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Togliatti’s judicial experience likely to help in Gaming Commission role

Updated November 14, 2021 - 8:37 am

To determine how new Nevada Gaming Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Togliatti’s skill set as a judge will translate into the gaming world, one need only look to one of her mentors.

Togliatti, 54, will become the first woman to chair the five-member, part-time gaming regulatory board when it meets Thursday in Las Vegas.

She and former state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer were appointed to the commission last month by Gov. Steve Sisolak. Kieckhefer attended his first meeting as a commissioner in October, but Togliatti was delayed a month because of a prior work commitment.

Togliatti, a retired Clark County District Court judge, said she thanks former U.S. District Court Judge Philip Pro, a former NGC commissioner, for helping her decide to enter the legal profession.

Togliatti shadowed Pro in his courtroom, where she learned the intricacies of courtroom procedure. That was enough for Togliatti, then a UNLV student, to apply at California Western School of Law in San Diego. (UNLV’s Boyd School of Law had yet to open.) She received a bachelor’s degree from UNLV in 1989 and her juris doctorate in 1993.

‘Sealed the deal’

“Sitting in Judge Pro’s courtroom was a great experience that sealed the deal for me,” Togliatti said.

Pro actually knew Togliatti when she was a high school student through her father, George Togliatti, a former Las Vegas FBI agent and current head of Nevada’s Department of Public Safety.

“I knew she was going to have the acumen for the profession, and it was immediately apparent to me that this was a young person who was going to go to law school,” Pro said. “And she ascended quite quickly to the state bench, and I think that’s telling as well.”

She went to work as a deputy district attorney in Clark County, a position she described as “prosecuting everything from fishing with two poles in Henderson to capital murder and everything in between,” particularly in Laughlin, Mesquite and other outlying areas.

She was part of the Crimes Against Women and Children’s Unit during her time in that office between 1994 and 1998 and handled prosecutions involving cheating at gambling violations.

When the Las Vegas Township Justice Court expanded, Togliatti became a justice of the peace.

Justice Court handles low-level civil cases, evictions, protective orders and misdemeanor criminal cases but also preliminary hearings for felonies. One of the preliminary hearings she handled during her four years as a JP was the Ted Binion murder case, a notorious investigation involving the wealthy son of downtown casino magnate Benny Binion.

Eighth District appointment

In 2002, when Judge Stephen Huffaker retired, Gov. Kenny Guinn appointed Togliatti to a judicial position in the Eighth Judicial District.

As a District Court judge for nearly 20 years, Togliatti took on several high-profile trials including cases arising out of the 2007 hepatitis scandal that resulted from the reuse of syringes and drugs in clinics run by Dr. Depak Desai. She was also involved in settling litigation surrounding the never-finished Harmon Hotel at the CityCenter site.

Throughout her career she received support from the community — including from the Gaming Commission chairman she eventually would succeed, John Moran Jr., also an attorney.

“I’ve always supported Jennifer, and she really was one of the better judges on the bench,” Moran said. “I’ve known her dad as a friend of law enforcement. I think she’s going to be awesome. I can’t think of a better pick the governor could make, and I’m looking forward to watching her as she makes her decisions on the commission.”

Moran agrees with Pro that the skill set of a good judge will translate well into the role of commission chair.

‘Historical perspective’

“I’m happy with the appointment of her because we already have some historical perspective on judges and gaming on the commission, and Judge Pro couldn’t be a better example of somebody who comes from a legal background,” Moran said. “I’m hoping Jennifer will be every bit as qualified and experienced in law. She has a really good foundation.”

Pro expects her experience dealing with regulatory and statutory frameworks will help her in her commission work.

“Legal and procedural issues will come up,” Pro said. “As a judge, frankly, you do this in your sleep. That is something that you live and breathe.

“I think those kinds of skills, that kind of background, will be of great assistance to her as she embarks upon chairing the various sessions. It won’t take long for her to get her feet wet,” he said.

During her time on the District Court bench, Togliatti served as chief judge, an administrative position for Clark County’s judicial system. It was during that time that she got to know then-Clark County Commissioner Sisolak.

When Moran left the Gaming Commission as its longest serving member, Togliatti — then retired from the bench and working in private mediation and arbitration — saw the opening. After consulting colleagues about whether chairing the commission would be a good fit, she decided to apply. Sisolak appointed her to the job in October.

“I’m really honored to have been appointed to this position, and I’m so proud that I’m the first woman chair,” she said. “I can’t thank Gov. Sisolak enough.”

Life-affecting decisions

Togliatti said she believes her years of experience making tough, life-affecting decisions from the bench will help her make similarly tough decisions in her commission work.

“The way you sleep at night when you do that work is you get as prepared as possible, you’re serious and thoughtful and you do your best,” she said. “I feel like I have established a reputation as someone who has done that for over 25 years.”

She acknowledged that she probably won’t be right every time.

“You’re never going to be right all the time, especially as a judge, but the question is, did you get a fair shake? Were you heard? Were you fair? Did you have integrity? Did you avoid conflicts at all costs? And does the public have trust in you? My experience brings that to the table,” she said.

Togliatti said she believes her best contribution to the regulatory board — which makes final decisions from recommendations from the three-member Nevada Gaming Control Board — will be in regulatory matters and finance, thanks to her business degree. She notes she may not have as good a grasp on technology issues that will be brought to the commission, “but I’m not using a flip phone either.”

“We’ve got to have sensible, sufficient regulations while we recognize that we have to evolve, innovate and grow in order for us to be successful,” she said. “I’m looking forward to facing those issues head-on.

“I think that in order for Nevada to continue to be the gold standard and for us to have a robust gaming economy, we have to be mindful of innovation and technology moving forward. But I have no preconceived notions.”

Her goal as commission chair: “I’m going to do everything I can to protect the industry in this state and keep Nevada the gold standard.”

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

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