Jeremy Aguero’s Nevada: How a well-connected consultant shaped the state over two decades
It is a warm June day in Nevada’s capital, and inside the Legislative Building, Jeremy Aguero sits in the Senate chamber. He’s getting ready to pitch lawmakers on a public funding package to lure the Oakland A’s to Las Vegas with a new Major League Baseball stadium.
Dressed in a brown suit and armed with his laptop and a lengthy presentation on financial models, the bespectacled Aguero is preparing for the more than three hours of questioning senators will direct at him and Las Vegas tourism chief Steve Hill.
More than 25 years into his career, Aguero — a 49-year-old principal at the private consulting firm Applied Analysis — says he still gets nervous before major presentations. But in this setting, he is a veteran.
His long list of clients has included: Clark County. The Clark County School District. The City of Henderson. The City of Las Vegas. Station Casinos. Ultimate Fighting Championship. Switch. Cox Communications. The Vegas Chamber.
In 2015, he was key to a historic tax package as part of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval's team, and in 2019, assisted Democratic lawmakers in overhauling the state's public education formula.
Since 2006, various state agencies have paid his firm nearly $750,000, according to state expenses data, and that doesn’t reflect his pro bono work for projects led by governors and lawmakers.
Often working behind the scenes or appearing in late-night legislative hearings, Aguero isn’t a household name and hasn’t ever appeared on a ballot.
But funding limitations and a part-time Legislature hamstrung by term limits have left state government leaders increasingly reliant on a class of non-elected lobbyists and consultants such as Aguero to develop, pitch and defend the aspirations of some of Nevada’s most powerful elected officials.
Still, Aguero has faced more scrutiny over whether he has blurred the lines between lobbyist and analyst, especially as one of the frontmen arguing for why the worst team in baseball should move to Las Vegas.
In a June special session in a quiet capital, Aguero and Hill are standing in front of lawmakers, delivering economic projections and answering policy questions about the proposed stadium. President Dave Kaval is in the building, but not helping present the bill. Thousands more are watching online as Aguero temporarily becomes the face of efforts to relocate the team out of the East Bay, its home for the past 55 years.
Fans lash out at Aguero on social media, criticizing his educational background — that he lacks a degree in economics — and posting quips about him with the phrase “for the record” — a reference to the numerous times he stated his name for the record. Aguero’s visibility raises questions about his role as a technical expert providing the sole economic projections for the stadium, while also working as a consultant for the A’s and not registering as a lobbyist.
“I don't think if Jeremy went up to Oakland, he could win a city council race,” Guy Hobbs, one of Aguero’s mentors and a longtime Nevada financial consultant, said in a recent interview.
Months after the hearing, in a nondescript conference room at Applied Analysis’ office in Las Vegas, Aguero tells The Nevada Independent that he could “see why people believe that” he was advocating for the deal. Doing so would have meant Aguero would be required to register as a lobbyist and disclose his clients — something Aguero has not had to do a consultant.
Once again, the criticisms gave way and lawmakers approved a major state proposal backed by Aguero’s analysis, despite concerns from economists and evidence that stadiums are generally a poor public investment.
At a long conference table in his Las Vegas office, Aguero defended himself from the most pointed criticisms — calling them “opportunistic.”
“I've spent an entire career studying the economy of the state of Nevada,” Aguero said. “I wrote a 1,400-page report on its economy and its fiscal system as part of the governor's task force on tax policy. If anyone wants to demonstrate that they've done more work on our economy, bring it. Let's have that conversation.”
Maggie Carlton, a former state lawmaker who served for 24 years in the Legislature, recalled first meeting Aguero in the tumultuous 2003 legislative session. She described him as a “very bright” young man who “ran back and forth across the street in his Converse.”
Since then, Aguero has built a reputation for providing dense analyses and fast-talking presentations overstuffed with technical information — all lending to his unique image at the Legislature, including a bookish style befitting an analyst, and a deferential tone when addressing legislators.
