis McBride


Gambling

Q: Okay, tell us once and for all: Is Internet gambling legal or not?

A: That's the million-dollar (or should we say several hundred billion-dollar) question, according to David Schwartz, director of UNLV's Center for Gaming Research and Anthony Curtis, founder and publisher of www.LasVegasAdvisor.com. Unfortunately, for all those companies lining up to cash in, it hasn't been answered definitively yet.

Stressing that he's not an attorney, Schwartz says, "It is not legal to use a credit card to place a bet on Internet gambling. In many states, that act is illegal. In others it's not; it depends on whether it's regulated."

So, how about Nevada? Schwartz thinks it's illegal here, because the companies that people place bets with aren't regulated by Nevada. "If they're not regulated, you can't do it, and we don't regulate them," he says.

Curtis agrees that it's technically illegal to place a bet online in Nevada. "Still," he adds, "many Nevadans play online, and there has never been an indictment that I know of."

Here's the rub: Fundamentally, gambling is a state issue, but in order for online gaming to become legal, lawmakers would have to amend the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which is federal.

Where does that leave us? There's some political will to change the federal law, Schwartz says, but "because we've already started campaigning for the 2012 presidential election, there's a lot of partisanship around the issue." - Heidi Kyser

How-to


Q: Where can I get a taste of Las Vegas nightlife without being bumped around by twentysomethings in tiny cocktail dresses?

A: I often get this question from people in their thirties, forties and beyond. They say, "We may have a few years on us, but we still love to party!" What they're really saying is, "Where can we go, have a great time, and not be the only ones our age?"

On The Strip? I'd recommend Cathouse (Luxor), VooDoo Rooftop Lounge (Rio), Mix (Mandalay Bay), Tabú (MGM) and Ghostbar (Palms) as your best bets for nightclubs that are less packed or generally have shorter lines (and some amazing views of the city). A trip to Town Square's Blue Martini is great for dancing and live music, while nearby Pete's Dueling Piano Bar can provide a high-energy night out. Another tip: Pay attention to the weekday schedules of major nightclubs, as often this will give you the same experience, minus the crowds.

But does age really matter? The most important part of enjoying nightlife is your attitude. If you set out to enjoy yourself and to conquer whatever the night brings, more often than not, you'll find fun anywhere you go and have an uncanny ability to make the absolute best of any situation. Alternatively, if you go into a place complaining about the music, the crowd, the prices, and the strange look that the "twentysomething snob" at the door gave you when you walked in - your night is doomed. Leave your boring friends at home, let loose, have a couple of drinks, stay positive, and be spontaneous. The rest will fall into place. - Jack Colton

Jack Colton is a publisher of Las Vegas nightlife planning guides.


History
 
Q: Why did we celebrate the Las Vegas centennial in 2005, when the city wasn't incorporated until 1911?

A: Three words: Mayor Oscar Goodman. The happiest mayor in the universe wanted a big community celebration, and he chose to do it in the year historians identify as the "founding" of Las Vegas. Although the city itself would not incorporate until March 1911, most people trace the founding of modern Las Vegas to May 15, 1905, the day that 110 acres of land in what we now consider downtown Las Vegas were auctioned off.

Goodman set the tone for what he called the city's 100th birthday with everything from a commemorative license plate (still available today; fees go to support historic preservation) to the creation of the world's largest birthday cake to the burying of a centennial time capsule at the historic Fifth Street School. (That will be opened in 2105.)

Ironically enough, no special notice was given to the anniversary of the city's incorporation in 2011, during the closing month's of Goodman's term. The mayor even said at the time he wasn't even going to toast the date, which in and of itself is rare. - Steve Sebelius


The Strip

Q: Can the Luxor beam really be seen from outer space, as hotel management claims?

A: Why yes, it can, says UNLV Astronomy Professor Steve Lepp. The light shooting up from the tip of the hotel's pyramid structure is, essentially, like a giant headlight shining into space, Lepp says, because it is focused into a beam.

