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Cy Ryan

Neighborhood Gaming Bill Still Unresolved

31 May 2005

CARSON CITY, Nevada -- A controversial bill dealing with neighborhood casinos has sparked battles between gaming companies in Southern Nevada and is a long way from final passage, a key assemblyman said today.

Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, the chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, said the bill "has a long way to go and if there is no agreement it will die."

Anderson said the casinos in Southern Nevada are fighting among themselves over the issue and "that makes it ugly for us to deal with."

Anderson introduced the bill initially to limit casinos in Washoe County and passed the Assembly. The Senate passed the bill over the weekend but tacked on a number of amendments dealing with the neighborhood casinos in Clark County.

It is now back in Anderson's committee to determine if it will agree to the amendments and right now there is no consensus.

Assembly bill 485 would change regulations regarding neighborhood casinos, including where they could be built and how the public could appeal any building decisions. The bill would permit gaming areas to be created in master-planned communities. Some lawmakers complained that the bill would allow "mega casinos" in these areas.

During debate early Saturday Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, said the bill rolls back the protections and appeals now enjoyed by residents in battling new casinos in their areas. She said the prior law, although it had its faults, permitted full debate.

But Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, said this bill doesn't weaken the standards set in permitting these neighborhood casinos. It will reduce the number of new neighborhood casinos and make it harder for them to be developed.

The bill was approved on a party-line 11-8 vote in the Senate on Saturday with Republicans supporting the measure while Democrats opposed. Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, abstained.

Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, who provided a key vote for the bill, said there was no conflict of interest for him -- one of his law partners, Mark Fiorentino who represented Boyd Gaming and Coast Resorts in Las Vegas, lobbied on the bill.

Amodei said he disclosed his relationship and received legal advice from the counsel for the Legislature that he could vote on the bill. Without his vote, the bill would have died since there would have been only 10 votes, one short of the majority needed to approve any bill.

Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, said the bill would "exacerbate" the problem of neighborhood casinos. He referred to the Red Rock Station, which is under development. The zoning was for a 100-foot height when Station Casinos purchased the property, but the restriction was lifted by the Clark County Commission.

Sen. Sandra Tiffany, R-Henderson, said these resorts are not the "scourge of the neighborhoods." She said she lives close to the Green Valley Ranch Station Casino and it has improved property values. It provides a place to eat.

The bill permits the local government to set the size of the casino, designate a gaming area and establish limits on the height and size of the business. It would specify that neighborhood casinos could only be in master-planned communities.

Before the Senate gave final approval to the bill, there was debate involving several amendments to the bill.

Sen. Joe Hecht, R-Henderson, offered an amendment that would allow residents to go to an arbitrator to appeal if they are unhappy with a decision regarding the building of a casino. His amendment passed on an 11-10 vote. It would wipe out the appeal process currently in law that allows people to go before the Gaming Policy Committee.

Hecht said his amendment would reinstate the appeal process. In addition, he said an application for a new casino would have to go through four public hearings and if there was a change in design another four public hearings. "There is plenty of time for public hearings," he said.

But Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said the proposed amendment does not improve the situation. He said it would require citizens to hire a lawyer and would probably end up in court. He argued there were safeguards in the present law that has been in effect since 1997 allowing appeals.

Horsford said the gaming policy committee has the experience to deal with these issues. He said members of the state Gaming Control Board and state Gaming Commission who control the industry sit on the policy committee.

But Beers said there has been only two appeals to this body that have been overturned by the gaming policy committee. And the appeal process was back in the bill in the form of allowing dissatisfied residents take their case to an arbitrator.

Horsford said records in the Clark County assessor's office show that Wynn Las Vegas covers 55 acres; Mandalay Bay encompasses 46 acres; and the Venetian is spread over 28.5 acres. Yet the bill allows a casino in a master-planned community to extend to 75 acres.

He said, "A couple of companies are getting together to limit competition." He questioned how residents of a master-planned community would protest any casino development since these homeowners haven't moved in yet. But he said "At least the people will know what they are buying."

"It's not a fair deal for neighborhoods," he said.