“I always have to tell Jeremy, ‘Slow down, you’re going too fast,’” Carlton, a Democrat who chaired a powerful budget committee, said. “If he starts going on a tangent in his answer, you bring him back.”
That speed along with what nearly a dozen lobbyists, former state officials and former lawmakers who spoke with The Nevada Independent described as technical skill and commitment to providing straightforward answers catapulted Aguero forward from his start in 1997, when he first launched Applied Analysis.
A fourth-generation Las Vegan, Aguero attended UNLV and earned a bachelor’s in hotel administration in 1997 and a law degree in 2004. There, he also completed a special course of study focused on economics and finance under longtime gaming regulator and executive Shannon Bybee.
Soon after graduating, Aguero launched his firm in a basement apartment with just two clients. He said he began the company on a simple premise: “If we could help other people do the things that they were trying to accomplish, they would continue to hire us.”
“Our entire team works hard, but nobody works harder than Jeremy,” said Brian Gordon, a longtime partner at Applied Analysis who has known Aguero since they played youth soccer together. “He is committed to putting in the necessary level of effort that is required to get to the right result, and sleep comes secondary.”
Aguero’s first exposure to the Legislature came in the early 2000s, when he chaired a technical working group on then-Gov. Kenny Guinn’s Task Force on Tax Policy.
The group authored a 1,400-page report that eventually proved to be fodder for a pair of special sessions in 2003 and a state Supreme Court fight between the governor and Legislature. Though Aguero said the work of the task force “failed” during that session, the role opened up new connections for him, including meeting high-powered lobbyists and key legislative staff.
There, Aguero worked closely with Hobbs, a former Clark County chief financial officer who chaired the tax policy task force.
“It can be highly stressful, and a lot of people don't take to that,” Hobbs said of the environment at the Legislature. “I think Jeremy looks at that as a challenge … I think the level of exposure and the fact that he delivered as well as he did sort of lit the fuse on his rocket.”
Aguero’s work since then has, in part, reflected his family influences. His wife is a first grade teacher, and he’s been highly involved in K-12 financial policy. His father was a “huge football fan.”
Before his work on the A’s stadium legislation brought him back into the limelight, Aguero had worked to bring another professional sports team from Oakland to Las Vegas — the NFL’s Raiders.
In that process, Aguero produced an economic analysis that highlighted the success an NFL stadium could have in Las Vegas by bringing in tourists. He also attended the 2016 special session to deliver policy details from the bill, though those hearings differed significantly from presentations of the A’s bill, as casino leaders descended on Carson City to rally support for the Raiders.
“Jeremy's role as, I think, a trusted analyst helped people get comfortable with things that were new,” said Ben Kieckhefer, Lombardo’s chief of staff who was a state senator at the time of the Raiders deal. “I think he probably got a lot of people over the hump.”
Those arguments did not sway everyone. Opponents, including Carlton, who voted against the bill, said the promised public funds for the stadium (a record-setting $750 million) could have been better spent on the state’s pressing needs. The bill passed out of the Assembly 28-13, right at the necessary two-thirds margin to succeed.
The success of that legislation, and eventually of the stadium, paved the way for other opportunities for Aguero. He had a brief stint as the chief operations and analytics officer with the Raiders — a position that Aguero said included just four days off in seven months and ended over differences with team leaders about the organization's direction.
Managing conflicts and appearances
Few Nevadans can say that they’ve worked for multiple governors on both sides of the aisle. Aguero described himself as “intentionally politically agnostic” and someone who lives “in a world of policy, not a world of politics.”
Billy Vassiliadis, a longtime Nevada political consultant and CEO of the state’s most prominent marketing firm, R&R Partners, said in an interview that Aguero has achieved success because he does not “think of his solutions in political terms.”
“He lays it out good, bad or otherwise,” Vassiliadis said. “He’s not just a numbers presenter. He has ideas. He can offer options.”
Aguero’s role in working with the state government while maintaining an extensive corporate client list has meant navigating conflicts of interest.