"The lowest orbits in space are on the order of 100 miles," he explains. "I can see the light from my house at 10 miles away, and it's not even pointing at me."

So, there. Lepp says if an astronaut were looking out the window of his space vessel, and it passed into the Luxor's beam, it would suddenly become much brighter. "This is much the same as if a car following you hits a bump and, suddenly, as the beam of the headlights point at you, it becomes much brighter," he says.

Why trust Lepp? If his Ph.D. in atomic and molecular theory isn't convincing enough, he also researches phenomena involving the absorption and emission of light by atoms and molecules. - Heidi Kyser


Politics

Q: Why do we elect judges instead of appointing them as they do in the federal court system?

A: Over the years, efforts have been made to appoint judges rather than elect them. The primary reason is the unseemliness of judges having to ask for campaign contributions from the lawyers who appear before them in court, creating the inevitable appearance of a conflict of interest. However, voters have stubbornly refused to give up the right to vote for judges, even if most voters have little way to determine who's qualified for the post or not.

Most recently, in 2007 and 2009, the state Legislature passed a plan favored by former state Sen. Bill Raggio. It would have amended the state constitution to allow for the appointment of judges, who would then stand for retention at a subsequent election, after a written review of their performance. If they received 55 percent of the vote or better, they'd stay on the bench for another term. If not, they would be ousted and another judge would be appointed. But voters rejected that measure in November 2010, 58 percent to 42 percent.

The only judges who are appointed in Nevada are those who fill the unexpired term of a judge who dies in office or resigns. Those judges typically stand for election in their own right at the next even-year election.

And the only real way voters have to determine who is a good judge or not is the Review-Journal's Judging the Judges survey, which asks lawyers to anonymously rate the judges they have appeared in front of in court. That survey is conducted in conjunction with the Nevada State Bar Association every other year. - Steve Sebelius


Health

Q: So, is smoking allowed now in restaurants or not?

A: No, smoking is not allowed in Nevada restaurants. But confusion reigns on the issue, given a long and tortured history of laws about where a person can and cannot light up.

In 2006, after years of defeats at the state Legislature, a coalition of anti-smoking groups put a ballot question before voters. The Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act banned indoor smoking almost everywhere it was allowed, with several key exceptions, including casino floors and bars that did not serve food (bars that do serve food would essentially be classified as restaurants). The measure passed 54 percent to 46 percent. Lawsuits ensued, but courts upheld most of the law. (A criminal penalty for smoking in prohibited areas was struck down.)

After the measure passed, smoking in restaurants, convenience stores, grocery stores and many food-serving bars stopped, although some bars ignored patrons who continued to smoke, and even provided them makeshift ashtrays. Other bars spent money creating physical barriers between a food-serving restaurant side and a liquor-serving side where smoking could presumably continue.

Then this year, a hard-fought measure passed the Legislature that loosened the restrictions, but only with respect to bars. Assembly Bill 571 - supported by Nevada's tavern owners - allows smoking in adults-only bars, even if food is served there. Thus, smoking will continue in places such as PT's Pubs, but it will remain banned in family restaurants open to people of all ages. - Steve Sebelius


The Strip

Q: Why does Las Vegas Boulevard verge northeast, just past Caesars Palace?

A: Blame it on the railroad men - including William Andrews Clark, from whom the valley takes its name. Those robber barons snapped up the critical real estate and literally set a pattern for the future. They owned the land that became downtown Las Vegas, so when they auctioned it off, that was the beginning of what would become a rather skewed street grid. "If you look at downtown, you'll notice that the plat (or layout) is at an angle to the Strip, beginning roughly at the point where Main Street, Las Vegas Boulevard and St. Louis Avenue converge, just north of the Stratosphere," explains College of Southern Nevada history professor Michael Green. "Because of the terrain of the Las Vegas Valley, it was easiest to run the railroad line from southwest to northeast, through what became downtown," and thence southward through the mountain pass at Sloan, and on into California. - David McKee


Urban Legend
 
Q: Is it true that Moe Dalitz was rubbed out by rival mobsters?

