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Las Vegas

Year in Review: Current events 2008

It was brutal, but at least it was also grueling, with occasional hope sprinkles

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From the mortgage-crisised suburbs to the undervisited Strip, perhaps the best that could be said of 2008 is that it wasn’t as bad as 2009. Looking back at a very dubious year.

THAT JUST LEAVES MORE FORECLOSURE FOR THE REST OF US

For the first time in 10 years, the population of Clark County does not increase.

BUT AT LEAST THERE’S AMPLE PARKING

In February, Southern Nevada Health officials announce that six cases of hepatitis C are linked to the Endoscopy Center of Nevada, and warn that up to 40,000 more patients are at risk.

WILLIAMS-SONOMA MUST BE STOPPED!

Assemblywoman Francis Allen allegedly stabs her husband with a steak knife. (He later claims he stabbed himself). Later in the year, former judge Elizabeth Halverson is allegedly beaten by her husband with a frying pan.

BUT THEY CAN USE OUR STRIP CLUBS ALL THEY LIKE

The voter-registration organization known as ACORN is raided for allegedly filing forms with bogus names, including members of the Dallas Cowboys. Says Secretary of State Ross Miller, “Tony Romo is not registered in the state of Nevada, and anyone posing as Terrell Owens won’t be able to cast a ballot on November 4.”

OR STOP READING SO MANY STUDIES

A study claims that the risk of suicide is increased by living in or even visiting Las Vegas. One of the study’s authors says, “If you’re feeling blue you should take a break from Las Vegas.”

The Strip is burning! The Strip is burning!

NOTES ON 2008’S STRIP DISASTERS

By T.R. Witcher

It’s been a hell of a year on the Strip.

In January the upper floors of Monte Carlo caught on fire after construction foam ignited, sending thick blooms of black smoke into the air. Some 6,000 employees and guests were evacuated. No one was injured.

The evacuees must have taken the stock values with them, because stock prices of the major gaming companies on the Strip dropped significantly this year. As of October, according to Applied Analysis, MGM Mirage was trading at under $16, down from $94 in October 2007; Sands fell from $134 to $14 during the same period; Wynn from $157 to $54. Boyd Gaming is at measly $5.99—one casualty of Boyd’s ambitious, 5,000-room, nearly $5 billion Echelon project, which was put on hold in August, while the company figures out what to do next on the 87-acre site.

Visitor rates have taken a plunge as well, down 3.2 percent over last year. Hotel occupancy is also down, 3.5 percent through October over last year, for a total occupancy rate of 87.9 percent.

Most troublesome has been the unusually high number of construction fatalities on the Strip this year. Two more workers died at CityCenter, joining four others who perished at the site in 2007, as well as four other workers who have died in the last two years at Palazzo, Cosmopolitan and Trump Tower.

At least the Strip is good for a night out, right? Sure, unless you count the much-hyped and more-maligned Believe, the Criss Angel-Cirque du Soleil show that launched in October, giving the peerless Cirque a dubious black eye, and us a stocking full of coal.

YOU MEAN EVERYONE DOESN’T BRING GUN-TOTING ASSOCIATES TO WEDDINGS?

October—O.J. Simpson is convicted of robbery and kidnapping after attempting to “retrieve” sports memorabilia from a Palace Station hotel room. He’s later sentenced to nine to 33 years in prison. During sentencing, Simpson apologizes, saying, “I came here for a wedding. I didn’t come to reclaim property.”

YEAH, IT’S EITHER THAT OR RACQUETBALL

Authorities find 4 grams of ricin, a biological toxin, in Roger Von Bergendorff’s hotel room in February. At his sentencing in November, Von Bergendorff, who produced the ricin himself, says he never intended to hurt anyone with the substance, calling it “a harmless outlet for my anger.”

OKAY, WE’RE READY FOR A SNORT OF THAT RICIN NOW

Michael Jackson moves to town.

AND GOOD FOR SORE THROATS

A report reveals that Las Vegas tap water has traces of at least three prescription drugs, including antibiotics. Utilities insist our water is completely safe.

