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November 26, 2014

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Pawnshops oppose proposal that could increase rivals

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Rick Harrison, co-owner of Gold & Silver Pawn Shop downtown.

Las Vegas is in the early stages of considering an ordinance to allow more pawnshops in the city — the measure has no City Council sponsor, and council members have yet to be briefed on it.

But that hasn’t stopped lawyer-lobbyists for existing local pawnshops from coming out in full force to try to get the measure killed. They claim the proposed ordinance, a copy of which was obtained by the Sun, would allow too many new pawnshops within city limits after more than a decade of appropriately tight restrictions on new licenses.

Three high-powered lobbyists have signed on to fight the measure — in effect to try to ensure it’s scrapped before the council ever has a chance to vote on it.

The lobbyists who have been pressuring council members include Jennifer Lazovich, who in recent weeks met with every member of the City Council except Mayor Oscar Goodman, according to lobbyist registration forms; Jay Brown, a former law partner of Goodman’s; and Bill Curran.

The measure would change the regulation that has been in place since 1992, when an ordinance was passed mandating that only one new pawnshop license could be granted per population increase of 50,000.

Under the ordinance, the council could grant up to four new pawnshop licenses per year.

The ordinance would also create a new category of pawnbroker, one who could lend money on only 11 categories of goods, including jewelry, watches, antiques and precious metals. The purpose of this would be to allow this second, smaller category of pawnbroker to set up shop in areas where larger stores aren’t allowed, such as business parks, city officials said.

According to a city spokesman, the ordinance was drafted as a result of the fundamental service review, the city’s ongoing effort to streamline its government. The purpose: to spur job creation.

Las Vegas Business Services Supervisor Carol Meyer said she sent out letters to registered pawnshop owners in the city a few weeks ago, along with the proposed ordinance, to solicit comments.

Meyer said she understands why pawnshop owners are expressing concern and involving lobbyists this early in the process: “They believe it’s going to take business away from them, and increase competition,” she said.

Lazovich, who represents Cash America International, the parent company of the region’s several SuperPawn stores, said: “Our position has been that the 1992 ordinance has worked well and shouldn’t be changed.” The proposed ordinance is a “drastic departure” from the existing law, she said.

Kenny Allwein, a regional representative for the EZ Pawn chain agreed in a statement with Lazovich. “(The 1992) ordinance has worked well over the past 17 years. We support the existing ordinance without any changes,” he wrote.

Rick Harrison, co-owner of the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop downtown, said a surplus of new shops could harm consumers because some stores would likely fail, potentially putting those stores’ pawned items at risk.

Plus, he noted, it’s doubtful residents would be eager to have as many as 60 new pawnshops open over the next 15 years. “They’ll be on every single corner,” he said.

Harrison added that the proposed measure not only raises the specter of a glut of stores, but also of untested, potentially untrustworthy owners coming in. “You can’t just allow any Tom, Dick or Harry to do this,” he said.

Neither Brown nor Curran could be reached for comment.

Councilman Steve Wolfson said the city’s existing pawnshop regulations have worked well. “I haven’t had any issues out in my ward,” he said, referring to Ward 2 in the western part of the city.

Wolfson said he hasn’t reached a decision on the proposed pawnshop ordinance. He said he didn’t mind being lobbied, but that he wouldn’t make a decision until he was properly briefed by city staff members, and until representatives on all sides of the issue had a chance to talk to him.

Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian said she isn’t sure whether residents want more pawnshops in the area.

She said her perception of pawnshops used to be that they catered to unsavory elements. But she said her view has changed. And as the economy has worsened, more people who never before used pawnshops are in need of their services, she said.

According to city records, 41 pawnbrokers are licensed to do business in the city, though 16 have gone out of business. Of the remaining 25 stores, 23 are “active” and open, one license is pending, and the last is inactive.

The first new shop to be allowed in the city in the past five years was approved unanimously by the City Council in February. The permit allowed a SuperPawn to move into a vacant building in the Cheyenne Fairways Business Center.

The city received seven cards protesting the pawnshop, and a few area residents opposed it during a January neighborhood meeting. Some expressed concern about the effect the new pawnshop might have on the area’s property values.

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