Unlike registered lobbyists, Aguero does not have to publicly disclose his client list. That gives him greater flexibility in delivering technical assistance to lawmakers and other state officials because he is not seen as lobbying for a specific outcome on an issue. Lobbyists also face more stringent requirements under state law, such as being prohibited from providing false statements to influence legislative action or giving gifts to lawmakers.
But Aguero’s involvement in the baseball stadium deal sparked questions over whether he should have registered as a lobbyist. One lawmaker, Assemblyman P.K. O’Neill (R-Carson City), told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he believed Aguero “was advocating” in favor of the stadium deal. Assemblywoman Selena La Rue Hatch (D-Reno) similarly told the Las Vegas Review-Journal she believed there was “clearly some lobbying that was going on.”
Vassiliadis described the criticisms against Aguero as motivated by politics or philosophical opposition to the deal, rather than being fact-based.
“There's so much cynicism and skepticism, and so many new people that don't know what the true intent of Jeremy is,” Vassiliadis said. “But I don't have concern personally that he would violate any code of ethics.”
Hobbs said balancing consulting and analysis without veering into advocating for a position is a “very difficult thing to manage.” He noted that in Aguero’s case with the A’s, he was retained by the team but also was being looked at by the Legislature to provide accurate information about the economic projections.
“So that may have been more difficult optically,” Hobbs said. “I think the test of it at the end of the day is whether the information that was provided in all of those hours of hearings was objective.”
In an interview, Hill distinguished between the two sides by contrasting his own work on behalf of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and Aguero.
“The core difference is that Jeremy is not reaching out to an elected official to try and get them to do anything. He responds to questions that people have, and that's it,” Hill said.
While Aguero contends he served as an analyst for the deal, he now says that “some of that dialogue and some of those questions felt a lot more like advocacy than they did feel like analysis.”
“That was never my intent, and I will continue to be more mindful of that going forward,” he said.
Despite his status as a pariah on social media among a subset of Oakland fans, Aguero remains broadly popular among key power brokers in the state. Only a handful of sources interviewed for this story were critical of Aguero’s economic modeling, but those comments were made off the record amid fears of alienating powerful people or groups in the state.
Outside of the A’s deal, structural changes in the Legislature and state government have contributed to a vacuum of institutional knowledge among lawmakers and elevated scrutiny over the role of Aguero and other outside consultants and lobbyists.
The Legislature has changed dramatically since Aguero’s first days in Carson City in 2003. Term limits have helped drive massive turnover among legislators; no one who served in the 2003 session is still in Legislature. The state has seen five governors in that span — all of whom Aguero has worked for in some capacity.
But Aguero said he maintains a system for avoiding any conflicts through that work.
“If we've worked for/on a legislative issue, we won't work with people that are on the opposite sides of the issue,” Aguero said. “The narrative around this potential for conflict of interest always bothers me because it's something that I hold as paramount in what we do for a living, and I would never want to do that.”
Driving a ‘policy solution’ on Sandoval’s tax plan
Alongside rebuilding the K-12 education funding formula in 2021, Aguero described his work on the Commerce Tax in 2015 as one of his most difficult projects. At the time, Sandoval sought a package of new and increased taxes to keep up with a growing population and boost education funding, despite voters rejecting a similar 2014 margins tax ballot proposal that would have raised revenue for schools.
The venture was politically fraught — especially given that tax-adverse Republicans took control of both houses of the Legislature after the 2014 election. Opponents likened it to the failed margins tax. Even with powerful casino players on board, several groups criticized the Commerce Tax as detrimental to businesses with low profit margins.
Near the final day of the session and after lengthy amendments and debate over the final form, the bill implementing the tax passed out of the Assembly in a 30-10 vote, just above the two-thirds needed.
Mike Willden, Sandoval’s chief of staff during that session, said the administration leaned heavily on Aguero.
“No one on the governor's staff had the technical expertise that somebody like Applied Analysis does, Jeremy does. And so, he was heavily relied on,” he said.
But similar to past pushback on the proposed taxes in 2003 and to the online discourse from A’s fans this year, Aguero also faced personal backlash — including from past clients — for his work on the Commerce Tax.
