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Howard Stutz

Utah native takes roundabout route to becoming gaming attorney

27 April 2015

Jennifer Roberts never considered a career as a gaming attorney.

She grew up in Salt Lake City and earned an undergraduate degree in criminology from the University of Utah. She briefly thought about looking into an advanced degree in some type of forensic science program.

“Since I knew I could never get through organic chemistry, I chose law instead,” Roberts said.

When she enrolled in the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, the casino business was far from her thoughts.

After all, Utah is one of two states — Hawaii is the other — without any form of legalized gaming — casinos, racetracks or a state lottery.

But the law school actually offered a class in gaming law.

“It was taught by a professor who also did a lot of bankruptcy work as well,” Roberts said.

One of the class field trips was to West Wendover, which at 120 miles to the west is the closest gaming destination to Salt Lake City.

“Everyone from Salt Lake goes there,” Roberts said.

By the time she earned her juris doctor in 2002, Roberts made the decision to try gaming law.

“I started researching law firms that specialized in gaming law,” Roberts said. “Naturally, most were located in Las Vegas.”

The tanking economy after the 9/11 terrorist attacks put a job with Lionel Sawyer & Collins in Las Vegas on hold. After graduating law school, Roberts clerked for judges in the Utah Court of Appeals and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for a year.

The job with Lionel Sawyer — at the time the state’s premier gaming law practice — reopened in 2003. Roberts moved to Las Vegas and spent 11 years in the firm’s gaming and regulatory department. At Lionel Sawyer, Roberts worked closely with gaming attorney Bob Faiss, who died last year.

Before Lionel Sawyer went out of business at the end of 2014, Roberts became a partner in Las Vegas office of Duane Morris LLP. The firm, which is headquartered in Philadelphia, was seeking a gaming attorney in Las Vegas. Duane Morris has a thriving gaming law group on the East Coast and recently hired Stephen Martino, the former director of the Maryland Lottery.

In addition to her law practice, Roberts has taught gaming law classes at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Boyd Law School for the past six years, potentially training the next line of gaming attorneys.

Question: What was it that attracted you to gaming law?

Answer: I just thought it sounded like a real cool area of law. It seemed exciting and different. I had no idea how regulated and legal gaming was. The idea of practicing gaming law seemed like an interesting opportunity. I found it interesting that something that had been taboo for so long was actually a legitimate legal field. Coming from Utah, which had no gaming and weird alcohol laws, made it all the more interesting.

Question: What was it like joining Lionel Sawyer?

Answer: The funny thing was that I remember Bob Faiss’ name coming up on various topics and subjects in law school. It was a big, well-known gaming firm and I was able to learn from the best. Besides Bob, I got to learn from so many leading gaming attorneys, including Ellen Whittemore, Tony Cabot, Greg Gemignani, Greg Giordano, and Mark Clayton. We were able to touch every subject, including land-based gaming and Internet gaming. Bob was really key about developing gaming internationally.

Question: What is your role with Duane Morris?

Answer: Gaming has become national and international. It was a great opportunity to join a law firm that had developed a gaming practice on a large scale. I was able to bring all of my clients with me and my goal is to build the practice. Bob Faiss always talked about building a relationship with your clients. I always felt that law is a customer service industry.

Question: You have a lot of experience in restricted (15 slot machines of fewer) gaming law. How has that field changed?

Answer: I worked with Buffalo Wild Wings to come into Nevada. They were one of the first public companies registered for restricted gaming and I continue to work with them today. There is not as much growth in that area as when I first started because of the recession and the smoking ban. We’ve seen a lot of changes in the requirements for restaurants.

I try to help clients understand the issues. When someone comes in wanting to open a tavern, I give them a list of the different slot machine route operators. I advise them on the pros and cons of working with a route operator, or getting licensed themselves and managing the games.

Question: What is your role with the Boyd School of Law?

Answer: I used to sit in on the gaming law classes when Bob taught them. It was a great education. I sat in every semester until I started teaching them. I currently participate in three classes; an introduction to gaming law, a class on gaming law policy, and a class on resort hotel casino law.

Gaming law policy gets into some deeper issues. Every legislative session, the students draft a bill to change of portion of gaming law in Nevada. This year, the students proposed amending the charitable gaming law statute to allow the activity across the state.

We supplement our classes with guest lecturers from across the gaming industry. We’re able to show the students what practicing gaming law is all about.

Question: What are some of the things you learned from Bob Faiss?

Answer: He had an amazing legal mind and the ability to respond to any situation. He had a great reputation and the most important thing he taught me was how to interact with your clients, with other gaming attorneys, and regulators.

Question: Will your home state of Utah ever legalize gaming?

Answer: I would be very shocked. I don’t predict that will ever happen. I wouldn’t bet on it.


Name: Jennifer Roberts

Occupation: Partner, Duane Morris LLP

Family: A chunky pug and a crazy puggle.

Education: University of Utah for both undergrad and law school.

Work background: Director of Student Affairs at the University of Utah Medical School before attending law school. Clerked at both the Utah and 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Joined Lionel Sawyer & Collins and practiced in the gaming and regulatory department, 2003-14. Joined Duane Morris in 2014. Has taught gaming law courses at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Boyd Law School for past six years.

Most admired businessperson: Late gaming attorney Bob Faiss. He was such an influential businessperson and the perfect mentor.

Favorite hobbies: Tennis and travel.

Favorite sports teams: Denver Broncos, Utah Jazz, and University of Utah Utes.

Favorite movie: "Aliens," "Goodfellas" and anything in the horror genre.

Favorite author: That’s a tough choice. I am reading Amy Poehler’s book right now.

Favorite music online: A mix of classic rock (Journey), alternative (The Ramones), and a little hip-hop (Jay-Z) makes for a good day.