Las Vegas utility controlled by Warren Buffett falsely touts free service


On the website of NVEnergy

The promotion was right there on the website of NVEnergy, Nevada’s major electric utility owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. “FREE POOL PUMP SUMMER CALIBRATION … Make sure you’re getting the most savings possible by having your pool pump calibrated for FREE!” Also on the page: an image of a fetching ready-to-party young woman with a raft and for some reason waving her arm–standing next to a pool pump, of course. (A screenshot is nearby.)

Great, I thought. The monthly electric usage at the New to Las Vegas world headquarters had gone up 50% over a year earlier, for no obvious reason. We have gas heat, so any colder weather during the past winter shouldn’t have been a big factor. I read somewhere that pool pumps–yes, we have a backyard pool–are often set to run too many hours a day at too high a speed and can consume ungodly amounts of juice. According to the promotion, the NVEnergy summer offer took effect April 1, just a week earlier. All praise Buffett, at age 93 the world’s sixth-richest person ($133 billion, according to Forbes)!

However, as I discovered when I tried to take advantage of the deal, there was a problem. Even though the offer is still up on the NVEnergy site at this writing in a downloadable PDF page, the service is no longer available generally, or at least not for free. NVEnergy farms out the work to a posted list of “approved pool pump calibrators” that electric users like me are invited to contact. But the several I called said the service was not free and would cost me $200 to $300.

Bummer. Continue reading

How to stop red-light runners in Las Vegas: Put ’em on TV

red-light runners in Las VegasHardly a day goes by in Las Vegas that I don’t see multiple flagrant red-light runners. One day last week, in the space of two hours, I saw three of them along a single major Las Vegas street. I stopped for the red light. The motorists in the next lane didn’t. With the light already red, each stepped on the gas and whooshed right past me into and then through the intersection. It’s really amazing no one got hit or killed. I should note this was on Good Friday.

Sadly, such violations seem to be rather common in Las Vegas. Before becoming New To Las Vegas eight years ago, I lived all around the country. Never have I seen the level of fast reckless driving elsewhere that I regularly see here. But the red light violations are particularly egregious. Traffic deaths are way up this year, and it is thought that red-light running is playing an important role.

Clark County Sheriff Kevin McMahill recently told KNPR’s “State of Nevada” public affairs show that despite unspecified stepped up enforcement actions, his Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department agency hasn’t been able to cut down on red light infractions. “We’re just frankly really tired of scraping people up off the streets,” he said.

McMahill has called for installation of traffic cameras that could issue red-light-violation tickets. This would require a change in state law. In a “What Happens Here, Stays Here” valley full of folks here for second chances or kicks, McMahill’s proposal seems to be about as popular as a ban on gambling or show girls.

I have another idea. Unleash the power of reality TV. Continue reading

New filing of cancer faux charity pitching Las Vegas again shows 0% spent fighting cancer

cancer faux charityIn his famous 1930 crime novel The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett wrote, “The gaudier the patter, the cheaper the crook.” He never got a telephone cold-call asking for money from American Breast Cancer Coalition PAC, but he surely would have recognized the pitch.

I, on the other hand, have been called by sweet-talking representatives of this elusive East Coast-based organization any number of times over the past 15 months at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters. They pleaded for financial aid to fight this awful illness by backing sympathetic political candidates (PAC means political action committee) who will vote to fund treatments. Hundreds of thousands of other folks around the country likely have received these calls, too.

Now I’m no Sam Spade. He was Hammett’s legendary gumshoe, memorably played by Humphrey Bogart in the 1941 movie of the same name about fortune-hunters and killers fighting over an ancient object supposedly encrusted in jewels and made of solid gold. But I know how to look up stuff, like ABCC-PAC’s latest filed-with-the-IRS-under-penalty-of-perjury financial report, for the half-year ending December 31, 2023.

Amount of donation money raised nationally: $1.1 million.

Amount of money spent in political contributions to sympathetic candidates: Zero.

That’s right. Zip. Zilch. Goose eggs across the board. You spent far more on your latest Starbucks latte.

