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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Looking in on Gaming: Smoking ban enforcement not board's job

20 April 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The newest of the state Gaming Control Board's three members last month warned Nevada slot locations that selling "drug paraphernalia" is against the law. Not wanting to jeopardize their precious gaming licenses, many convenience stores did the smart thing and ditched marijuana bongs disguised as novelty items.

But ex-Army commander and gaming regulatory veteran Randall Sayre says the Control Board isn't about to begin enforcing the state's voter-approved smoking ban, which applies to food-serving bars and other small slot machine locations such as convenience stores, groceries and gas stations.

Sayre said that authority rests with the Southern Nevada Health District. The board won't be using gaming agents to sniff out smokers or snatch gaming licenses from businesses on the Health District's complaint list - at least for now.

"If there are locations that are continually in violation and being cited for violations, that becomes an issue," he said.

Some businesses are warning customers that smoking is against the law but aren't preventing customers from lighting up. They say the law simply requires them to remove ashtrays and post no-smoking signs, although health officials, who are meeting with repeat violators and have threatened lawsuits as a last resort, say the law implies that businesses must take further action .

• • •

Early registrations for the world's largest poker tournament are down from last year because of the federal government's crackdown on Internet gambling.

In part to appease Nevada regulators, World Series of Poker host Harrah's Entertainment will no longer allow poker sites that accept bets from U.S. citizens to set up hospitality suites or marketing displays during the event, which kicks off June 1 at the Rio and ends more than a month later with a final Texas hold 'em tournament. Harrah's also won't accept registrations from these Web sites on players' behalf. (Internet casinos last year wired tournament buy ins on behalf of thousands of players who won their seats online. This year, legally operating casinos - both land-based and online - aren't registering more than 10 players each.)

Internet players can, of course, take the cash winnings from the Web sites and register for the tournament themselves. But there's a risk the players' significant others would prefer that the money be spent on, say, kitchen appliances.

Supposedly illegal gambling sites will still have a prominent place in the tournament - on players' clothing. Harrah's won't prevent players who are paid or encouraged to wear Internet gambling logos from plying that trade.

• • •

Even with Democrats controlling Congress, it's uncertain whether enough lawmakers can be persuaded to overturn last year's controversial legislation further outlawing Internet gambling or, in a best-case scenario, carve out Internet poker as a legal activity. But that hasn't stopped thousands of poker players from joining the Poker Players Alliance, a lobbying organization and trade group pressing to legalize online poker. While the public was paying attention to bigger hot-button issues, about 350,000 people have joined the alliance - most of them after the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. Rather than pushing specific legislation, the group is focused on meeting with members of Congress who are "misinformed" about Internet gambling.

"If you're interested in social issues such as problem gambling and underage gambling, that is accomplished through licensing and regulation, not by prohibition," President Michael Bolcarek said. After years of wrestling with Internet gambling in Congress and little progress by online operators, Bolcarek says his group can change people's minds.

"I don't think these issues have been fully explored," he said.