2010 in Nevada. Let’s review: Gaming rebounded slightly, a crazy lady failed to unseat one of our least popular elected officials, the cops got really trigger-happy, and the senator who screwed the wife of his best friend and top adviser is still a senator. There, we just summarized all those other year-in-review stories in 40 words. Now on to the juicy stuff: news you missed, intriguing oddities and stories that inspired us or pissed us off. This is the 2010 you didn’t know you wanted to remember.
The billionaire Las Vegan who founded the Budget Suites of America hotel chain wants to bring affordable accommodations to an untapped market: outer space. Robert Bigelow, 66, presides over a 100-plus-employee company in North Las Vegas that is busily developing a commercial space station to be launched in 2014. Modules that look like giant marshmallows would be sent into space and assembled into a complex that would dwarf the International Space Station and operate for a fraction of the cost. Bigelow has reportedly sunk $200 million of his personal wealth into the venture and says he’s willing to risk hundreds of millions more. His target tenants: sovereign countries that cannot afford their own space programs, and even the U.S. government, which is discontinuing its Space Shuttle program. If this all sounds very pie-in-the-sky, consider that Bigelow Aerospace has signed memoranda of understanding with space agencies and large corporations in at least six industrialized countries. And right now, Bigelow’s first two test modules—Genesis I and II—are orbiting the earth, travelling at 17,500 mph.
The governor called a special session in February to plug an $800 million gap in the state’s $7 billion budget. It was billed as the beginning of the worst fiscal crisis in Nevada history, but you’re forgiven if you missed it because lawmakers simply kicked the can down the road, leaving social services mostly intact.
Sure, the Legislature gave Health and Human Services an $83 million haircut and dipped its hand in the capital funds of the local school district and the Clean Water Coalition. But lawmakers also found $200 million in other state accounts, instituted a four-day workweek for state offices and updated fees paid by mines and banks. See? Pretty painless. The most protested cut—a 6.9 percent reduction in K-12 and higher ed funding—actually translated to 2 percent less overall for school districts. And locally, the cut was largely paid for by shifting school administrators from one job or campus to another.
But the story you might have missed in 2010 will become the Story You Can’t Escape in 2011. In its next two-year budget, Nevada faces an estimated shortfall of $3 billion—in percentage terms the biggest gap of any state. And the incoming governor, Brian Sandoval, says he won’t sign off on any tax or fee hikes to preserve programs and services. Whatever happens, you’ll feel it this time.
In Nevada we pay some of the highest vehicle registration fees in the nation, and we hate it. But what irks us even more is that thousands of out-of-state transplants dodge the tax (and it is a tax) by neglecting to register their cars and trucks with the DMV within 60 days. In August, Las Vegas Constable Robert “Bobby G.” Gronauer rolled out a hotline that allows residents to report their neighbors who brazenly sport non-Nevada plates. There’s no reward for snitching, but thousands of Las Vegans have dialed 455-FAIR to deliver just deserts. According to Gronauer’s office, the hotline has received more than 4,500 tips, resulting in 750 investigations. So far, at least 300 scofflaws have registered their vehicles and paid the constable a $100 fine. The others face a court date, a $1,000 penalty and a suspended registration. The constable can enforce the law only in Las Vegas—a disappointment to the many Clark County narcs who dial the line—but Henderson might adopt a similar program soon.
VOLUNTEERS IN MEDICINE
“Over-the-top, through the ceiling” is how Dr. Florence Jameson describes the community’s support thus far for the free medical clinic she opened last January to treat the uninsured. In its first year, Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada attracted a pool of more than 500 volunteers and received enough donations to cover all of its operating costs through 2011—two huge milestones for a brand-new nonprofit. Big corporations including Quest Diagnostics and St. Rose Hospitals have stepped up to help as well, offering free X-rays and diagnostic tests to the clinic’s needy patients. “How’s it going? To say anything less than—did you watch Moulin Rouge?—spectacular, spectacular would be an understatement,” Jameson gushes.
But the OB-GYN says her work has just begun. The clinic, in Paradise Park near the intersection of Pecos and Tropicana, now serves about 350 patients a month. In the coming year, Jameson and her staff hope to double the number of health professionals, social workers and everyday people who volunteer and raise $2.8 million to build a flagship clinic in North Las Vegas. The second facility would span 12,000 square feet and offer dental care and mental health treatment in addition to primary care. With Clark County’s uninsured population estimated at 400,000, the demand for basic medical care is overwhelming. As Jameson wrote in a recent call for volunteers, “We can help. We must help. There is no greater joy.”
It’s been said that war is hell, and hell is exactly what the families of Nevada’s fallen troops are going through as we flip the page on 2010. In the past year, at least six service members with ties to Nevada died in combat in Afghanistan, bringing the statewide casualty count for the nation’s two post-9/11 wars to 72. As of press time, 4,427 U.S. military members had died in operations in Iraq, and 1,272 had died in the Afghan war, according to the Associated Press. These are the Nevadans who lost their lives while serving in 2010:
*Air Force 1st Lt. Joel C. Gentz, 25, a Nellis-based combat rescue officer who died June 9 following a helicopter crash in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
*Army Sgt. Matthew R. Hennigan, 20, a graduate of Silverado High School who died June 30 of wounds suffered in a firefight in Tangi Valley, Afghanistan.
