Gaming regulators' blessing a mixed bag for strip club-casino joint venture

If certain Gaming Control Board agents are looking more tanned around the office these days, there's surely a good reason for it.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if a few were sporting wicked sunburns. I'd even find it understandable to learn one or two suffered dizzying cases of heatstroke.

Such are the perils of investigating the casino industry's rapidly evolving poolside marketing scene.

When word began to circulate recently that the Rio had hooked up with Sapphire Gentlemen's Club for a risqué poolside promotion featuring the appearance of plenty of ladies from the enormous topless cabaret, it set control board officials in motion to get to the bikini-bottom of the matter.

So, a board official tells me, agents were dispatched to conduct poolside surveillance at the Rio, Palms and elsewhere in search of potential code violations.

That's the gaming code, you smart alecks, not the dress code. But, come to think of it, in this case the two are interrelated.

Knowing that, two questions spring to mind:

First, who says there are no good jobs left in state government?

Second, did the agents go undercover in Bermuda shorts with dark socks and shoes?

Alas, what the agents found is sure to disappoint frisky fraternity brothers and Coppertone Lotharios. I'll let Gaming Control Board member Randall Sayre deliver the report.

"The Gaming Control Board is aware of the management agreement in place between Rio and Sapphire at the pool," he said. "That particular pool and other pools are being closely watched with frequent visits to assure the presentation is not getting out of hand. We have recently visited the Rio and found nothing in terms of that venue that rose to the level that was of great concern."

What he means is, no actual company-sponsored toplessness. No topless gambling at the pool, either.

It's enough to make your inflatable pool toy go pffft.

Is the control board's thumbs up good news or bad news for the Sapphire/Rio pool party crew?

I'm guessing it's bad news for the casino marketing side, but good news for the casino legal side. The fact the straight-as-a-string control board has given your supposedly super sexy pool scene the equivalent of a G-rating is going to be hard to put in a seductive advertisement or naughty commercial.

Somehow, "Sapphire Pool -- more wholesome than advertised and now with the Gaming Control Board Seal of Approval" doesn't have much sizzle.

Legally, it means that what some casino insiders have been concerned about, that the pools would be turned into quasi-topless cabarets with the potential to embarrass the corporate hierarchy should a Minxx-type shootout or Crazy Horse Too scandal ever develop on resort property, hasn't occurred. Not that the negative possibilities haven't been discussed inside the Harrah's hierarchy. I'm told the Rio-Sapphire business arrangement has attracted plenty of attention.

Some believe the Sapphire Pool at the Rio, and the eventual removal of veils, pasties and string tops, provides a gander at the future of the Las Vegas resort scene.

Joking aside, this is a challenge for the control board. In addition to regulating the increasingly complex gaming industry, the regulators occasionally must play good-taste police. Licensees have been fined for embarrassing the industry and keeping company with the wrong sorts.

Then there's the gambling component, which is something the board takes very seriously.

"A lot of these venues offer poolside gambling," Sayre said. "We keep an eye on what's taking place and also counsel the industry that if gaming is going to be provided in these venues, that the dealers as well as those that are patronizing the tables are appropriately attired. In other words, the dealers need to be attired."

He didn't exactly mean in traditional black-and-whites, but Sayre explained, "Well, tops and bottoms. For the dealers, as well as the patrons sitting at the tables."

It would certainly bring a new meaning to a blackjack player "going bust."

"I'm comfortable that the industry, in total, is aware that there are limits with regards to providing that type of entertainment," Sayre said.

But if I may remind the esteemed board member, there are certain advantages to allowing players to go topless.

First of all, it makes it impossible to hide a card up your sleeve.

John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at or call (702) 383-0295.