LVCVA boss pursues retirement payout amid criminal investigation

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority CEO Rossi Ralenkotter is taking steps to collect a retirement settlement that could cost taxpayers tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, even as Las Vegas police conduct a criminal investigation into the tourism agency’s spending practices.

Ralenkotter is the third-highest-paid public official in the state, with a salary and benefits package valued at $863,000 annually. He does not have an employment contract, and the LVCVA has no legal obligation to pay Ralenkotter a retirement settlement. Based on his tenure, Ralenkotter will begin collecting a state pension of about $400,000 a year upon retirement.

He has hired an attorney to negotiate a retirement payment with the authority’s 14-member board of directors, which includes local elected officials and gaming industry representatives. The board has evaluated Ralenkotter annually and awarded him pay raises and bonuses.

His retirement date has not been set, and he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he is no closer to developing his expectations of a retirement settlement than he was at the board’s June 12 meeting, when he announced plans to retire.

“I’m still just analyzing everything and waiting to make a decision, so I’m just in the same position,” Ralenkotter said as he left the boardroom. “I come to work every day. I’m still in charge.”

Ralenkotter said that when he’s ready to move on, he will schedule a session with the board’s seven-member compensation committee.

“There will be a conversation with the comp committee, and when I make a decision as to when the date will be, then we’ll coordinate around that,” he said. “I have to look at my schedule and what’s happening at the building (the Las Vegas Convention Center). But we haven’t made anything definitive yet.”

The compensation committee’s chairman, Wynn Las Vegas LLC President Maurice Wooden, declined to be interviewed by the Review-Journal in late June. He didn’t attend the July 10 board meeting.

Other members of the compensation committee — vice chairwoman Mary Beth Sewald, CEO of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce; Clark County Commissioners Larry Brown and Lawrence Weekly; MGM Resorts International executive Chuck Bowling; Caesars Entertainment Corp. executive Tom Jenkin; and Boyd Gaming Corp. executive Bill Noonan — either declined comment or did not return calls or emails requesting information on a retirement settlement for Ralenkotter.

Unanswered questions

Ralenkotter, 71, has led the LVCVA since 2004 and has been a staff member since 1973. He said at the June 12 meeting that, after reflecting on his accomplishments and his battle with cancer, he was ready to talk about retirement.

He has rejected multiple requests to be interviewed about his retirement and about an audit involving $90,000 of Southwest Airlines gift cards secretly purchased by the LVCVA, which is funded primarily by Clark County hotel room taxes. The cards were used for personal travel by Ralenkotter and Weekly, but $50,000 is not accounted for.

Ralenkotter and his family used $16,207 of cards for personal travel, but when an audit determined the cards were paid for with tax money, he reimbursed the agency and apologized for using them. Noonan criticized Ralenkotter’s poor judgment for the inappropriate use of the gift cards in an April audit committee meeting.

Ralenkotter and LVCVA representatives are not investigating the use of the unaccounted-for $50,000 of gift cards, saying they believe the cost of an investigation would exceed the loss.

Audit investigators said they believed Ralenkotter was unaware the cards had been purchased, thinking they were given to the LVCVA as part of a promotion.

Since discovering the misuse, the board has approved policy changes to prevent the future use of gift cards without proper accounting.

Las Vegas police began a criminal investigation of the handling of the gift cards in late June.

A representative for Southwest said the airline can identify the passengers whose flights were purchased with the gift cards, but the company’s privacy policy prevents it from disclosing that information publicly. It’s not clear whether auditors asked for that information from Southwest or whether police have requested it as part of their investigation.

The executive responsible for the secret gift card acquisitions, Brig Lawson, senior director of business partnerships, has since left the LVCVA and could not be reached for comment.

Uncharted waters

The LVCVA board is in uncharted waters regarding a retirement settlement for Ralenkotter. The issue is further clouded by other recent scandals uncovered by the Review-Journal as part of a rolling 18-month investigation of the agency.

The Review-Journal’s investigation found:

Ralenkotter quietly modified a contract with former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman as head of a ceremonial tourist host committee that enabled Ralenkotter to administratively approve pay raises and contract extensions without board scrutiny. Goodman is a former LVCVA board chairman.

LVCVA security officers were directed to leave their posts to chauffeur Ralenkotter and Goodman to various locations, even though it isn’t authorized in Goodman’s contract and Ralenkotter receives a $9,000 annual vehicle allowance.

The LVCVA warehouse staff gave away thousands of dollars of iPads, Bose speakers and other gifts intended to promote tourism without noting the recipient or business purpose. Warehouse staff also provided about $6,000 of gift baskets to Ralenkotter.

