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Can a highway serve as a casino-school buffer? New law says yes

A law meant to keep casinos out of neighborhoods was changed during the Nevada legislative session that ended last month, benefiting a tract of land south of the Strip owned by a major casino developer.

Lawmakers approved an amendment to Senate Bill 266 that changed a 1997 law establishing distance requirements between a casino property and a school or house of worship. SB 266 — which primarily addressed how a gaming licensee’s monthly fee is calculated — overwhelmingly passed without public discussion. Gov. Joe Lombardo signed it into law on June 14.

The amended distance requirements help Red Rock Resorts, parent company of locals chain Station Casinos, with a 126-acre landholding at the southwest corner of Cactus Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard, roughly one mile south of South Point. The site — which Red Rock purchased a year ago as part of the company’s real estate overhaul — sits across from Dennis Ortwein Elementary School on Dean Martin Drive. Interstate 15 runs in between the school and the property.

The amended law now says a proposed establishment less than 1,500 feet from a school or religious building can get a license as long as it covers 20 or more contiguous acres; it sits at least partially in the Las Vegas Boulevard gaming corridor; and the proposed site and neighborhoods, schools or religious buildings are separated by an interstate highway.

“That is a true barrier,” said Michael Britt, a spokesperson for Red Rock Resorts. “You’re not going to have people crossing I-15 to a casino property. The original intent of having distance requirements — which our company believes in very strongly — is to keep intact the neighborhood.”

Assemblywoman Shea Backus, D-Las Vegas, the amendment’s sponsor, did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the amendment and why there was no public discussion.

Britt said Red Rock Resorts was aware that a small portion of the site fell outside of the gaming corridor that exists around Las Vegas Boulevard when it purchased the land in July 2022. It sought the legislative change for increased flexibility on the site, he said.

He argued that the amended language can apply to any other potential development along Las Vegas Boulevard.

Red Rock Resorts does not have public plans to develop the site in the near future, though executives have said they want to double the company’s casino portfolio by 2030. Rather, it is preparing several large landholdings across the valley — in North Las Vegas, Skye Canyon in the northwest valley, Henderson’s Inspirada community and Summerlin — with entitlements so the company has “optionality” in which site it next develops.

Its current project, the $780 million Durango resort, is expected to open in the fourth quarter.

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.

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