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Gaming Guru

Jennifer Robison
 

Rawson Dean for Dental School

29 July 2005

and Rod Smith


NEVADA -- Former State Sen. Ray Rawson, the Nevada Gaming Commission's newest appointee, is involved with a private college in Hawaii that is being sued by a state agency for deceptive business practices.

Rawson is the founding dean of the Hawaii College of Dental Medicine, which is to open in 2006 in Honolulu. The dental college and the year-old Hawaii College of Pharmacy are both owned and operated by Pacific Educational Services.

But Pacific Educational Services has been sued by the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs for unfair and deceptive business practices at its college of pharmacy. The lawsuit claims the college misled its 240 students by failing to disclose clearly its lack of accreditation. The lawsuit follows a series of complaints filed since 2003.

Reached at his Las Vegas home late Wednesday, Rawson said he was unaware of the legal issues, but he said the troubles shouldn't affect the launch of the dental college. Barring "evidence or convictions," he said, he wouldn't sever his relationship with the company.

Nevada Gaming Commission Chairman Peter Bernhard said he was unaware of Rawson's work in Hawaii or the controversy it has stirred in the Honolulu media.

In the past, Bernhard has said a primary goal of the commission is to protect the integrity of the industry through strict application of gaming regulations, including reviewing the business activities of licensees to make sure they are involved in no embarrassing undertakings.

Earlier this month, Pacific Business News reported Rawson "had recently moved to" Makakilo Heights just outside Honolulu to head up the dental school's first class of 100 students. Rawson told a reporter the school would apply for accreditation in October and added that the pharmacy college "is well on its way toward accreditation."

Pacific Business News traced pharmacy school founders, Denise Criswell and David Monroe, back to the University of Southern Nevada, an accredited college of pharmacy that opened in 2001 in Henderson. Criswell was the school's financial officer and Monroe its librarian until they left "two or three years ago," said Harry Rosenberg, the university's president and founder.

Rawson said a mutual friend introduced him to Criswell and Monroe in Las Vegas in November.

"They were recruiting someone for the dental school, and I think they knew I was a dentist and that I had resigned from the university system," Rawson said of their interest in working with him. So Rawson, who said he owns a "part-time residence" in Hawaii, began to work on the pair's plans for a dental college. He said he occasionally "spends a week or two" in Hawaii, but that he is "still anchored to Las Vegas."

"I spend more than half my time here," he said. "My kids are fourth-generation Nevadans. I've lived here 55 years. So do I have a stake in Nevada? Yes."

Asked whether he has time for both part-time work on the gaming commission and business dealings thousands of miles away, Rawson said he has arranged his schedule to attend all commission meetings.

Marilyn Epling, executive secretary of the Nevada Gaming Commission in Carson City, said Rawson has attended all the entity's meetings since his appointment in April. Rawson was at a meeting on Thursday.

"I've done all my studying, which is a two- to three-foot-high stack for each meeting," Rawson said. "I am here at least half the time. Other members of the commission have family vacations and obligations that take them out of Las Vegas. It's unfair to single me out because some of my business interests are from out of state." The state's gaming commissioners, who are paid $40,000 a year, have other employment. Rawson's term runs through April 2008.

UNLV professor Hal Rothman, who has studied gaming history and regulation, said the distant nature of Rawson's new position at the dental college combined with possible demands on his time raise questions about his ability to police the gaming industry effectively.

Rothman said Rawson's Hawaii residency could also be a problem for a Nevada official. He also questioned Rawson's credentials as a gaming regulator and suggested his appointment was a consolation prize for suffering defeat in his bid for re-election to the Nevada Senate. Rawson's 20-year legislative career ended in September when he lost his seat in a Republican primary to Bob Beers.

"Gaming is the most important industry in the state, of course, and it generates billions of dollars. It might not be a bad idea that the people who oversee it be compensated well enough to simply do that job. Then we wouldn't have a member of the Nevada gaming commission living in Hawaii," Rothman said.

