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Gaming Guru

Jeff Simpson

Jeff Simpson on why gambling in grocery and convenience stores is wrong

23 October 2006

It's no surprise that slot bars and convenience store owners are emptying their tills in an effort to defeat Question 5 and pass Question 4 on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Question 5, the Clean Indoor Air Act, would ban smoking in almost every indoor public area except for casino floors. To take effect, Question 5 must pass and get more votes than Question 4, the cynically created and named Responsibly Protect Nevadans from Secondhand Smoke act, which would restrict smoking in restaurants to adult-only areas and would allow smoking in slot areas of convenience and grocery stores.

Question 5 would prohibit video poker and slot players from smoking while they gamble in convenience and grocery stores, a prospect that understandably worries owners of slot bars and convenience stores, who know that many of their gamblers like to smoke.

Although I think it is a disgrace that smoking is allowed at any time, for any reason, in convenience stores and grocery stores, and will definitely vote for Question 5 and against Question 4, I think the time has come for Nevada lawmakers to tackle an issue that will be an even bigger threat to slot bars and convenience stores.

I think it is ridiculous that Nevada allows slot machines in grocery stores and convenience stores at all.

I've heard all the arguments that it is the "Nevada way," and that relative newcomers like me (I moved here in 1999) should just be quiet and accept the state and its peculiar traditions.

Bull. There are plenty of places for adults to play video poker and other slots without needing to play every time they buy food, gas up their cars or buy a Slurpee. Resort casinos, locals casinos and slot bars are plentiful and widespread.

There ought to be a way for parents to take their children to the grocery store or to buy a quick soda and snack at a convenience store without passing by video poker machines.

State gaming regulators have tried to separate kids from slots by requiring new grocery stores to have separate alcoves that separate shoppers from gamblers, but that is only a Band-Aid solution.

The time has come for Nevada lawmakers to stand up for what's right and get the slots out of convenience stores and grocery stores.

I know that the owners of those businesses rely on that income, but state rules make clear that gambling income is only to be a secondary source of revenue. The law should be changed so that slots are banned as of a fixed date. I'll propose a date: Jan. 1, 2010. That will give convenience and grocery stores time to adapt to the new, civilized reality.

People I respect in the casino business have told me that grocery- and convenience-store gambling is an embarrassment to the state, and they are right. When visitors to Nevada see the machines in stores they can't believe it. We should take a lesson from their incredulity.

Gaming Control Board member Bobby Siller, for more than seven years the strongest voice on the panel for protecting children from gambling, told me in 2000 that he thought that if it weren't already legal, intelligent people would never support such gambling.

"We need to protect a quality of life within our neighborhoods that allows our children to enjoy life without undue exposure to gaming," Siller told me.

"If the world or Nevada would listen to me, I'd do away with it," Siller said about slots in grocery stores.

Well, I'm listening to Siller, and I do see a way to reverse the ridiculous practice.

And I can think of a logical group to lobby for the change: the state's resort and locals casinos and slot bars, which would stand to benefit from the gambling business the convenience and grocery stores would lose.

They have the clout to get it done — and make our state proud.