Fire equipment deficiencies found at Bill's Gamblin' Hall

Clark County found deficiencies in fire safety equipment at Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon during a test performed just this month, even though the test was required by the casino's March 2007 transformation from the Barbary Coast.

One problem involved Bill's system for backup power. Subsequently inspectors found shortcomings with emergency lighting in numerous areas where employees and guests would need light to exit the hotel during an emergency.

"Serious" is how an independent fire investigator from Northern Nevada characterized the deficiencies, after he reviewed county records about the conditions at Bill's, a Strip hotel that belongs to Harrah's Entertainment.

"You can tell it's serious, (because) they made them do a fire watch," said investigator Terry Taylor, who also has served as deputy state fire marshal in Nevada and in California.

"It's important to say that it's now functioning," Harrah's spokeswoman Marybel Batjer said Thursday in reference to Bill's emergency power generator and its "shunt," which allows the site to switch its source of electricity from the public utility to its own generator.

When the business license for Bill's was issued in early 2007 the transfer of ownership mandated testing. Fire inspectors discovered the generator problem during testing Dec. 2.

Asked why the long lag from the hotel's name change to the mandatory shunt test, county spokeswoman Stacey Welling said the fire department started the various required fire tests in early 2008. The shunt test is one of the last because it is a "significant" test that entails briefly shutting off all outside power to a site. It is normally done at hotel casinos "in overnight hours, when it's less of an inconvenience," she explained.

Representatives for Harrah's and the county both declined to acknowledge any possibility that the generator and shunt problem may have existed the entire 21 months that Harrah's has operated Bill's. The problem would limit the ability of firefighters -- during a power failure or a fire -- to selectively shut down or activate narrow zones of the building's firefighting systems. The impaired generator's mandatory automatic startup feature was not working, but it could still be tripped manually, Welling said.

"It's hard to speculate when equipment went into malfunction," said Batjer, who is a Harrah's Entertainment vice president. "We've been on it. We were on it immediately, as soon as we learned of it."

After a first repair, Bill's generator problem continued during a follow-up test on Dec. 9. The fire watch -- which is a nonstop foot patrol to visually spot fire breaking out -- began after inspectors found the problem. The watch ended on Dec 11, when the generator passed the test, according to county paperwork.

Bill's has until Jan. 24 to fix the emergency lighting.

Contact reporter Joan Whitely at or 702-383-0268.