Lori Nelson, longtime spokeswoman for Station Casinos, has been hired as the new senior vice president of communications and government affairs for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Nelson will become the top communications officer for the LVCVA after the March departure of Jacqueline Peterson, who spent two years as the LVCVA’s chief communications and public affairs officer.
Nelson’s arrival is occurring in the midst of an investigation and personnel shakeup at the LVCVA prompted by stories published by the Review-Journal.
An audit conducted following a series of Review-Journal stories uncovered questionable spending on travel and alcohol at the agency, rides provided to top officials by convention security staff and lax oversight of expensive gifts at the authority’s warehouse.
As the investigation progressed, Metro police determined that Brig Lawson, the former head of the LVCVA’s business partnerships, purchased $90,000 worth of Southwest Airlines gift cards with taxpayer funds and distributed them to several LVCVA employees, including former President and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter and Chief Marketing Officer Cathy Tull, who both used them for personal travel for themselves and their families.
Ralenkotter, who retired and became a consultant for the agency on Aug. 31, admitted using $17,000 in cards for personal travel and reimbursed the agency. He publicly apologized for his conduct, and the board approved recommendations from auditors to tighten controls over the gift cards.
Ralenkotter, who has maintained that he did not know the cards were purchased with tax dollars, has denied any criminal wrongdoing.
Steve Hill, president and CEO of the LVCVA, spent about 10 minutes at Tuesday’s meeting briefing the LVCVA board with his perspective on the most recent Review-Journal stories outlining how Lawson negotiated seat upgrades for Ralenkotter’s wife and Tull’s husband and other LVCVA executives from British Airways for international travel between 2012 and 2016.
Hill said the LVCVA would continue to work with airlines to fulfill the agency’s mission of increasing visitation to Southern Nevada.
“We will continue to bring executives and those in the travel industry here to Las Vegas, to host them while they are here, to do that in a transparent and accountable way, to make sure we do it appropriately,” he said. “We will continue to do that. It is exceptionally important that we do. This organization has done great things and we are committed to continuing to work hard to make a difference in this city.”
Hill said the LVCVA “is a different organization than in the past” and that policy changes have been made and embraced by the executive team, employees and agency ambassadors.
Nelson, an expert in crisis communications, said there was no connection between her hiring and the recent public relations woes the agency is facing.
“I chalked it up as I looked at this opportunity and I’m really confident and proud to join the LVCVA,” Nelson told the Review-JournalTuesday. “I really believe in the leadership of Steve Hill and the strategic vision that he set and look forward to helping to carry that out. I love Station Casinos and the Fertittas (owners and top executives of the company), but this was truly a bucket-list career opportunity.”
Hill also announced the hiring of H. Fletch Brunelle Tuesday, formerly the senior vice president of customer care for MGM Resorts International, as vice president of marketing, reporting to Tull.
Nelson, 48, vice president of corporate communications for Station Casinos since 2005, coordinated publicity for the casino openings of Red Rock Resort in 2006, Aliante Station in 2008 and tribal casinos managed by Station in Michigan and California, as well as the 2018 relaunch of Palace Station.
She served for more than five years as the associate director of public relations for R&R Partners in Las Vegas where she specialized in media relations, issues management, crisis communications and community relations for a variety of clients and also owned PRceptions Public Relations, a small PR agency in Las Vegas.
Nelson helped plan the Las Vegas centennial celebration in 2005 and the state’s sesquicentennial observance in 2014.
A 1999 graduate of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce Leadership Las Vegas program, she also served as president of Child Focus Inc. a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting the state’s foster care system in 2011-2012.
She will be paid $195,000 a year in her new LVCVA position.
Nelson will report to Hill, who said he “wouldn’t rule out” that she eventually would take the chief communications officer title.