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F1 exec Fretwell ‘odd choice’ to chair Vegas Chamber, say some business owners

(Credit: Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images for Heineken)

Dana Gentry, Nevada Current
March 4, 2024

When Las Vegas Grand Prix chief operating officer Betsy Fretwell took the reins this week of the Vegas Chamber Board of Trustees, she pledged to work to maximize the economic impact of big sporting events for small businesses, according to news reports. But business owners who blame the race for a months-long disruption to their establishments hold Fretwell’s employer, Formula 1, responsible. 

“Being a member of the Chamber for decades, like all of us are, I was a little confused about why they didn’t step up and help us while we’re going against F1,” Randy Markin, owner of Battista’s Hole in the Wall and the Stage Door Casino said during an interview. “I guess we know now. On the back door, they’re working with F1 and they put Betsy in there. It seems to me an odd choice to put in the COO of a company that has destroyed so many small businesses here in Southern Nevada.”

Markin says he doesn’t believe anyone intended to harm small businesses by approving a race on the Las Vegas Strip. “But it went south real fast.”

 Betsy Fretwell (Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance board picture)

“Betsy was tapped for this role before she took the F1 job,” Vegas Chamber communications executive Cara Clarke said via email, adding there’s been no friction among members regarding Fretwell’s position. Clarke says Las Vegas Grand Prix has been a member of the Chamber for “well over a year.”  

Fretwell is a former manager of the City of Las Vegas. She served as the chair of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, and worked for Switch, a data company based in Las Vegas. 

“What is she doing in the Chamber?” longtime restaurateur Gino Ferraro says of Fretwell.  “Formula 1 destroyed the city for nine months.” 

Ferraro blames local officials for allowing F1 to disrupt traffic for so long. He says he’s discussed the losses incurred by small businesses with LV Grand Prix CEO Renee Wilm, who is Fretwell’s boss. “She asked me ‘what do you want us to do?’ I said ‘move the track somewhere else because you are ruining the city.’”

Fretwell and the LV Grand Prix did not respond to requests for comment. 

“Liberty Media (which owns F1) is the biggest media company there is,” says Markin. “And they just don’t care.” 

F1 holds races in a variety of metropolitan areas. Government officials in Singapore are reviewing their agreement with F1 amid corruption charges filed against a former government official, according to Barron’s.  The Singapore Tourism Board has been instructed to audit terms of the 2022 race, the story says.

The Vegas Chamber bills itself as a resource for companies of all sizes, but the majority of its members are small business owners. 

“The Vegas Chamber is a fine organization that represents the interests of small businesses and  their chairwoman is the COO of a company that’s based in Englewood, Colorado that’s worth $17 billion. They’re not a small business,” says public relations consultant Lisa Mayo De Riso, who is leading the charge to establish a fund to compensate businesses for losses incurred as a result of the race. “You wouldn’t believe how many people have contacted me asking how they can be part of a class action lawsuit.”

Mayo De Riso maintains she has heard from members who are dropping out of the Chamber. 

Markin says he hasn’t canceled his membership. Yet. 

“We’ll decide next week when we meet with the lawyers,” he says, referring to plans to evaluate legal options in light of Formula 1’s refusal thus far to make the businesses whole. “We showed them figures of the money we lost. We’re not trying to make money. We’re just asking them to  cover what we lost.”

Mayo de Riso estimates establishments she represents lost $23 million in revenue as a result of Grand Prix-induced traffic disruptions, including a massive bridge on Flamingo from Koval to the Las Vegas Strip. The structure caused customers to bypass area businesses in its shadow. It’s slated to be erected again for this year’s race. 

“Normally it takes 20 seconds to get to the Strip when I leave Battista’s,” Markin says. “I went six, eight months, where it took me 45 minutes to an hour to go that distance. So nobody came here.” 

Markin says business owners, for the most part, “are all okay” financially. “We’ve got to get the tip money back in our employees hands. I’ve got 180 employees, and they lost a fortune. You can’t do that to people.” 

Markin says it was not unusual for employees to earn $1,000 on busy nights. “They went from $1,000 a night to eight months of making $25 a night.”  

“Ellis Island has lost over $10 million from these guys. We’ve lost $5 million. The Shell gas station on the corner lost $5 million, and none of us have ever gone down in business,” Markin says. “We’ve always had steady growth.” 

Markin says he can’t count the money he’s handed out to workers who come to his office crying about being unable to pay a car payment, child care or rent. He says he’d done well for himself buying and selling casinos. “But when somebody comes in and pulls the carpet out from underneath us, I get pissed.”

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: info@nevadacurrent.com. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Nevada Current under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.