Sunday, July 1, 2012 | 2 a.m.
You could practically feel the dark cloud settle over the Clark County Government Center when the agenda for next week’s County Commission went out.
County staff and elected officials are stunned, to put it mildly, that the issue of regulating joints like Dotty’s is back. The tavern/slot parlor with some 60 sites in Nevada, including 21 in unincorporated Clark County, drew the commission into a year-long debate over whether places like it need more regulation since they are designated as taverns — a designation that carries with it certain requirements of size, bar-top slots and kitchens, amenities that most of Dotty’s venues don’t have.
Why did the issue return? Aren’t the county and the Nevada Gaming Commission already being sued by Dotty’s?
Sources in the county building say a proposed amendment to an existing ordinance is being pushed by Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani. She was out of the country and could not be reached for comment.
A memo emailed to commissioners, staff and interested parties said the purpose was to align taverns seeking Class A gaming licenses “more consistently with Nevada Gaming Control Board regulations.”
And, yes, lawsuits are pending against the county and gaming commission.
What does the new amendment ask?
It makes substantial changes to the current, court-challenged ordinance.
The current law says taverns must provide at least 2,500 square feet of open space for patrons. Giunchigliani wants that changed to 2,000 square feet.
Current law also says a bar includes at least eight embedded slot machines — most of which are bar-top slots. The change eliminates the bar-top requirement if there is seating for at least nine customers.
Another change: A bar would need seating for only 20, not 25, people. And the kitchen would need to be operated at least 50 percent of the hours each day that the bar is open. Previously, the kitchen had to be open at least 12 hours per day.
What’s it all mean?
That seems to be the great, frustrating question in county government circles.
Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who pushed for the so-called Dotty’s restrictions — a move supported by the massive and powerful casino lobby, which argued that Dotty’s was not playing fair because they operate like a slot casino but without the same regulations as traditional casinos — was perplexed by it all.
Since the county and Gaming Commission already are being sued, he wants the courts to get a chance to weigh in before the county commission tinkers more with the ordinance. In addition, he said, the Legislature is going to look at its definitions for taverns/bars in 2013.
“I just think this is terrible timing,” he said. “Let’s let it play out, let’s see what the judge says. It seems like we just finished this and now just a short time later, we’re back at it again. I don’t think we need to open this wound again.”
The change is an introduction only. A public hearing would be scheduled for the next commission meeting, July 17.
Another contentious issue that never seems to disappear is the debate over the cost of water.
There’s a new twist on it, however.
Some residential customers issued new water meters have seen their water bills shoot up sharply for one month before returning to a more manageable level.
Sisolak, who has been a thorn in the side of water wholesaler Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Las Vegas Valley Water District, has become the pointman for disgruntled water customers. He said his office has received several of these complaints.
In each case, he said, the Water District tells him the bills increased because of increased water usage, from a leak in a toilet or somewhere not immediately noticed.
Bill Wisniewski begs to differ.
He’s a California resident whose 88-year-old mother lives in Cactus Ridge mobile home park off Las Vegas Boulevard south of the Strip.
After the water agency installed a new meter in March, the octogenarian’s bill went from roughly 52 gallons per day of use to more than 1,000 gallons.
At least that’s what the new meter said.
The meters can be monitored remotely so meter readers don’t have to visit every home to take a reading.
The woman’s bill rose from $13.75 per month to $119.65. The next month, her bill went back to its normal rate — plus the new $5 surcharge tacked onto most residential bills in May.
Is she paying?
The Water District has asked her to sign a form saying she had a leak, then they would reimburse her 50 cents on the dollar.
“She didn’t want to sign because she knows there wasn’t a leak,” her son said.
Sisolak said he doesn’t know what to think. He tends to believe it was a leak — somewhere. But he has also received complaints from other customers with newly installed water meters.
Like most public agencies in Southern Nevada, the Water District’s offices are closed on Friday and no one could be reached for comment.