“First, they come after you relative to the technical work that you did, and then they come after you personally. Never was that worse than in 2015,” he said.
Aguero said that opposition included “rhetoric” that the Commerce Tax would doom the Nevada economy or result in businesses not moving into the state. Though the tax has not borne those consequences, Aguero said he likely lost some opportunities as a result of that work.
He said he believed that assisting Sandoval was a way to leave the state better than he found it, but also downplayed his own influence over the direction of the policy.
“My job was, at the end of the day, to think through how the legislation will be structured and how the math would work to be able to solve a fiscal problem, ultimately to drive a policy solution,” he said.
A reputation that overpowers the criticisms
In 2003, at the beginning of his high-profile work in state government, Aguero said he faced pushback from the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a libertarian think tank, over his work on a gross receipts tax proposal. In 2011, he faced opposition from local governments over his work on consolidated tax reforms.
One of the staunchest opponents of the Commerce Tax was the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax policy think tank that had developed a 79-page report on behalf of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber studying the state’s tax climate and structure prior to the 2015 legislative session. Those report authors later criticized Sandoval’s tax proposal as “complex” and “arbitrary,” while refuting some of Aguero’s arguments about how the measure would work.
“Reasonable minds can differ. I'll put my model out there. You put your model out there and let's have a conversation about it,” Aguero said about the criticisms. “I reviewed their analysis. I compared it against mine. I think I was right.”
Earlier this year, Aguero became a proxy for A’s fans’ dissatisfaction with the team leaders. John Fisher, the team owner, made no public appearances during the legislative hearings, and team President Kaval’s lone appearance came when a senator demanded he answer a question. Aguero was the most visible representative of the team in the hearings.
Sports economists also levied heavy critiques against Aguero, including pointing to studies that show stadiums have little positive economic impact on local economies and are a poor public investment. They also raised issues with Aguero’s calculations for ballpark visitors, pointing to the team’s current position at the bottom of the attendance list. Several lawmakers iterated similar concerns, questioning the need to provide a billionaire team owner with the capital to construct a stadium.
But Aguero defended himself from criticisms of his economic projections, pointing to the reviews of his models by other firms, including Hobbs, Ong and Associates and Goldman Sachs. He also pushed back on fans’ attacks on his education, noting that his UNLV special course of study under Bybee involved market research, economics and finance, and that he’s performed this work successfully for 25 years.
Because of the nature of his work, few who have publicly challenged Aguero’s projections have produced similar analyses or reports showing differing conclusions.
His firm’s prominence in the consulting space also comes as few competitors are doing the same type of in-state work as Aguero, and none have asserted the same status level in serving the state’s most powerful industry — gaming and hospitality.
Aguero pointed to peers doing similar work: Hobbs, whose firm specializes in financial consulting; John Restrepo, a Las Vegas economist who runs a research and advisory firm; and, Andrew Woods at UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research.
“I am a consumer of the good work that they do. It's not often that we compete with each other,” Aguero said.
Restrepo and Woods declined to comment for this story.
Vassiliadis described Aguero’s work with state government as similar to a “monopoly” — but “not because someone else can't do it, because someone else hasn’t.”
“I think his fingerprints, his intelligence [are] all over any significant piece of legislation involving financing … for 20 years now,” he said.
Vassiliadis also said that because of Aguero’s ability, lawmakers and legislative staff often look to Aguero for his expertise and “a broader view, a less politically affected view.”
“Who else do you ask?” Vassiliadis said.
Term limits have contributed to “the loss of some of the institutional knowledge,” Hobbs said. The change has placed additional pressure on the Legislative Counsel Bureau, he added, while analysts such as himself and Aguero can bring their technical expertise and historical knowledge to the Legislature.
While Aguero has risen to prominence as an economic and policy consultant over his career, he describes himself as not far removed from his firm’s beginnings. Even if Aguero’s mindset — a dedication to doing “good work for good clients“ — has remained the same, the state around him has changed significantly in the past 25 years.
“Just because it's different doesn't make it better or worse,” Aguero said.