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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz
 

Bernhard remains chairman of panel

16 January 2007

The reappointment of Las Vegas attorney Pete Bernhard as chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission didn't carry all the political intrigue as the weeklong drama surrounding the recently open position on the Gaming Control Board.

Bernhard, who has headed the five-member panel since October 2001, found out he was receiving another four-year term late Friday afternoon in a phone call with Gov. Jim Gibbons, almost four months before his term expires.

"He called and asked me if I would accept another term, and of course I said yes," Bernhard said Monday. The governor's press office released a statement at 10:30 p.m. Friday announcing Bernhard's reappointment. The gaming commission chairmanship, which is considered a part-time position, pays $55,000 annually.

Bernhard, a Democrat, had been chairman of the state Ethics Commission when former Gov. Kenny Guinn first asked him to step in for outgoing Gaming Commission Chairman Brian Sandoval, who had decided to run for attorney general. He was then appointed by Guinn to a full four-year term in 2003.

If Bernhard serves out another full four-year term, he will complete almost a decade heading the panel, which has the final say on Nevada gaming matters. He will also have participated in hearings on some of the major events that have influenced the gaming industry.

Bernhard said delving into the private equity debate, where privately held financial groups are buying into the gaming industry, is an ongoing interest.

Colony Capital bought the Las Vegas Hilton in 2004 while Oaktree Capital Management acquired part of Cannery Casino Resorts last year. Over the next 12 months, the gaming commission could be exploring the proposed $27.8 billion buyout of Harrah's Entertainment by two private equity firms and the nearly $5 billion deal by the Fertitta family and Colony Capital to take Station Casinos private.

"The dynamics of private equity and its impact on the gaming industry is an exiting and fascinating subject," Bernhard said. "Obviously, we need to maintain appropriate regulatory control in looking at this issue."

Bernhard said the gaming commission needs to closely monitor and be involved in the debate over Internet gaming, which he believes will continue to surface over the next three to five years. He believes the issue will continue to be debated on at the federal level, while the possibility exists that intrastate wagering issues could be raised.

"Those are the things I find interesting," Bernhard said. "Some people might not find it interesting, but I enjoy the policy stuff and find it interesting."

Two weeks ago, Gibbons selected Randy Sayre for an open position on the Gaming Control Board, attempting to supersede an appointment to the same seat made by Guinn before he left office. Both Gibbons and Guinn reappointed Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander.

The issue over the disputed seat was resolved last week when Guinn's choice, Keith Munro, took a position as chief of staff to Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.

The control board, which is the state's enforcement and investigative agency for gaming, makes recommendations on matters to the Nevada Gaming Commission. Its three members are full-time state employees. Of the five-member commission, which is part-time, the chairmanship was the only term expiring in 2007.

In Friday night's statement, Gibbons said it was important that both Bernhard and Neilander remain in their respective roles.

"I strongly believe that the regulatory boards need the element of continuity that Pete and his counterpart Dennis Neilander provide, and with Randy Sayre's appointment, the element of law enforcement to maintain the reputation that Nevada has built in terms of gaming regulation," Gibbons said. "Dennis' and now Pete's reappointment, reaffirms my desire that the boards reflect experience, knowledge and law enforcement background."