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Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Dispute won't disrupt meeting

8 January 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A day after Gov. Jim Gibbons substituted his predecessor's choice for a seat on the Gaming Control Board with a selection of his own, the chairman of the regulatory panel said Friday he was making plans for neither appointee to participate in next week's monthly meeting.

Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said that if the situation isn't cleared up by Monday as to which appointee is entitled to the seat on the three-member panel that pays $125,112 annually, he would ask both choices to stay away from the Wednesday and Thursday hearing in Las Vegas.

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, and next week's monthly session could involve just two participants, Neilander and board member Mark Clayton.

"Right now, we have two conflicting appointments, and if it's still not clear by next week who actually has the seat, I'm leaning toward asking both of them not to participate in the meeting," Neilander said.

He didn't want to have a person participate in the hearing who is later ruled not to be a member of the control board. That aspect could invalidate any of the control board's recommendations next week.

Neilander said he wanted to ask Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to rule on who rightfully is entitled to the seat, Keith Munro, former chief of staff to former Gov. Kenny Guinn who was named to the panel by his old boss in November, or Randy Sayre, currently chief of the board's Investigative Division, who was appointed Thursday by Gibbons.

Neilander was re-appointed to the chairman's position in November by Guinn and was also re-appointed Thursday by Gibbons. He has been a member of the control board since 1998 and chairman since 2003.

As of Friday afternoon, Neilander had not received any confirmation from the attorney general as to which person was entitled to the seat.

Cortez Masto was unavailable for comment Friday. On Thursday, she allowed Secretary of State Ross Miller to certify Gibbons' appointments.

Sources said Friday that the Gibbons administration and others were making behind-the-scenes moves to get Munro to step aside.

However, Gibbons was not making any procedural moves, such as a legal challenge, his spokesman, Brent Boynton, said on Friday.

"He has made it clear that he wants the situation to be resolved, but he has not taken any actions," Boynton said. Gibbons hopes his public statements urging a resolution will move the people involved toward a solution, he said.

Gibbons has said he would like to see Munro in a different job in state government, just not the control board.

The control board members traditionally meet privately on the Tuesday before the monthly hearing to review items on the agenda. As of Friday, Neilander was planning that he and Clayton would be the only one's involved in the both the planning session and public hearings.

Neilander said he had not spoken with Sayre and had only a brief conversation with Munro on Thursday.

"Keith took (the back-up material for the control board agenda) home with him to read and I haven't heard from him at all," Neilander said. Sayre, he said, was believed to be out of town.

Neither Sayre nor Munro returned calls Friday.

Having only two control board members participate in a hearing is not unusual, longtime gaming industry observers said Friday. Board members have had to recuse themselves from hearing matters because of conflicts and two members would oversee the public hearing.

If Neilander and Clayton were to split their votes on any matter, the item still could be heard by the Nevada Gaming Commission without a recommendation from the panel.

Munro, who took an oath of office for the position when he was appointed by Guinn in November, has been reporting to work at the board since Monday. But Gibbons said he acted on his belief that Guinn's appointments were invalid and made his own choices.

Review-Journal writer Molly Ball contributed to this report.