STUFF WE LOST THIS YEAR

Our merely inadequate funding for education (it’s now extremely inadequate). Congressman Jon Porter. Star Trek: The Experience. Spamalot. Our confidence in the magic vigor of the Vegas economy. The ebullient face of state Sen. Bob Beers. Toni Braxton. Second City. Guggenheim at the Venetian. Las Vegas, the television show (and Viva Laughlin). The chance to see Echelon keep rising. Jobs; very many jobs. Stomp Out Loud. Libby Lumpkin in a key cultural position. One more voice of reason in the howling vortex of senselessness that is the R-J op-ed section: bought-out columnist Erin Neff. Equity.

Criss Angel's collaboration with Cirque du Soleil, <em>Believe,</em> premieres tonight at the Luxor.

Criss Angel's collaboration with Cirque du Soleil, Believe, premieres tonight at the Luxor.

STUFF WE GAINED THIS YEAR

Whatever the opposite of equity is, we have a lot more of that. More Democrats than we’re accustomed to. Criss Angel Believe. Additional opportunities to talk about how much critics dislike Criss Angel Believe. A more precise understanding of the difference between a syringe and a needle. Donny. Marie. Cher! An illusion of political significance thanks to approximately 1 million candidate visits. Palazzo. Encore. Jersey Boys. The Erotic Heritage Museum. The Trump. An illusion of judicial significance thanks to approximately 1 million O.J. trial stories. A brief but scarily vigorous Palinoscopy. Palms Place.

HEREIN, THE ONLY SENTENCE YOU WILL EVER READ THAT INCLUDES THE WORDS “WISCONSIN” AND “HIGH-ROLLER”

A Wisconsin high-roller claims in a lawsuit, reported on in June, that Harrah’s, while flying him home in its company jet, turned the plane around, brought him back and forced him to sign a $3.5 million marker he didn’t owe.

APPALLING NUMBERS OF THE YEAR

90.5: Percentage of Clark County students who failed the end-of-semester exams for Algebra I.

$775 million: Amount paid by Phil Ruffin for Treasure Island. When you consider it costs around $2 billion to build a new casino on the Strip, that should tell you how much values have fallen in Las Vegas.

40,000: People around the Valley who got letters informing them that they may possibly have hepatitis C as a result of negligent practices at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada.

30,000: Foreclosures in Las Vegas in 2008. Two out of every three homes for sale is in foreclosure.

$400,000: The amount of Charles Barkley’s unpaid gambling debt to Wynn Las Vegas.

2: Number of special legislative sessions Gov. Gibbons called this year.

2: Minimum number of years Jim Gibbons will still be governor.

OUR MATH STUDENTS WOULD CALL THAT A 50 PERCENT DROP

Sheldon Adelson falls from No. 6 to No. 12 on Forbes’ list of billionaires. Later in the year, his Las Vegas stock takes a beating, and his net worth falls from $36 billion in 2007 to $11 billion by October.

AND THEN, AND ONLY THEN, COMPLETELY HUSHED UP

A March audit claims that Clark County building and fire inspectors were “derelict” in their duties to keep commercial buildings safe, and that favoritism was shown to owners of commercial properties. Ron Lynn, who supervises county building inspectors, says, “The failings need to be disclosed, and addressed.”

AS ALWAYS, WE BLAME CARROT TOP

By March, Nevada’s budget gap, originally expected to be $565 million, has swollen to $898 million because of a combination of falling sales-tax revenue from housing and gambling revenue not meeting projections.

HOW ABOUT THE STRETCH OF ROAD THAT SAYS, “NOW LEAVING NEVADA”?

In May, the Nevada Transportation Board endorses a proposal to allow privatized toll roads in Las Vegas to ease the budget shortfall. It would focus on Nevada’s busiest stretches: U.S. 95 to Interstate 15 and I-15 south to Interstate 215.