In addition, in Nevada, where I live, the way ABCC-PAC operates is illegal under state law, although toothless regulators here do absolutely nothing about it. The m.o. of these faux charities, as I call PACs that present like charities but aren’t, ought to be illegal everywhere, and enforced.

Do I have your attention? I do? Then kindly read on. Continue reading

It Didn’t Stay Here: New Las Vegas photos of Prince Harry in the buff?

Las Vegas photos of Prince Harry

The Sun (London), 2012

Years before I became New to Las Vegas, Prince Harry gave the lie to “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the racy marketing slogan dreamed up for the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority. In 2012, after the gossip website TMZ broke the news, The Sun (London) published pictures of the then-third-in-line-to-the-British throne cavorting in the buff at the Wynn Las Vegas in a private suite festooned with fetching females.

Why do I bring this up now? Two reasons. First, one of the women who apparently was in the room on that sultry August night, who goes by the name Carrie Royale, said earlier this month she has never-before-seen photos of the Duke of Sussex in his birthday suit from then that she is hoping to reveal for big bucks. Royale is described as a “former dominatrix and model.”

Second, as visitors to this space know well, I compile a list of candidates for my running feature, “It Didn’t Stay Here.” It’s a roster of folks in trouble somewhere else for something that happened in Las Vegas, my cheeky rejoinder to the nothing-leaves-Vegas marketing pitch.

My addition of Harry puts him among some big names. They include Donald J. Trump (twice, once for partying in Las Vegas with Russians and their hangers-on who later got him into trouble, and again for funny accounting concerning the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas that found its way into that New York civil fraud suit against him). There’s Joseph R. Biden Jr. (a little too touchy-feely at a Las Vegas political rally). And French President Emanuel Macron (expense account excesses at a Las Vegas trade show trip when he was an economics minister). You can see the entire list nearby.
Continue reading

Now the whole world knows about Las Vegas and its scorpions

Las Vegas and its scorpions

Arizona bark scorpion (via Progressive Pest Control)

Nearly seven years ago in this space, I highlighted the presence in Las Vegas of scorpions. Specifically, I recounted how fortunate it was for the area’s marketing agency, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, that what are now upwards of 40 million tourists a year arrive blissfully unaware of the little buggers hereabouts.

Not any more.

News earlier this week of a California man’s claim that he was stung several times by a scorpion in a very private part of his body while sleeping in his bed at the swank high-rise Venetian Las Vegas on the Strip has exploded across the Internet. My Google search for mentions since Monday in the same article of “Las Vegas” and “scorpion” already has topped 100,000.

Media outlets reported the news were far and wide. There were the usual suspects in the U.S.–meaning just about everywhere. Abroad, I saw a staff-written story in the Hindustan Times, one of India’s largest English-language newspaper, describing in a dead-pan manner the “unexpected and distressing encounter” of  Michael Farchi, visiting from the Los Angeles suburb of Agoura Hills on the day after Christmas. A long article appeared in London’s, which gets 191 million visitor views a month.

Although he went to a hospital, Farchi survived. He even managed to snare the perp, a photo of which has been plastered everywhere. Farchi has lawyered up–his mouthpiece is Brian J. Virag, a Los Angeles lawyer who specializes in hotel insect cases and has trademarked the phrase “My Bed Bug Lawyer.” (Who knew bed bugs had lawyers?) But there doesn’t seem to be a lawsuit filed–yet. (An account by KLAS-TV in Las Vegas says the hotel eventually comped the room.) According to news accounts, the hotel hasn’t had much to say.

Still, to my mind, this is just another example of how stuff that isn’t all that unusual but which happens in Las Vegas gets insane attention elsewhere only because it happens in a place with Sin City as its unofficial nickname. I have written before about this phenomenon of the wrath of editors mirroring (or second-guessing) the wrath of God. According to studies I consulted, more than 1 million persons a year get stung by scorpions worldwide, while only 3,000 deaths are reported. You’re far more likely to die from the flu. All this hubbub about one non-fatal scorpion sting in Vegas, even if in a sensitive spot of the anatomy? Continue reading

Faux cop charity soliciting donations in Las Vegas flouts IRS, Nevada regulators

faux cop charityA highly dubious organization operating in violation of both state and now federal law is soliciting cash donations around Las Vegas in the name of–wait for this–law enforcement. Can it get any richer than that?

