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Legal troubles for disgraced MGM exec are far from over

While a federal court judge handling the sentencing of disgraced former Las Vegas gaming executive Scott Sibella has ordered that he won’t see prison time, the jury is still out in the court of public opinion as to whether he should have been punished more severely.

One thing is certain: Months after admitting to turning a blind eye to how an illegal bookmaker he invited to gamble was paying his markers, the legal problems for Sibella, the former president of MGM Grand and Resorts World Las Vegas, are far from over.

The timing of Sibella’s guilty plea has placed Nevada gaming regulators in an unwanted spotlight because the Control Board exonerated him in February 2023, saying allegations against him were unfounded.

But days before Sibella stood before U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee in a courtroom in downtown Los Angeles on May 8, the Nevada Gaming Control Board was preparing a three-count complaint against Sibella over the same charges federal prosecutors found against him.

While Gee sentenced Sibella to a year’s probation and a $9,500 fine, plus a separate $100 fee, the maximum penalty on the state charge is $250,000 per violation and the possible suspension or revocation of his gaming license.

In January, Sibella admitted to failing to file to federal officials suspicious transactions reports required of casinos in compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act. Court records documented six occasions in which Sibella hosted illegal bookmaker Wayne Nix knowing that he shouldn’t have been allowed to play.

In determining Sibella’s punishment, Gee relied on reports issued by the United States Probation Office and prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Those recommendations were noted in a pre-sentencing report listed in court documents.

81 letters

During sentencing, Gee noted that Sibella was a first-time offender, had never been in trouble with the law before and showed remorse for his actions. But she particularly noted that she was moved by 81 letters of endorsement the court received from Sibella’s friends and family, which she said was the most she ever received in a case of that kind.

The list of letters on Sibella’s behalf is a who’s who of Southern Nevada professional colleagues, civic and academic leaders, charities and friends.

Among the letters of support were messages from current and former gaming executives including longtime MGM executive William McBeath, Cannery Casino founder and UNLV Foundation honoree Bill Paulos, UNLV Athletic Director Erick Harper, former UNLV and Oklahoma basketball coach Lon Kruger, former Nevada Gaming Commissioner Steven Cohen, former Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Sheriff Kevin McMahill.

Most of the letters of support had a common theme — that Sibella’s actions were out of character and resulted from a momentary lapse of judgment. They focused on Sibella’s good deeds in the community.

“Every interaction and experience with Scott have been nothing short of exceptional,” McMahill wrote. “What he is accused of is out of character and doesn’t represent the person I’ve come to know.”

“During my time as the superintendent of schools in the Clark County School District, Mr. Sibella has been a tireless advocate for public education,” Jara wrote. “Over the years, he has provided our students and staff with free school supplies, offers for special events and promotions, and incentivized academic achievement. He has also provided space to host some of the district’s largest events, and was recently honored for his commitment to ensuring student safety and security.”

In one ironic twist, considering Sibella was accused of allowing known illegal bookmakers to play at MGM Grand, a letter of support came from a legal bookmaker, Circa Sportsbook Director Nick Bogdanovich.

“Scott has been an exemplary employee his entire career,” Bogdanovich wrote. “This one mistake should not define an incredible man and his extraordinary career. It should not erase 30 years of his hard work and immense dedication to serving Las Vegas. He is hurting and is fully aware of the enormity of his mistake. Every day Scott will miss being a part of making Las Vegas the greatest destination for travelers from all over the world.”

State complaint

It’s unclear whether some of those letters of support will be viewed by members of the Nevada Gaming Commission, which eventually will rule on the Control Board complaint. The Gaming Control Board hasn’t commented on its investigation of Sibella, citing Nevada statutes that assure confidentiality on agency investigations.

So far, there has been no stipulation of settlement on Sibella’s state case or a determination if there would be a hearing on the complaint.

So was Sibella’s punishment appropriate or was the judge too lenient?

One of Sibella’s longtime critics, Robert “RJ” Cipriani, who goes by Robin Hood 702 on his X account and has an active lawsuit against Sibella, wasn’t impressed with the sentencing.

“A TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE,” he screamed on X after the sentencing was announced.

Cipriani, who also is banned from several casinos, believes Sibella may face more trouble from his time at Resorts World, although no formal charges have been made on illegal play at the property Sibella helped open in June 2021.