NEVADANS LEARN TO CAUCUS

By Stacy J. Willis

What’s a caucus? This is the year that a word few of us fully understood caused us to leave the comfortable oblivion of our homes, meet our neighbors in high-school auditoriums and public libraries and learn a little something about the highly convoluted reality of our political system. We learned to caucus: We talked about the candidates. We listened to disarmingly youthful political organizers explain the rules. We got up and stood in different corners of the room to express our political will. We had coffee and picked up leaflets and thought, hmm, maybe I am an important part of this process. And even though we knew, deep down, that this version of the democracy is fraught with calamity—what fraction of pi does each district delegate represent at the state party?—it felt good to get involved anyway. Plus, it’s been fun to use “caucus” as a noun, verb and expletive.

UH, THAT’S … TERRIBLE?

Police report in May that a burglar had been breaking into people’s homes and leaving pornography.

BUT NO TOPPING OFF

Amid the economic crisis, Nevada’s brothels report a 45 percent decline in business. One brothel offers gasoline gift cards.

AND PASTIES—DON’T FORGET THE PASTIES

A June report reveals that Nevada leads the nation in delinquent credit-card payments.

LIKE, “HOW MUCH DO YOU ENJOY YOUR JOB?”

An ethics commission in September rules Gov. Jim Gibbons did not pressure the Elko county assessor to gain a $5,000 tax break for 40 acres of land he owns. Says Elko Assessor Joe Aguirre, “He didn’t put any pressure on my or anything, just asked some questions that I felt any citizen would ask.”

Jim Gibbons' (center) train wreck of a year only has one upside: by comparison, we're all fit to be governor.

THE YEAR IN GIBBONS

March—Gibbons blames “media buffoonery” for overhyping the Endoscopy Center hepatitis C scare.

March—Gibbons announces the firing of three members of the Board of Medical Examiners. After discovering that’s not exactly legal, he asks them to resign. They refuse.

May—Gibbons, in the midst of his very public divorce, moves out of the Governor’s Mansion.

June—Multiple photos surface showing Gibbons with Leslie Durant, a former Playboy model and former wife of ex-Reno Mayor Pete Sferrazza. When asked about an alleged embrace in one of the photos, Gibbons explains that he believed she was having a heart attack, and was encouraging her to go to the hospital.

June—Gibbons uses state-paid cell phone to send more than 850 text messages in six weeks. The focus of these text messages is reportedly the “other woman.”

July—Gibbons hires an attorney on the state Tax Commission to deal with the Elko County assessor on an allegedly unwarranted tax break.

October—Chrissy Mazzeo files a lawsuit in federal court over an alleged sexual assault by Gibbons in 2006.

AND FOR NOT STOPPING TO BUY ICE CREAM

Allegedly to make a point about a school’s lack of security, a woman drives an unrelated 6-year-old student around in her car for a while, then goes to a friend’s house, where they call the media. They are both arrested on first-degree kidnapping charges.

BUT WHERE WOULD THEY KEEP THE TIPS?

Penthouse announces in November its intention to buy a local casino. Plans would include scantily clad, or even nude, women as dealers.

Apparently, we're all sick. Right, Harry?

Apparently, we're all sick. Right, Harry?

QUOTES OF THE YEAR

“Coal makes us sick. Oil makes us sick.” –Harry Reid

“I don’t want to be a lonely governor.” –Jim Gibbons.

Criss Angel Believe “will reinvent magic.” –Criss Angel

“We need a reversal of everything that’s happening now.” –Local Realtor on the mortgage crisis

“You get a little half-and-half, with multiple positions and multiple climaxes.” –Madam of a brothel near Beatty, describing the deals available there during the down economy

“We’re spending more on gas, less on having fun” –Headline in the Sun

“Nevadans say let tourists pay” –Headline in R-J over story about support for a room tax to fund education

“Nevada is about to enter a fiscal holy war.” –Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki

“There is no doubt we have to overhaul the way we run our state.” –Assemblywoman Barbara Buckley

“I think it’s pathetic our economy isn’t doing better than it is.” –Gov. Jim Gibbons

“All we can do is live on hope around here.” –School-district official, discussing budget cuts

“If they want me to say I’m on heroin, I’ll be on heroin. To be honest, I need the money.” –Pahrumpian Heidi Fleiss, discussing her appearance on a celebrity-rehab show

IT ALMOST TAKES THE STING OUT OF VIVA LAUGHLIN’S CANCELLATION

In January, two simultaneously issued novels about Las Vegas—Beautiful Children by Charles Bock and The Delivery Man by Joe McGinniss Jr.—briefly give the city a higher literary profile.

