Nevada State Sen. Becky Harris (R-Las Vegas) has decided to accept Gov. Brian Sandoval’s offer to make her the first female chair of the Nevada Gaming Control Board. Harris will take over for AG Burnett, who left in December to take a job at a private law firm in Reno.

Becky Harris, GCB chair

State Sen. Becky Harris will be taking over as chair of the Nevada Gaming Control Board. (Image: Nevada Independent)

Harris is only the second woman to serve on Nevada’s GCB since the regulatory enforcement agency was established in 1959. Patricia Becker served on the board from 1982 to 1985.

Sandoval said Harris brings a wealth of experience to the position. A longtime attorney and mediator before being elected to the senate, she earned both her undergraduate degree and JD from Brigham Young University, and two master’s degrees from UNLV, including an LLM (Master of Laws) in Gaming Law and Regulation.

“Nevada’s gaming regulatory structure is the best in the world,” Sandoval said in a statement about Harris’s appointment, “and it is imperative that the public servants who serve on this commission are beyond reproach and willing to make difficult decisions.”

Agenda: Marijuana, Sports Betting, Security

Three topics that will probably be at the top of Harris’s agenda are marijuana and casinos, the possibility of nationwide sports betting, and security issues in resorts. All three have had a major impact on the gaming industry.

Marijuana is legal in the state but illegal on the federal level, and casinos have wanted to steer clear of potential trouble, so they have so far not allowed pot on their premises. But enforcing their own rules has proven difficult, and many casinos are interested in finding away to allow their customers to partake. The Board has opened discussion on the topic already, and will probably be diving into the issue further in 2018.

Also on the agenda is dealing with the prospects for nationwide legal sports betting. With Nevada currently holding a virtual monopoly on the multibillion-dollar pastime, a Supreme Court decision expected later this year could dramatically alter that calculus.

And ever, of course, ever since the Oct. 1 mass shooting that is still on the mind of people in Las Vegas, safety and security on casino premises has become even more paramount. Several robberies on the Strip in recent weeks have added to the importance of making sure Nevada’s gaming licensees can assure guests and visitors that they can keep customers safe at their resorts.

Short-Term Appointment?

Harris’s appointment as chair will fill out the remainder of Burnett’s term, which ends in 2019. But from there her future is uncertain, as Sandoval’s successor (term limits end his stint as governor in January 2019) could replace her.

“It’s a one-year appointment, and I’m cognizant of that,” Harris said. “But I believe this is the right opportunity for me, and we’ll see what happens in a year.”

Republican Senate Leader Michael Roberson said he thinks the future governor would reappoint her regardless. He issued a statement calling Harris “one of the brightest minds” in Nevada.

“There is no better person to be appointed to the Gaming Control Board,” Roberson said. “And her historic appointment as the first female chairwoman is befitting considering her resume, which is second to none.”