After the sentencing, one of Sibella’s attorneys addressed other allegations.

“The decision to plead to the single charge, for failing to file a suspicious activity report (SAR) at MGM Resorts in 2017, was not easily arrived at given the underlying facts and realities in this matter,” Sibella said through one of his attorneys. “I was charged from the very beginning for not filing a SAR, accepted a plea, and have taken full and complete responsibility for what I did. I want to reiterate that by, anything alleged, I gained no benefit — neither personal, professional or financial.”

Attorney John Spilotro also said, “Contrary to published reports, Mr. Sibella never used a betting account and never made any illegal bets. In addition, Mr. Sibella had no involvement in the bookmaking activities of Mathew Bowyer and nothing whatsoever to do with Ippei Mizuhara, the former interpreter of Shohei Ohtani.”

On the day Sibella was before Gee, Mizuhara was at an office across the street from the court explaining his role in a theft from Ohtani’s bank account. Last week, Mizuhara pleaded not guilty to criminal charges.

End of gaming career?

While Sibella seeks to return to normal life, some believe he’ll never be able to be licensed for gaming again.

In his letter of support for Sibella, former Clark County District Attorney David Roger said he thinks Sibella’s gaming career is over.

“In addition to being a convicted felon, Mr. Sibella will suffer collateral consequences from his guilty plea,” Roger’s letter said. “After his indictment, Mr. Sibella was terminated from his position as president of a major resort, and it is unlikely he will work in the industry again. Mr. Sibella’s career in gaming is finished.”

Then, there are unanswered questions about why the Gaming Control Board exonerated Sibella in February 2023 only to hear him plead guilty to charges months later.

The Control Board gave an explanation why it wasn’t investigating Sibella in its complaint against him.

“Prior to July 1, 2007, the commission and the board regulated cash transaction prohibitions, reporting and record keeping for nonrestricted licensees” through its Regulation 6A.

“After several years of discussion both internally and with the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the board and commission decided maintaining Regulation 6A in a manner sufficient to keep the exemption in effect was becoming an increasing and unnecessary burden.”

So Nevada regulators repealed Regulation 6A in September 2006, effectively turning money-laundering investigations over to federal authorities. As a result, it appeared Nevada gaming regulators were sitting on the sidelines when everything was happening with Sibella at MGM.

State oversight criticized

That doesn’t sit well with Richard Schuetz, a former Southern Nevada gaming executive who also has served on the California Gambling Control Commission and worked in the past as a consultant to iGaming in California.

“When you have a key employee that is involved with an illegal bookmaker, assisting him in laundering money, you can’t, as the head of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, say, well, we’re going to let the feds handle that,” Schuetz said in an interview. “That’s nonsense. That’s abdication.”

Schuetz said the follow-up investigation being conducted by investigators now is the equivalent of “copying someone else’s homework.”

“It’s like going into the battlefield after the battle and shooting the wounded,” he said. “It’s just embarrassing.”

In online posts, Schuetz laid the blame on the turnover that has occurred in the leadership of the Gaming Control Board.

In a post titled, “The Nevada Gaming Control Board has officially lost its way,” Schuetz noted that after A.G. Burnett stepped down as board chair in December 2017, there have been four different people appointed to hold the chair role.

“When one sees this type of turnover at the top of an organization, one should anticipate a performance somewhat akin to a rudderless ship, understanding that people who are appointed to the chair position by the governor do not hit the ground running,” Schuetz wrote.

Because Ohtani, the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball star, has been linked to the story, there are more eyes on Nevada’s gaming regulatory system which, Schuetz contends, has taken a massive credibility hit.

“Look, it has to start with the governor,” Schuetz said. “Maybe he doesn’t even see this as being a problem. Who knows? This is terribly embarrassing to the state, and it’s damaging to the state. And as you and I both know, this story’s got legs with the Resorts (World) piece. And it’s even got more legs if it involves Ohtani.

“We need someone to go in there and shake it up. They need to find a chairman that plans on being a chairman, not drifting into politics or whatever a lot of them do in the industry, a professional regulator. We need him to roll up his sleeves and rebuild a culture that the legacy boards have had previously.”

Current Chairman Kirk Hendrick has declined comment on the Sibella investigation.

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

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