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LAS VEGAS -- Believing state gaming regulators have overstepped their authority in suggesting what musical acts are appropriate for Strip nightclubs, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada plans to voice its displeasure today in Carson City.
When the Nevada Gaming Commission opens its public comment session at the end of its regularly scheduled meeting, ACLU Executive Director Gary Peck said he'll spell out how regulators are denying casino operators their free speech rights.
"Sending threatening and intimidating letters that tell someone what musicians can and can't perform is called censorship," Peck said. "Just because you have a privileged license doesn't mean you give up your rights of free speech."
The Nevada Gaming Control Board on Feb. 7 sent a memorandum to the Strip's major casino operators, reminding gaming executives that responsibility for any illegal activity in their entertainment venues falls onto their shoulders even if they don't own the clubs themselves.
The unsigned memo told casino operators they would be held accountable for any regulatory violations that occur within or outside of a nightclub located in a gaming establishment.
No particular incident was given for the memo, but regulators cited a concern by Clark County Sheriff Bill Young, who had addressed the issue of gangster rap style performers giving concerts in Strip venues.
In a letter dated June 22, 2005, to the control board's enforcement division, Young said he was concerned that certain acts and performers bring the wrong element to Las Vegas.
"I don't know if we can influence the gaming industry to not book gangster rap acts here in Las Vegas, however, to my way of thinking it's a legitimate crime prevention strategy not only to prevent violent crime but also for our industry," Young wrote. "A shooting at a venue that generates a lot of negative press towards our tourism corridor would seem not worth having these acts here."
The control board, some casino operators said, seemed to be targeting the casinos that
lease their nightclubs to third-party operators.
In an interview last week, Young said he wasn't sure why the control board sent the memo when it did, some seven months after he wrote his original letter. Last summer, he provided the state agency with intelligence on the matter prepared by the police department's Gang Crimes Unit.
The sheriff said he was being wrongly criticized by the ACLU for trying to bring up the issue following the shooting death this month of a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officer by an alleged gangster rapper.
"I'm sure a lot of public will agree with this stance," Young said. "This isn't a racial issue. This is a crime prevention strategy. We've had incidents at some venues and that just isn't good for business. I respect their (the ACLU) opinion on the First Amendment, but this isn't an issue of free speech."
In the memorandum, the control board said it was concerned about "incidences of excessive inebriation, drug distribution and abuse, violence, the involvement of minors, and the handling of those individuals who become incapacitated while at the club."
Peck said the memo would have a "chilling effect" on the free speech of club operators and what acts they book.
"The actions of the control board are absolutely inappropriate," Peck said. "This is creating a nebulous black list of who can perform and who can't. The control board can intimidate those businesses whose licenses they hold in their hands."
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