The authority allowed lavish spending on high-end entertainment, gifts for employees and first-class trips overseas for board members. Some of those expenditures had no business purpose. Policies capping some of this spending have since been imposed.

Ralenkotter confirmed he has hired an attorney, Terry Coffing of Las Vegas-based Marquis Aurbach Coffing, to help him obtain a retirement settlement.

Coffing did not return calls Friday seeking comment about his representation of Ralenkotter.

Retirement negotiations

In the past decade, retiring local government leaders haven’t normally hired lawyers to negotiate retirement settlements with government boards.

Two long-serving public employees had no legal representation when they retired. Pat Mulroy, who retired in March 2014 after serving 30 years with the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Las Vegas Valley Water District, retiring as general manager, said she didn’t have an attorney representing her interests in developing a retirement package.

Neither did retired Las Vegas City Manager Betsy Fretwell, a spokesman for the city of Las Vegas said.

But an expert in executive compensation said it would be appropriate for Ralenkotter to be represented.

Michael Melbinger, a partner in the employee benefits and executive compensation practice of Winston & Strawn LLP in Chicago, said many companies still like to reward a longtime senior executive with what they might call a “golden goodbye.”

“Ever since the golden parachute rules (emerged) in 1982, everything that’s a little extra is now called ‘golden.’ There’s a golden handshake, golden goodbye, a golden coffin even,” Melbinger said.

“That’s an issue for the board of directors, obviously, and something that presumably they’d be keeping in mind when they negotiate this. It’s all the more reason he needs a lawyer to help him out here,” he said. “Trying to think of this objectively based on not knowing too much, if I’m advising the board of directors, you have fiduciary duties here, and you better think hard about them when you make this payment or agreement for something that’s not currently contractually required.”


Two members of a Review-Journal panel of registered voters, while on opposite sides of the political aisle, are united in their thoughts about Ralenkotter and the LVCVA.

Ralenkotter Parachute

“I think they should suspend him right now without pay pending an investigation,” said William Bradley, a 49-year-old commercial airline pilot who is a Republican.

“It’s part of the reason people have lost confidence in their government, when you have something like the visitors authority where people are way overpaid and they’re spending ridiculous amounts of taxpayers’ money on lavish gifts and things like that. It needs to be reformed.”

LVCVA board members have granted Ralenkotter raises in the past five years after surveys of executives in similar positions nationwide found his salary to be below average.

“Maybe something will happen now that there’s a criminal investigation,” Bradley said. “I’m sure that gives them more access to information than just a news story. Nobody likes to see somebody arrested, but if this can lead to a governmental body being held accountable for their actions, their past actions and their future actions, it’s got to improve their performance.”

Jim Sida, a 68-year-old Democrat, expressed a similar view. “I would generally say that the convention bureau needs to be cleaned up and moved to a more modern sense of management and that this Las Vegas good-old boy-stuff reeks,” the retired law enforcement officer said.

“My general feeling is that the convention and visitors authority has been extremely tone-deaf about this to the extent that they continue to do this,” he said, “and it can only create bad feelings on the part of the general public, especially if they ever need public support on something.”

Sida believes Ralenkotter doesn’t deserve anything beyond the pension he will get upon retirement.

“Basically, I don’t know why he or any other CEO that’s had a rough time in their position should receive an off-the-chart golden parachute. That, in and of itself, is kind of fraudulent,” he said.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates the Sands Expo & Convention Center.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

