Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010 | 11:21 a.m.
The state Gaming Control Board recommended removing a man from the so-called “gray list” of denied applicants minutes after approving another recommendation that could land a new person to the list.
In a unanimous vote on Wednesday, the three-member board recommended removing John Bertolero from the list of denials, revocations and findings of unsuitability. Removal from the list would enable Bertolero to contract freely with several companies affiliated with the Marnell family, which backed removing him from the list.
Minutes before the Bertolero vote, the board voted 2-1 to recommend denying a license to Bruce Shepard, chief financial officer, treasurer and secretary of Las Vegas Gaming Inc., who was applying as a key employee.
Both recommendations are expected to be heard by the Nevada Gaming Commission on Nov. 18.
Just more than 30 years ago, in September 1980, Bertolero, then a casino host supervisor at the Maxim hotel-casino in Las Vegas, sought licensing by regulators. The Gaming Control Board recommended approval of the license in a 2-1 vote, but the Gaming Commission unanimously denied licensing because of two cheating-related arrests.
In 1971, Bertolero was arrested for attempting to rig a slot machine at the Sands hotel-casino. Two years later, he was caught cheating at a blackjack table.
Bertolero was sentenced to five years in prison, which was reduced to two years’ probation. Board member Randall Sayre said he eventually received an "honorable discharge" and the charges were dropped, but he was unable to apply for gaming licensing for at least five years.
In the 30 years since the denial, Bertolero became an expert at detecting card cheats and received permission to take small individual consulting contracts that did not require licensing.
He became friends and business associates with the Marnell family, which built the Rio and, more recently, the M Resort. In his small consultant contracts, Bertolero has observed customers and employees to help uncover card cheats and employee thefts.
M Chairman and CEO Anthony Marnell III appeared at the meeting to testify on Bertolero’s behalf.
“He helped teach me the ropes when I was 21 and just getting into the industry,” Marnell told regulators. “With all the importance that’s placed on game protection and game speed, he always brought us back to keeping it simple.”
When Sayre suggested that removing Bertolero from the list would be “like letting the fox into the henhouse,” Marnell responded that Bertolero has learned his lesson.
“I’ve never seen him come anywhere close to crossing the integrity line,” he said. “I think he honestly regrets the mistakes he made earlier in life.”
If Bertolero is removed from the list, he would be allowed to contract with gaming companies on all types of security and surveillance jobs. If he is removed, he expects to work in several properties affiliated with the Marnell family, including the M, Saddle West in Pahrump, and the Colorado Belle and Edgewater properties in Laughlin.
When the Gaming Commission considers whether to remove Bertolero from the gray list, it will also consider putting Shepard on it.
Regulators spent nearly an hour grilling Shepard on his bid to be licensed as a key employee.
The Control Board didn’t complete its investigation of Shepard because he stopped making payments to the account that pays for investigators’ time. Shepard’s file has been active for more than two years.
But in the early stages of the investigation, Control Board members learned that Shepard allegedly under-reported income on his personal tax return, filed his tax returns in pencil and filled with errors and omissions, made $500,000 in handshake loans with little documentation, gambled online and helped his wife gamble on the Internet.
Regulators said they didn’t think Shepard recognized the seriousness of providing accurate, error-free information to the Control Board.
“I always see CFOs (chief financial officers) as people who dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s and drive other people nuts with their level of detail and accuracy,” Sayre said.
When board members voted, Sayre and Chairman Dennis Neilander concurred that Shepard didn’t meet the state’s suitability standard. Failure to pay the investigation fee was grounds enough for a denial, according to regulations.
Member Mark Lipparelli cast the lone vote in opposition of denial, preferring to allow Shepard to withdraw his application and return to complete the investigation at a later date.