WASHINGTON, DC–Characterizing its financial woes as "nothing too serious, just the kind of setback everybody has now and then," the Nevada Gaming Commission lobbied Congress Tuesday for $20 million in federal subsidies that the group swears to pay back Friday.
Gaming commission chairman Freddy Loquasto, appearing somewhat agitated and sweaty, assured House Appropriations Committee members that his group "[has] got a line on some hot new 'Arabian Nights' dollar slots that turn an incredible profit. Only we have to buy them right now, and the till is empty. But the payouts on these babies are so stingy, we can pretty much pay back what you lend us immediately."
Added Loquasto, "Seriously, guys, we'll pay you right back. And I mean, like, double."
As a show of good faith, Loquasto offered Congress his wristwatch, which, though worth far less than the requested $20 million, is "a genuine Rolodex."
"This is a very fine, very expensive piece of jewelry," said Loquasto, holding up the watch to legislators. "I would not risk losing a one-of-a-kind item like this to welch on a loan. The only reason I'm using this watch as collateral is because I'm that sure I'll pay the loan back in full."
"Gentlemen, I don't want to waste your valuable time with a bunch of sob stories that would only bore you," Loquasto continued. "The point is, it is very urgent that we receive this money right away."
House Appropriations Committee chairman C.W. Bill Young (R-FL) is skeptical about Loquasto's trustworthiness. "I like the Nevada Gaming Commission, and, of course, I feel for them at this difficult time," Young said. "But I wonder if another subsidy is going to help them learn at all. I mean, the last time we allocated funding to them, they turned right around and spent it all on liquor licenses."
Fellow committee member Frank Wolf (R-VA) expressed similar reservations. "The Nevada Gaming Commission has a history of poor money management," he said. "In 1998, it burned through its entire annual budget in a single weekend. To make matters worse, it had trouble explaining exactly what the money was spent on, giving evasive answers like, 'We bought a bunch of baccarat tables and some other stuff.'"
Wolf also cited a May incident in which the commission, temporarily placed in charge of $4.3 million earmarked for Nevada's school-lunch program, immediately squandered the funds on shuttlebuses for the new Aladdin Resort & Casino. When asked about it, Loquasto insisted that he "had a hunch" about the investment.
"It's always the same thing with those guys," Wolf said. "Every time they get a little money in their pockets, they blow it trying to make more."
Former commission member Don Friesz tells of an addiction bordering on illness. "The Nevada Gaming Commission is only happy when it's investing funds in the expansion and promotion of the gambling industry," said Friesz, now president of the Carson City Chamber of Commerce. "It used to be perfectly content just regulating the gaming industry–issuing permits, regulating casinos, mediating labor disputes–but before long, it wasn't a big enough thrill for them. They had to start putting their own money on the line."
Despite such criticism, Loquasto insisted to legislators that the Nevada Gaming Commission has never allocated funds inappropriately.
"Contrary to what some people would have you believe, we only spend our money on things that are necessary to the overall health and success of Nevada's gaming industry," Loquasto said. "So, come on, House Appropriations Committee, help us out here: Baby needs a new pair of giant golden sphinxes."