My Adventure at Hartsfield Airport During Power Outage

I was scheduled to fly out of Hartsfield at 4:10pm on Sunday, December 17, 2017. I was returning to Las Vegas after spending a few days with family and friends, as well as a trip to the two North Carolina casinos. I’ll write a trip report for the Harrah’s Cherokee visits soon.

I grew up in Atlanta. I’ve had many bad travel experiences at Hartsfield. None were anywhere near this level of debacle.

Rental Car Tram Down

I arrived at the airport rental car return around 1:30pm. The tram to the airport wasn’t working. The rental car employees did not know why. The rental car complex had power. There were about 1,000 people stranded there. Shuttles to the terminal were promised. I only saw two. There wasn’t any chance this was going to be the way to go.

I found someone willing to take me to the airport for $20. It’s 1.7 miles away with no feasible way to walk there. I accepted the offer.

The driver couldn’t get me to the airport because of the gridlock. I decided to walk the rest of the way. On the way there, I found out that the airport had lost power.

Arriving to Dark Airport

IMG_20171217_153721_351I arrived at the north terminal baggage claim. It was crowded, but calm. The people there were waiting on bags. The only lighting was the sun. I walked towards ticketing to see if there was any news over there. It was so crowded in that area that I could not get through it. There were thousands of people in lines, but most airlines had no gate agents that I could see.

The only reason there is an open area in front of me in the picture is because police were preventing people from blocking the outside door to the left.

I decided to go to the security area to see how bad that was. I guess that there were probably 5,000 people in the north entrance. There are two other security lines I didn’t manage to get close enough to assess.

I went to the restroom. Emergency lights worked in there. There was no water. You can imagine how disgusting it was.

I returned to the baggage claim area at the end of the MARTA station. I would go outside and return. It was too cold outside and too hot inside.

Most Travelers Remained Calm

Most people were taking the situation well during the first couple of hours. There were a few heated exchanges. As time went on, it got more crowded, and the situation started to feel like it could get out of control. Tempers were flaring, but it was still calm compared to what I would have imagined if I was not there.

Some people were able to make cell phone calls. Most could not. Nobody had data. Texting worked, but often with delays.

Airport employees vanished. Management did nothing to relay updates about the power outage. Police did not have any news. I decided that the longer I stayed at Hartsfield, the more likely the chaos was going to get ugly. The number of angry people grew by the minute.

The daylight was the only thing keeping it from being completely dark. I knew that this would not be a good place to be when the sun went down.

There wasn’t anywhere to go. Traffic was gridlocked because there was no traffic control as police were inside keeping order. Passengers reported that the parking deck gates didn’t work so people left cars on the curb. People that wanted to drive away could not because the gates were closed. The taxi line had hundreds or maybe thousands of people in it, yet there were few cabs, likely because they couldn’t get there. There was no data to order Uber, though it seems clear they wouldn’t have been able to get there anyway.

I discovered that MARTA was operating. That would have been something the airport should have been going around telling people. I guess that would have required employees, most of which seemed to have disappeared.

After three hours in the chaos, I decided to give up and get out of there. It took about two hours from the time I bought my subway ticket to get to the North Springs MARTA station where my mother, whose house I left before going to the airport, picked me up.

After that long day, I decided to walk to the Crabapple Tavern for a couple of drinks and Sunday Night Football. Humorously, the tavern closed before the football game was over. Living in Las Vegas, that was something I found odd.

My wife rebooked my flight while I dealt with my escape from Hartsfield. I am on a flight that leaves Atlanta today (Monday) at 8:35pm. It is showing as on time. I’m not confident that will happen.

I Was Lucky, Others Had Worse Experiences

I feel lucky that I didn’t make it through security or get stuck in a tram or plane. It could have been much worse.

On MARTA, I heard stories of people in wheelchairs stranded in concourses and tram lobbies. Calls for rescues from trams and elevators were coming over the police radio. The tram atrium was overflowing because the escalators were not working. At the tavern, there were people that were stuck on a plane for 5.5 hours and had quite a journey once they were finally released from the plane.

All of these are nightmare scenarios that make me feel fortunate. I usually walk to my concourse at Hartsfield. I’m definitely doing that from now on, if I ever fly here again. Next time, I’m going to seriously consider flying into Chattanooga or Greenville.

Atlanta Should Be Embarrassed About How This Was Handled

Accidents happen. That wasn’t the problem. The issue is the lack of information being passed onto passengers. It’s clear now that Georgia Power knew that it wasn’t going to be able to quickly restore power. Why did the airport not tell people this? Passengers kept arriving and those stuck there stayed when it was obvious to airport officials that Hartsfield would not reopen Sunday.

There’s also the obvious issue with a problem at a single point being able to shut down the entire airport. The tram to the rental car lot that failed is 2.5 miles from the fire. It seems impossible to think that there is proper redundancy for that to happen. Baggage claim is a mile away from the fire. It should also have its own power. It’s clear there were not proper generators. There’s no excuse for not having a generator for water pumps to ensure that bathrooms worked properly, or for elevators and trams to prevent people from being trapped for hours.

