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Jane Ann Morrison

Don't bet on Gaming Commission agreeing on Dotty's - ever

14 August 2012

LAS VEGAS -- One year ago, the Nevada Gaming Commission established new regulations for taverns, changes that Dotty's officials contended were an anti-competitive effort pushed by local casinos to stop the growth of a highly successful business.

In the battle royal among gaming commissioners, Chairman Pete Bernhard was the voice of reason, saying new regulations were unnecessary while Commissioner Dr. Tony Alamo led the charge against Dotty's Gaming & Spirits.

Bernhard ended up as the only vote against the changes. He sensibly objected to the retroactive aspect, which would be expensive for operations such as Dotty's, Miz Lola's and Jackpot Joanie's. They had to retrofit and add nine-seat bars to meet the state's definition of a tavern. The cozy Dotty's, so popular with mature women, needed a bar to be a bar with slots.

One year later, Dotty's is retrofitting 34 of its 93 operations to add bars. Some are grandfathered in so they did not have to be retrofitted. End of story? Not quite.

On July 26, the company came before the Gaming Commission and asked for two waivers, saying the Dotty's in Reno and another in Mesquite were not large enough to install nine-seat bars.

On its face, considering the efforts they had made to accommodate the commission's wishes, even dropping its lawsuit against the commission in February, this was a no-brainer. Las Vegas attorney Frank Schreck laid it out clearly.

The Mesquite Dotty's is so small a nine-seat bar wouldn't fit unless it were placed directly in front of the restrooms. The Reno Dotty's could hold a nine-seat bar, but the change would create a problem for wheelchair accessibility, a federal violation.

Alamo, backed by Commissioner John Moran, another hard-nosed opponent of the Dotty's model, opposed the waivers.

Schreck reminded the commissioners the purpose of permitting waivers was to allow locations without sufficient room for renovations existing before the August regulations to continue operating. Even though there was no mandatory requirement for a kitchen before the new regulations, Dotty's was going to the expense of putting one in every location.

"We have gone beyond what the commission has requested," Schreck said. If these two locations didn't qualify for waivers "then the waiver provision is probably useless."

Alamo insisted that physically, it could be done. Schreck said it could be done if they tear out the kitchen in Mesquite.

Moran said he wouldn't support it. "I'm concerned about slot parlor types of operations. I don't like them. I don't want them."

Guess he will be opposing all waiver requests.

Schreck tried again. "If we don't qualify for a waiver, then I don't think anybody can legitimately come up here and qualify for a waiver, and I don't think you can be discriminatory against one company against another."

In the end, by a 4-1 vote with Moran opposing it, the waiver for the Reno site with the accessibility issues was approved and the Mesquite site was held to give Alamo time to work with Dotty's to find a way to install a nine-seat bar.

Talk about micromanaging.

Bernhard again was the only one who sensibly said both waivers should be granted. He pointed out Alamo's hypocrisy by reading transcripts of Alamo's quotes from a previous meeting when Alamo touted the waiver option and said, "This reg needs to be business friendly. It needs to encourage entrepreneurialship."

Alamo responded he was talking about the restaurant requirement, not the bar, at that time. It's a subtle form of regulatory drama, but it's drama.

All is not in perfect harmony among Nevada gaming commissioners.