*Senior Airman Michael J. Buras, 23, a bomb technician stationed at Nellis Air Force Base who died September 21 while responding to reports of a roadside explosive in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
*Marine Sgt. Frank R. Zaehringer III, 23, a Reno native who died in combat October 11 in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
*Air Force Staff Sgt. David C. Smith, 26, a Nellis-based flight engineer who died June 9 as a result of a helicopter crash in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
*Air Force Capt. David A. Wisniewski, 31, a Nellis pilot who died July 2 after his helicopter was shot down in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
In early December, paleontologists discovered a 7-foot-long fossilized tusk belonging to a 15-foot-tall beast that roamed the outskirts of Vegas thousands of years ago. It was a remarkable find, but nothing new for Tule Springs, an area of the Upper Las Vegas Wash that has been coughing up incredible mastodon and mammoth fossils since the 1960s. The site is so rife with Ice Age relics that a diverse and powerful coalition wants it to become a national monument and park, giving tourists yet another reason to come to town. And with the county, the Air Force and the cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas all on board, monument status seemed a foregone conclusion in early 2010.
But of course, there was a hitch. Power lines are needed to connect renewable energy plants in the Amargosa Valley to Southern Nevada, and NV Energy says it must carve out a 260-foot swath for the lines around the fossil site. Monument advocates say the transmission path would be devastating to their plan. “You’d be surrounded by power poles,” says Jill DeStafano, founder of Protectors of Tule Springs. “And the Park Service does not want to build parks whose viewscapes are surrounded by power poles.” NV energy has been supportive of fossil research over the years and says it remains “committed to doing environmentally what’s right.” But on the right-of-way issue, the company appears unwilling to yield. No federal legislation backing the lines or the park has been introduced, but both sides are working the refs. For now, the park—and the power lines—remain in limbo.
YOUTH IN REVOLT
An economy as lousy as Nevada’s leaves almost no one unscathed. In January, we learned that the psychological and behavioral effects of record unemployment and the nation’s highest rate of home foreclosure had trickled down to our youth, with grave implications. A statewide survey of high-schoolers conducted at the end of last year amounted to a collective cry for help. It showed that after eight years of steady declines, more teens were struggling with depression, having unprotected sex and using drugs and alcohol. “We had been seeing some really encouraging trends, and now we’ve slid backward,” said Keith Rheault, Nevada’s superintendant of public instruction. Among the survey’s key findings:
*Eighteen percent of high school students said they had seriously considered suicide in the prior year, up from 14.3 percent in 2007. And 10.2 percent said they had actually attempted it, the highest percentage since 2001.
*Close to half said they had had sexual intercourse, up from 42.8 percent in 2007. Of those, 63 percent reported using a condom the most recent time, a drop of 6 percentage points.
*Nearly 40 percent said they had used marijuana, up from 35.3 percent in 2007. And 20 percent said they had used the drug in the 30 days before the survey, an increase of 4.5 points.
*And 35 percent of Nevada kids revealed they had been offered or sold an illegal drug at school—the highest percentage in the continental U.S. and more than 12 points above the national average.
*In Clark County, school officials say they are paying more attention to how students manage stress. That includes looking for warning signs and finding help for troubled kids. Mary Pike, the administrator who oversaw the survey, said the district has used the results to tweak its health curriculum. Among other improvements, the district worked with Metro to craft a Power Point lesson on dating violence and added training for teachers in how to address cyberbullying and sexting. Says Rheault: “I’ll be even more concerned in 2011 (when the next survey will be conducted) if we haven’t done anything to correct and address these issues so that we see some improvement.”
SPORTS BOOK TABLET
Imagine this. The Colts trail by 3 with less than a minute to go, and Peyton Manning has the ball on the 50-yard line. Your gut tells you he’ll bomb a touchdown pass for the win. So you glance down at the device in your palm and press a button. Just like that, your wager has been made—no betting slips, no sawed-off pencils.
Now stop imagining; you’ve just discovered a technology that revolutionized sports betting in 2010. Developed by Cantor Gaming, an affiliate of financial services giant Cantor Fitzgerald, the mobile devices allow gamblers to bet into continuously updated lines during sporting events. Putts, field goal attempts and at-bats can all be wagered on, live. The devices come in iPhone or iPad size and are available at Venetian’s and Palazzo’s sports books and at Cantor-run books at the Tropicana and M Resort.
The revolution, however, is far from over. In the past year, Cantor grabbed 15 percent of the statewide sports wagering handle despite having a presence in only 1 percent of Nevada’s books. In 2011, the company will expand to the Hard Rock Hotel and the newly opened Cosmopolitan resort. Other partners can’t be far behind. In a September interview with Gaming Today, Cantor CEO Lee Amaitis had all the swagger of a Wall Street trader, which he once was. “There is no economic depression in sports wagering,” he declared.