Millions spent on Harrah's projects


Harrah's Entertainment estimated in an internal audit that it spent more than $2.1 million on remodeling projects that bypassed mandatory safety steps at eight of its local properties between 2000 and 2007.

Ford Contracting is the licensed contractor named most frequently in the audit in connection with projects valued at $665,000.

Harrah's declined to release the audit to the public. Clark County authorities, too, initially considered it a private document. But the Review-Journal obtained a copy late Wednesday after the district attorney's office reviewed the newspaper's formal request and determined the sensitive report is a public record.

Harrah's did not respond to several requests for comment. On March 21 a corporate executive, Marybel Batjer, had described the audited projects as mostly "very dated and minor in nature."

The $2.1 million figure represents past work done for which the gaming giant paid no permit fees to the county.

The figure does not include the cost for extensive remodeling by Harrah's of guest rooms that occurred without permits or inspections, which the Review-Journal last fall uncovered at the Rio and Harrah's Las Vegas hotels, assisted by a whistle-blower who had worked at both hotels.

The gaming company prepared the audit while working, since last autumn, with county building officials and the district attorney's office to sort out the legal and safety ramifications of the undocumented guest room remodeling.

Since last year, Harrah's has explored and remediated approximately 1,000 guest rooms at the Rio and Harrah's for faulty work, which included in some cases violations as serious as the failure to seal floors and ceilings properly against the spread of smoke and fumes during a fire and the failure to have inspectors approve new fire-resistant walls or new electric transformers and circuitry, which pose hazards if installed incorrectly.

The most expensive of the 34 projects detailed in the new audit was a $446,600 renovation of the main valet entrance at Harrah's Las Vegas in 2000. The smallest project was a $3,000 remodeling of a fourth-floor business center in 2007 at the Imperial Palace.

Sixteen projects in the audit were budgeted at $25,000 or less; 14 projects fell between $26,000 and $99,000 in value.

Other big-ticket remodeling projects that occurred without the required permits included a $400,000 expansion in 2001 of the high-limit slot area at the Rio and a $245,000 project in 2004 at Harrah's Las Vegas to relocate the bell desk and create an enclosed area for VIP guests checking in. For $173,000, Caesars Palace made extensive improvements to a restaurant space in 2004.

According to the audit, Ford Contracting was involved with both the Rio slots and Harrah's bell desk projects. Phone staff at Ford Contracting referred the newspaper Thursday to attorney John Moran Jr. for comment, but Moran did not return a phone call and fax that requested an interview.

A close relationship appears to exist between Ford Contracting and Harrah's. The contractor had its own satellite office for many years in the basement of the Strip hotel. The audit mentions renovations done in the 1980s to the Ford office and break room. But Ford left the space at Harrah's in early 2008, several hotel employees said.

The Nevada State Contractors Board, which regulates licensed contractors, has the power to discipline contractors, from imposing fines or probation to revoking a license.

On March 21, the contractors board wrote to the county building division that it was closing the complaint filed by the county against Ford Contracting for doing work without permits at Harrah's Las Vegas.

"We have determined there was no violation of the Contractor's License Law, NRS Chapter 624, on the part of the contractor," wrote Chris Denning, who is deputy director of investigations for the contractors board.

The county's complaint to the board contended Ford Contracting had worked on guest room remodeling at Harrah's Las Vegas. The Harrah's audit connects Ford to work without permits at the hotel but not in guest rooms.

Contact reporter Joan Whitely at jwhitely@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0268.

 

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