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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Looking in on: Gaming

7 February 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- If Boyd Gaming Corp. had a dollar for every inquiry it received about when the venerable Stardust building will be torn down, it would have enough money for a significant down payment on the $4 billion luxury hotel complex it wants to build there.

Problem is, company officials don't want to tell the thronging masses when the property will return to dust.

The company says it could create a safety hazard if rubbernecking tourists cram the three public streets surrounding the property. More important, Clark County will issue the demolition permit based on a safety assessment of the site, which includes taking measures to prevent people such as your shutterbug Uncle Bob - and hundreds of others like him - from getting too close.

It's going to be difficult to keep the destruction of a major building on the down low, especially since developers and demolition crews must file county permits.

To appease the press and memorialize the event, Boyd will reveal the demolition date during a private media gathering this month. Media that spill the beans ahead of time won't be invited to cover the event up close.

The Stardust will be the most high-profile property to bite the dust since the late 1990s, when the Hacienda, Sands and Aladdin met their fate.

• • •

In spite of impassioned pleas about their right to keep their own tips, dealers at Wynn Las Vegas who have appealed their lawsuit over a casino tip-pooling policy to the Nevada Supreme Court are running up against previous decisions in both state and federal courts that allow casinos to split dealer tips with dealers' immediate supervisors.

These decisions will hold sway even though federal labor law says workers can't be forced to pool tips with others who don't typically receive them. While floormen such as those getting a share of dealer tips at Wynn aren't normally tipped by customers, Wynn's attorneys have creatively argued that the federal rule shouldn't preclude casinos from redefining who should give direct service to customers (witness Wynn's recasting of "floormen" as "service team leaders") and therefore, who should receive a cut of the tip pool.

A more effective comeback by dealers would be to change Nevada's three-sentence tip statute, which is vague enough to have allowed courts to side on casinos' behalf. Tip laws in Massachusetts, for example, more specifically state that tips can't be split with workers in management jobs.

That tactic has failed in Nevada once before. Dealers had Assembly support in 1995 when a change in state law to protect tip-earners was quashed - with help from the casino industry - in the Senate. Dealers have support from at least two assemblymen but also have started their appeals to the Senate - and specifically to Sen. Randolph Townsend of Reno, who chairs the Commerce and Labor Committee.

• • •

The International Gaming Institute at UNLV is looking for a few good research subjects.

The institute received a two-year, $190,000 grant to figure out whether people starting to exhibit gambling problems can overcome them without resorting to more drastic intervention.

The funds come from $2.5 million in state tax money earmarked for treatment and research of gambling addiction.

The state is now asking for more money - $3.3 million over the next biennium - for future problem gambling programs.

The program may help people without access to therapists or treatment programs, said Bo Bernhard, an assistant sociology professor and director of gambling research at the institute.

"We have this huge population out there that we never see and haven't studied" because few people seek treatment for problems, Bernhard said. "There are individuals who aren't full-fledged problem gamblers but are sliding down the slippery slope. Maybe we can catch these people before they hit rock bottom."