A: This urban myth seems to owe its currency to a semi-fictionalized depiction of Las Vegas, War of the Godfathers, by William F. Roemer Jr. It preposterously depicts Morris B. Dalitz (1899-1989) as the victim of a "late 1986" phantom shootout in front of the in-progress Mirage (which didn't break ground until 1987), catching three slugs from triggerman Joe Ferriola. In some versions of the legend, Dalitz miraculously survives another three years, only to be poisoned by a Sunrise Hospital orderly.

Ferriola actually died in March 1989, five months before his alleged target. If somebody wanted to be rid of Dalitz, they could have spared themselves the trouble. Al Balboni's chapter on Dalitz in The Maverick Spirit: Building the New Nevada reports that the former bootlegger was dogged by cancer from 1987 onward. When he eventually passed away, a Sept. 1, 1989 Las Vegas Sun obituary blamed the old mobster's death on "congestive heart disease, chronic hypertension and kidney failure." It furthermore noted that Dalitz had been under nurses' care since for the past year, as his various illnesses worsened, and had spent his last three weeks confined to bed. Dalitz biographer Michael Newton, author of Mr. Mob: The Life and Crimes of Moe Dalitz, dismisses War of the Godfathers as "a tale loosely rooted in history, filled with events that never occurred." - David McKee


Urban Legend

Q: Is it true that your personal data, including your home address and credit card number can be stolen off your hotel key card?

A: No. According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, this is "an urban legend" that has been caroming around cyberspace ever since Oct. 6, 2003. Eight years ago, a Pasadena police detective attending a cop conference hit the email panic button, firing off an errant missive that is now taken as gospel truth. "Someone there happened to say that they heard it was possible to put this information on this key card," according to the AHLA. The Pasadena flatfoot put two and two together, and got five.

"The one incident referred to appears to be several years old, and with today's newer technology, it would appear that no hotels engage in the practice of storing personal information on key cards," a City of Pasadena spokeswoman subsequently backpedaled. Hilton Hotels Corp. executive Kathy Shephard added, "Our key cards are encrypted with minimal information - the guest's name, room number and arrival and departure dates and in such a way that they can't be read by ordinary card readers."

If - and only if - the front-desk machine that codes your key card is linked to the registration computer, any information on your credit card could be transferred to the key, according to insurance consultant Jake Stroup, and even he concedes that embedding financial data onto a key card would be legally perilous for hotels. Industry professionals maintain that payment information isn't resident upon key cards (but it's a very different story in Europe). Transactions such as room-service orders are routed to a central property-management server, where your credit card data is stored.

With the rise of in-room checkout and similar automated procedures, it's a waste of bandwidth to imprint more than the most rudimentary data onto key cards. It's doubly pointless since room locks aren't wired into a mainframe - imagine the cost! - but are what Hilton describes as "stand-alone, battery-powered devices." A 2006 survey should have definitively settled the issue, when Computerworld staffers tested 52 different hotel cards on a standard-issue, swipe-card reader and found most "completely unreadable." Even those that could be deciphered didn't contain "personally identifiable" data. The Computerworld study was verified by MagTek, which manufactures card readers. It independently tested another 48 hotel-room cards. None yielded any information that would be of use to an identity thief. - David McKee


Casinos

Q: What's going to happen to Fontainebleau?

A: Last spring, a local gambling publication floated the rumor that Fontainebleau owner Carl Icahn was going to sell the structural steel within the unfinished, derelict megaresort, provided that the buyer also pay to dismantle the huge building. (Icahn had purchased it out of bankruptcy for $156.2 million.) "That is total nonsense," says Icahn spokeswoman Susan Gordon. "There is no truth to that." A promised follow-up call from Icahn headquarters never materialized. In the meantime, Icahn's been clearing out the warehouse, scattering Fontainebleau furnishing to the four winds. They've turned up at the Tropicana, the Plaza and even out in Primm, at Buffalo Bill's and Primm Valley Resort.