Hartsfield officials needed to go through the airport alerting travelers that operations were closed for the day when that was known, especially since there was no cell or data service. Alerting people that MARTA was fully operational would have been another plus that would have thinned the crowd. They did none of this and the world’s busiest airport’s reputation is forever damaged because of it.

 

Eight Nevada legislators that voted against education funding voted for stadium tax

Eight Nevada legislators that voted against the main component of Nevada Governor Sandoval’s $1.5 billion 2015 education proposal voted for Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas stadium tax during the recent special session.  All are members of the Republican Party.

Assembly Republicans that voted against the education tax based on a no-new-tax platform yet supported the stadium bill that will spend more than $1 billion in tax money are:

  • Michelle Fiore
  • Victoria Seaman
  • Brent Jones
  • Jill Dickman
  • Chris Edwards
  • Jim Wheeler
  • John Ellison

(Sources: SB483 voteSB1 vote)

Two Assembly members were absent during the education tax vote in 2015.  John Moore and Victoria Dooling were excused.  The Las Vegas Sun reported at the time that both were expected to vote against the education tax. Moore and Dooling voted for the stadium tax.

Moore was a GOP member at the time that has since switched to the Libertarian Party.  Libertarians opposed the stadium bill and created the group Don’t Raid Nevada to help fight it, yet the lone party member in the Nevada Legislature was the swing vote that brought the Assembly number up to the needed 28 that gave it a two-thirds majority.

The Nevada Senate passed the final version of SB483 (2015 education tax main component) 18-3.  Two of the three state senators that voted against the education tax increase also voted against the stadium bill. State Sen. Mark Lipparelli voted for the stadium bill in the special session and is shown on the record as voting against the 2015 education bill’s tax during its original vote.

An amendment to the education tax bill moved from the Assembly to the Senate on the final day of the 2015 session.  The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that State Sen. James Settlemeyer voted against that amendment.  Settlemeyer also voted for the Las Vegas stadium bill.

Five legislators voted against both the education and stadium tax bills:

  • Ira Hansen
  • Shelly Shelton
  • Robin Titus
  • Donald Gustavson
  • Pete Goicoechea

I will publish an article later this week on the November races involving legislators mentioned in this post that have taken the position that subsidizing a billionaire’s stadium is more important than funding education.

(Updated to reflect the five legislators that voted against both the education and stadium taxes.)

Update 2: Ryan Hamilton, Victoria Seaman’s campaign manager, took exception to his client being included in this list of Nevada politicians that voted against funding the education proposal. Jon Ralston explained (via KTNV) how Seaman voted for the education spending but against the tax that was needed to fund it.

Seaman accepted $30k from companies related to Las Vegas Sands since August 25, 2016, according to Nevada Secretary of State records. The last contribution was September 29, 11 days before the special session.

Terrible parts of Las Vegas stadium bill beyond the $1.6 billion in public money

I am not able to make the Assembly hearing on the stadium. I am hoping someone that is there will be able to pass on some of this information if it has not already been discussed.

The parts below go beyond the fact that Las Vegas pays $750 million even if the cost is below forecasts. I can’t help but wonder if that is why there is a $335 million infrastructure line in there. That would build the entire 20-year Centennial Bowl project twice. Taxpayers would also receive absolutely no return on the investment.

The thought of taxpayers gifting Sheldon Adelson a stadium is absurd. We would mortgage Clark County taxes to pull this off. While the $750 million number is what gets floated, it is actually $1.6 billion.  The interest is about $450 million of that. There are other costs that include admin services and a fund that would go towards future remodeling. The developer already backed out, too. I hope the Nevada Assembly will stand up for residents.

Terrible portions of the Las Vegas stadium bill that go beyond the expense

The Las Vegas stadium bill may be found here. I will use page numbers in it as a reference.

The first appalling part of this deal is that UNLV would pay rent after taxpayers already put up a majority of the money for its stadium. The Stadium Authority would “Establish a reasonable rent to paid by the University.” (page 18)

The Raiders are required to only sign a 30-year lease (page 18). There is no language that answers what happens if the Raiders decide to break the lease. Proponents will claim that the stadium authority should be able to negotiate that. There are too many examples of poor leases at other NFL venues to leave Las Vegas vulnerable here. Allowing an NFL team a backdoor to leave at the first stadium dispute would be a disaster for Las Vegas.

There are several portions of the bill that exempt the stadium from competitive bidding and public works laws. “The provisions of chapter 341 of NRS do not apply to the National Football League stadium” (page 20).

There is no punishment for investors if they bail. Tax money simply fills that void (page 27).

UNLV gets $3.5 million a year for 10 years, however, that is only after about $50 million in annual revenue is generated from the bonds. The Stadium Board can decide to make that amount lower if it wishes.  There is no guarantee that money will ever be paid (page 28).

