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County: Some taverns with slot machines must change or close

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Justin M. Bowen

Cherie Nepote plays a slot machine at Dotty’s near Eastern and Serene in Henderson on Thursday, March 24, 2011.

Updated Tuesday, April 5, 2011 | 8:08 p.m.

Dotty's

Cindy Clark plays a slot machine at Dotty's near Eastern and Serene in Henderson on Thursday, March 24, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Dotty’s and similar taverns will have to perform substantial renovations or shut down after Clark County commissioners on Tuesday approved new regulations for taverns with slot machines.

Commissioners approved the controversial changes after discussing four proposed ordinances for about five hours. Commissioners Tom Collins and Chris Giunchigliani voted against the change.

Some taverns came under fire from big casinos that argued Dotty’s and some similar establishments weren’t in compliance with regulations that allowed taverns to have a “restricted” gaming license if slot machines were “incidental” to the main business.

The Nevada Resort Association argued that some of the taverns used gaming as their main business, while Dotty’s said its business model was already approved by the Gaming Control Board and previous commissioners.

New ordinances initially were proposed by the Resort Association, the Nevada Tavern Owners Association and commissioners Giunchigliani and Steve Sisolak.

After more than three months of discussions, the two associations and some of the other interested parties came to an agreement on the proposed changes, but Dotty’s and a handful of other tavern operators still argued against the ordinance, saying they had done nothing wrong.

The approved ordinance ended up being a mix of details from the proposals, with some additions and changes added as commissioners discussed them.

The result was one of the most confusing county commission votes in recent memory, requiring multiple procedural votes and county staff and commissioners repeating the details of the ordinance over and over to make sure everyone was on the same page.

The ordinance requires new taverns to be at least 2,000 feet apart, have a minimum of 2,500 square feet of space open to the public, a bar with at least eight slot machines built in, a kitchen, and a restaurant with at least 25 seats that serves food for at least 12 hours a day.

The changes also require existing taverns that don’t have a bar with machines to add one within two years. Existing establishments don’t have to add a restaurant or meet the other requirements.

Commissioners did add a line to the ordinance allowing existing taverns that are more than 20 years old to be grandfathered in and not have to meet the bar requirement.

But the changes essentially end Dotty’s business model of small establishments that only serve basic food and drinks.

Mark Ferrario, one of at least three attorneys representing the chain at the meeting, said the company got the message and if the changes were passed, they would no longer operate in Southern Nevada.

Sisolak and proponents of the changes said Dotty’s was not following the existing law and the retroactive part of the ordinance was necessary to keep other businesses from doing the same thing.

But Collins and Giunchigliani said it wasn’t fair to force existing businesses to have to change, and the ordinance wasn’t doing what it should have.

Collins also said that requiring a tavern to include a restaurant after the Nevada Clean Air Act banned smoking from such establishments would essentially put them out of business.

“I think we are being un-American and unfair,” Collins said.

Giunchigliani also said she didn’t think anyone would open new taverns under the new rules and it was sending a bad message to other businesses that now have to worry about the county making retroactive requirements for other things.

Commissioner Larry Brown said he, too, was worried about the retroactive requirements, but that the ordinance was necessary to allow business to continue while giving the Gaming Control Board time to weigh in on the issue.

“It’s a significant next step,” he said.

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