Icahn's modus operandi is to buy assets on the cheap, in search of high-yield turnarounds. It's what he did at the Stratosphere and a defunct motel that became Arizona Charlie's East. Spending the $1.2 billion or more it will take to finish Fontainebleau would be highly out of character for him. Icahn Enterprises' Aug. 5, 2010 official statement - "Our real estate segment intends to secure the former Fontainebleau property until market conditions improve" - points to an eventual resale of the hulk. Even if he charged a bargain-basement $6.5 million per acre for the 24.5 Las Vegas Strip acres upon which Fontainebleau looms, Icahn would still turn a profit and finishing "big blue" would become somebody else's problem. - David McKee


The Strip

Q: What does it mean when something is in "unincorporated Clark County," and why can't we incorporate it already?

A: Our image of gangsters tends to be of no-neck toughs with nicknames like "Icepick" and "The Ant." Not necessarily. We can thank - and curse - some of Las Vegas's early casino operators for Southern Nevada's weird geography.

In 1940, California hotelman Thomas Hull visited Las Vegas. Chamber of Commerce officials suggested that he build a property around Maryland Parkway and Charleston Boulevard, but Hull preferred a spot on Highway 91 to Los Angeles. That made business sense - drivers would welcome the convenience - but Hull had another reason: If he put his El Rancho Vegas beyond the city limits, he would pay no municipal taxes and fees, relying instead on the cheaper county government for services.

Other builders followed suit. By 1949, the Hotel Last Frontier, Flamingo, and Thunderbird had joined the El Rancho Vegas. The Strip was growing, and suburban development wouldn't be far behind. With the city of Las Vegas, led by Mayor Ernie Cragin, voicing interest in annexing the area, Lt. Gov. Cliff Jones, a Thunderbird co-owner, helped persuade the 1949 legislature to pass a law barring a city from swallowing an unincorporated township without the county commission's approval.

Flamingo executive Gus Greenbaum and other Strip investors, mob-connected and otherwise, asked the Clark County Commission to create a township. They did so, on December 8, 1950: Paradise City. Paradise and later Winchester and Spring Valley became large unincorporated townships (Paradise was the nation's largest such community by 2000).

With the Strip and its revenue stream in Paradise and Winchester, many Nevadans consider the Clark County Commission the state's most important and powerful government entity. Those who lament the good old days before corporations might stop and consider: Whatever power those corporations have locally is due in part to the business and political acumen of some mobsters. If they don't like it, they can change it: A city can annex an unincorporated township only by a vote of the county commission and town board, the planning commission's recommendation, or a vote of the township's residents. - Michael Green

Alien

Urban Legend

Q: What's really going on at Area 51?

A: The world's best known "secret" base is still our government's foremost facility for the testing and development of spy plane technology. The same base that nurtured such amazing craft as the U-2, SR-71, A-15, and Stealth fighter (F-117) is currently developing a new generation of flying machines even more amazing than their predecessors. Sources familiar with the work under way at Groom Lake say the emphasis today is on UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) of various shapes and sizes. One cutting edge project is the development of a pilotless fighter plane. Another project said to have been tested at Area 51 is a version of a space plane, a hypersonic craft capable of traveling to any place on Earth within a few hours. Reports from inside the base suggest that miniaturized UAVs have also been tested at Groom Lake, including spy craft no larger than a flying insect.

The real question is: Where do they keep the flying saucers? If they ever had anything resembling a flying saucer out there, the prototypes are long gone. The simple reason for that is that too many people have focused their gaze on Groom because of the saucer stories. Tens of thousands of people have traveled to the desert because of the UFO tales - including every major media organization in the world - to see whatever it is that is flying around out there. Among those who have been out there to ask questions are Congressional investigators with high-level security clearances.