The hotel tax has no sunset. Excess funds go into a capital improvement program even after bonds are paid off.  There is little chance the bonds would ever be paid off early based on the placement in the priority list. (page 28)

 

 

Las Vegas stadium already costing taxpayers money

Proponents of the Las Vegas stadium proposal have claimed from the beginning that Nevada residents would not have to pay for it.  The pitch says that it would be paid for entirely by tourists through a hotel tax.  The stadium is nowhere near fruition, yet Nevadans are already footing the bill.

Special legislative sessions are not free

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval called a special session of the Legislature.  This required 63 legislators to travel to Carson City.  A typical 120-day legislative session, held every other year, costs Nevadans an estimated $20 million, according to the Las Vegas SunLegislators are paid $146 per day plus a $140 per diem to cover meals, lodging and other travel expenses.

A special session in the Legislature is limited to 20 days by the Nevada Constitution.   If the special session called by Governor Sandoval only convenes for 10 days, it would cost Nevada taxpayers about $1.6 million, based on the costs of a 120-day session.  A full 20 days would cost taxpayers about $3.2 million.

Special session not only stadium cost absorbed by Nevada taxpayers

The Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee met 16 times to discuss the stadium.  The Nevada Department of Transportation initiated a traffic study on the two proposed sites near Russell Rd and I-15.  The costs involved with these stadium-related tasks have yet to be disclosed.

There is also debate about how to fund road improvements around the proposed stadium. This need is not specifically funded in the bill.

Nevada taxpayer costs not addressed in proposals

Ignoring the initial costs to taxpayers, there are more issues created by the development of a Las Vegas stadium.  The proposal by Sheldon Adelson and the Raiders states that one of two sites is under consideration.

One parcel is currently the Bali Hai Golf Course.  That parcel pays roughly $391,000 per year in property taxes, according to Clark County records.  The other proposed site is just east of I-15 and Russell Rd.  Public records show that undeveloped land plot has an annual property tax payment of about $347,000.

The language of the Las Vegas stadium proposal turns either parcel into public land.  That removes it from the tax roll.  This would be equal to the demolition of 277 homes based on the average value in the housing market.  This ignores the increase in value of both lots should it be acquired for the purpose of developing a stadium or comparable project.

Both lots under consideration for the stadium are essentially undeveloped.  One is a golf course.  The other is dirt.

Part of a property tax assessor’s duty is to determine the value of improvements.  The construction value of the proposed Las Vegas stadium falls in the neighborhood of $1.6 billion.  That is the assessed value of the entire Bellagio property.  The Bellagio pays $15.95 million in property taxes annually, according to the Clark County assessor’s website.

Not only would Clark County lose nearly $400,000 a year in taxes currently paid on the proposed lots, the declaration of the stadium being public land would remove nearly $16 million in potential annual property tax levies if the property was developed commercially with a comparable investment.

Property taxes would not be the only tax loss for Nevada

The Las Vegas stadium would require tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars in construction materials.  All of these would be free of sales tax as state and local governments do not pay them.  If just 20 percent of the proposed $1.9 billion stadium was raw materials, that amounts to $31 million in sales taxes lost at the current rate of 8.15 percent if the stadium was developed privately.

Project Requires $1.2 billion in bonds

The stadium would cost about $1.2 billion by the time it was paid off. This could adversely affect the county’s credit rating. That would force future bonds for projects that actually benefit the public to pay a higher interest rate.

Las Vegas stadium demolition costs paid by taxes

There will come a day when the proposed Las Vegas stadium is obsolete with no tenants.  That topic has never been discussed.  The demolition of the Astrodome would cost an estimated $29 million to implode.  Meanwhile, the Houston landmark sits idle at an annual cost of $2 million to taxpayers.

The hotel tax has no sunset. That money would be used to demolish the structure while serving no benefit to the tourism industry or Clark County residents. There is no obligation by the investors to pay for the demolition after earning 100% of the revenues during the project’s life.

Police, fire and EMT costs

Property taxes are often based on the resources needed for the land use.  Placing the Las Vegas stadium into public hands would remove all property taxation.  At the same time, the use of the structure would command police, fire and rescue services.  These would all be paid for by Clark County taxpayers.

There is a $4 million Metro subsidy in the bill. That money would only go to police after paying bonds, admin costs and a reserve fund.

Las Vegas Must Do Something About Internet Service Issues

Las Vegas is a city striving to attract tech companies.  My business falls into that category.  All of my income is derived from customers in other states and countries.

Nevada is the perfect state for a small business like mine due to its favorable tax situation.  All I need is a quality connection to the Internet.  Unfortunately, I have been unable to find this in the past year and my company is suffering because of it.

There are two options for internet service in Las Vegas.  Cox Communications provides cable, while CenturyLink is the DSL provider.  My experience with both in the past year falls below the lowest of expectations.