Educators dressed in red have taken to the streets to demand more for their students.
Educators dressed in red have taken to the streets to demand more for their students. Educators from around the State are bringing the Red for Ed movement to the steps of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City, NV, and to the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Nature Conservancy Ranch
The Nature Conservancy just bought the 900-acre 7J Ranch at the headwaters of the Amargosa River, north of Beatty. The property could become a research station, though ranching will continue.
Swift water rescue at Durango Wash in Las Vegas
On Thursday, February 14, 2019, at approximately 8:42 a.m., the Clark County Fire Department responded to a report of a swift water incident where people were trapped in the Durango wash which is located near 8771 Halcon Ave. Personnel found one person who was trapped in the flood channel. The individual was transported to the hospital in stable condition. Video by Clark County Fire & Rescue.
Flooding at E Cheyenne in N. Las Vegas Blvd.
Quick Weather Around the Strip
Rain hits Las Vegas, but that doesn't stop people from heading out to the Strip. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries. The Cleveland Clinic will begin researching the brains of retired bull riders to understand the impact traumatic brain injuries have on cognition. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Matt Stutzman shoots arrows with his feet
Matt Stutzman who was born without arms shoots arrows with his feet and hits the bullseye with remarkable accuracy. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Secretary of Air Force Emphasizes the Importance of Nellis AFB
US Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson visited Nellis Air Force Base during Red Flag training and described how important the base is to the military.
Former Northwest Academy student speaks out
Tanner Reynolds, 13, with his mother Angela McDonald, speaks out on his experience as a former student of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff member Caleb Michael Hill. Hill, 29, was arrested Jan. 29 by the Nye County Sheriff’s Office on suspicion of child abuse.
Former Northwest Academy students speak out
Tristan Groom, 15, and his brother Jade Gaastra, 23, speak out on their experiences as former students of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff and excessive medication.
Disruption At Metro PD OIS Presser
A man claiming to be part of the press refused to leave a press conference at Metro police headquarters, Wednesday January 30, 2019. Officers were forced to physically remove the man. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience after the city began operating around the clock. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Las Vegas parts ways with operator of homeless courtyard
Jocelyn Bluitt-Fisher discusses the transition between operators of the homeless courtyard in Las Vegas, Thursday Jan. 24, 2019.(Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police and Raiders partner with SafeNest
Las Vegas police and the Raiders partner with SafeNest on Project Safe 417 (the police code for domestic violence is 417). The program partners trained SafeNest volunteer advocates with Metropolitan Police Department officers dispatched to domestic violence calls, allowing advocates to provide immediate crisis advocacy to victims at the scene of those calls. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
North Las Vegas police chief discusses officer-involved shooting
North Las Vegas police chief Pamela Ojeda held a press conference Thursday, Jan. 24, regarding an officer-involved shooting that took place on Jan. 21. The incident resulted in the killing of suspect Horacio Ruiz-Rodriguez. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Volunteers gather for annual Clark County homeless count
Volunteers gather for the annual Southern Nevada Homeless Census, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Who can understand hospital price lists?
Lists of costs for procedures, drugs and devices are now posted the websites of hospitals to comply with a new federal rule designed to provide additional consumer transparency. Good luck figuring out what they mean.
People in Mesquite deal with a massive power outage
People in Mesquite respond to a major power outage in the area on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Group helping stranded motorists during power outage
A group of Good Samaritans are offering free gas to people in need at the Glendale AM/PM, during a massive power outage near Mesquite on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen falls at Las Vegas parade
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada fell and injured her wrist at the Martin Luther King Day parade in Las Vegas on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Local astronomers host super blood wolf moon viewing
The Las Vegas Astronomical Society paired with the College of Southern Nevada to host a lunar eclipse viewing Sunday night. Known as the super blood wolf moon, the astronomical event won't occur for another 18 years. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Tate Elementary shows academic progress after categorical funding
Students at Tate Elementary in Las Vegas has benefited from a program to boost education funding in targeted student populations, known as categorical funding. One program called Zoom helps students who have fallen below grade level in reading. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The third annual Women’s March in Las Vegas
The third annual Women’s March in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @btesfaye
First former felon to work for Nevada Department of Corrections
After his father died, Michael Russell struggled for years with drug addiction. When he finally decided to change for good, he got sober and worked for years to help others. Now he is the first former felon to be hired by the Nevada Department of Corrections. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Three Square helps TSA workers
Three Square Food Bank donated over 400 care bags to TSA workers affected by the government shutdown Wednesday, filled with food, personal hygiene products and water.
Las Vegas furniture store donates to Clark County firehouses
Walker Furniture donated new mattresses to all 30 Clark County firehouses in the Las Vegas Valley, starting today with Station 22. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Krystal Whipple arrested in Arizona
Krystal Whipple, charged in the killing of a Las Vegas nail salon manager over a $35 manicure, is expected to return to Nevada to face a murder charge.
Holocaust survivor on acceptance
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, talks about the most important message for people to understand from her life and experiences.