Contrary to the propaganda now being pushed by the CIA, stories about UFOs at Groom lake are not the result of misidentifications of exotic but explainable flying machines. Simply put, a U-2 does not look like a flying saucer. An SR-71 does not hover over dry lake beds. An A-12 is not shaped like a disc. The tales about flying saucers did not originate with misguided observers outside the base, but rather with the employees who worked inside. More than two dozen people who worked at Area 51 over the years have told me bits and pieces of their stories, about seeing saucer-like vehicles being taken apart, stored in hangars, hidden under tarps, and test flown under heavy security.

If, as some suggest, there was a devious plan to leak the flying saucer story through someone like Bob Lazar, merely as a ruse, to distract attention away from something else that was being tested at Groom, the plan was a miserable failure because it put Area 51 on the map and made it a household name all over the world - drawing far more scrutiny than anyone could ever have imagined. - George Knapp

George Knapp is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS-TV Channel 8 who has reported numerous stories about Area 51.
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[Business]

Q: What's the most important thing a new entrepreneur or business owner in Las Vegas should know?

A: They must acknowledge that Las Vegas is a desert island operating under a unique set of tribal rules. Not only do we lack any particular ties to any other city, but our transient nature makes locals notoriously suspicious of flashy businesses and businesspeople who swagger into town aiming to "own a niche" or "show Vegas how things are done." You aren't in Kansas anymore. Or Los Angeles. Or New York. And because you made it big there has little or no bearing on whether or not you will even survive here; for proof, one only needs to scan a list of big-name, ultra-hyped restaurants and bars that opened Las Vegas locations and fell flat.

With so many of our city's businesses arriving to our dusty railroad stop after establishing themselves elsewhere, their confidence isn't surprising, but is often their downfall. Rather than booming in like a big city badass, take time to get your bearings and meet the locals. Will you be serving them, or tourists? The markets are distinct, and few businesses can effectively straddle them. Do you have something genuinely unique to offer? You'd better, as the low-hanging fruit, particularly in this post-recession era, has all been picked. Do you know how to treat customers well? Double your performance. Word of mouth travels faster here than a Yelp review did back home.

Other challenges? Las Vegas is deceptively large. Most smaller cities maintain an old boys network of contacts called upon to smooth things through, but the frantic growth of 1995-2005 amplified the power of that network in Las Vegas. Pay attention and make friends, so you know whose ear to bend when the time comes. — James P. Reza

 

James Reza is co-owner of Globe Salon and a columnist for Vegas Seven magazine.

 

[The Strip]

Q. How much success has the Transport Workers Union had organizing casino dealers along the Strip?

A. Precious little. Steve Wynn’s August 2006 decision to withhold tip money from dealers and redistribute it among pit bosses, spurred a wave of pro-unionization sentiment. Dealers at Wynn Las Vegas voted to be represented by the TWU, soon followed by their colleagues at Caesars Palace. Afraid that the movement might spread to its other Strip properties, Caesars Entertainment began cracking down. Dealers at the Flamingo were allegedly frog-marched into meetings where the casino management allegedly threatened their much-prized “tokes.” Similar confrontations took place at Harrah’s Las Vegas and Paris-Las Vegas.

Management’s pushback produced some success. In July 2008, nearly 60 percent of Rio dealers voted against TWU representation, blunting the organization drive. Talks with Wynn, meanwhile, were proceeding at a crawl. In late 2010, the TWU caved and held a vote on a contract offer from Wynn Resorts that had been sitting on the table since November 2009. Although accepting management’s terms meant conceding every major point of contention — surrendering the right to participate in the counting of tips, for instance — Wynn dealers voted “aye” by a margin of four to one. A TWU official rationalized the accord as “building a relationship.” There will be construction time aplenty: Dealers are locked into their pact until 2020. (Dealers at Encore remain un-unionized.)