My home has Cox Communications as its cable internet provider.  The service was flawless for the first four years that I lived in Las Vegas.  In 2015, a contractor tore my Summerlin neighborhood up and laid new fiber.  My service has been unacceptable ever since.  The new wiring may be a coincidence, but it was exactly the time my connectivity issues began.  My neighbors experienced a serious decline in service at the same time.

My access to the Internet slows nearly every day around 4pm.  There are times when it fails multiple times within a few days.  I have lost patience with these constant connectivity issues.

Cox Communications Admits Outages in Most Instances

I call Cox Communications when the Internet goes down.  The automated system acknowledges the problem and states it will be up in a few hours.  Cox does not always live up to its own deadline.

My service was down for 36 straight hours in May 2015. When it finally returned, it failed again within a few hours.  The time the service was promised to return extended multiple times during this outage.  That was during Memorial Day Weekend.  While this was my longest outage, there have been other times it went down for 12 or more hours.

When I first started complaining to Cox Communications, the company is only willing to credit me for a day’s worth of service.  This is after being on hold for 15-60 minutes.  The $1.50 that I save is not worth the time I waste sitting on hold.  They have finally started accept responsibility for the problems and given higher credits.

When my Cox service is down, I am forced to go to hot spots in the hopes of finding access to the Internet.  I have discovered two bars that use CenturyLink, according to employees, citing partnerships CenturyLink has with DirecTV.

The service at these establishments is spotty at best.  The connection is only constant about every other visit.  There are times it is down for my entire visit.

There is never a time that my laptop fails to access the Internet when my cell phone or those of employees are able to access it at these hot spots.  This makes it clear that it is not a hardware failure on my end.

This is embarrassing for a city striving to attract tech startups. Summerlin is the type of community that should be conducive to entrepreneurs, not one where there is a constant hunt for an Internet connection that works.

Regulators must compel these companies to fix these internet problems.  If Cox and CenturyLink refuse or are unable to provide this service, they should be forced out of the market.

Cox Communications Ripoff Charges

It is not just the poor quality of service that is the problem.  I agreed to a $6.99 per month charge in what I thought was a modem lease for my access to the Internet.  A Cox representative told me that I should buy a new modem to help troubleshoot the issues at my home.  They claim my $6.99 per month fee only covers wiring, not hardware, but that was not the discussion I had when the service was installed.

Only a fool would pay $6.99 to insure Cox’s wiring. I feel that type of fee is nothing but a scam.  Cox gave me a $100 credit when I called them on this, but that simply is not enough. I’m out more than $300 from this scheme.

I bought a new router months ago based on a troubleshooting that claimed that was the problem. That did not fix it.

I have no reason to believe my modem is the problem since the automated system at Cox usually acknowledges the problem is on their end when I call to complain.   Even if I was paying Cox to insure my lines to guarantee a constant feed to the Internet, the company is failing to provide that service.  This is evident in the repetitive failure of service.

There is ample evidence to lead me to believe the problem is caused by over selling the bandwidth in my neighborhood.  The time of day of outages and slow speeds coincide with this.  Most of my residential problems occur between 4pm and 9pm during the week and on Saturday afternoons.  The Internet is rarely down in the morning or middle of the night.  The business outages seem to be random at any hour of the day and night.

Las Vegas City Council and Clark County Commission Must Address Monopolies

The companies that provide internet access in Las Vegas are not meeting the demand.  If Las Vegas wants to be considered a city friendly to tech companies, city and county leaders must compel those providing basic online services to do so without repetitive outages.  These monopolies failing to meet the needs of customers jeopardize the future of Las Vegas and its potential to diversify the economy beyond gaming.

Raiders would drastically affect NFL Sunday TV schedule in Las Vegas

Las Vegas is the best city to live in when it comes to the NFL on local TV.  It is the only neutral major market in the country.  Las Vegas gets the best games every Sunday.  There are no NFL teams assigned to the market that cause a conflict with the national games.

This would all change if the Raiders move to Las Vegas.  NFL rules require the team’s TV market to carry all games.  This would cause numerous scheduling conflicts and lost doubleheader games.

NFL home market TV rules

If an NFL team is playing at home, no game may be shown on the other network in that home market at the same time.  If the Raiders play an AFC team at home on CBS at 1:05pm, Fox may not show a late game, even if it has the doubleheader that Sunday.

This causes blacked out doubleheader games in cities where there are NFL teams. Las Vegas would lose up to 8 doubleheader games each season if the Raiders move.

The Raiders broadcasts would have to be shown in its entirety in the home market.  If it is a blowout, the Las Vegas Fox or CBS affiliate would have to stick with it until the end, no matter how ugly it gets.  There is no moving to a more competitive game like what happens today. Even worse, it would often be the only game on TV in that time slot.

If the Raiders play a late game in the second half of a doubleheader and the early game runs late, the network would break away from the early game due to NFL carriage rules.  This means that Las Vegas NFL fans could miss a last second field goal or overtime in an early game to make the Raiders’ kickoff.

