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Sisolak appointment brings Nevada Gaming Commission to full strength

When the Nevada Gaming Commission takes up a controversial sportsbook licensing and the latest nomination to the state’s List of Excluded Persons on Thursday it could do so with a full five-member board.

Gov. Steve Sisolak late Friday appointed Las Vegas attorney Steven Cohen to the commission, which has been undermanned since January.

Cohen, a founding partner of the Cohen Johnson law firm, was named to the part-time commission, replacing Philip Pro, who in April decided against pursuing a four-year reappointment.

Cohen, raised in Las Vegas, attended UNLV and received a degree in business administration in 1978.

After attending law school at Arizona State University, he linked up with lifelong friend Stan Johnson to start the firm in 1986, a practice that included civil litigation, corporate and commercial real estate, gaming and casino litigation, corporate start-up companies, and served as counsel to national and international corporations and casinos.

The commission was down one member when Sisolak appointed former Commissioner Sandra Morgan to head the state Gaming Control Board in January. In April, the commission then lost Pro, setting up the possibility of the board conducting business with just three members.

But on April 30, Sisolak appointed Henderson attorney Rosa Solis-Rainey, who once clerked for Pro when he was a U.S. District Court judge, to the commission and last week added Cohen.

If the newly appointed members participate, it would be the first commission meeting for both of them.

And Thursday’s meeting should be interesting.

Commissioners will take up the proposed licensing of Isle of Man-based GVC Holdings Plc., the largest operator of sportsbooks in Great Britain and Germany, recommended by the Control Board with a rare split vote.

Board member Terry Johnson cast the lone vote against an approval recommendation after he chastised CEO Kenneth Alexander for failing to properly supervise online gaming transactions in Turkey.

Thursday’s meeting also will include the Control Board’s nomination of Mark Branco to become the 36th person added to the state’s List of Excluded Persons — the so-called “black book” of people who are not permitted to enter Nevada casinos.

Branco, a former craps dealer at Bellagio, was the ringleader of a group of four men who cheated the Strip casino out of an estimated $1.2 million. Accomplices Anthony Grant Granito, James Russell Cooper and Jeffrey Martin were placed on the excluded list late last year after commission hearings.

Branco has not indicated to Commission Chairman Tony Alamo whether he intends to appear to fight the complaint.

Granito, Cooper, Martin and Branco teamed up between August 2012 and July 2014 to cheat the casino. The scheme was discovered in 2014 when casino authorities noticed a series of winning wagers that defied 452 billion-to-1 odds. The foursome was convicted of theft and cheating at gambling in 2016 in Clark County District Court and sentenced to prison.

Branco was incarcerated the longest and recently was released.

Cooper cooperated with authorities and explained before a grand jury how the scam worked.

Cooper and Branco would have to be working the same table, according to Cooper’s grand jury testimony. As a shooter tossed the die, Granito or Martin would mumble something that sounded like a hop bet — a wager that specific numbers would come up on the next roll — and one of the dealers would pay out as if they had correctly wagered on whatever fell.

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

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