Berkley’s Ethics File: The Daiquiri Concession

Prior to running for Congress, Shelley Berkley was an attorney in Las Vegas working for Sheldon Adelson at The Sands.  Berkley advised Adelson to do favors for at least two Clark County officials so they would vote in favor of a construction project.  According to Adelson, at a meeting with County Commissioner Yvonne Atkinson-Gates, which Berkley arranged, Atkinson-Gates demanded he allow her to open one of her daiquiri stands in his new hotel.  Berkley told Adelson if he didn’t give in to her demand she would vote against the project, but Adelson refused to do business with an elected official. Subsequently, Atkinson-Gates voted against the project.  Atkinson-Gates denied the demand, but was later investigated for using her position to promote her daiquiri business.

 In a tape recording, Berkley can be heard saying she urged Adelson to do favors to win the support of elected officials.  Berkley defended herself by saying she was just explaining to Adelson the realities of doing business in Las Vegas.  Even if Berkley didn’t commit a crime herself, she sure felt comfortable being in the same room.  Adelson fired Berkley soon after, but she wasn’t unemployed long.  Berkley went to Washington and is once again at the center of an ethics investigation.


Berkley Was Adelson’s Vice President Of Government And Legal Affairs.  “Berkley’s legal advice about the way to win the commissioners over and the need for campaign contributions was an important part of Adelson’s decision to fire her as the vice president of government and legal affairs, Weidner said.” (Jean Ann Morrison, “Berkley Ripped For Advocating Favors,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 6/5/98)


As A County Commissioner Yvonne Atkinson-Gates Was In Charge Of Approving Permits And Licenses For All The Major Hotels, Casinos, And Resorts In Las Vegas. “MGM Grand Inc. Chairman J. Terrence Lanni; Primadonna Resorts Inc. Chairman Gary Primm; Circus-Circus Development Corp. Senior Vice President Mike Sloan; former New York-New York Vice President of Administration Lou Silvestri; and Las Vegas Sands Inc. Chairman Sheldon Adelson, developer of the Venetian.  As a county commissioner, Atkinson Gates is responsible for zoning and other licensing decisions pertaining to those resorts. The ethics board plans to question executives about whether she approached them seeking leases or used her position in county government to gain a business advantage.” (Susan Greene, “Panel Calls Execs,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 1/10/98)


“Berkley, A Former Counsel For The Sands Hotels, Told Sheldon Adelson, The Chairman Of Las Vegas Sands Inc., In 1996 To Give…Another Commissioner A Daiquiri Concession If He Wanted [Her] Support For A Hotel Project.” (“Nevada Berkley Dogged By Advice To Casino Exec,” Roll Call, 6/11/98)


In A 1997 Tape Recording Berkley Can Be Heard Saying She Encouraged Adelson To Do Favors For Two Clark Commissioners To Get Their Votes.  “In a May 1997 tape recording, Berkley told an unidentified person that she urged Las Vegas Sands Inc. Chairman Sheldon Adelson to offer Clark County Commissioner Erin Kenny’s uncle a job and give Commissioner Yvonne Atkinson Gates a daiquiri concession to win their support for The Venetian hotel. Berkley, who was fired by Adelson, confirmed the conversation last month.” (Tony Batt, “Berkley’s Political Fund Raising Not Hindered By Disclosures,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 7/15/98)


Berkley Arranged A Meeting Between The Two, But Adelson Refused To Do Business With An Elected Official. “Accompanied by two attorneys and two bodyguards, Adelson testified that Atkinson Gates approached him about a possible lease in his forthcoming Venetian during a 1996 fund-raiser. His former lobbyist, Regent Shelley Berkley, had arranged the conversation.  Adelson said he had another talk about a daiquiri lease during a meeting with Atkinson Gates and Berkley in the old Sands coffee shop later in 1996.  ‘It was very clear that she said she wanted this,’ he said of the county chairwoman. He rejected the idea, he said, because he doesn’t do business with elected officials and didn’t want to ‘subject myself to something that might be considered an attempt at bribery.’” (Susan Greene, “Gates Says She Only Sought Friendly Advice,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 1/23/98)


