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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston
 

Who Gets in May Be Out

26 October 2005

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Anyone who has been to a nightclub in Las Vegas has seen a form of gender discrimination at work.

It's a Darwinian process that favors young, attractive females. Being a celebrity -- or knowing one -- helps, as does being a high roller or a friend of the nightclub staff.

Under proposed regulations considered by state gaming regulators, nightclubs, lounges and other venues that charge admission would be able to offer gambling while continuing arbitrary admission policies aimed at keeping riffraff out and beautiful people in.

It's a change experts say will further undermine Nevada's long-standing policy of requiring that gambling be conducted in public and available to everyone.

The state Gaming Control Board discussed a draft of the regulation at a workshop Tuesday and is expected to hold a follow-up workshop in Carson City in the next few weeks. The Control Board and Nevada Gaming Commission are expected to adopt the regulation in about three months.

The regulation is an outcome of Senate Bill 444, which the Legislature passed earlier this year. The Nevada Resort Association backed the bill on behalf of the casino industry, and the Palms -- which is building a Playboy-themed club atop its new hotel tower -- was a primary force behind the change.

While the regulation states that customers can't be discriminated against based on "race, color, religion, national origin or disability," gender was deliberately left off the list.

Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said Tuesday the board doesn't have the authority to challenge the will of the Legislature, which didn't include protection from gender discrimination in the final version of the bill.

That means casinos will be able to continue to practice any number of arbitrary, velvet-rope policies designed to enhance the mystique of a club, such as allowing women in for free while men wait outside.

"That may cause some issues if (a man) wants to enter to gamble," board member Bobby Siller said. "We will probably not see the end of this. This could be a major issue for the state."

Neilander said that under the proposed regulations, admission policy disputes would trigger an investigation by regulators. Checking out such complaints could severely tax Gaming Control Board resources, he added.

The proposed regulation may be changed to put the burden on the customer to contact the Gaming Control Board with a complaint, he said.

The regulation weakens a long-standing law that gambling be open and available to the public, experts say.

Over the past two decades, casinos have fought to change the law by offering private gambling areas, former Gaming Control Board Chairman Steve DuCharme said. Bars and nightclubs wanted some minimal cover charges to pay bands, for example.

But regulators resisted the changes, saying such moves would go against public policy, he said.

"There was a pretty strong objection to allowing these types of private rooms because of some abuses that could occur," DuCharme said. "Some admission policies could become subjective rather than objective."

That changed this year when casinos were able to convince legislators that gaming in clubs that charge admission would be good for business.

Bill Eadington, director of UNR's Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, said Nevada's public gaming rules -- created to prevent skimming and ensure the public's trust in casino games -- may have outlived their original purpose.

Gaming regulators shouldn't be allowed to dictate politically correct, open-door policies in a nightclub setting, he said.

"It does not insult me as a potential customer if beautiful young women and handsome young men are admitted over me," he said. "Nightclubs should not have to admit ugly, old and fat people ... If you undermine the aesthetics that make nightclubs perceived as exotic, then you kind of kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Then whether the nightclub has gaming anymore is irrelevant."

Recently implemented regulations allowing private gambling rooms for high rollers were so burdened by rules that the so-called international gaming salons have failed to generate much business for Nevada casinos, Eadington said.

To comply with the public gambling law, casinos must let people into their high-limit rooms even if they are wearing jeans and T-shirts. The rules have backfired for casinos, preventing high-limit gamblers from having a truly private experience, Eadington said.

The Gaming Control Board discussed the admission fee along with about a dozen other proposed regulations the board expects to approve in the coming months.

Those include a regulation that would prevent casinos from offering payday loans or contracting with vendors to offer such loans, and regulations allowing mobile gambling devices in casinos.