Nevada Casinos Risk Citations, Fines if They Violate Reopening Rules

Posted on: May 28, 2020, 07:58h. 

Last updated on: May 29, 2020, 09:58h.

Las Vegas gaming properties will begin to resume operations within a week after casinos promised in reopening plans to enact safeguards against possible spread of coronavirus. But what will happen if venues fail to carry out the state’s required or suggested precautions?

Terry Johnson wants integrity in casino reopenings
Nevada Gaming Control Board member Terry Johnson (seen above while testifying in 2019) cautioned this week that the integrity of gaming in Nevada should not be compromised during the reopening process. (Image: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

It appears that Nevada gaming officials could issue citations and possibly even impose fines if strict rules are not followed.

I assume that the enforcement division of the Gaming Control Board will be using field agents to inspect the various casinos for compliance purposes,” Anthony Cabot, Distinguished Fellow of Gaming Law at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law, told, when asked about possible inquiries. “Any violations can result in a verbal warning, multiple levels of letter warnings, or a formal complaint.”

Cabot, a veteran attorney and former chair of the gaming law practice group at Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie, further points out that the gaming board “sought and obtained the approval of the Nevada Gaming Commission related to its health and safety requirements for the casinos. As the [Gaming] Commission can adopt emergency regulations, the gaming industry will and should respond by assuming that a violation of these standards will be a regulatory violation, and subject them to potential disciplinary [action] by the Commission.”

Such disciplinary actions “could include a fine of up to $100,000 per incident, or suspension or revocation of the license,” Cabot explained.

Updated health and safety guidance issued by the gaming board on Wednesday did not specify what will happen if violations take place. The board’s policy often provides suggestions for casinos to follow rather than provides specific rules. The board also encourages casinos to implement additional safeguards that go beyond those in the policy.

Gaming Board Has Specific Reopening Rules

But on some topics, there are formal rules included in board policy. One example is capping the crowd allowed on a gaming floor to 50 percent of what was specified earlier by fire and building officials.

Another rule says casinos are required to provide face masks or other cloth coverings to visitors who ask for them, and casinos need to encourage guests to wear them.

Earlier this month, John O’Reilly, a Las Vegas attorney who formerly was a chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, asked current commissioners if there will be disciplinary action against gaming properties for violating the state policy. The gaming board and gaming commission have apparently chosen not to discuss in detail that topic in the policy.

In one section, the revised policy does say that the gaming board will not view “delayed compliance with certain resort hotel criteria a violation of the Gaming Control Act, so long as a licensee’s Plan fully complies with this Policy. The Board will revisit this exercise of prosecutorial and regulatory discretion as the Governor’s office and the Board continue to track the effects of COVID-19 on the State of Nevada.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, gaming board member Terry Johnson, who is also an attorney, cautioned that the integrity of gaming in Nevada should not be compromised during the reopening process.

In addition, Anthony Cabot points out responsibility for overseeing health safeguards at the state’s casinos means other agencies could conduct concurrent investigations. For example, the local health department “historically” would have had the “primary” responsibility for looking into possible violations in the Las Vegas region, Cabot said.

But a spokeswoman for the Southern Nevada Health District told the district “does not have jurisdiction regarding gaming operations. The Health District enforces its own regulations, including public accommodations and food operations.”

Casinos Self-Interest in Lowering Risk

Also, Richard McGowan, a finance professor at Boston College who closely follows gambling trends, told that fines “might help” in the effort to get casinos nationwide to take seriously any government-issued safeguards.

But gaming properties have a self-motivation to ensure players and other casino visitors are confident the venues are carrying out promised precautions.

Clearly, the casinos have a vested interest in making sure that players feel safe,” McGowan said. “If they do not, they will not return.”

Among the health guidelines being used nationwide by casinos, McGowan praised five of them. These include separating slot machines with plexiglass or some sort of plastic material. Also, for table games, requiring that masks be worn and installing some sort of separation between players.

In addition, he favors controlling crowds by allowing no more than 50 percent capacity, as well as providing some kinds of rewards for players who show up at off-peak hours.

McGowan further recommends that hand sanitizer stations should be located at every slot machine and table game.