When a city’s team plays a road game on the double header network, the single header network will air their Sunday game in the opposite time slot. In one hypothetical example of many, in Week 9, Las Vegas would have seen the imploding Falcons get beat by Blaine Gabbert in his first start with the 49ers instead of the 6-1 Packers play the undefeated Panthers.

This would have been done to avoid a Raiders road game in the early time slot. This is not an NFL rule but it is commonplace among network affiliates in NFL cities.

The local Fox and CBS affiliates would have to schedule morning and afternoon games around when the Raiders played.  This is how the 2015 NFL TV schedule would have changed if the Raiders played in Las Vegas this past season:

NFL TV games blacked out in 2015 due to home NFL TV exclusivity rule if Las Vegas Raiders existed (Source: The506.com)

  • Week 2: Cowboys/Eagles (Fox)
  • Week 8: Seahawks/Cowboys (Fox)
  • Week 10: Chiefs/Broncos (CBS)
  • Week 13: Panthers/Saints (Fox)
  • Week 15: Broncos/Steelers (CBS)

This is a week-by-week look at the games Las Vegas affiliates aired that would have been affected.  All changes would have been on CBS unless otherwise noted.  Early games start at 10am.  Late games start at 1:05pm if on the singleheader network and 1:25pm on the doubleheader network.

  • Week 1: Ravens/Broncos replaced by Bengals/Raiders
  • Week 2: Chargers/Bengals early replaced by Ravens/Raiders late (causes Cowboys/Eagles blackout on Fox)
  • Week 3: Chargers/Vikings replaced by Raiders/Browns
  • Week 4: Chiefs/Bengals replaced by Raiders/Bears
  • Week 5: Patriots/Cowboys replaced by Broncos/Raiders
  • Week 6: Raiders on bye
  • Week 7: Jets/Patriots early replaced by Raiders/Chargers late
  • Week 8: Bengals/Steelers early replaced by Jets/Raiders late (causes Seahawks/Cowboys blackout on Fox)
  • Week 9: Las Vegas CBS aired Raiders/Steelers. Fox would have replaced Packers/Panthers early with Falcons/49ers late to avoid conflict
  • Week 10: Las Vegas Fox showed Vikings/Raiders (if Raiders played in Las Vegas it would have caused Chiefs/Broncos blackout on CBS)
  • Week 11: Broncos/Bears replaced by Raiders/Lions
  • Week 12: Bills/Chiefs replaced by Raiders/Titans. Fox would have avoided Raiders conflict by airing Cardinals/49ers late instead of Giants/Redskins early.
  • Week 13: Broncos/Chargers replaced by Chiefs/Raiders (causes Panthers/Saints blackout on Fox)
  • Week 14: Steelers/Bengals early game becomes Raiders/Broncos late
  • Week 15: Panthers/Giants early Fox becomes Packers/Raiders late (causes Broncos/Steelers blackout of CBS)
  • Week 16: Raiders played on Thursday Night Football
  • Week 17:  Chargers/Broncos late CBS game becomes Raiders/Chiefs

That list shows many duds Las Vegas would have been stuck with if the Raiders played in the market in 2015. In most instances, the Raiders would have been the only game available in that time slot.

Las Vegas NFL fans would have options

Some Las Vegas residents would become fans of the Raiders and be happy with that team’s games airing every week. There is a small percentage of the city that is already a fan of the Oakland Raiders. Fans of the other 31 teams, as well as casual sports bettors, would not be happy about the TV situation caused by the Las Vegas Raiders.

Most Las Vegas NFL fans already have a team that is not the Raiders.  Those that did not already have Sunday Ticket on DirecTV would be more motivated to get it. The other option is to go out and watch the game at a bar or sportsbook every Sunday. That option is probably more expensive than buying Sunday Ticket.

Local Fox and CBS affiliates affected

The Fox affiliate in Las Vegas might be the biggest loser in all of this.  It would lose about six compelling match ups each year. Most would involve losing a doubleheader game entirely, making it so that Fox in Las Vegas could only show one game on doubleheader Sundays if the Raiders played at home on CBS.

CBS could also be a loser if Las Vegas residents do not ditch their own team for the Raiders. That might cause people to watch games at bars or through Sunday Ticket instead of through the local affiliate. It would also potentially lose a doubleheader game or two each year due to conflicts with Raiders home games on Fox featuring an NFC road team.

Las Vegas often highest rated neutral market

Las Vegas is the highest-rated neutral TV market in terms on the NFL when it comes to prime time games.  Time after time Las Vegas typically ranks third, fourth or fifth in NFL prime time ratings.The cities that beat Las Vegas are typically home and nearby markets of the opponents.

The morning and afternoon games also draw spectacular ratings in Las Vegas considering it does not have a home team. As much as the NFL does not want to admit it, sports betting is likely the cause for the high number of viewers in Las Vegas. One could also argue that the ratings are high because the best games available are always televised.

