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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Professor mixes law with gaming

17 March 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Bob Faiss has a résumé that reads like a documentary of the Nevada gaming industry.

So it was logical that Faiss's oral history book, "Gaming Regulation and Gaming Law in Nevada," be part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Nevada Gaming Commission. The Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which is marking its 10th birthday, will celebrate the commission's milestone during an event March 30 at the Thomas & Mack Moot Court Facility on campus.

Faiss, who teaches a class in gaming law at the law school, will sign copies of his book, in which he was interviewed by oral historian Dwayne Kling. He commended the law school's two deans, founding Dean Richard Morgan and current Dean John Valery White, with pioneering a gaming law program.

"Boyd will become the first school to offer a certificate program in gaming law, the first in the world," Faiss said.

Faiss, 74, has been practicing gaming law for almost 37 years. He heads the gaming law division of Lionel Sawyer & Collins. He is largely considered responsible for the development of gaming law as a specialty.

After a brief journalism career, Faiss was the assistant executive secretary of the Nevada Gaming Commission from 1961 to 1963.

He became the executive assistant to Gov. Grant Sawyer from 1963 to 1967 and was instrumental as the Sawyer administration made numerous changes to how gaming was regulated in Nevada. Many of Sawyer's programs remain in effect.

"The basic structure he designed is in place today," Faiss said. "His formula for the commission membership is the same. Its members are supposed to represent the consensus views of the citizens. The Gaming Control Board members are chosen for expertise in certain fields. I think the greatest strength of the gaming control system is its stability. There hasn't been much need to change it except to meet innovation. It has proven to be beneficial to the state."

After Sawyer's second term ended, Faiss spent a year as a White House staff assistant to President Lyndon Johnson. At the encouragement of Sawyer, he earned a law degree from American University in Washington, D.C., and returned to Nevada in 1973. At the time, Sawyer was pretty much the state's only gaming lawyer.

Sawyer has been a lasting influence on Faiss' career and life. Faiss delivered one of the eulogies at Sawyer's funeral in 1996. (He asked that the photo accompanying this column be taken in front of Sawyer's portrait.)

During his three decades, Faiss's client list resembles a trip in time. He represented the Del Webb Corp., one of the state's larger casino operators in the 1970s. Faiss also helped Hilton Hotels Corp. become the first Nevada licensee to be approved to operate a casino outside of the United States in Australia in 1985. Also in the 1980s, Faiss represented Summa Corp., which operated the casinos that had been owned by reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes.

Today, Faiss still represents clients monthly in front of Nevada gaming regulators. One of his larger clients is MGM Mirage, which operates 10 Strip hotel-casinos.

"Fortunately, because I was one of the first, much of what we accomplished was for the first time," Faiss said. "There are actions that took place in the gaming control system that were created during the course of my 36 years. I was privileged to represent clients who were willing to do things to help shape our history."