Caesars Palace didn’t put a contract offer before its dealers until a year into negotiations, in autumn 2010. Emboldened by Wynn’s success, Caesars called for employees to share their tips with management, which the company described as “cost-effective way to supplement employees’ earnings.” Dealers rejected this 305-2 and talks have been in a stalemate ever since.

Part of the difficulty making headway can be blamed upon the TWU’s lack of clout, as well as the neutral stance taken by the Culinary Union. Management did not dare make such confiscatory demands of United Auto Workers-backed dealers at Caesars Atlantic City, who won an 18 percent raise. Dealers at Caesars Palace, meanwhile, are locked into 2007 wages until a contract is reached.

 

[History]

Q: Why did Hoover Dam used to be called Boulder Dam?

A: There was a time when confusion between “Hoover Dam” and “Boulder Dam” was so great that tourists looking for Boulder Dam saw signs for Hoover Dam and thought they were in the wrong place. The correct name is Hoover Dam, officially legislated by Congress in 1947 to end the confusion. But for years before, during, and after its construction, the confusion over Hoover Dam and Boulder Dam caused a lot of headache.

When the dam project was planned in the 1910s and ’20s, it was referred to as Boulder Dam or the Boulder Canyon Dam because it was originally planned to be built in Boulder Canyon. Likewise, the construction project itself was named the Boulder Canyon Project. In 1928, while the Bureau of Reclamation switched the dam site from Boulder to Black Canyon, it did not change the name. That happened on September 17, 1930, when Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur, in his speech at inauguration of the construction of the railroad from Las Vegas to the Boulder City town site, declared the dam would be named Hoover, after President Herbert Hoover. It was still Boulder City and still the Boulder Canyon Project, but it was now “Hoover” Dam. Herbert Hoover, by this time, was not popular among the millions thrown out of work and made homeless by the Great Depression they blamed on him. Many refused to call it Hoover Dam and continued referring to the dam as Boulder. In 1932, Herbert Hoover lost the election and Ray Lyman Wilbur was replaced as Interior Secretary by Harold Ickes. In May 1933 Ickes issued a memorandum asking that Hoover Dam hereafter be referred to officially as Boulder Dam, and that’s how it was dedicated in 1935. It was Boulder Dam until April 30, 1947 when President Harry Truman signed a bill “restoring” the name Hoover.

Interestingly, though, “Boulder” Dam lingers on even today. It’s still called the Boulder Canyon Project; it’s still Boulder City and Boulder Highway, as well as the Boulder Dam Credit Union, the Boulder Dam Hotel, the Boulder Dam Brewing Company, and the Boulder Dam Area Council of Boy Scouts. — Dennis McBride

 

[The Strip]

Q. Whose idea was CityCenter: current CEO James Murren or his predecessor, the late J. Terrence Lanni?

A. According to Murren, the concept was his own: “When the company started looking at the land between Bellagio and Monte Carlo in terms of another resort, I really felt that would have been missing the mark. That’s kind of just more of the same.”

After making some doodles and do-it-yourself computer renderings, Murren “brought in Bill Smith over at [MGM Mirage Design Group] and had a couple of meetings with him.” To get his “bubble plan” in front of majority owner Kirk Kerkorian, then Chief Financial Officer Murren resorted to subterfuge: “I snuck it into a board meeting one day back in ’04 … [as] kind of an off-agenda item. They were very intrigued. [Kirk] Kerkorian loved it and he got it right away.”

A Nov. 29, 2009 profile of Murren in the Las Vegas Sun portrayed a Murren who had been chafing under the Lanni regime — a period in which the company developed a reputation for having trouble getting projects off the ground — and finding an ally in Kerkorian: “Everything we were looking at before I thought was just a worthless enterprise. [Kerkorian] kept challenging me … to think beyond what I could see.”

