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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Question and answer : Bobby Siller

19 December 2006

NEVADA -- Bobby Siller, one of the casino industry's most outspoken regulators, retires at the end of the month as one of three members of the state Gaming Control Board. The Chicago native and Air Force veteran was appointed to the board in January 1999 after a 25-year career with the FBI. He supervised investigations involving organized crime, white-collar crime and terrorism, and became chief of the FBI's Las Vegas office - the first African American to hold the job. Regulators investigate and approve people to operate casinos, make sure games are fair and keep out bad influences. They also encourage industry growth while trying to stay out of the limelight. Siller has been criticized by companies that have run afoul of his straight-and-narrow approach to full disclosure. He has also won merit awards throughout his career, gaining respect for championing corporate diversity and encouraging community service.

Q: What most surprised you after becoming an industry insider of sorts, especially coming from an agency that ran down the mob?

What surprised me most was how strictly regulated the industry is, including background investigations, the standards set for suitability and the audit oversight. The bar is set very high, and the burden of proof is on the individual. With the FBI, you're dealing with criminal behavior that's far more serious than what I was dealing with at the Gaming Control Board. But when you're putting people in responsible positions in gaming and the integrity of gaming is so important to the state, I quickly recognized how important the behavior of an individual was to his suitability. I was also surprised at how many people in background investigations were less than candid.

On the board, you've frequently confronted lesser lawbreakers who fudge their taxes, don't disclose arrests or aren't truthful about relationships. Have you been harder on these folks because of your FBI background?

I've seen good people do bad things for reasons they thought were good and then redeem themselves later. I think I was more lenient and more willing to give them an opportunity to prove themselves. I was probably tough on people who distributed drugs but lenient on people who use drugs. I think society and law enforcement have taken the wrong approach to the drug problem. We punish too harshly those who were users.

Your replacement is a former litigator in the attorney general's office without experience as a cop or federal agent. Does it concern you that all three members are now attorneys?

I respect the governor's decision, though I believe the board is stronger when you have one board member with law enforcement experience, not a lawyer with prosecutor experience. Those are two distinguishable career paths. Law enforcement experience provides you with the credibility to deal with many law enforcement agencies around the world, sharing materials and contacts. I believe you understand investigative cases a lot better than people who don't have that training. On the flip side, I don't have all the attributes that a lawyer or an accountant would have. These are very experienced, competent individuals and will do well. There's a balance that the authors of the Gaming Control Act thought was appropriate but you don't have to hold fast to that. What matters is how well the three board members work together and with their staffs.

You've made corporate diversity a key issue. How have you approached this with the casinos, and how do you justify your role given that diversity isn't a regulatory requirement?

I'm not regulating diversity. But I feel that diversity brings value to a company by empowering people. My approach is to raise the issue and companies will do the right thing themselves. I can look at a gaming applicant's personal checking account, analyze your character and look at other associations you may have. What's equally important, if not more so, is your philosophy on fairness and providing opportunities to all employees. It's not a quota or compliance issue where everyone checks a box. Diversity is part of the culture of an organization. If you walk into a room and everyone is the same ethnic background and they're all management, you have to ask yourself, "Are we being fair to everyone?" That doesn't mean these aren't good people. But are we developing other employees? Are there feelings at this company that they cannot succeed? The industry is moving in the right direction, though there are some that will never get it.

Some say you've been hard on people whose only crime was not telling the whole truth. In some cases you've grilled people you ended up approving for a license. Is this approach effective and appropriate?

I have a sworn responsibility to get to the truth of the matter. Maybe it's the interrogation methods of my past. My line of questioning may be more direct, more focused. It may appear more harsh. You only hear about the times when it was negative, but a lot of times it was positive - we came to terms on an issue and moved on. The process is determined by the individual, not by me. Applicants have an opportunity to provide information and talk to staff about what's factual. Any inconsistencies or concerns have been thoroughly discussed with them by our staff for months before they reach my desk. Sometimes we can't arrive at a conclusion, after a special investigation is conducted and they're under oath. Some people are in denial.

Is there a "good cop/bad cop" strategy used to investigate people and keep them on their toes? Did you play the role of bad cop?

I don't have a clue what position the other board members are going to take or how they see the issues until we get together for the open meeting. We all get the material at about the same time. I have a place in my home where I sit and read and analyze it. I don't think I'm playing cop at all. I'm just looking at the issues. It is the system that defines the outcome, not an individual board member. I can see something one way based on my experience and my background. The process is designed to bring these different perspectives together so there's a balance and broad look at the issue. That's healthy. It would be an issue if we never disagreed. That would be suspect. There's no backroom deals here.

Question and answer : Bobby Siller is republished from