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August 17, 2019

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Prohibition of pot use in hotel-casinos likely to continue after Question 2

Dotty's Gaming Commission Hearing

Christopher DeVargas

Nevada Gaming Commissioner Tony Alamo, shown in 2011, indicated Thursday that marijuana will not be allowed in casino-hotels, despite last week’s passage of Question 2.

Even after Question 2’s passage last week, casinos will likely avoid dealing with the marijuana industry and continue to prohibit guests from using pot on their properties, if the discussions of Nevada’s gaming regulators today are any indication.

Both the Nevada Gaming Control Board and Gaming Commission heard testimony and talked about the question that allows adults to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana, or 1/8 ounce of concentrated marijuana, starting next year.

“I mean, people can count to three,” Gaming Commission Chairman Tony Alamo said about the tone of discussion surrounding the issue. “For those of you here and those of you who read the transcripts, there’s definitely a tilt here.”

The issue was listed only as a discussion item on the agenda, so the commission did not vote or make a formal recommendation.

Still, it was obvious that Alamo along with Commissioners Randolph Townsend and Deborah J. Fuetsch favored continuing to discourage connections between the gaming and marijuana industries.

“It comes down to something very simple,” Alamo said. “Maybe the emperor has no clothes. In no way do I feel comfortable in my role as regulator to allow a licensee to permit a felonious act to occur anywhere in their property.”

“I have to admit I was a little bit afraid of this passage because I knew I would have to deal with this,” Fuetsch said. “It’s my personal opinion, but I’m not comfortable with the passage of this ballot (question).”

Townsend said his concern was that a connection between gaming and the marijuana industry could invite federal intervention.

“Were we to take a position that would allow a federal law to be broken and not act on it, that has a great chance of inviting federal intervention,” Townsend said.

The regulators faced a similar issue two years ago after the medical use of marijuana was legalized in Nevada. After that occurred, the Gaming Control Board sent a memo to casinos and other gaming companies stating that it “does not believe any investment or any other involvement in a medical marijuana facility or establishment by a person who has received a gaming approval or has applied for a gaming approval is consistent with the effective regulation of gaming."

Although both the medical and recreational use of pot has been legalized in Nevada, using and selling pot are still violations of federal law. And, the argument goes, a connection with people who are violating federal law could reflect or tend to reflect discredit upon the state of Nevada and the gaming industry.

However, not all the commissioners seemed to agree. Commissioner John T. Moran Jr. pointed out that the federal government has pledged to not enforce its law in states where pot is legal.

“Going back to my law school days, I learned that laws that are not enforced should not stay on the books,” Moran said. He spoke about how the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has barred federal prosecutions for state-law-authorized medical marijuana.

“We have to also talk about a question: When does a lawfully approved voter initiative and (a lawful) business ... when and how does that bring discredit on state gaming industry?”

The Nevada Gaming Control Board also held a public workshop to discuss marijuana before the commission's meeting. The chairman of the board, at least, wanted to maintain the status quo.

“If it’s a violation of federal law, it’s not suitable, and that’s kind of where I’m still at,” Chairman A.G. Burnett said. “Although I, too, am fully respectful of the will of the people.”

Representatives of the Nevada Resort Association, Station Casinos, and other businesses testified and asked questions.

Among the issues was whether hotel rooms, private gaming salons or meeting rooms rented by private parties constitute public places. That’s because the ballot initiative does not allow pot to be used in public locations.

“We’re asking for your guidance,” said Bill Young, chief compliance officer and head of security for Station Casinos. “Whether it will be allowed in your cars or in the privacy of the hotel rooms.”

Young said he had visited Colorado, where recreational pot is legal, and he said he was not pleased with what he saw. He said he does not think that the use of pot should be connected in any way with the casino business.

“As I said, every dollar that we take in has to be legally obtained and there can be no nexus with drugs,” Young said.

“The way I read the law is if someone has a private event in a meeting room and it’s closed to the public and there was no entry fee, no nothing, they would not be allowed to smoke,” Young said.

“I would say it’s public because it’s a room that would be generally be accessible to the public even if at the time it was not rented to them,” Young said. “The same applies to a hotel room, even though it’s closed, generally speaking. The person that checks in tomorrow is having to smell it or is dealing with the effects of marijuana.”

The board also discussed how gaming companies should deal with pot use by employees. It may be something, one commissioner said, that may have to be decided by politicians or judges.

“There are some questions that will probably require that the Legislature get involved,” board member Terry Johnson said. “Also, there may be some need for judicial resolution.”

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