Will the Raiders move to Las Vegas?

The Las Vegas stadium deal is far from a sure thing. Oakland might come to the table with an acceptable offer to keep the Raiders. The Chargers may get their stadium through a referendum later this year. That would give the Raiders the option of moving to Los Angeles where they already have an established fan base.

There is also the stigma Las Vegas has when it comes to the NFL. While there is no rule forbidding a Las Vegas franchise, it would still require 24 votes from the owners.

For all of these reasons. I have serious doubts as to whether the Raiders or any other NFL team will ever call Las Vegas home.

MGM Parking Fee No Big Deal For Locals

The big news Friday was that MGM would start charging for parking at its Las Vegas resorts.  It seems there are few exceptions to the new policy.  Only M Life players, presumably active ones at higher tiers, will receive free parking as a comp.  Hotel guests will even be charged the fee that will be in the area of $10 per day.  Exact figures are not yet available.

Valet and self parking will both have fees.  Self parking is excluded from the policy at Circus Circus and two shopping districts.

Downtown Las Vegas already charges for parking

Many locals immediately complained about the new policy.  Las Vegas residents already deal with paying for parking at downtown casinos.  The city owns a deck, as well as most individual properties.

Parking structures collect fees in one of two ways.  Some lots collect the fee when the car arrives.  El Cortez and Main Street Station are examples.  Others charge an hourly rate.  Plaza, Golden Nugget and Binion’s are included in this option.

All of these downtown casinos have one thing in common.  Each will comp parking if you patronized the establishment.  This usually includes gambling and dining.  Hotel guests never pay for parking.  The roll out of parking fees has not stopped locals from visiting.

MGM Resorts can learn from downtown Las Vegas

The initial press release includes vague information about how free parking will be handled.  It says there will be a grace period for locals and that some M Life players will receive free parking as a benefit.  One conclusion to draw is that the policy is not decided.

MGM parking was a hot topic on Friday after the announcement.  Players were concerned about giving action to MGM properties and getting stuck with a $10 parking fee when leaving, maybe after losing all of their money.  Being forced to pay for parking after losing a few hundred dollars is an experience that may drive players away.  This cannot happen in downtown Las Vegas as minimal play gets parking comped.  Hopefully MGM Resorts will use this model.

Smaller Las Vegas Strip poker rooms depend on locals to help get games started.  Large poker rooms still have a number of locals in the action.  Charging poker players $10 to park could deter them from visiting.  There are plenty of local poker rooms with decent action.  If MGM does not permit poker rooms to comp parking, it could hurt traffic.  Small rooms like Luxor, Excalibur and Mandalay Bay would be the most affected.  Any drop in traffic for these set of rooms on the south end of the Strip could end in a closure.  There is already a case that Luxor is unnecessary with two other rooms within a short walk.

Another thought is that hotel guests will be unhappy about getting hit with this fee.  It is logical to conclude that a resort fee would cover parking.  It always has in the past.  It also seems restaurants and nightclub patrons will get hit with the fee.

Will other Las Vegas Strip casinos follow?

That is the big question.  MGM Resorts is using the $90 million parking investment as a reason to charge for parking.  Others may not be able to make the same excuse.  Competitors that try to charge without making any improvements may receive more of a backlash from customers, especially older properties that do not offer quality parking structures.  This may also be a chance for competitors to advertise free parking for locals.  Tropicana already does this with a special lot reserved for those with a Nevada license plate.

MGM Resorts needed to address the parking situation created by its new arena.  Most of the casinos in that area are owned by MGM Resorts.  Properties farther north on the Strip will not have the same parking problems caused by large events, another argument against charging for parking.

Parking fees are the new resort fee.  It will be interesting to see which casinos jump on the bandwagon in 2016. Competitors will be watching to see how angry customers are.  If free parking turns out to be a reason guests book with Caesars over MGM, it is unlikely that adding a $10 fee will pay off in the long run.

 

Moe’s Downtown Summerlin Franchisee’s Yelp Account Slamming Competitors

I don’t use Yelp much.  For the most part, I leave positive reviews for establishments that deserve it.  I’ve left a handful of negative reviews when the situation was truly awful and a place rightfully deserved to be avoided.  I understand the hardships of owning a small business and try to focus on the positive.

Moe’s Southwest Grill opened up in Downtown Summerlin near my house about one year ago.

I liked Moe’s when I lived in Atlanta.  The one in Downtown Summerlin is not good.  I left a comment about it on Yelp and received a private message from the franchisee and we got to talking about it.  I deleted my Yelp post because I felt that it was great that a store owner was involved and the issue would be corrected.

I went back to contact this person today on Yelp.  I just happened to click on his list of Yelp reviews.

Shill Yelp Reviews

He left a glowing review of his Moe’s. It was his third attempt.  Yelp deleted the previous two for violating the site’s T&Cs.