Since Kerkorian was the majority shareholder in 2004, if something had his approval, it was essentially a fait accompli. The only concept Lanni had ever publicly articulated for the acreage was the nebulous notion of an “Internet-based” resort. Whatever that meant, it could hardly be used to describe CityCenter, especially since it rapidly developed notoriety for poor cell phone reception and wi-fi access.

Casino Connection blogger Roger Gros challenged Murren’s veracity. “I was there almost exactly five years ago when MGM Mirage called a press conference … at the Bellagio to announce CityCenter,” he wrote. “But it wasn’t Murren who was explaining the idea and the vision behind the project, it was then chairman, Terry Lanni … With a great eloquence, Lanni hovered over the model of CityCenter, explaining the different elements and how they would work in the ‘new’ Las Vegas.

“But Murren? I can’t remember him even speaking … Lanni also has an ego, but was always fair when distributing credit for good things happening in any of his businesses,” Gros concluded.

But Gros had mostly hunches to substantiate his theory that Lanni — whose primary hobbies were racehorses and politics — was the one who conceptualized CityCenter … not former art history and urban planning student Murren. His portrayal of Lanni as the George Washington of the casino industry comes a-cropped on the facts that the former CEO left MGM under a cloud after the Wall Street Journal in late 2008 discovered that Lanni’s claim to an MBA from the University of Southern California was specious. — David McKee

 

[How-to]

Q: My yard is boring. I want more flowers and attractive plants without spending a fortune. What can I do?

A: Plant some Golden Dyssodia, aka Dogweed (Thymophylla pentachaeta). This little plant gets covered with hundreds of tiny, golden, daisy-like blooms for up to 12 months of the year! It’s short-lived, lasting only 2 or 3 years, but will re-seed itself reliably. Plants that set from seed will pop up in all sorts of places, even in locations without irrigation … and those without additional water will bloom their little hearts out in the middle of winter. They’re not weedy, because if you have any come up where you don’t want them, or have too many, they’re easy to remove — just break them off at the base and they won’t grow back. They’re hard to find in local nurseries, but I have seen them occasionally at Plant World. Be forewarned: They don’t like life in a nursery-pot, so they’ll not be pretty when you plant them.

Another easy way to add some color and interest to a drab landscape is to bring in some succulents, from Agaves and Aloes to cactus. Cactus in particular sometimes get a bad rap, but their form and texture adds interest to the typical spread of leafy shrubs so common in Southern Nevada, and few plants produce flowers as large and vibrantly-colored. Just keep in mind that many succulents do have spines or sharp, pokey leaf-tips — and they grow! So place them well into the landscape, with enough room to grow to their full mature size, so research just how big they’ll eventually get. — Norm Schilling

 

Dining

Q: What exactly does a sommelier do?

A: A sommelier’s job is to oversee a restaurant’s wine program. That’s no easy feat when you consider that some Las Vegas restaurants offer several hundred different varieties of wine. They’re expected to have something for everyone from price-conscious novices to money-is-no-object oenophiles. And everything is expected to be good. (At a good restaurant, the sommelier and staff should proudly stand behind even the least expensive bottle of wine offered.)

Being able to assemble a list like that requires a lot of knowledge. So it’s no surprise most good somms (as they’re called in the biz) are constantly educating themselves through classes, membership in professional organizations and the pursuit of higher and higher certifications. Of course, the career does have its fun side. Sommeliers regularly travel the world, touring vineyards and sampling new wines for possible inclusion on their restaurant’s wine list.

Back at the restaurant, the sommelier is charged with training the entire staff so they can help customers select the best wine to complement their taste, their meal and their budget. The sommelier will never get to meet the customers at every table. But he or she needs to make sure every customer gets the best wine advice possible. So when new menu items are introduced, the sommelier will taste each of them to select appropriate pairings. Then, the somm meets with all of the servers, and has them taste every dish alongside several recommended pairings for each. So when a customer asks a waiter or waitress for recommendations on wine, they’ll always get good advice. — Al Mancini

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