High Roller Pretty Much Lied About FAA Objections to Dimming Lights During Tarkanian Tribute

Right up front, we’ll say two things. We were against the dimming of lights on The Strip to honor basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian. (Given the short list of luminaries for whom this honor was previously bestowed, a basketball coach doesn’t make the cut.) Also, we used to work at Caesars Entertainment, the company that owns the High Roller Ferris wheel.

That said, just about everybody on the Las Vegas Strip and downtown played along when there was a groundswell of support (at least among UNLV students and alum) for dimming the lights on The Strip when Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian died on Feb. 11, 2015. Almost everybody.

Watching video of the Strip going dark on Feb. 18, there was one prominent structure that remained fully lit during the Tarkanian tribute. It was the High Roller Ferris wheel. The world’s tallest observation wheel was fully lit and bright red. Watch.

Dimming lights on such occasions is voluntary, of course. So, why is it a big deal that High Roller officials decided to leave the wheel lit? Because when questioned about it, a High Roller representative said, “FAA regulations prevented the High Roller from going dark last night. In lieu of that, we opted to shine Rebel Red to honor the late great coach.”

This is, to put it poetically, utter horseshit.

High Roller wheel

The alleged horseshit.

For months, while the wheel was being built, and before its full lighting array was installed, the structure used what are known as “obstruction” lights to satisfy FAA recommendations. Those are the little red lights you see on buildings and towers.

On the night of the Jerry Tarkanian tribute, High Roller officials could’ve used those lights and dimmed the rest of the wheel. Instead, a conscious decision was made to leave the lights on, creating a rare situation where the wheel would be the most eye-catching part of the Strip for the duration of the widely-reported tribute.

When we inquired with the FAA, the Public Affairs Manager of the FAA’s Pacific Division confirmed what we suspected, “We are not aware of any formal FAA objection to this proposed dimming.”

He went on to explain that while the FAA has marking and lighting recommendations for tall structures, they’re just that–recommendations. The FAA “can object to a proposal to turn off lights or to not light something, but the FAA does not have the authority to enforce lighting or marking requirements.”

So, yeah, had the High Roller wanted to fully take part in the Jerry Tarkanian tribute, it could have dimmed the lights.

To do that, though, according to a High Roller rep, the wheel would have to be “parked,” and no passengers would be allowed on the wheel during the time the wheel was dark. That’s a costly proposition, and in that light, it’s more understandable why the High Roller made the decision it did. While the small “beacon” lights meet the FAA’s lighting guidelines, they won’t suffice when the wheel has passengers.

But let’s be clear: The FAA didn’t stop the High Roller from dimming during the Jerry Tarkanian tribute. It was a business decision.

So, is “lie” the right word? Maybe not. We just can’t think of a better one. We attended a public school.

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  • AccessVegas

    Tark absolutely deserved the honor. Just like Oscar Goodman will when his time comes. He’s Vegas royalty to the point of legend. Tark WAS Las Vegas in the 80’s and 90’s. Even Siniatra paid a visit to a couple of recruits for him. If you weren’t here 25 years ago, do your homework.

    • Meh. A simple look at the history of who the Strip’s been dimmed for makes it clear it’s not intended to be for local celebrities. It doesn’t diminish the accomplishments of coach Tarkanian. Tarkanian is like the people honored at the Governors Awards dinner rather than on the Oscar telecast.

      • LOL… what?? For Vegas Locals (the people who build, work in, manage, and sometimes own those Strip casinos) Tark is a Legend. No way we weren’t going to honor him in a BIG way. I think you greatly underestimate what he means to this community and sports fans worldwide.

    • Well put @AccessVegas! Tark is and always will be a King in Vegas and deserves all the honors we can provide.

  • andybflo

    Scott; as a private pilot, you’re discussion points are right and wrong…

    If a vertical obstruction is in a flight path, or somewhere in the landing pattern, and it’s outside of “standard” terrain (like a giant tower in the middle of nowhere, or a wheel significantly taller that surrounding buildings) the lighting guidelines are outlined in FAR 47-17.
    Beyond that, here’s where it gets sticky. If an obstruction is lit and marked as so on an aviation sectional (as it would be), if you turn it off, you get sticky. Even if you change the type of illumination from the perimeter illumination that you have, to just flashing strobes on top, you have to notify the FAA and release a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) regarding the change, type, and duration.

    If I’m not mistaken, runways 1/19 are roughly parallel to the strip, and the wheel’s on approach. Even if they BS’d, and even if Tark deserved the honor (and he does), the prudent thing is/was to avoid the BS and red tape of issuing a temporary NOTAM on darkening the wheel on approach.

    They BS’d, but.. They didn’t (probably) want to do the paperwork to darken a vertical obstruction. Don’t blame them.
    Though I do blame them for the way they’ve maintained the Flaming-o and the Rio…

    • Thanks so much for the insights! While I appreciate learning more about the details, ultimately, it was a misrepresentation to say FAA regulations mandated the wheel remain lit. Again, thanks so much for taking the time to share–you clearly know your stuff.

  • Brosius Eckstein

    Come on let’s be honest, it’s not like its a former president of the United States. Who could honestly be offended or find it disrespectful that A.) they didn’t dim the lights, and B.) they fibbed about it. Who cares!

    • FYMYAWF

      Not trying to answer for Scott but I think the point being made is the rest of the strip made the effort to pay a last tribute to a big (at least home-town) personality and Caesars, or at least the managers of the HR couldn’t be bothered to join it (at best) and then lied about the reasons for it (at worst).

      No, it’s not a ground-shaking scandal but it does bespeak a bit of underlying sleaziness, if nothing else.

      • Thanks. Yeah, don’t care much about the tribute, but care a lot about companies treating people like they’re idiots.

    • Less offended by the act than the misrepresentation of it. My tolerance for B.S. is at an all-time low.