Casino food case leaves state looking for options

Nevada's governor and attorney general are weighing legal options, including a rehearing bid, to soften the impact of a Nevada Supreme Court ruling that could push the state's $900 million tax revenue shortfall closer to $1 billion.

Gov. Jim Gibbons' chief legal counsel, Josh Hicks, is talking with lawyers working for Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto "to make sure that we have every option on the table," Gibbons spokesman Ben Kieckhefer said Wednesday.

The obvious move is a request that the high court take another look at its ruling that food provided for free by businesses to customers or employees isn't taxable. The ruling favored John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks, but similar claims have been filed by many major hotel-casinos.

Nicole Moon, spokeswoman for Cortez Masto, said the attorney general "hopes to make a determination shortly" on whether to petition the court to reconsider its 6-1 ruling, issued last week.

"Whether it's a request for a rehearing or whether we should accept the decision and move forward, all those things need to be considered and scoped out before a decision is made on how to proceed," Kieckhefer said.

State Taxation Director Dino DiCianno said Wednesday he has not yet completed a list of businesses besides the Nugget that have filed claims for refunds of taxes paid on "comped" food, and the dollar value of those claims.

Once that amount is calculated, it will be added to the latest $900 million revenue shortfall estimate. DiCianno on Tuesday said it's possible that existing claims and any new ones could approach $100 million but he's not going to venture a guess until his list of claimants is complete.

John Bartlett, the attorney who represented the Nugget in the tax case, said Tuesday he also represents many other resorts with claims on file with the Taxation Department, and is aware of similar claims being handled by other lawyers.

Bartlett also said that as far as the Nugget is concerned, "we're willing to sit down and talk about how best to handle this" so that the state isn't harmed even more during the current economic downturn that has led to the huge shortfall projections.

Bartlett added that options for refunds could include deferrals or tax credits for any of the businesses with refund claims. That would enable the state to could avoid immediate payments.


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