The relationship between medical marijuana and the gaming industry just won’t go up in smoke.
Consider these recent events:
■ Three of the 18 medical marijuana dispensary permits awarded in Clark County are tied to someone in gaming despite admonishments from state gaming regulators that industry representatives stay away from the business.
■ Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson donated $2.5 million to an effort opposing a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana in Florida.
Somehow, the relationship between gaming and medicinal pot can’t be separated.
In May, the Nevada Gaming Control Board issued an industry notice telling gaming license holders — and even prospective license applicants — to stay far away from medical marijuana. Under federal law, distribution, possession and sale of the drug is a crime.
As such, the Control Board based its ruling on federal law.
The Nevada Gaming Commission backed the board’s decision at a public hearing, even though three of the panel’s five members — all attorneys — didn’t vote because their firms had clients involved with the 79 dispensary applicants in Clark County.
Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak testified at the hearing, saying he favored gaming license holders over other medical marijuana applicants because of the vetting process they’ve undergone. He didn’t find support from the regulators.
Ten days later, dispensary permit applications were awarded to businesses whose owners or management include:
■ Jane Tobman Moore, who is listed as an 8 percent owner of GB Sciences Nevada LLC. Moore’s husband, Barry Moore, owns a restricted gaming license for several taverns, including Shuck’s Gaming and Oyster Bar and Beano’s Casino.
Tobman Moore is the sister-in-law of Gaming Commissioner John Moran Jr., an attorney who recused himself from voting during the May hearing. J.T. Moran III, Moran Jr.’s son, was the attorney who represented GB Sciences.
■ Troy Herbst, who owns 10 percent of The Clinic Nevada LLC. He and his two brothers and father, Jerry Herbst, run JETT Gaming, a slot machine route operator. The business manages the slot machines for the family’s Terrible Herbst convenience stores and gas stations.
■ Armen Yemenidjian, manager and 40 percent stakeholder in Integral Associates LLC. His father, Alex Yemenidjian, is president of the Tropicana Las Vegas. The younger Yemenidjian is vice president of casino operations and marketing for the Strip hotel-casino.
Control Board members are reportedly incensed. They believed their order was clear. Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett told commissioners at the hearing that the original message wouldn’t change.
Other gaming license holders sought entry into the medical marijuana business, but exited before the Clark County Commission hearings. M Resort CEO Anthony Marnell III, for example, withdrew from his ownership role in Clear River LLC, which was awarded a dispensary permit for Laughlin. Marnell’s stake in the business was picked up by former Mesquite casino owner Randy Black, who no longer has any role in the CasaBlanca.
Sisolak said he was comfortable selecting the three applicants with gaming ties because he had been assured those issues had been resolved.
Tobman Moore’s ownership has troubled regulators enough that a letter of concern from the Control Board may be forthcoming. Gaming agents don’t believe that splitting the businesses connection between husband and wife is enough of a separation.
Neither Moran was available for comment.
Herbst, sources say, may withdraw from JETT to focus on medical marijuana.
The younger Yemenidjian, who does not hold a gaming license, declined to comment through Kirvin Doak Public Relations, which handles the Tropicana’s communications. A spokeswoman, however, said the casino is separate from the marijuana business — which also counts Camille Ruvo, wife of Southern Nevada Wines and Spirits partner Larry Ruvo, as a manager.
Adelson’s entry into the Florida political battle seemed odd on the surface.
The billionaire casino owner didn’t protest when Nevada lawmakers made medical marijuana legal in 2000. He was quiet in 2013 when the Legislature approved 66 dispensaries.
Sources close to Adelson said his friend and fellow GOP fundraiser Mel Sembler organized the Drug Free Florida Committee to fight the Sunshine State’s November ballot question. Sembler asked Adelson for help and he obliged, writing a check for 93 percent of the group’s total funds.
Adelson’s wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, operates drug addiction treatment centers in Las Vegas and Israel. He and his wife consider marijuana a gateway drug that could lead to use of other illegal substances. Adelson stayed out of the 2013 dispensary debate because Nevada already approved medical marijuana and that wasn’t changing.
However, if a bill calling the legalization of marijuana for recreational use surfaces in the 2015 Nevada Legislature, Adelson would put his considerable resources behind killing the measure.
In Florida, public opinion polls show medical marijuana passing with two-thirds support. But GOP lawmakers oppose the proposition.
Adelson isn’t shy about donating to lost causes (see Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign). Besides, currying favor with Florida lawmakers, who may decide someday to place a hotel-casino complex in Miami, is akin to putting aside chips for a future poker game.
Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3871. Follow on Twitter: @howardstutz.