Las Vegas Sun

August 18, 2019

Currently: 92° — Complete forecast

Venetian contest rigger lectured by regulators

The former Venetian hotel-casino employee who concocted the plan to rig drawings in a bid to appease high-rollers who had lost money in a February 2002 gambling trip apologized to gaming regulators Wednesday.

But all his apology earned was stern lectures and a one-year ban from applying for licensure as a key employee.

Roger Chuen Po Mok, formerly the senior vice president of Asian marketing for The Venetian, acknowledged that what he did was wrong in an emotional appearance before the state Gaming Control Board. Flanked by attorney Bill Curran, Mok -- identified publicly for his role in the incident for the first time -- said he schemed to rig drawings for prizes out of loyalty to his employer and his desire to please a good customer.

Mok and three others were fired after the scheme was uncovered in 2002. Earlier this year, The Venetian was ordered to pay a $1 million fine after a 12-count complaint against the resort was settled.

"Some poor choices were made in being loyal to my employer," Mok read from a prepared statement.

Regulators never named the employees who were responsible for the rigging of the drawings for a Mercedes-Benz sports utility vehicle and two gambling chips, valued at $20,000 and $10,000, during a 2002 Chinese New Year celebration.

Mok said he rigged the drawing because a high-roller he was hosting lost $5 million gambling and the employee "didn't want to see him go home empty-handed."

Mok, who said he has been unemployed since being fired by The Venetian, requested to withdraw his application as a key employee, hoping that the board would make the withdrawal without prejudice so that he could reapply for licensing immediately.

But board members didn't see it his way.

"What you did not only discredited you, but it discredited the state of Nevada," said board Chairman Dennis Neilander.

Board member Bobby Siller said while the scheme to rig the drawing was a major judgment error, Mok worsened it by lying to state gaming investigators summoned by The Venetian. Siller compared the additional damage inflicted by attempting to cover up the scheme with the trouble former President Richard Nixon brought upon himself during the Watergate burglary investigation.

"You are now living with the consequences of your actions," Siller said. "There were consequences to your employer, which had to pay a severe fine, and there were consequences to your co-workers, who were fired along with you."

Board members ultimately voted to withdraw his licensure as a key employee with prejudice, meaning he won't be able to apply again for another year. He was told he could apply for a casino work card, which would allow him to work in the industry, but not allow him to accept a management position.

In other business Wednesday, the control board approved a loan to the owners of the Cannery hotel-casino involving Vestin Group Inc., licensing for two acquired casinos for Station Casinos Inc. and a license for the owner of a small hotel-casino at Tropicana Avenue and Interstate 15.

Neilander said the Gaming Control Board is keeping a close watch on the results of a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of Las Vegas-based Vestin Group Inc. Vestin operates two of three funds that the board approved to pledge membership interest in Rampart Resort Management LLC.

In effect, Rampart, which operates the Cannery hotel-casino in North Las Vegas and the Rampart casino in Summerlin, has negotiated a loan with the three funds, Vestin Fund I LLC, Vestin Fund II LLC and Owens Mortgage Investment Fund.

Neilander said because the funds do not hold equity positions in the casino company, they are not required to be licensed or investigated by gaming regulators. He said, however, the board has the discretion to call the companies in to answer questions if there are concerns about the integrity of the funds.

Vestin officials said they have spent between $1.3 million and $1.5 million to respond to SEC inquiries, which were first announced in November. Chief executive Michael Shustek has said that he expects the inquiry to find no wrongdoing on the part of Vestin.

The board also approved licensing and key employee applications for Station Casinos Inc., in connection with its acquisition of two locals casinos in Henderson.

The company announced in March the acquisition of the Magic Star Casino on Boulder Highway and the Gold Rush Casino at Sunset Road and Marks Street for an undisclosed amount.

The 11,000-square-foot Magic Star has 191 slot machines while the 8,600-square-foot Gold Rush has 181 slots. Both have sports books and restaurants.

Ned Martin, vice president of gaming development for Station Casinos, told the board the casinos' 200 employees would be required to reapply for their jobs and become Station employees. He said the company would modify its mix of slot machines and make some cosmetic changes to the two properties.

Neilander said regulators examined the competitive effects of the acquisition on the local market, but that there were no concerns because the two properties are so small. Neilander said based on market share of revenue generated, Station's share would increase by 1.2 points among properties in the Boulder Strip market and 0.09 points statewide, not stating the overall market share.

The Gaming Control Board does not define the boundaries of the Boulder Strip to prevent proprietary disclosures among competing properties, but based on previously released statistics, it is believed to include several Henderson casinos, including Sunset Station and Green Valley Ranch Station.

Board members on Wednesday also recommended approval for a nonrestricted gaming license for Rock One Inc., which operates the Golden Palm hotel-casino on Tropicana Avenue just west of I-15.

The board also conditionally approved a license for Marvin Lipschultz and his son, Erik Lipschultz, as officers and shareholders of the property, but not before criticizing the elder Lipschultz for failing to disclose a complaint filed against the company by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The company was fined $3,000 to settle a complaint regarding overtime pay for employees, but Lipschultz did not disclose that information on his application. He said that he thought he was being asked in the licensing application if he personally and not his company was the subject of an investigation by a federal agency.

Neilander said that while Lipschultz, as an attorney and accountant, should have known better, his conduct "does not rise to the level where I would want to deny your ability to move forward with this expansion plan."

Lipschultz won Clark County approval to develop a 24-story hotel and time-share development and a 30,000-square-foot casino two years ago. He said he is upgrading his plan and will build higher, turn the time-share component into a high-rise condominium project and reduce the casino to between 16,000 and 19,000 square feet. He said he would announce details of the project later this summer.