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Sandoval to revive Gaming Policy Committee

With technology changing and moving at an "accelerating" pace, Gov. Brian Sandoval said Friday he would reconstitute the long-dormant Gaming Policy Committee to advise state casino leaders and lawmakers on a variety of issues, including Internet poker.

In a lunchtime speech to the Gaming Law Conference of the Nevada Bar Association at the Gold Coast, Sandoval said he would chair the 11-person committee, which would explore matters such as mobile gaming, Internet gaming and the potential effects of new technology on the state's tax policy, workforce development, and infrastructure.

"I hope to help sketch a roadmap for the journey ahead," Sandoval said. "I propose to convene and lead a robust policy conversation about the modernization of our gaming industry. We must preserve Nevada's leadership role in gaming, even in this brave new digital world."

Sandoval, a former chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, said the state already has made several strides forward in dealing with the changing gaming environment, including legislation he signed into law this past spring that requires state gaming regulators to adopt rules for licensing and operation of Internet poker by Jan. 31.

"I want to preserve Nevada's position as the gold standard in gaming regulation," Sandoval said.

Gov. Richard Bryan last used the Gaming Policy Committee in the 1980s to discuss pari mutuel wagering.

Sandoval said he had been aware of the panel's existence and saw the advisory structure of the group as a place for broad conversation about how the gaming industry is changing through technology and what Nevada needs to do to adapt and capitalize on it.

"This is exactly what the Gaming Policy Committee was meant for," Sandoval said after his speech.

Sandoval said he has asked Gaming Commission Chairman Peter Bernhard and Control Board Chairman Mark Lipparelli to serve on the panel. The governor said that the Legislature would appoint two members to the panel and that there will be two members that represent Nevada's Indian tribes.

Sandoval said he would appoint five members, including two representatives from nonrestricted gaming licensees, a representative from a restricted gaming licensee and two members of the public.

He didn't announce any appointments Friday. He didn't expect the committee to meet until after Jan. 1.

In the past few months, questions have arisen on whether nonrestricted gaming, such as sports wagering, is bleeding over into restricted gaming locations, which are licensed for 15 or fewer slot machines.

In September, gaming regulators allowed sports wagering kiosks in several bars and taverns despite the objection of the Nevada Resort Association. Earlier this year, gaming regulators approved sports wagering applications for smartphone devices that allow gamblers to bet on games anywhere in the state.

"There are many economic development issues inextricably linked to the modernization of gaming, as well as real implications for our workforce," Sandoval said. "Nevadans deserve a focused policy discussion on these topics."

Nevada Resort Association President Virginia Valentine said Sandoval's plan is timely given all of the technology changes in the past year. She thought the committee would provide some "thoughtful dialogue" for the changing industry.

"It will give us an opportunity to bring a lot of stakeholders to the table to discuss policy," Valentine said.

The key element to the committee's discussions will be Internet poker. Sandoval said after the speech that he is unsure where Congress stands on legalizing Internet poker.

Two bills have been introduced in Congress, and many observers think the House-Senate supercommittee, which is tasked with cutting $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit, may look at legalizing and taxing Internet poker as part of the overall solution.

As commission chairman in 2001, Sandoval held the state's first hearings on Internet gaming. He said Nevada's gaming industry needs to focus its efforts to ensure the state remains ahead of the curve.

"I have long believed that Internet poker will, among the many technological advances sure to arrive in the coming years, be the most profound," Sandoval said.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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