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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston
 

Persistence pays off for would-be dealer

30 July 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The state's top gaming regulators won't soon forget Robert Hackett.

On paper, Hackett's chances of working as a Nevada casino employee seemed slim.

In person, however, the 29-year-old made a very different impression on regulators, who gave Hackett a second chance rarely, if ever, granted to similarly situated workers.

Hackett, a jobless poker dealer arrested for burglary as a teenager, is among hundreds of rank and file workers each year who are denied gaming employment in Nevada, which requires casino employees who handle money, such as cashiers, dealers and slot technicians, to get work cards by passing criminal background checks.

Many workers make halfhearted attempts to regain gaming employment by filing appeals but are rarely successful. The five-member Gaming Commission, which hears appeals of work card denials made by the Gaming Control Board, rarely overturns such decisions. With that in mind, denied workers rarely show up for their own hearings to state their case.

But Hackett made an impassioned plea for a job — and it worked.

Appearing at the commission's monthly meeting last week in a white cabana shirt and black slacks, Hackett stood out in a hearing room typically populated by casino executives in dark suits.

As his wife leaned forward in her chair a few rows back from the podium, Hackett told commissioners that he wanted to return to dealing cards and that he needed the job to be able to pay back more than $1,000 in accumulated parking tickets. He makes regular payments on the fines but depends on his wife, who works as a cocktail server, to support his family. Hackett said his job options are limited and don't pay enough for the couple to afford day care for his children or a caregiver for his youngest child, who suffers from severe asthma.

It made more financial sense to be a stay-at-home dad, though the parking fines, on his wife's salary, are getting paid down more slowly, he said.

Earning tips for dealing cards would enable him to pay down the parking fines, clear his name and allow him to pursue a career he loves, he said to the Gaming Commission.

Hackett's problems began more than five years ago, when he got a dealing job at the Sahara. After a few weeks on the job, the casino, which had apparently overlooked the burglary arrest that Hackett acknowledged on his work card application, noticed the arrest and fired him.

He appealed to the Gaming Control Board on the grounds that even though he was arrested when he was 18, charges were never filed. The board also discussed a drug arrest years later in which, again, charges were not filed, a fact not shown in the paperwork in front of the Gaming Control Board.

Still, Hackett had an uphill battle. Unlike a court of law, where defendants are innocent until proved guilty, the Gaming Control Board — operating on the premise that working in the gaming industry is a privilege, not a right — requires applicants to prove their suitability.

Hackett didn't give up the fight. First-time work card applicants can reapply a year after they are denied. Hackett reapplied and was refused.

After a second denial in 2002, Hackett reapplied for a work card in 2007 and was denied a third time. With little discussion, the three-member Gaming Control Board last month let the denial stand for the next two years, after which Hackett could try again.

And so Hackett's appearance before the Gaming Commission last week resembled something of a last stand. As he addressed the regulators while nervously shuffling papers, his voice shook and his eyes watered.

The commission, with one member absent, voted 3-to-1 to reinstate Hackett's work card.

Commissioners attached some conditions to the reward: Hackett would have to reapply after two years and pay off his parking tickets within six months. He also would have to submit to random drug testing at his expense.

Hackett left the podium and hugged his wife, who began to cry.

"I could almost feel his plight, that he just needed this break," commission member Dr. Tony Alamo said after the hearing. "This was a life-changing decision."

Nobody is stopping Hackett from getting a job in another industry, Commissioner Radha Chanderraj said at the meeting. But the financial advantage of a dealing job at a Las Vegas casino would allow him to put his life back together, she reasoned.

Hackett might be the first casino worker to receive a gaming work card while on probation by law enforcement, which, in this case, was due to excessive traffic fines, Commissioner Sue Wagner said.

"He's very lucky," Wagner said after the vote. "He was here and he made a good case, as far as I'm concerned."

"There's no substitute for having someone come before you and state their case," added Dr. Alamo. "Nothing is cut and dry."