In addition to his work in Hawaii, Rawson is a professor emeritus with the University and Community College System of Nevada, an adjunct professor for the School of Dental Medicine at the UNLV and an adjunct clinical professor in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine in the University of Nevada School of Medicine. He also has served since 1976 as deputy coroner and chief dental examiner for Clark County.

Rawson recently told Pacific Business News that faculty at the University of Hawaii have said they're willing to work part-time to help start the dental school.

Rosanne Harrigan, chairwoman of the complementary and alternative medicine department at the University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine, said she doubted the college's ability to offer viable education in either pharmacy or dentistry and said her school had no interest in cooperating with the dental school's development.

"We do not collaborate with schools that are not accredited," Harrigan said. "We don't believe it's possible for them to get accredited. You cannot run a 200-student school of pharmacy on five faculty, and we don't think there's a population base here for the dental school."

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported two weeks ago that the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education in Chicago asked the college to withdraw its accreditation application in January; college administrators subsequently said they would reduce the number of students at the school.

Harrigan said the University of Hawaii is planning to open a pharmacy school in Hilo in the next year and a half. The university has no plans for a dental school, and instead has an agreement with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges to send qualified students from Hawaii to dental schools in the mainland United States.

"If someone started a dental school in Hawaii, we would be happy to collaborate with them, but it would have to be a quality dental program that was accredited -- one that didn't just encourage students to come here and spend a lot of money and not get something for it," Harrigan said.

Rawson said he continues to plan a 2006 opening for the college. He wouldn't comment on how the school would be financed, except to say that he is raising money from private investors.

The Hawaii dental school isn't Rawson's first attempt to start such a program.

In 1999, as a state senator, Rawson sponsored legislation calling for creation of UNLV's School of Dental Medicine. The bill said financing for the school would bypass state funding and come instead from Medicaid funds that cover dental care for low-income people. Additional funds for the college were to come from profits from dental clinics the school would purchase, as well as registration fees and tuition.

But the dental school failed to support itself financially. State budget projections showed the dental school would need more than $3 million in tax dollars to cover a funding shortfall in 2003 and nearly $6 million in public money to bridge a funding gap in 2005.

The dental school, which opened in August 2002 with 76 students, will graduate its first class in spring 2006. It now has a total of 300 students at its 18-acre campus on Shadow Lane, around the corner from University Medical Center.

Rawson, 64, said his interest in helping start a dental school in Hawaii stemmed from similar concerns he had about access to dental care in Nevada.

"Hawaii has a significant poor population that is underserved, and there are no professional opportunities for kids (who want to be dentists)," he said. " Of the 128 qualified Hawaiian students who applied for dental school on the mainland, nine received acceptance." Rawson is not the only Nevada name linked to the Hawaii schools.

Harry Rosenberg, president of the University of Southern Nevada where Criswell and Monroe used to work, was identified in the Hawaii College of Pharmacy's first student handbook as chairman of the school's board of trustees. Rosenberg founded the University of Southern Nevada in 2001 as the Nevada College of Pharmacy and changed its name last year when it added nursing and business administration programs.

Rosenberg said Tuesday he has never been affiliated with the Hawaii College of Pharmacy, and he has never consulted with the school in any capacity. Rosenberg added that the school's founders copied the Nevada College of Pharmacy's handbook and implied in the handbook that its faculty would also teach at the Hawaii incarnation.

"They're piggy-backing on our reputation and implicating there's a relationship when there isn't," Rosenberg said. His last contact with Criswell and Monroe, he said, was via e-mail on Feb. 25, 2004, when he wrote to ask them to stop crediting him as a consultant on their project.

Rosenberg also accused the Hawaii College of Pharmacy of advising students to transfer to the University of Southern Nevada to complete their degrees. He said his school has been "inundated" with transfer applications, but he declined to accept the students because "we don't allow transfers from nonaccredited schools."