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All-Clark County gaming commission is not a balanced approach

Is it possible Gov. Jim Gibbons believes there is no one in Northern Nevada good enough to serve on the Nevada Gaming Commission? Not one businessman, former legislator, rancher or even a retired journalist?

Apparently so. Otherwise how would we end up with five gaming commissioners — all from Clark County?

The Nevada Gaming Commission is the most prestigious and influential regulatory body in the state. Nevada’s regulatory system is that the full-time three-member Gaming Control Board recommends and the five-member part-time commissioners have the final say.

A commission with no members outside of Clark County is a commission that’s not fairly balanced, even if two on the control board are from the north. It’s odd that a Las Vegas columnist is banging this drum when there hasn’t been any major outcry in Northern Nevada. But fair is fair.

Possibly people were paying more attention to Gibbons’ decision to create a board with four attorneys, which violates the spirit of the law that “preferably” no more than two people from the same profession should be on the commission.

Last Friday, Gibbons named Las Vegas attorneys Joe Brown and John Moran Jr. to the board, replacing former Lt. Gov. Sue Wagner of Reno and Las Vegas businessman Art Marshall. Wagner was the only Northern Nevadan on the board. Now there are none.

There are four Las Vegas attorneys — Chairman Pete Bernhard and member Radha Chanderraj, plus the two new members. Dr. Tony Alamo is the only non-lawyer.

Gibbons’ spokesman Daniel Burns told the Review-Journal the two Las Vegas attorneys were the most qualified candidates. There’s no question both men are qualified. I’ve known them both for decades. However, there’s that issue that Brown’s law firm Jones Vargas represents gaming clients and he’ll have to put up a Chinese wall so he won’t face any ethical conflicts. He’s already taken those steps.

The Brown appointment is a kiss-and-make-up appointment. Back in 2007, Gibbons didn’t reappoint Brown to the Nevada Athletic Commission. No one could comprehend why the Republican governor would publicly snub the state’s Republican national committeeman, but then figuring out the governor’s reasoning process isn’t easy. Supposedly, he got some “bad advice,” not a first in his administration.

Anyway, appointing Brown seems to make sense.

Appointing Moran, a Democrat and son of a former Clark County sheriff, also is reasonable. I’m not criticizing their abilities to be commissioners.

But an all-Clark County Gaming Commission is not a balanced approach to regulating gaming in Nevada. Northern Nevada deserves a voice. Regional fairness seems like one of those common-sense things. No need to add that to law alongside prohibitions against all belonging to the same party and “preferably” not including more than two from the same profession or industry.

On Monday at the 50th Anniversary Salute to the Nevada Gaming Commission at Boyd Law School, the program was a vivid reminder of leading issues the commission handled in its first 50 years:

• The transition from the mob to publicly traded companies.

• The challenges as gaming spread outside Nevada.

• College sports betting.

• Internet gaming.

• Indian gaming.

• Gaming in Macau.

These aren’t exclusively Las Vegas issues.

Even the controversies aren’t exclusive to Las Vegas. The first big controversy the commission faced erupted out of Cal-Neva Lodge in Lake Tahoe, where Frank Sinatra was catering to mobster Sam Giancana.

The commission didn’t lack for controversy. The licensing efforts of Sinatra, Howard Hughes, Frank Rosenthal and Ted Binion come to mind quickly, along with unproven accusations against Harry Reid, also known as “Cleanface.”

Guy Farmer is a Nevada Appeal columnist with a unique perspective as the first public information officer for the commission. He’s hammered the commission for opening the door to let Nevada companies operate Indian and Internet gaming — statewide issues — yet believes the two-tiered system created in 1959 by Gov. Grant Sawyer has worked well, despite his concerns.

“There’s more to this state than Vegas,” he said.

The system works if the appointments are regionally balanced and diverse.

Gibbons didn’t look at the total package when making these two appointments and so has snubbed Northern Nevada while turning the commission into a club for Las Vegas lawyers.

Just another example of his poor judgment.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison/.

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