Larry Ruvo keeps his ‘spirits’ up

Dec 14, 2004 6:18 AM

Larry Ruvo is a busy, busy man.

One day last week, for example, while answering a reporter’s questions, he was preparing for a trip to Washington to meet President George Bush, and Mayor Oscar Goodman was on the phone asking Ruvo to call him back as soon as possible.

Ruvo, the senior managing director of Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada, gave himself even more to do about a month ago when he and former Governor Bob Miller led the effort to create the Nevada Tourism Alliance, a group of businesses that have coalesced over a concern that the lawmakers in Carson City are over-burdening the gaming industry with taxes and regulations.

Ruvo stresses that the goal of the alliance is to communicate to other businesses the point of view that the economic health of the state’s economy is dependent on the welfare of the gaming industry. In a letter he and Miller are releasing to the general public this week, Ruvo says that the goal of the alliance will be to encourage businesses to join together "to oppose repressive taxes and other initiatives that would ultimately handcuff the gaming industry’s ability to reinvest dollars into the economy — an economy that enables our businesses to grow and prosper."

"People are shortsighted," Ruvo says, "they forget where they came from" in terms of how much the gaming industry has meant to Nevada’s development over the years. "The hotels have provided us with an infrastructure that other cities can’t compete with and I want that to continue and grow. We must keep our industry healthy."

Ruvo says the alliance, which had seven members when its creation was first announced on Nov. 16, has grown to 30 by last week. He says the alliance’s primary concern will be the tourism and travel industry because "gambling is not what it was" in terms of how tourists spend their money in Las Vegas.

"This organization is not a rubber stamp of the gaming industry," Ruvo says. "We support them, we want them to grow but it’s as much about travel and tourism as it is about gaming."

He indicated that hotels are getting an increasing amount of their revenue from non-gaming sources such as restaurants, retail outlets and entertainment, and less from gambling.

"We are going to get tourism ”¦ growing," he says. "I would like to see 200,000 (hotel) rooms in Las Vegas." There are currently about 135,000 rooms.

Ruvo said the Nevada Tourism Alliance will be politically active and will start supporting candidates very soon. He said the alliance, which is funded on a percentage of the volume of business done by the participating companies, will be hiring a lobbyist, or a group of lobbyists, to represent its interests in Carson City.

He says that decisions made — or not made — in Washington, D.C., could also help or hinder the growth of the city’s economic growth. "If we get another 100,000 rooms, I want a wider highway to California," Ruvo says

Ruvo added that the group’s objective is to keep Nevada’s tourism and travel economy free of restrictions on gaming, excessive room taxes and airport fees.

Toward that end — in a divergence with the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce — Ruvo said he would rather see a broad-based business tax than a specific tax just on our tourists.

Judging by the stunning success of Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada, Ruvo has never been a man who comes up short in the vision department. The building he has constructed for his business offers a combination of impressive planning and jaw-dropping technology that make it a marvel of modern commerce. Its warehouse alone is something that would fit very naturally in a James Bond movie.

Perhaps the only thing more impressive than the building housing his business is the list of worthy causes that have drawn Ruvo’s time and energy over the years. Ruvo, 58, a 1964 graduate of Las Vegas High School, has been in the wholesale liquor and wine business for over 30 years, and has directed Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada since 1969. The company, the state’s largest wholesale importer and distributor of liquor, wine and beer, has about 500 employees and a payroll well up in the seven figures, according to Ruvo.

Asked what trends in liquor consumption he has noticed over the years, Ruvo says he has watched a growing appreciation of higher quality wines and an increase in the consumption of vodka that he calls phenomenal. He also says the sales of Bailey’s Irish Cream have shot almost straight up.

He and his company have prospered over the years and he calls watching his company grow over the decades the most rewarding aspect of his career. He believes both his business and the city of Las Vegas will continue to grow. "We’re bullish on the city," he says. "We think tourism is going to continue to grow."

Ruvo’s involvement in worthwhile causes isn’t likely to shrink, either. "My mom and dad always gave back to the community and it’s in my faith (Catholicism) to give. I wish I had more to give."