In the past month alone I’ve received a number of telephone calls at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters seeking a donation for either Police Officers Support Committee PAC or National Police Officers Alliance PAC. There’s no material legal difference. They both are names used by something called POSC PAC, ostensibly based in Woodbridge, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C. The callers say donations will be used to benefit law enforcement.

faux cop charityPOSC PAC, the reporting parent, was founded only in January 2023. Since then, it has solicited in Nevada (and presumably nationally) under its “brands.” But in Nevada it has done so without first registering and making filings as mandated by a 2021 Nevada law. Perhaps POSC PAC sensed (correctly, in my view) that the Silver State is not big on consumer protection.

I know about the calls during 2023 because I received some of them, and contemporaneously wrote them up (here and here). I flat out called POSC PAC yet another “faux charity.” That’s a political action committee (the PAC part) that sounds like a charity when making the pitch, but isn’t. Rather, it spends almost all the donations received on fundraising and other overhead and almost nothing on the stated mission of somehow advocating for law enforcement. Organizers often received undisclosed fees. It’s a swarmy racket.

A faux charity is not required to disclose its terrible financial efficiencies when cold-calling someone on the phone, usually using soundboard technology, a human voice controlled by a computer and a supervising operator who responds by choosing pre-recorded answers. When asked by a sucker would-be donor how donations are spent, the answer is often to consult an organizational website or check official periodic filings with government regulators.

Except that POSC PAC has no periodic filings to check!

The organization apparently missed the deadline for publicly reporting to the Internal Revenue Service all of its individual receipts and expenditures during 2023. The report, called a Form 8872 and required to be filed electronically, was due by January 31. “There is no delay in when the form is filed and when it is available” on the IRS website, an agency spokesperson told me. Continue reading

Worthy Las Vegas fallen-cop charity boosts transparency, showing better financial efficiency

Las Vegas fallen-cop charityInjured Police Officers Fund, the legitimate Las Vegas-based charity that funnels financial aid to families of fallen cops in southern Nevada, has taken a major step toward transparency and accountability. In its latest public IRS tax return filing, IPOF revealed for the first time the total amount of contributions received on condition the money quickly went to specifically designated officers. As it turns out, that amount dwarfed the total sum listed as being distributed out of general contributions.

The fuller picture had the beneficial impact of significantly improving a key measure of financial efficiency for IPOF, a potential draw for future donors. Moreover, the new data will help distinguish IPOF from the many illegitimate law enforcement-themed organizations that fraudulently–fraudulently, I say!–seek funds from the Nevada public (and elsewhere). Here in Las Vegas, at least, these outfits have been greatly aided by regulators who don’t enforce disclosure and other laws already on the books.

IPOF’s revelation came after several years of hectoring by me from the New To Las Vegas world headquarters about the charity’s seemingly poor financial efficiency in one important measure and a general lack of transparency. IPOF previously had pleaded individual officer privacy in not revealing the total amount of designated contributions or distributions (the numbers are the same). To me–a national journalist who has been writing about charities, their filings and financial efficiencies for decades–a specific section on the IRS tax return mandated disclosure of this very information. I perceived that the donating public was not seeing the entire picture.

Besides posting here about these issues concerning IPOF, I first pressed these matters more than two years in an interview with Chelsea Stuenkel, IPOF’s then-new president and an officer (sergeant then, lieutenant now) with the Nevada Department of Public Safety. It took a little while, but, as she recently wrote me, “We have in fact changed the way we are reporting specific donations this year after our discussion.” Continue reading

My day in stunning Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas during Super Bowl LVIII

Valley of Fire State Park

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, taken by the author on Sunday, February 11

While the eyes of the U.S. were obsessively focused on Sunday upon a certain football game (and pop singer) in Las Vegas, I chose a different course. The dog and I drove 50 miles north to Valley of Fire State Park. The 70-square-mile preserve sports breathtaking scenery and, just as significantly thanks to surrounding mountains, no cell phone service and an eerie quiet broken only by wind gusts and the occasional call of a bird.