A  “Joe K.” Moe’s review was also in the deleted review section for violating Yelp’s T&Cs.  Joe K. has a one-star review of Zaba’s, a similar restaurant to Moe’s in Downtown Summerlin. Those are the only two Yelp reviews from this Joe K.

The “not recommended” section of this Moe’s Yelp page is full of five-star reviews from one-and-done posters.  There are almost as many filtered reviews (32) for the Downtown Summerlin Moe’s location than ones Yelp found to be legitimate (38).

Compare this to Zaba’s, a nearly identical restaurant in the same mall.  There are 26 legitimate Yelp reviews.  The only review in the filtered section is the one from Joe K. mentioned earlier.

Downtown Summerlin Moe’s Yelp account leaving negative reviews about competitors

The Moe’s franchisee’s Yelp account also had three other reviews.  One was about Moe’s neighbor Pieology.  There was another about Shake Shack.  The other was about a new Mexican restaurant called Pancho’s.  All three are in the same mall parking lot as this Moe’s.  The reviews for all three are negative.

The Pancho’s review specifically plugs Moe’s.  The Pieology review mentions wanting a burrito instead of pizza.

The pattern shows a blatant abuse of the Yelp system to me.  I felt that it needed to be called out.

I let the three businesses that received negative reviews know about the situation.  I also contacted Moe’s headquarters and Downtown Summerlin.  Moe’s responded quickly that this was not acceptable.

This is a sleazy way to do business.  I will not be giving that location or any other in Las Vegas any of my money in the future.  This Moe’s is almost always empty.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see it become the first casualty in Downtown Summerlin.

Trashing competitors on Yelp from a shill account is not a legitimate way of promoting your business.  Businesses that choose this route deserve to fail.

Rep. Joe Heck Response to RAWA Inquiry

Rep. Joe Heck will run for Sen. Harry Reid’s seat in November 2016.  Reid is retiring after this term.  Heck is currently my representative in the House.  This was his response to me in December 2014 in reference to RAWA.

Dear John,

Thank you for contacting me with your opposition to H.R. 4301, the Restoration of America’s WIRE Act. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

I certainly understand the importance and sensitivity of this issue as it pertains to our economy and livelihood in Nevada. As you know, in 2013 Nevada became the first state to allow people physically in the state to play online poker. I would support the federal legalization of online poker, as long as it is well-regulated in the same manner as brick-and-mortar operations in the state of Nevada. The Nevada Gaming Control Board is the foremost regulator of the gaming industry in the world, and so I would support efforts to make this board the national regulator. I also believe that tough restrictions should be in place to prevent the unlawful gaming by minors, including requiring personal identifying and financial information. I agree that strong consumer protections and safeguards must be part of any attempt to legalize online gaming

As you know, Representative Jason Chaffetz (UT-3) introduced H.R. 4301, the Restoration of America’s WIRE Act on March 26, 2013. This bill would amend the WIRE Act to prohibit all types of gambling activities online. This bill was referred to the House Committee on Judiciary. While I do not serve on this committee, please be assured that I understand your concerns and will keep your comments in mind should H.R. 4301 be considered by the full House of Representatives.

As this issue is extremely important to Nevada, please be assured that, as co-chair of the House Gaming Caucus, I will be actively involved in any legislation regarding this matter. Additionally, please know that I will remember your comments and I appreciate your input on this critical issue.

Again, I appreciate your thoughts and it is an honor to serve you in Congress. Your suggestions are always welcome, and if ever I may be of assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.

It Was a Great Experience Saving Nevada’s Strong Anti-SLAPP Law

A screenshot of my testimony before the Nevada Assembly Judiciary Committee on April 24, 2015 in opposition of SB444.

In April, I discovered that Nevada’s powerful anti-SLAPP law, passed during the previous legislative session, was under attack. I immediately went on the defensive.

The bill was SB444. The Nevada Senate passed it by a 21-0 margin.  It happened without any debate. Nevada Sen. Tick Segerblom told political journalist Jon Ralston that Democrats were “asleep at the wheel.” This left the Nevada Assembly as the last line of defense.

Why Nevada’s Anti-SLAPP Law Matters

Anti-SLAPP laws are designed to protect citizens from abusive lawsuits aimed solely to silence critics. If you read my work, you know that I have covered some controversial topics.  This includes exposing online gambling scams and companies that steal my copyrighted work.  I’ve been threatened by attorneys over it. One example of that is here. That is not the only time.

After the 2013 version of Nevada’s anti-SLAPP law went into effect, I was able to confidently tell an attorney that threatened me that I lived in Nevada. This lawyer was trying to use me as leverage in an attempt to intimidate a colleague. I provided a link to Nevada’s powerful anti-SLAPP law in my response to the legal threat and told the attorney to stop contacting me.  It was a polite middle finger. I never heard from him again.

