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A little horse sense, please

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After spending millions to create a world-class wild mustang eco-sanctuary in Northern Nevada, philanthropist Madeleine Pickens finds herself at odds with the very people she’s trying to help. In all likelihood, some of the best-known wild horse advocates in the country — many of whom are meeting in Las Vegas this week — will end up filing a lawsuit to stop Pickens’ plan from moving forward.

It’s a complicated legal mess, but in a nutshell, it looks like those crafty dealmakers at BLM are stirring the pot. They’ve been spreading half-truths about some conditions they have supposedly imposed on Pickens if she wants to get the green light for her plan to take 1,000 or more horses out of government pens and put them onto a gigantic ranch property she purchased near Elko. Pickens needs the BLM’s permission to use an adjacent 580,000 acres to supplement her sanctuary. Those tricksters at BLM have been telling other horse advocates that Pickens will have to wipe out three existing herd-management areas in order to move forward with her sanctuary, and the advocates have been screeching like banshees, holding their wrists to their foreheads and threatening to go to court. The advocates believe that if Pickens wants to rescue a few thousand horses from government corrals and create a model for other public-private sanctuaries, she will sacrifice 1,200 or so wild mustangs living near her property.

The fact is, Pickens has agreed to no such deal and will fight tooth and nail against it. There is no love lost between Pickens and some wild-horse advocates, for reasons that can’t be explained in a few sentences. Suffice to say, this devious pot-stirring by BLM, which is certainly no friend to the mustangs, has managed to pit dedicated horse advocates against the one person who’s done more to help the horses than anyone in the country.

BLM strategists must be chortling. If horse advocates go to court to stop Pickens, BLM will have given a gut shot to several of its favorite targets all at once. Hopefully, the mustang advocates meeting in Las Vegas this week can put aside some of the overwrought emotion and join forces against the common adversary — the one entity that has removed horses from more than 10 million acres set aside by law for the mustangs, and which continues to wipe out herd areas in Nevada.


My friend and fellow scribe Norm Clarke, who’s been writing this week about the surprising engagement of billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, has been less forthcoming about his own nuptial plans. The eye-patched columnist somehow managed to convince Cara Hansen Roberts (aka The Leggy Blonde) to marry him. And the two are not wasting any time. The ceremony is planned for October. Congrats to both. … The venerable Peppermill Restaurant and Lounge on the Strip just celebrated its 40th anniversary. It is a testament to the place that many employees have worked there for more than three decades, according to manager Peggy Orth. I can’t imagine how many affairs or illicit trysts were sparked by the romantic glow of the fire pit in the lounge. … Of all the interviews I never bagged, this one counts among the biggest: Longtime Riviera entertainment director Tony Zoppi, who died in Dallas two weeks ago. Zoppi was a major figure in the local entertainment scene during his 22 years at the Riv, where he hobnobbed with Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ann-Margaret and other giants. But he also knew more than his share of less-savory characters, including one of his closest friends, a Dallas nightclub owner named Jack Ruby. (Ruby was standing in Zoppi’s office at the moment John Kennedy was assassinated). Zoppi not only knew and worked with major mob figures, but he also worked for a time for Lyndon Johnson, which is why many JFK assassination researchers think Zoppi could have revealed plenty about a larger conspiracy had he chosen to spill what he knew. … This might qualify as adding insult to injury. District Judge Betsy Gonzalez, fed up with delays and gamesmanship on the part of attorneys for billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson and his Las Vegas Sands Corp., slapped the Sands with a $25,000 fine. Some might argue that’s chump change for the wealthy Adelson. But Judge Gonzalez added a special touch. She ordered the Sands to pay the 25 grand to the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, which is headed up by former Nevada Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley. If there is one person in public life who epitomizes everything that Adelson despises, it has to be Buckley, who championed transparency in government during her political career, and devoted much of her life working on behalf of the poor, labor unions, public education and “the 99 percent.” Maybe the amount of the fine didn’t sting, but paying it to Buckley’s excellent nonprofit has gotta hurt. … Someone is offering to sell the wedding album of Tony and Nancy Spilotro. The fearsome Las Vegas racket boss was murdered in 1986, but his name is still well-known here, in part because of Casino, both the book and the movie. The unidentified seller thinks the album is worth $5,000 on eBay. Any takers? … UNLV’s football team might be 0-3, but the squad showed last weekend against Washington State that it is not a team of quitters, battling back from a deep deficit to make a game of it. If you haven’t been to a home game in awhile, it’s a good time to buy a ticket. … The Imperial Palace will transform into The Quad, says Caesars Entertainment, which plans to complete the conversion by Dec. 21. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t that the date the Mayan calendar runs out and the Earth will burn down to a crispy cinder? A good day to party, no question, as long as revelers start early.

GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8. Rreach him at