Gaming Control Board escapes big budget cuts

Nevada gaming regulators fared better than other state agencies at the Legislature.

Faced with a possible 15 percent operating budget reduction that could have slowed state-mandated audits and curtailed law enforcement functions, the Gaming Control Board made successful arguments to Carson City lawmakers to keep much of the agency’s proposed budget intact.

The control board, which oversees Nevada’s multibillion-dollar casino industry, saw its 2010-11 budget slashed by $6.1 million, as opposed to the $11.1 million reduction offered by Gov. Jim Gibbons.

For the next biennium, the control board will operate under an $89.3 million operating budget, with $62.6 million coming from the state’s general fund and the remaining $26.7 million funded by gaming licensees paying for investigative services.

“The Legislature was receptive to our concerns and stepped up and supported the agency in a very difficult time,” Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said.

The Legislature also restored funding for 14 open jobs within the control board that Neilander said are now in the process of being filled.

Going into the budgeting process, the Gaming Control Board had 32 frozen vacant positions. Gibbons proposed those jobs be permanently eliminated, but the Legislature took away the funding for 18 of the jobs, allowing regulators to fill the other 14 slots.

The control board will have 443 total positions over the next two years.

“We were close to taking the audit cycle to a level that would have crippled the agency,” Neilander said. “It could have been at a point where we would have been in danger of running up against the statute of limitations for audits. We’ve lengthened the audit cycle, but we’re no longer in danger.”

He said several of the board’s offices statewide were in danger of not being staffed.

Neilander said the new hires — tax and license agents, auditors and enforcement agents — will be needed as the agency establishes a team of experts to handle regulatory and licensing requirements expected to surface due to anticipated bankruptcies and corporate financial restructuring plans within the casino industry.

As part of the approved budget, Gaming Control Board staff, including Neilander and board members Randall Sayre and Mark Lipparelli, are required to take one furlough day per month, which he said amounts to a 4.6 percent reduction in salary.

Credential pay, which the governor proposed to suspend, was funded by lawmakers. Credential pay awards control board employees who are licensed attorneys, certified public accountants and engineers an additional $5,000 annually in two equal installments.

Neilander said the credential pay was important because it allows the control board to retain staff with professional qualifications who might otherwise be lured to the private sector or higher paying local government positions.

He said there are about 80 employees who receive credential pay.

“Every agency was making dire arguments,” Neilander said. “The Legislature was in a tough spot.”

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871.

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