Blessed by a sunny day with temperatures in the mid-50s, we wandered around dramatically bright red Aztec sandstone, sand dunes, limestone formations and other outcroppings in a variety of shapes and sizes, all crammed into a space just 10 miles across. Some features are as much as 150 million years old, formed by the upheavals of Mother Earth, the inundation and receding of flood waters and the weathering of time. There were enough arches and fallen arches to interest any podiatrist. Valley of Fire provides much food for thought about where this planet is headed.

The park also provided a refuge of sorts. My personal reasons for completely avoiding Super Bowl LVIII were philosophical. It was my continuing (and admittedly inconsequential) protest of the terrible record of the National Football League in protecting the long-term health of the players who have helped make all but two of the NFL’s 32 principal owners billionaires. Coupled with Nevada’s own lousy record in health care and the proximity of the game just seven miles from the New To Las Vegas world headquarters, it was imperative I get out of town for the day. (Read my fuller objections by clicking here.)

The contrast between the naturalness of Valley of Fire and the artificial glitz of Las Vegas, with a pyramid-shaped hotel and cheesy scaled-down replicas of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower, is startling. Valley of Fire is the real deal. Continue reading

Super Bowl LVIII sponsor NFL and Las Vegas share big health care woes

Las Vegas health careNow that Super Bowl LVIII is upon us here in Las Vegas, it’s time to rehash an issue I’ve harped upon. In my view the country’s most popular sporting event and the country’s most popular entertainment town are a perfect fit for this shocking reason: Both offer shameful healthcare to their constituencies, and have for a long time.

Allow me to explain. Since much of this material is drawn from a post early last year, forgive me for sounding like a broken record. But maybe I’m just spoiled. Before becoming New To Las Vegas, I lived around places with terrific health care like Seattle, Los Angeles, Houston and New York. Continue reading

This week in Nevada: Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas, centennial of world’s first gas-chamber execution

first gas-chamber execution

Gee Jon (courtesy Nevada Historical Society) Quarterly)

Most of the U.S. and even much of the world will be fixated this weekend on Las Vegas when Super Bowl LVIII (58 for those not fluent in Roman) is played in Allegiant Stadium between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers. It will be a first for Nevada, which until not too long ago was on the National Football League’s boycott list for moral reasons due to legalized sports betting in the state. Then team owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell realized widespread gambling would greatly increased the value of their franchises and decided they could live with some immorality.

As it happens, this first for Nevada coincides with the 100th anniversary of another big Nevada first raising questions of morality. For it was on February 8, 1924–a century ago tomorrow–that Nevada carried out the world’s very first capital punishment execution by lethal gas. Touted at the time as a humane alternative to electrocution, hanging, firing squad, guillotining, stoning, burning at the stake or whatever, the execution of Gee Jon didn’t go well. A huge story at the time, the botched process brought ridicule and contempt to the Silver State and helped trigger wide debate for decades about how to properly carry out capital punishment.

Gas chambers, in Nevada and some other U.S. jurisdictions, eventual gave way to lethal injections–until some executioners started having problems legally getting the drugs necessary to carry out death sentences. Earlier this month, Alabama carried out the first execution in years using gas, in this case pure nitrogen, depriving condemned killer Kenneth Smith of oxygen and thus life. Witnesses were split on whether it prevented undue suffering to the condemned. Some states are even authorizing firing squads again.

And, amazingly, a still-undecided case that was argued nearly a year ago before the Nevada Supreme Court–the very same panel that greenlighted a different kind of gas a century ago–concerns whether Nevada, which has more than 60 persons on Death Row, can carry out an execution using yet another untested procedure used nowhere else in the world. In this case it would be lethal injection, but employing a mixture of chemicals never before used but which are easier to get. Nevada hasn’t executed anyone since 2006. In December 2022, a court on procedural grounds blocked lame duck Democratic governor Steve Sisolak’s effort to commute all death sentences to life without the possibility of parole.

