Arena supporters brace for Nevada Supreme Court fight


After their latest legal victory, proponents of a 20,000-seat arena on the Strip are bracing for a fight before the Nevada Supreme Court.

A Carson City district judge ruled Monday that state voters can decide whether to raise the sales tax to help pay for a $500 million arena on land that Caesars Entertainment owns near Imperial Palace.

A nonprofit group working with Caesars wants to impose a nine-tenths-of-a-cent sales tax within a three-mile radius of the site, which would encompass the Strip casinos and the Fashion Show mall and the Rio.

Judge James Todd Russell said the group and Caesars had gathered enough valid signatures during a petition drive to place the measure on the ballot, and he denied opponents' efforts to derail it.

The petition enabled the proposal to be heard in the Legislature. In March, state senators rejected it, which means it goes on a statewide ballot in 2012.

"We thought we were on strong legal footing," said Bruce Woodbury, who heads the Las Vegas Arena Foundation. "Of course, we fully expect an appeal. I think it's going to be contested every step of the way."

Boosters say the arena would house top-tier professional basketball, hockey, boxing, rodeo and other events.

A group that includes MGM Resorts International and Boyd Gaming Corp. filed a lawsuit in December challenging 157,000 signatures collected during the statewide petition drive. Several Strip resorts oppose a publicly funded arena, arguing that it would pose unfair, subsidized competition to private venues.

MGM spokesman Alan Feldman said attorneys were reviewing the judge's decision to determine whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

In his decision, Russell said the methods for tracking and tallying invalid signatures were unreliable. In some instances, the signatures in question were double-counted, Russell wrote.

Russell agreed with the claim that at least two people who circulated petitions misrepresented the language to the public. But he argued that two dubious participants shouldn't nullify the process.

Russell also noted that several people made false statements about who gathered some of the signatures. He ruled that those signatures should be thrown out, but he didn't say how many.

Even so, the petition had far more than the 97,000 signatures required.

The lawsuit was the opponents' second attempt to quash the petition. They tried to block the petition drive last year, arguing that the language was misleading and omitted important details. A district judge rejected the lawsuit.

Woodbury, an attorney, said he is confident that his group would prevail before the high court because justices tend to favor letting the public vote.

He's also sure that a ruling would be made in time to put the tax proposal before voters in November 2012.

"We think it ultimately will be decided by the people in the state of Nevada," Woodbury said. "As it should be."

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

 

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