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County delays decision on gaming regulations for taverns

Dotty's

Justin M. Bowen

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

Updated Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014 | 6:10 p.m.

There were lamentations of lost jobs, protests over the high cost of compliance and even the threat of a lawsuit, but there was no decision today on fiercely contested changes to Clark County's tavern gaming law.

The Clark County Commission heard from bar owners, employees, suppliers and representatives from the casino industry over three hours of public testimony on new proposed regulations meant to curb the growth of slot parlors like Dotty's in the region.

But after two amendments to the already complicated law were introduced this morning causing confusion and uncertainty among commissioners and bar industry representatives, the commission decided to delay its vote until Wednesday.

Doing so will allow a cleaned-up, final ordinance to be circulated for review before a final vote, which is scheduled to take place at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Clark County Government Center.

At issue is the business model behind the popular Dotty's chain of taverns, which critics characterize as a slot parlor that promotes slot machine gaming over selling food and drinks like traditional taverns.

The new rules are meant to strengthen a 2011 law that attempted to address the slot parlor issue by forcing Dotty's and other bars with the same business model to look and act more like traditional taverns. But vague wording left open loopholes that critics say Dotty has exploited to violate the spirit of the law.

The changes discussed today would force bars to meet a two-pronged test: operate a full kitchen and embed slot machines in the bar top, or prove that slot machine earnings don't exceed 50 percent of revenues.

If a bar doesn't meet at least one of the conditions, the number of slot machines it's allowed could be slashed from 15 to seven.

The law also goes into specifics about how the bar should look and operate, detailing how high the bar top should be and what kind of food kitchens can serve.

The most controversial issue was how already operating bars would be "grandfathered in" under the new regulations, allowing them to avoid making the costly changes required by the new law.

Although commissioners generally approved of the other proposed changes, several objected to the grandfather clause, which they felt didn't protect existing bars enough.

"If you want to fix something, you do it going forward," said Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who advocated for a more inclusive clause so that the changes would only affect new taverns.

Today's hearing drew strong responses from both supporters and opponents of the changes. Supporters included Station Casinos, the Nevada Resort Association and Golden Gaming, which operates the PT's Pubs and Sierra Gold chains. Dozens of Golden Gaming employees, including bartenders, dishwashers and servers, packed one side of the commission chambers and urged the commission to level the playing field by forcing Dotty's to follow the rules.

On the other side of the aisle, Dotty's supporters wore red shirts to make their presence known. Company representatives told the commission that the company has complied with all parts of the tavern gaming law, including the 2011 law that first targeted the company's business model. The representatives said complying with the laws proposed today would cost the company millions of dollars.

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