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March 24, 2019

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Gaming review panel axes proposed Station casino

Station Casinos is re-evaluating its options after a state gaming review panel Tuesday overturned a North Las Vegas City Council decision that would have allowed the company to build a hotel-casino at Craig Ranch Golf Course.

The ruling will affect not just Station Casinos and a handful of residents, but also plans for a proposed hospital. It also sets a firmer precedent for future neighborhood casinos, which were limited in 1997 by Senate Bill 208.

"The Gaming Policy Committee's decision reinforces the very high standards set by Nevada Senate Bill 208 for the creation of a new gaming site in Clark County," Scott M. Nielson, Station Casinos executive vice president and general counsel, said in a statement. "If this proposed location did not meet the criteria of SB 208, it is hard to imagine a site that would."

This was the second case the Gaming Policy Committee review panel has ruled on since its creation in 1997, and it overturned local governments both times.

The review panel voted 3-2 to reverse the North Las Vegas City Council's approval of a gaming enterprise district for Las Vegas Gaming, a real estate investment group.

Las Vegas Gaming had planned to sell 36 acres on the Craig Ranch Golf Course, near Craig Road and Commerce Street, to Station Casinos to build the proposed Craig Ranch Station.

The site was offered as an alternative to a parcel on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Coralie Street that has approval for gaming, but is 60 feet from homes.

Station Casinos "will continue to evaluate the timing and scope of a development" at that site, Nielson said.

Station Casinos owns eight other casinos in the Las Vegas Valley, most of them in neighborhood locations.

After the City Council approved the gaming enterprise district for Craig Ranch Golf Course on Feb. 7, four frustrated residents appealed to the state review panel, the last governmental resort in their lengthy fight against the casino.

The panel, created as part of Senate Bill 208, made only one other decision since its formation: It voted unanimously last year to stop a Boyd Gaming project in Spring Valley that had been approved by the Clark County Commission.

Las Vegas Gaming has until mid-May to challenge the decision in court. Representatives of the company said today they had no comment on their plans or on the decision.

Boyd Gaming had appealed the panel's decision on its project to district court, but later decided to abandon its plans after the court ruled that the review panel had the authority to overturn the County Commission's decision.

Now in limbo is a hospital planned for Martin Luther King and Coralie, where Universal Health Services -- the company that owns Summerlin, Valley and Desert Springs hospitals -- hoped to build.

Universal Health executives have said they would be happy to build at either that or the Craig Ranch Golf Course site. Executives have said they plan to build a hospital somewhere in North Las Vegas regardless. They were in conference Tuesday and unavailable to say what their next move will be.

The North Las Vegas Preservation Group, made up of residents who live about a half-mile from the golf course site, celebrated after the review panel upheld their appeal.

Deborah Lewis said that after all the time the group has spent trying to get the City Council and Planning Commission to listen to their concerns, she was relieved that someone took their issues to heart.

"It shows that not everyone in government is bought and paid for," Lewis said.

Gail Tominac, another resident involved in the appeal, said she was also relieved.

But there was a moment when she thought that she and her neighbors were going to lose.

"When it was 2-2 and Arlan Melendez was about to speak, I thought I was going to have a heart attack," Tominac said.

Melendez, a board member representing the state's Indian tribes, broke the tie, saying that residents who move into a neighborhood not expecting a casino to be built shouldn't be forced to live with one.

"A casino, I think, is a little bit different than other types of commercial development," he said.

Gaming Commission Chairman Brian Sandoval and Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander, who also sit on the review panel, voted with Melendez. Members R.D. Prabhu and Carroll Johnston, representing the public, voted for the project.

Chuck Gardner, attorney for the residents, said the panel did what the Legislature intended it to do: protect the neighborhood by enforcing the law.

Gardner was surprised by one aspect of the outcome.

"I didn't think it was going to be a squeaker," he said.

Tominac said she was just happy that ruling was in the residents' favor.

"It's just good to know that if you stick together and work with your neighbors, you can fight City Hall."