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Prominent Nevada legal firm looks back on 75 years of operations

Updated June 10, 2024 - 9:52 am

There aren’t many Nevada companies that have been around for 75 years, but a prominent law firm with offices in Reno, Las Vegas and Carson City claimed that distinction last month.

McDonald Carano, which has more than 60 lawyers and government relations professionals, was founded in 1949 as Bible & McDonald by former World War II fighter pilot Bob McDonald and Alan Bible, who served as a member of the U.S. Senate from Nevada for 20 years. They knew each other in the Nevada attorney general’s office.

Don Carano, a name familiar to those who know the gaming industry, joined the firm in 1962, becoming a partner a year later.

The Carano family founded Eldorado Resorts in the early 1970s, and the company’s original flagship property, the Eldorado hotel-casino in downtown Reno, recently observed its 51st anniversary.

The Carano casino group was the eventual acquirer of Caesars Entertainment Corp. for $17.3 billion in 2020, and Eldorado changed its name to Caesars Entertainment Inc. With that transaction, the company surpassed MGM Resorts International as the largest gaming operator in the United States.

Importance of experience

The legal profession certainly crosses paths regularly with gaming. Hardly a Gaming Control Board or Nevada Gaming Commission meeting occurs without at least one representative of McDonald Carano making an appearance on behalf of a gaming client.

“Experienced legal counsel, with knowledge of Nevada’s Gaming Control Act and commission regulations, are vital to our state’s regulatory process,” said Kirk Hendrick, chairman of the Gaming Control Board. “Knowledgeable gaming counsel ensures that licensees and applicants receive proper advice regarding how Nevada’s gaming regulators strictly protect our state, its citizens and visitors.”

While Hendrick declined to speak about specific law firms or attorneys, regulators always seem comfortable talking with representatives of McDonald Carano, and its gaming law practice, which includes A.J. “Bud” Hicks, the firm’s gaming and administrative law chair; A.G. Burnett, a former Gaming Control Board chairman; partners Gregory Giordarno and Dennis Gutwald; and attorney Kelci Binau. All have had either regulatory or representative roles with gaming organizations.

Over the years, the firm has represented clients in some high-profile Las Vegas events.

In 2021, when the Seminole Indian Tribe’s Hard Rock International announced its agreement to acquire The Mirage from MGM Resorts International for $1.07 billion, McDonald Carano represented Hard Rock for the transaction’s regulatory approval. The firm also served as local counsel on various real estate matters involved in the acquisition.

Liberty Media Corp., the commercial rights holder of Formula One racing, brought the Las Vegas Grand Prix to the Strip in November. In 2022, McDonald Carano represented Liberty Media in connection with several real estate matters, including the acquisition of land for its race course and location of the pit and paddock.

But the firm isn’t just about gaming and tourism. It has a wide variety of expertise in employment and labor law, real estate and land use, energy, environment and natural resources law, trusts and estates, construction law and litigation, bankruptcy and government affairs and advocacy.

The firm is part of the city of Las Vegas’ outside counsel in its fight over development of the shuttered Badlands golf course.

“It’s truly remarkable that we are celebrating that 75th anniversary,” said George Ogilvie III, the firm’s managing partner as well as the managing partner of the Las Vegas office. “I look at some very, very venerable old-line law firms in Nevada, both in Reno and Las Vegas, and they’ve either split up or been absorbed by regional or national firms. It’s remarkable that one of the first statewide law firms still remains independent and standing. I think it’s a tribute reflective of a culture that Bob McDonald instilled in this law firm that exists today.”

Firm viewed like a family

Part of the reason for that is that attorneys view the firm as a family and few people leave once they’ve become established — unless they’re appointed to judgeships. Seven McDonald Carano alumni have been appointed or elected to serve as judges in federal or Nevada judicial roles, and two more have served as judges and have since left the bench.

“I tell people if I ever leave the law firm it’s probably because I’m incapacitated or doing something else besides practicing law,” said partner Ryan Works, chair of the bankruptcy, insolvency and financial restructuring practice. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Firm members are proud of their Nevada heritage and their record of giving back to their communities through pro bono and other charitable work. More than 80 percent of the firm are native Nevadans.

Some members of the firm are literally family.

Partner Joshua Hicks, chair of government affairs and advocacy, said he grew up idolizing many of the partners, including his gaming attorney father, A.J. “Bud” Hicks, and his uncle, Larry Hicks, who died May 29 in Reno after being struck by a vehicle.

“Because my father was a partner at the firm. I got to know them over the years through my dad being there and spending time at the office for various things. And I definitely grew up really admiring and having a lot of respect for the people who were at the firm. They were pillars of the community, involved with just about everything.

“My uncle Larry Hicks, who was here before he went onto the federal bench, and guys like John Frankovich and Leo Bergen who are still around and working,” he said. “It was kind of like a Major League Baseball team of lawyers. It was a team I always wanted to play for once I decided to become a lawyer and go to law school.”

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on X.

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