Casino owner gets second chance to protest mobile bars downtown

The owner of two casinos on Fremont Street Experience gained a second chance to press his case that he had lost business due to unfair competition from mobile bars owned by neighbors.

Clark County District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez ruled on Thursday that the statute of limitation had not expired when Granite Gaming Group, which owns Mermaids and La Bayou, filed its lawsuit in 2010. That ran contrary to the decision last year by Clark County District Judge Nancy Allf that Granite Gaming had not made its case within the two years required under Nevada law.

For various reasons, the litigation has now been in front of eight different judges by the count of Granite attorneys.

Gonzalez based her ruling on the lack of evidence that Fremont Street Experience LLC, which owns the canopy and stages the promotional events on the downtown mall, had a policy concerning mobile bars when they were first allowed in 2002. Without a policy, she added, “Each opening of a bar is a discrete act which will trigger a separate statute of limitations.”

However, the ruling almost guarantees a rerun of the issue, although next time Fremont Street attorneys will bring in more documents to bolster their point.

Fremont Street attorney Todd Bice noted one letter that the casinos’ previous owner threatened in writing 11 years ago to sue over the portable bars for allegedly siphoning away business. Again, no action was taken in 2006, when the ownership structure changed.

Besides this issue, Gonzalez tossed out a Granite Gaming claim that Fremont Street’s actions violated anti-trust law. But Granite Gaming attorney James Jimmerson said if the ruling stands on the statute of limitations regarding violations of a constitutional rights to due process and equal protection, he would have enough legal ammunition to press his case.

Granite Gaming CEO Steve Burnstine has claimed in the past the Fremont Street lost $850,000 in sales when rivals were allowed to set up mobile bars in front of or near La Bayou and Mermaids. Because he was not a dues-paying member of Fremont Street Experience, he said he was frozen out of the chance to wheel out his own bar or participate in the decision-making process

“What is so staggering and what is so offensive (to Granite Gaming) is the wholesale arrogance of Fremont Street Experience to ignore any of the rights and responsibilities that they must confer to adjoining land owners,” said Jimmerson.

But Bice framed the overall dispute as “the classic debate you always have about free riders.” Membership in the Fremont Street Experience is voluntary, but those who don’t pay dues still reap benefits the traffic generated by promotional activities and physical improvements.

Granite Gaming had purposely adopted the strategy of taking the cheaper. “(They) have made the economic decision they would rather have a free ride and not have a role in the management,” he said.

Currently, according to Granite Gaming, only one mobile bar exists, although several hotels have built permanent outdoor bars.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at toreiley@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.