Under the law I fought to save, I don’t have to worry about someone filing a frivolous lawsuit against me in an attempt to punish me for my opinion or stating facts.  If a Nevada resident’s speech is protected by the First Amendment, a court should toss cases filed by anyone that tries to sue for defamation. If a case is ruled to be a SLAPP, the plaintiff would be forced to pay court costs, as well as monetary damages up to $10,000. A successful anti-SLAPP defendant in Nevada can also file a separate action to recover additional compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees and costs of bringing this separate action. That seems like quite a deterrent to me.

You may not think that these lawsuits are a big problem, but there are numerous people and companies out there that do such a thing on a regular basis. Most states have little or no protection from these types of vexatious lawsuits.

Yelp explained why anti-SLAPP laws are important to its business model. The company and its content contributors have been forced to defend lawsuits based on reviews posted on Yelp. This scenario could happen to any website that allows comments, regardless of whether the Communications Decency Act applies. Most states have no laws that punish plaintiffs in frivolous defamation lawsuits. Nevada is one of the few that does.  This type of protection is imperative to media companies and individuals that wish to exercise their First Amendment rights.

Phone Calls and Emails Went Out Immediately

When I heard that Nevada’s anti-SLAPP law was in trouble, I started contacting Nevadans that I knew would be interested.  I received a response from most of those that I contacted. It helped generate support for the cause.  Several of the people that I contacted testified against SB444 in person.  Others submitted public comment.

Road Trip to Carson City

I decided to go to Carson City and speak in person to lawmakers.  I testified in front of the Assembly Judiciary Committee on my second day in Carson City. While the camera view suggests otherwise, the room was packed.

Admittedly, I was incredibly nervous before going up to the podium. That disappeared when my turn came to speak. I nailed it.

I spoke about why the anti-SLAPP law is important to my business and to the gaming industry.  I used examples of my journalism to show why my work should be protected from frivolous lawsuits.

I told the committee that a change in Nevada’s anti-SLAPP law could force me to relocate my business to Texas, my first choice among other states with a real anti-SLAPP law. I also explained that tech businesses would no longer consider Nevada to be a friendly environment, even with its tax advantages, as the lack of legal protections would offset it.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee did not act on the bill at the time.  On the last day of business before the bill would have died, it passed a watered-down version to the full Assembly.  I was not happy about it, but it seemed like a reasonable compromise.

Washington State Supreme Court Struck Down Similar Law

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  The Washington State Supreme Court struck down a nearly identical law two weeks later.  The court took issue with the “clear and convincing” evidence standard in the Washington law.  Nevada’s anti-SLAPP law had the same language. If the bill had died in committee, the potentially faulty language could have been impossible to correct during the session, leaving the law vulnerable to a court challenge.

The Nevada Legislature was able to change the language before the session expired on June 1.  It took a conference on the last day to pull it off.

What I Learned From the Experience

I learned that if there is a bad bill out there that affects your freedom or business, you can do something about it.  It does not matter how powerful your opposition is.  Everyone has a chance to speak their mind and state lawmakers will listen, especially when there is massive opposition among the citizenry.

If you have allies out there, get them aligned.  Several of the people I talked to were unaware of the bill’s existence at the time.  Once they knew about it, they were happy to get involved.

The numbers mattered. Public comment was 213-3 against. There were 17 voices heard in opposition before the committee, with only outside counsel for Wynn Resorts supporting it.  I feel these numbers were a contributing factor as to why we prevailed in getting the bad language in SB444 removed.  With that said, attacking the other side on a personal level was not an appropriate action. I tried to distance myself from that tactic.

I also learned that the Nevada lawmakers that I interacted with were genuinely interested in the bill and my opinion.  Many asked great questions at the committee hearing that showed their familiarity and concerns with the bill.

First Amendment supporters were able to take on a large gaming corporation in Nevada and win.  It was not just press agencies and members. The Motion Picture Association, the Sierra Club, First Amendment attorneys, and about a half-dozen concerned citizens spoke out in opposition to SB444.

We Won’t Be Asleep at the Wheel Next Time

The Nevada Legislature only meets every two years.  I will be scouring the bills in 2017 to make sure nothing like this has been filed.  If it is there, I will once again go to Carson City and testify as to why Nevada’s anti-SLAPP law is so important to the people of our state, my company, and our ability to attract tech companies.   Hopefully we have a federal anti-SLAPP law by then.

The SPEAK FREE Act was recently introduced in Congress. For now, the only effective state anti-SLAPP laws on the books are in Texas, Nevada, California, and Oregon.  Hopefully the Washington Legislature fixes that law that was struck down.

Residents of other states have little recourse if someone attempts to stifle their free speech through litigation other than spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars defending themselves or cave in to the threats.  That is unfortunate for those active in politics or on consumer review sites.

Some states have anti-SLAPP laws that only cover political speech or cases filed in state court, but not federal court. That is better than nothing, but still leaves room for improvement.  I am willing to go to Washington D.C. to testify in favor of a federal anti-SLAPP law.  Contact me at johnmehaffeylv@gmail.com if you are interested in making that happen.