Holocaust survivor speaks about telling her story
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, tells of opening up about her experiences during Sunday’s event at Temple Sinai.
Auto repair shortage affects Las Vegas
The auto repair industry is facing a national shortage of workers.
Franchising industry booming
Experts say Las Vegas is a hotbed for the franchise industry.
Africa Love owner talks about his store in Las Vegas
Mara Diakhate, owner of Africa Love, gift and decor store, talks about his store in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Developer gets approval to build homes at Bonnie Springs
The Clark County Planning Commission has approved a plan to build 20 homes on the site of Bonnie Springs Ranch. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dig This opens new location In Las Vegas
Remember when you were a kid and played with construction toys in the sand box? Dig This Las Vegas has the same idea, except instead of toy bulldozers, you get to play with the real thing. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Town Square developer Jim Stuart building again in Las Vegas
Las Vegas’ real estate bubble took developers on a wild ride, something Jim Stuart knows all too well. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Salon opens at Veterans Village
T.H.E. Salon, owned by Nicole Christie, celebrated their opening at the Veterans Village with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
Southwest Airlines considering Las Vegas-Hawaii flights
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly says the airline is "very focused" on Hawaii. Hawaiians have a strong presence in Las Vegas.The city’s unofficial status is “Hawaii’s ninth island.” In 2018, at least 2,958 people from Hawaii moved to Nevada. Of those, 88.7 percent moved into Clark County, according to driver license surrender data. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, 310,249 people came to Las Vegas from Hawaii in 2018.
Fewer Nevadans are celebrating Valentine's Day
Fewer Nevadans are celebrating Valentine's Day. About 1.2 million Nevadans are expected to celebrate this year, a 5 percent drop from 2018. A growing number of people consider Valentine’s Day over-commercialized. Others weren’t interested in the holiday or had nobody to celebrate with. But spending is expected to rise. Those who do celebrate are buying for more people. The average American is expected to spend about $162 this year for Valentine’s Day, a 57 percent jump from a decade prior. Katherine Cullen, director of industry and consumer insights at NRF
Foreclosures of mansions in Las Vegas
Las Vegas was ground zero for America's foreclosure crisis after the housing bubble burst. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rick Helfenbein talks about the impact of tariffs on the clothing industry
MAGIC fashion convention showcases men's clothing trends
The MAGIC fashion convention has come to Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center to showcase some of the hottest clothing trends for men. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Allegiant Air flight attendants learn how to handle a water landing
Field instructor Ashleigh Markel talks about training prospective flight attendants for Allegiant Air getting live training with a raft for a water landing at the Heritage Park Aquatic Complex in Henderson on Monday. (John Hornberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks about the new Smith & Wollensky restaurant coming to the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian in Las Vegas.
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks about the new Smith & Wollensky restaurant coming to the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian in Las Vegas.
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery talks about Las Vegas return
Michael Feighery, CEO of Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group, discusses the restaurant's upcoming return to the Las Vegas Strip.
Apartments to Come to Hughes Center
Developer Eric Cohen discusses his current building project at the Hughes Center office park in Las Vegas, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Stratosphere to rebrand to The STRAT
The Stratosphere, a 1,150-foot-tall property in Las Vegas will be renamed The STRAT Hotel, Casino and Skypod.
Local designers’ picks for the Las Vegas Market
The trends that local interior designers are noticing at the Las Vegas Market this year. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trends in bath products at Las Vegas Market
Camille Herd, the showroom manager for European Bath Kitchen Tile & Stone, talks about the popularity of free-standing bath tubs. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Kitchen trends at Las Vegas Winter Market
Las Vegas Winter Market displayed kitchen trends that mirror common dining accessories at Strip eateries. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Emerging trends in gifts at Las Vegas Market
Julie Smith Vincenti, curator for the First Look showroom tour on gifts and lifestyle, talks about the emerging trends in those categories for this season. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Las Vegas house prices are rising
Southern Nevada home prices were up 12 percent year-over-year in November.
Caesars Republic Scottsdale
Caesars Entertainment Corp. is building its first non-gaming hotel in the United States in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Caesars Entertainment Corp.)
Interior designer Mikel Welch talks about trends for Las Vegas Market
Interior designer Mikel Welch, who also is the on-camera designer for TLC’s Trading Spaces, discusses the trends he sees for the 2019 Las Vegas Winter Market. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
SHOT Show 2019: MEGGITT Virtual Training
MEGGIT showcases its virtual training system at SHOT Show 2019 in Las Vegas.
MGM delivers 700 meals to TSA workers at McCarran
Chefs at Garde Manger at Mandalay Bay provided 700 meals to federal employees who are affected by the government shutdown. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
SHOT Show 2019: A "nonsemi-automatic” weapon
Brandon Dunham of Nevada-based Franklin Armory show off the company’s new rifle prototype it calls a “nonsemi-automatic” weapon. The gun does not use a gas system to fire.
Las Vegas-based concrete repair company knows how to beat the heat
ART Concrete Solutions, a Las Vegas concrete-repair firm, addresses the challenges of construction in the extreme heat and sun of Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas based company brings color to concrete in the desert heat
Semco Modern Seamless Surface, a Las Vegas surface engineering company, knows how to put color in concrete construction in the Vegas heat. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing