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July 31, 2014

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POLITICAL MEMO:

Beers takes center stage

Republican Senator a pivotal character in gaming’s direction of election

A lobbyist with close ties to the Strip doesn’t mean to be arrogant, and indeed, he isn’t.

But his description of the calculations on the Strip heading into the 2008 election, and his gaming out of the possibilities, sounded like a TV director musing about the arrangement of actors on the set, the timing of the comic lines, the timing and pitch of audience laugh track.

Anyone not familiar with the influence of gaming on Nevada’s political system might have blushed at the tenor of it all.

Much of Nevada’s near future hinges on one race: Senate District 6, currently held by the state’s strident and colorful Republican, the banjo-playing Bob Beers, who oddly enough, is an accountant.

Republicans control the Senate by one vote, and Beers’ district is the Democrats’ shot at seizing control. Another Republican incumbent, Sen. Joe Heck, was also thought to be vulnerable, until the reservist Army colonel was called up to Iraq, where he’s using his skills as a physician. The odds of beating that kind of candidate are roughly equal to Beers wearing a Che Guevara T-Shirt at one of his banjo gigs.

So the Democrats are focused on Beers.

Most of Beers’ constituents probably know who he is, which is fairly unusual in Nevada, and he’s a retail politician who likes shaking hands and telling voters how the path to California-style tax and spend misery is paved with the good intentions of Nevada Democrats.

The overqualified Robert Uithoven, who ran the campaign of Gov. Jim Gibbons, is Beers’ chief consultant. They plan on raising $500,000.

Beers is not unbeatable, however. Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus won Beers’ district in her failed 2006 run against Gibbons. The district is rapidly filling with independent voters and Democrats as the Republican brand continues to collapse under the weight of President Bush’s low approval ratings. The district, long a Republican stronghold, now has 412 more Democrats than Republicans.

The Democrats have found a challenger in Allison Copening, who is said to be a solid candidate with a lot of community ties. Her challenge has enormous consequences for the state.

A victory gives the Democrats control of both the Senate and the Assembly, where Speaker Barbara Buckley has a near veto-proof majority. That would allow the long-suffering Dems to use Gibbons as their whipping boy during the 2009 legislative session, even as he readies for a reelection campaign, if he decides to run.

More important, every 10 years the state Legislature must redraw legislative and Congressional lines to comport with the new U.S. Census. With its rapid growth, Nevada may win a fourth Congressional district. If Democrats are in power, they can draw the lines in a way that will give them an advantage in ensuring the seat goes Democratic.

So back to the lobbyist-director, who is currently deciding who will win Senate District 6. (Hyperbolic, yes, but not that much.)

Can the gaming industry live with Titus as the majority leader?

Yes, he said, but it’s others in the Democratic caucus who could be worrisome, including wild cards Sen. Bob Coffin, Sen. Terry Care and Maggie Carlson, all of Las Vegas

Can they be controlled, or will they introduce legislation imposing new regulations or taxes on gaming?

It’s an open question.

But Beers isn’t ideal for gaming either. His strident stance against taxes only increases the temperature of the hot water gaming finds itself in with voters.

In other words, if voters — and parents with public school kids especially — don’t see some new revenue for ailing schools, they might punish gaming and gaming alone with a tax increase.

To head off that nightmare, many gaming industry officials want a broad-based tax that will spread the pain.

And so, the lobbyist said, there’s a friendly debate, a parlor discussion on the Strip, as to whether to support the Democrats or Republicans in this all-in race.

Or in other words, gaming is sitting in the director’s chair, musing about which player will be cut from the production.

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