Marijuana Industry Conventions a Pot of Gold for Casinos, Says Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval

Posted on: September 22, 2017, 09:20h. 

Last updated on: September 22, 2017, 09:25h.

Marijuana business conventions should potentially be allowed to host their events inside casino resorts in Las Vegas and around Nevada, says Governor Brian Sandoval (R). This, despite a recent clear mandate just last month from the Nevada Gaming Commission (NGC) for industry operators to have a hands-off approach when it comes to inviting in cannabis kingpins.

marijuana Nevada Las Vegas Brian Sandoval
Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval is high on allowing marijuana businesses to host meetings at casino resorts. (Image: Cliff Owen/Associated Press)

In mid-August, Tony Alamo, who chairs the commission, said in no uncertain terms: “Marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug, making it illegal under federal law.”

Blunt Opinions

But in an executive order issued this week that’s in apparent direct conflict to that directive, Sandoval instructed the Nevada Gaming Policy Committee to review how the resort and gambling sector might work together with the marijuana industry after all. The state’s gaming policy group is made up of resort representatives, gambling officials, lawmakers, and legal experts.

“Gaming regulators have been clear on the prohibition of marijuana consumption on licensed gaming properties, but there are additional policy considerations such as industry events and business relationships that should be contemplated,” Sandoval said in a statement. “The Gaming Policy Committee is the right organization to take up these important issues unique to Nevada due to the state’s recent legalization of recreational marijuana and our gold standard gaming reputation.”

The Gaming Policy Committee has been ordered by Sandoval to meet before December 15, and make recommendations to his office no later than June 15, 2018.

Smoking and consuming marijuana in casinos would remain banned, as Nevada law mandates that its use take place in private residences only.

Weeding Out the Issues

Despite medical marijuana laws now on the books in 44 states, cannabis remains a banned substance on the federal level. The Controlled Substances Act classifies pot as a Schedule I narcotic, in the same grouping as heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and methamphetamines.

For casinos, that presents problems. A guidance issued in 2014 by the US Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) ordered that financial and banking institutions, which includes casino cashier cages, report large transfers of cash that are suspected to be linked to the weed business.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board has also warned gaming licensees that if they engage with marijuana businesses, or even persons who profit off the cultivation or selling of the drug, they would be at risk of losing their gambling permits.

“Unless the federal law is changed, the board does not believe investment or any other involvement in a medical marijuana facility or establishment by a person who has received a gaming approval or has applied for a gaming approval is consistent with the effective regulation of gaming,” the state agency said.

Now, Sandoval is throwing his weight behind the Gaming Policy Committee to potentially amend that directive. That being said, the GPC is strictly advisory in nature, per the governor’s office as a stated in a recent presser:

“According to state law, the Governor may call meetings of the Gaming Policy Committee for the exclusive purpose of discussing gaming policy. Any recommendations concerning gaming policy made by the Committee are advisory.”

And even if the GPC tells casinos they’re free to host marijuana-related business events, most will likely refuse to accept pot conferences, as federal law still preempts contradictory state law, and casinos are not famous for wanting to take on the feds.

Big Business

The marijuana industry is booming, as states around the country liberalize its use for both medical and recreational use.

Legal marijuana sales totaled $6.7 billion last year, an increase of 30 percent on 2015. It’s expected to balloon to over $20 billion annually by 2021. To put that growth in perspective, Forbes points out that marijuana sales are outperforming even the heyday of the tech and dot-com boom in the late 1990s.

In November, the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo will be held at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The event will bring together over 650 exhibitors.