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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Adios, pesky state ban on cellular calls

5 September 2008

NEVADA -- Last month's vote by the Nevada Gaming Commission to permanently repeal a long-standing ban on the use of cell phones and other electronic communications devices in sports books couldn't have come soon enough for Nevada casinos, which began removing those ubiquitous, misunderstood and often overlooked signs in sports books requesting that customers make calls elsewhere.

"When you have to tell a guy from Ohio that he can't be on the phone with his wife, you've got a customer service issue," said John Salerno, director of Leroy's, Nevada's largest sports book operator. "People just didn't get it."

Race book revenue could benefit now that the ban is lifted, Salerno said. Bettors who have to take personal calls on their cell phones no longer have to walk outside the book and risk missing races that are going off every few minutes, he said.

Nevada law prohibits bets after post time, or the scheduled start of a race.

The commission asked the Gaming Control Board's monitors to report back to them in one year on any problems. Regulators have been unanimous in their thinking that the cell phone ban, adopted to prevent the transmission of Nevada betting lines to illegal bookies in other states, has outlived its usefulness in a world where betting information is widely available on the Internet.

Regulators have the ability to take enforcement action at any time against sports books that are allowing obvious communication with illegal bookies, Gaming Commission Chairman Pete Bernhard said.

Leroy's will be doing its part, Salerno said, by preventing customers from being on their cell phones while they're standing at the betting window.

If only other businesses had the same policy at their counters.


The Gaming Control Board last month wrapped up an eight-month investigation into potential wrongdoing by the owner of the Tropicana casino on the Strip, a review initiated after New Jersey regulators stripped the company of its gaming license in December. The investigation was required by Nevada's Foreign Gaming Act, which requires that casino operators follow rules and regulations in other regions but doesn't trigger automatic penalties here.

The board's three members said the company violated staffing and procedural rules peculiar to New Jersey but found no violations of gaming laws in Nevada after reviewing two reports compiled by board agents.

The state deployed a team of undercover enforcement agents at the Tropicana to look into concerns raised by critics, such as safety problems and roaming prostitutes. Agents also reviewed the casino's money-handling and accounting procedures as well as its corporate structure.

That the board has not revoked the license of Tropicana Entertainment has angered the head of the Culinary Union in Las Vegas. The union has painted Nevada regulators as industry captives unwilling to take action against a company for egregious violations elsewhere.

New Jersey regulators revoked the company's license after concluding that its former chief executive, Bill Yung, misled them and thwarted regulatory authority.

By attempting to have the board take action against business practices the union opposes, the union misunderstands the board's function, Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said.

Under the Foreign Gaming Act, he said, Nevada regulators would have to prove Tropicana Entertainment violated New Jersey law intentionally.

"The facts don't support that," he said.

The most blatant violation in New Jersey concerned the lack of an independent audit committee, Neilander said.

New Jersey regulators said Tropicana executives resisted creating an audit committee independent enough to question Yung's authority. Nevada has no such requirement.

The fact that Yung, the primary architect of the problems that arose in New Jersey, is no longer with the company is also an important consideration, Neilander said.

Another, unstated, fact: With only 11 casinos, Atlantic City can less afford to have any perform poorly, as Tropicana did under Yung.