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November 21, 2017

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Nevada Gaming Commission to hash over weed and casinos

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L.E. Baskow

Customers at the Essence cannabis shop on Las Vegas Boulevard South line up as sales of recreational marijuana began at midnight in Nevada on Saturday, July 1, 2017.

Nevada’s legalization of recreational marijuana has made life easier for users but more difficult for gaming companies, something the Nevada Gaming Commission hopes to address in a special meeting on Thursday.

Legalized weed presents a number of problems for the gaming industry: Using and selling pot is still a violation of federal law, and Nevada’s regulators don’t want gaming companies to be associated with something that is technically illegal.

State gaming laws and regulations specifically prohibit behavior by gaming licensees that would discredit the industry. Violating a federal law, Nevada’s gaming regulators have said, could do exactly that.

Members of the commission also worry that the federal government may take a stronger interest in Nevada’s gaming industry if the state appears unconcerned about pot use.

“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,” Commissioner Randolph Townsend said during a commission meeting last year shortly after the state’s voters passed Question 2 to legalize recreational use.

Among the potential effects are licensing of key employees such as casino executives and the registration of front-line employees such as dealers and hosts, especially if they have business relationships with the marijuana industry.

It could also affect vendors who work with both casinos and the marijuana industry, such as payment-processing firms or companies providing information technology services. In many cases, these businesses also have to be licensed to do business with casinos in Nevada.

The new marijuana law itself may also create issues for casinos regarding where guests can or cannot consume weed.

Metro Police have said they’ll approach enforcing the pot laws on the Strip as they would any other misdemeanor violation in Clark County.

Metro spokesperson Larry Hadfield said Metro’s understanding of the new law is clear: You can’t consume weed in public. “A private residence is the key,” Hadfield said.

However, smoking pot in public is a misdemeanor, and Hadfield said that unless officers spot another crime being committed, people caught smoking pot in public will be cited (given a ticket) and sent on their way.

However, the law doesn’t say pot use must occur in someone’s home. It only says weed cannot be consumed in a public place (or a moving vehicle or a marijuana store). What makes a space public in this context is uncertain.

Is a hotel room that can be rented to anyone a public space? Is a meeting room or convention space public if it is rented to a specific group and not open to the general public while that group is using it?

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

When asked how the company is dealing with customers who use marijuana, a Station representative said it is deferring to the Nevada Gaming Control Board and the Nevada Gaming Commission.

A Caesars Entertainment representative said his company prohibits marijuana use anywhere on their Nevada properties and has posted signs throughout their resorts so customers know the rules.

Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett said that despite the confusion about some of the details, gaming companies and regulators agree that federal and state law must be observed.

“Right now, gaming licensees on the Strip are very proactive where it concerns people visibly using marijuana on premises,” Burnett said. “When someone is smoking, it is a little more obvious and will be dealt with more quickly than if someone is consuming an edible. Nonetheless, the concern of licensees is the same as ours. In terms of compliance to federal law, we’re on the same page.”

However, he said, there are other issues that must be worked out.

In an attempt to prevent guests from gambling too much when they are drunk, Nevada’s gaming statutes say casinos can’t allow people who are “visibly intoxicated to participate in gaming activity.”

But it may be a challenge for casinos to comply with that regulation in the case of weed, Burnett said.

“The more difficult question is when you have someone coming in and they are using edibles and nobody can detect it,” Burnett said. “And then there’s the possibility of a patron dispute because someone was too high to gamble.”

Thursday’s meeting will address public use issues as well as others, Nevada Gaming Commission Chairman Tony Alamo said.

Alamo added that he isn’t sure if the commission will end up releasing a formal policy statement. Gaming companies may need to refer to the discussions to discern the commission's intent when it comes to weed, he said

However, he said he's certain that the issues won’t be decided when the commission adjourns on Thursday. “It’s complicated,” he said. “It can’t be done in one meeting.”

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