SOME DAYS WE REALLY MISS THE MOB

In September the FBI raids nine sites around the Valley as part of an investigation into possible collusion between homeowners associations and businesses benefiting from construction-defect lawsuits.

NO, THE ACTUAL MOB

The trial of “medical mafia” figure Dr. Noel Gage ends in a March mistrial.

AND ALSO FACEBOOK FRIENDS

In the spring, an organizer trying to unionize security guards puts up a web page comparing Mandalay Bay President Bill Hornbuckle to Osama bin Laden. “They’re both terrorists,” he says.

FUTURE MOVIES OF THE WEEK

• Buffalo Jim Barrier, local auto shop owner, wresting promoter and activist—and one of the city’s most colorful characters—is found dead in a Las Vegas motel room, a victim of an apparent drug overdose. Barrier’s family suspects foul play, as Buffalo was a longtime opponent of Crazy Horse Too former owner Rick Rizzolo, although police say there’s no evidence to suggest he was killed. In November, Buffalo’s family attempts to get his body exhumed to try to prove he was murdered. Their request is denied.

• What starts out as a routine traffic stop of Zyber Selimaj’s ice cream truck for running a stop sign ends in the tasing and shooting death by Henderson police officers of his wife, Deshira, who is called to the scene after Zyber becomes uncooperative with officers. Police claim the 42-year-old mother of three, who also drove an ice cream truck, had a knife and used it in a threatening manner toward the officers, her own children and herself. The shooting is ruled justified.

• Accused of making her bailiff rub her feet, demeaning her staff in various other ways and kibitzing with jurors improperly, Judge Elizabeth Halverson is brought before a judicial commission. It’s ugly. She fights the accusations and drags the parties through every legal loophole she can find, along the way drawing national media attention mostly because she weighs more than 400 pounds and drives a scooter. Halverson ends up losing her bid for re-election and losing her case in front of the judicial commission, and then, her previously dutiful husband allegedly beats her with a frying pan in the privacy of their home. Halverson’s horrifying 911 call includes mention of not being able to see out of her eye, and when cops arrive and she’s delivered to the hospital, she receives tons of stitches to keep her scalp intact. Ed Halverson is still in jail awaiting a trial for attempted murder, and Halverson has left the hospital. But: She’s filed an appeal to the judicial commission’s ruling.

TOO BAD; NOW WE’LL HAVE TO GIVE THE NAME CARROT TOP CITY TO PAHRUMP

Needles, California, feeling it’s getting short shrift budget-wise, makes an unsuccessful bid to secede to Nevada.

FINALLY, SOME QUIET IN CARSON CITY

Oscar Goodman in classic martini-hoist mode.

In May Oscar Goodman hints he may run for governor in 2010.

AND IF THEY WANT TO GIVE US A JOB, THAT’S FINE, TOO

Right before the Legislature meets in special session in June, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce releases a report claiming public employees make 28 percent more than comparable private-sector workers. The chamber insists the study’s timing isn’t politically motivated: “We aren’t putting those numbers out there to make a point in the short term,” an official says. “If lawmakers find it useful, that’s fine.”

WHEW! FOR A MINUTE, WE THOUGHT IT WAS GOING TO BE TACKY

This summer, the city approves a pair of giant paint-brush sculptures to mark the Downtown arts district.

Mike Tyson works very, very hard to support the troops in an 8-mile trek.

TROOPS PRETEND NO ONE’S HOME UNTIL HE LEAVES

Mike Tyson walks eight miles to Nellis Air Force Base in support of the troops in May.

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