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April 24, 2014

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Judge suggests arena petition has enough signatures

CARSON CITY — A District Court judge has indicated there may be enough valid signatures on an ballot initiative petition seeking a special tax for a $500 million sports-entertainment arena on the Las Vegas Strip.

Proceeds from the tax would finance bonds to build the 27,000-seat arena.

Judge Todd Russell ordered attorneys to submit closing briefs to determine if there are too many defects with the petition to disqualify the question from being placed on the 2012 Nevada election ballot.

At the close of a two-day hearing Thursday, Russell said there were “interesting issues” in the case in which MGM Resorts International argued there are enough errors and discrepancies to disqualify the petition pushed by competing gaming giant Caesars Entertainment.

“I could strike a huge number (of signatures) and it would still qualify,” Russell said. “I don’t want to nitpick this signature and that signature.”

He said it was obvious there were “minor errors” in the process, but he must rule “at the end of the day” whether they invalidated the petition.

Circulators gathered 213,000 signatures; 97,002 valid signatures were required.

The final witness at the hearing was Lee Albright, president of National Petition Management, who signed a contract for $75,000 to collect and verify signatures of registered voters.

Albright said signatures were gathered at special events and at early voting sites to capture registered voters. Random sampling by his company and a Michigan firm showed 61 percent of the signatures were valid.

The initiative petition, as certified by the secretary of state’s office, was presented to the Legislature to approve or reject.

The Legislature turned it down, so the petition, if ruled valid, will be on the election ballot next year.

Whichever way Russell rules, the decision is expected to be appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court. There already is an appeal before the Supreme Court arguing that the petition was not properly drawn.

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