MGM Mirage rejoins chamber of commerce

MGM Mirage, the city’s biggest resort operator, has rejoined the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce after a seven-year separation from the business group.

MGM Mirage Chairman Jim Murren announced the move this morning at Preview Las Vegas, an economic-forecasting event the chamber holds every January. Murren was one of Preview’s keynote speakers.

MGM Mirage’s decision marks a reconciliation following one of Southern Nevada’s most bitter and high-profile divorces. The two parties fell out thanks to a bruising battle over a proposed gross-receipts tax that came before the 2003 Nevada Legislature. MGM Mirage favored the tax, designed to help close an $833 million gap between the state’s budget and its revenue, while the chamber opposed it.

The chamber won the fight: The Legislature dropped the tax from its budget plans. But the chamber’s position cost it serious support.

Terry Lanni, then the chairman of MGM Mirage, told the Review-Journal that the chamber’s position wasn’t right.

“We can’t continue to have a dynamic, growing state without (a broad base of business) participating,” Lanni said. “Wal-Mart and large banks pay no taxes, but no one (in Nevada) pays any less for Wal-Mart products or bank loans. That is fundamentally unfair.”

The Legislature ended up imposing a a 0.67 percent gross-payroll tax, instead of the receipts tax. Company spokesman Alan Feldman estimated that the tax would boost MGM Mirage’s employee-based taxes from around $6 million annually to $15 million a year.

The Legislature also raised the top rate on the state’s gross gaming tax from 6.25 percent to 6.75 percent.

MGM Mirage was just one of several high-profile local businesses that withdrew from the chamber or slashed financial support of the group following the taxation dispute. Locals gaming giant Station Casinos also pulled out of the organization, and company executives asked vendors to curb chamber involvement as well. The Howard Hughes Corp., which is developing Summerlin, and the Greenspun Corp., which developed Aliante and owns the Las Vegas Sun, both cut back on chamber funding.

MGM Mirage also quit the Nevada Development Authority and the Nevada Resort Association, with then-Chairman Lanni saying he felt his company — the state’s largest taxpayer and private employer — could pursue its political agenda better on its own than it could through trade groups.

MGM Mirage’s decision to rejoin the chamber comes as the association readies for a leadership change.

Long-time President and Chief Executive Officer Kara Kelley announced in September that she would retire from her post in April, after nearly a decade on the job. After taking some time off with family, Kelley plans to pursue new career opportunities.

Kelley told the Review-Journal in September that she wished relations could have remained warmer during the tax debate.

“I really regretted the divisiveness of that process. At the time, I thought both I and the chamber were trying to keep the lines of communication open with our members and key industries and their constituencies,” Kelley said. “We probably could have done a better job with the benefit of hindsight.”

MGM Mirage’s decision should also bolster the chamber’s finances: When MGM Mirage quit the group in 2003, it was paying $125,000 in dues, the Review-Journal reported.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.

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