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December 19, 2014

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Commissioner floats idea to rein in slot parlors: allow fewer slot machines

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Justin M. Bowen

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

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Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins, shown during a county commission meeting at the Clark County Government Center Tuesday, April 16, 2013.

With a battle looming over how much revenue taverns can reap from bartop gaming machines, Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins has put forward a simple solution to the thorny issue — allow fewer slot machines at bars.

County officials are preparing for a workshop Friday where they’ll discuss crafting specific definitions for vague terminology included in the original 2011 law dealing with tavern gaming.

Currently, a tavern or bar is allowed to have up to 15 machines under state law, so long as the revenue from gaming is “incidental” to the primary business of serving food and alcohol.

Commissioners went to great lengths in 2011 to provide specific definitions on kitchens and bars, even laying out square footage requirements.The restrictions were meant to rein in the fast-growing slot parlor industry, which has boomed in recent years by offering a clean, low-key environment for local gamblers who wanted to avoid the hassle of a casino.

But the 2011 rules never specifically defined exactly how much gaming revenue is “incidental,” an oversight creating problems for commissioners in 2014. Though it seems "incidental" would mean less than 50 percent of a business’s revenue, the lack of specificity leaves a loophole Commissioner Steve Sisolak says is now being exploited.

Although slot parlors are licensed as taverns and offer food and drinks, critics argue that gambling is the primary purpose of the businesses, accounting for up to 70 to 80 percent of their revenues and violating the spirit of the law.

Friday’s meeting will kick off a contentious process that will task commissioners and staff with developing a specific limit for how much gaming revenue can still be considered incidental to a bar’s primary business.

Each word of the ordinance will be scrutinized, with lawyers and lobbyists representing various gaming powers each trying to spin the new definitions in their client's favor.

Rather than limiting bars by putting thresholds on gaming revenues something that would result in a “bookkeeping nightmare,” Collins suggested a simpler, more direct approach at today’s county commission meeting.

“Rather than trying to establish kitchen size and square footage size and the number of tables and chairs,” Collins said, the county should consider reducing the number of slot machines a bar is allowed to have from 15 down to as few as five.

Collins proposal didn’t get a strong response from his fellow commissioners, but it will likely be one of the options considered as staff wrestle with how to better regulate tavern gaming.

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