However, Sheldon Adelson (Berkley’s Boss) Said It Was More Of A “Demand” Rather Than Advice. “Four said they weren’t intimidated by her solicitations, but Las Vegas Sands Inc. Chairman Sheldon Adelson said he was shocked when she sought a shop lease in his Venetian resort, currently under construction. He described her approach as ‘flexing her muscles.’  ‘To me that was a demand,’ he testified. ‘I think it was an abuse of her power.’” (Susan Greene, “Gates Says She Only Sought Friendly Advice,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 1/23/98)


Berkley Made It Clear To Adelson That He Needed To Help Atkinson-Gates To Receive Her Support. “[Adelson] said Berkley lobbied for the business on behalf of Atkinson Gates, her friend and fellow Democrat.  ‘Usually you have to go to a lot of effort to shut her up,’ he said of Berkley, who is running for Rep. John Ensign’s congressional seat.  And he added, ‘Shelley made it very clear that by not doing these things for the commissioners, that they would never vote for us.’” (Susan Greene, “Gates Says She Only Sought Friendly Advice,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 1/23/98)


  • Adelson Concluded His Refusal Was The Reason Atkinson-Gates Voted Against The Venetian Project. “Adelson said he believed Atkinson Gates voted against his Venetian project last fall in retaliation for his refusal to grant her a lease.” (Susan Greene, “Gates Says She Only Sought Friendly Advice,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 1/23/98)


Atkinson-Gates Was Investigated For Using Her Position To Promote Her Daiquiri Business.  “The state Ethics Commission is subpoenaing a dozen witnesses – including a congressional candidate and several hotel executives—to testify about whether Yvonne Atkinson Gates used her position as Clark County chairwoman to snag leases for her frozen daiquiri business.” (Susan Greene, “Panel Calls Execs,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 1/10/98)


  • Multiple Hotel Executives And A Mall Operator Testified That Atkinson-Gates Solicited Leases For Her Business. “Clark County Commission Chairwoman Yvonne Atkinson Gates claimed during her ethics hearing Thursday that she approached friends and business people seeking only advice about her frozen daiquiri company.  But four resort executives and one mall operator testified under oath that she personally solicited leases for her venture.” (Susan Greene, “Gates Says She Only Sought Friendly Advice,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 1/23/98)


Berkley Told Adelson They Would Have Gotten Her Vote If Adelson He Had Let Atkinson-Gate Open Her Daiquiri Concession.  “Berkley urged Adelson to give Commissioner Kenny’s uncle a job and to give Commissioner Atkinson-Gates a daiquiri concession in order to win their support for The Venetian, which would need county approval. ‘That’s how you could have gotten Erin because she would have been very, very grateful,’ she said in May 1997, a few days after Adelson fired her.” (Jane Ann Morrison, “Berkley’s 1996 Advice To Adelson May Haunt Campaign,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 4/16/11)


Berkley Defended Herself, Saying She Was Explaining The Realities Of Las Vegas Business. “A tape recording emerged that featured Berkley talking about giving Adelson political advice. If he wanted his hotel project approved, she told him, he should do favors for commissioners, like giving jobs to their relatives. In company memos, she urged him to contribute to judges’ campaigns in exchange for favors.  Berkley defended herself, saying she was just explaining the realities of doing business in Las Vegas and didn’t condone the way the system works.” (Molly Ball, “Calls Target Berkley, And She’s Pretty Sure Who’s Responsible,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 6/8/08)


Berkley Is Under Review By The House Ethics Committee.  “Berkley, a Democrat who represents Nevada’s 1st U.S. House District, is under review by the House Ethics Committee with the potential for a full-scale investigation.  In a nutshell, Berkley’s ethics have come under question because of a New York Times story that reported that Berkley might have used her position as a congresswoman to push health care legislation that helped the medical practice of her husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner.” (Ray Hagar, “Berkley’s Ethics Inquiry Hobbles U.S. Senate Race,” Reno Gazette Journal, 4/15/12)