There are lessons to be learned here, especially whether a thinly populated desert state devoted to minimal government can pull off such a feat. Much of the following account repurposes material previously posted from time to time on this blog since I became New To Las Vegas. Continue reading

Near Super Bowl LVIII, a posted sign shows why Las Vegas is, uh, different

Sign, Nevada State Recycle, Las Vegas

Here’s more evidence that Las Vegas, host in less than two weeks to Super Bowl LVII, is, uh, different than other places. A sign posted prominently by the front door of Nevada State Recycle, one of Las Vegas’s leading recyclers of electronic and other items, lists material that won’t be accepted. The roster starts out rather unsurprisingly–asbestos, raw sewage, contaminated soil, radioactive waste, septic tank pumpings, etc.

Then–almost as an afterthought–there is the final entry at the bottom of what Nevada State Recycle won’t take, in red print, no less:

“Stolen items.”

Yes, in Las Vegas, folks have to be told they can’t get just ditch purloined property–maybe to get rid of the evidence–by handing it to a business establishment that doesn’t pay for donations. You can see the sign in the nearby photo. Continue reading

New history of American Mafia deals a little with Las Vegas

Las Vegas MafiaThe one-liner is in terrible taste, but absolutely too funny to ignore. It’s found in the newly published Borgata, Rise of Empire: A History of the American Mafia (Volume 1), by Louis Ferrante, an ex-Mafioso himself. He describes the 1947 assassination of Las Vegas mobster Benjamin (Bugsy) Siegel, shot from a rifle nine times in the head at point-blank range while reading a newspaper in the living room of his girl friend’s Beverly Hills home.

“With Siegel’s blood and brains all over the newspaper,” Ferrante cracks, “it can be said that the Los Angeles Times got the story first.”

The line comes in “The Desert King Dethroned,” one of two chapters dealing with the rise (and fall) of Siegel as Las Vegas’ most famous resident mobster, despite the fact he lived in Sin City barely a year before his violent exit. But that’s largely it in the book for any history of the Mob and Sin City. Borgata volume 1 ends with the Mob being chased out of Havana after Castro came to power in 1959. This move is widely credited with focusing organized crime on Las Vegas, where gambling already at least was legal and mobsters could skim off winnings, uh, tax-free. I suppose we’ll have to wait for volumes 2 or 3, which Ferrante implies in his text already have been written. (Borgata, by the way, means mafia family, and Ferrante counts 26 of them across the U.S.). Continue reading

Ho, ho, ho! Faux charity with no track record is back illegally ringing a bell in Las Vegas

faux charity’tis the holiday season, when folks are in a generous mode and perhaps have let down their guard. I’m here to warn you about a wolf in charity clothing–“Ray Wolfe,” to be specific.

That’s the new name of the computer-generated voice using soundboard technology that recently cold-called the New To Las Vegas world headquarters. “Wolfe”–I use quotes because there was no such person–wanted me to contribute to something called Police Officers Support Committee PAC, part of another something called POSC PAC. With a sense of urgency, “Wolfe” made an extremely quick general spiel about the urgent need to support law enforcement followed by an extremely quick ask for a donation.

I paused. “What will you use the money for?” I asked.

“Okay,” “Wolfe” said. “Goodbye.” Click.

Totally on the up-and-up, of course. Continue reading

Las Vegas predictions for 2024

Las Vegas predictionsPublished last December, my Las Vegas predictions for 2023 were mainly meant to be satirical. Yet they managed to stumble upon a few grains of truth.

From the New To Las Vegas world headquarters, I divined that Cisco Aguilar, then the newly elected Nevada Secretary of State, would continue the policy of not enforcing a new state law requiring many telemarketers soliciting funds within Nevada for dubious causes to first register their cause with the state. During the year his office admitted this was true.

My prediction that the paid print circulation of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, then 45,383 and upwards of 215,000 as recently as 2015, would fall below 40,000 despite a sharp increase in the local population, proved to be spot on. The count dropped to 39,833.

I opined that Nevada’s unemployment rate would remain well above the national average. And it has. The national average right now is 3.7%. Nevada is 5.4%, or 46% higher. In fact, the Silver State has the highest state rate in the country.

Most of the other predictions bombed spectacularly: that Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara would be fired and rehired yet again, Elon Musk would ban the words “Las Vegas” from what used to be called Twitter, the world-famous “Body in a Barrel” case on Lake Mead would be solved as a non-Mob crime (still no identification).

So with this mixed record, here are my predictions for 2024.They’re still mainly intended to be satirical. Continue reading