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.
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.