Casinos must stop behaving badly so customers can safely go wild

Hosts and security personnel at the Hard Rock Hotel unwittingly sold drugs to undercover agents from the Gaming Control Board and Las Vegas police and, as a bonus, provided private restrooms for drugs and sex.

The Hard Rock agreed Wednesday to pay $650,000 to settle a control board complaint, the largest payment in a two-year investigation aimed at illegal acts that were openly tolerated at area nightclubs and pools. “An unsuitable method of operation” is what it’s called in the complaint.

Without admitting or denying the allegations, the Hard Rock acknowledged the board could prove the accusations if there were a hearing before the Nevada Gaming Commission. To avoid that, the company agreed to pay $500,000 as a fine and to reimburse police $75,000 and the board another $75,000 to pay undercover investigation costs.

Technically, without a settlement, the Hard Rock could have lost its license, although that was unlikely. But the threat was enough to bring owners to the table.

Signing the stipulation Wednesday was the last official act of control board member Randall Sayre, who asked to be appointed chairman of the board by Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval but wasn’t.

Sayre twice warned the gaming industry of his concerns about drunkenness, drug use, sex acts in public, minors, prostitution, date rape, dumping of drunken guests and other acts at nightclubs and pools. The board even offered casino operators seminars on the subjects.

Some companies listened. The Hard Rock bosses didn’t. Undercover stings showed that even after the Hard Rock had been placed on notice, the illegal activities were still tolerated.

Multiple undercover stings starting in November 2009 and ending in August, along with employee interviews, revealed that the Hard Rock’s Vanity nightclub (formerly Body English) had two private restrooms for the use of patrons needing a quiet place to enjoy sex and drugs.

The investigation showed that hosts and security officers, including at least one security supervisor, were selling or providing drugs at Vanity . None of the employees was identified by name.

In July and August, security officers and hosts began flipping on co-workers.

The Hard Rock, after learning of the investigation, administered drug tests to all 263 security personnel, all 242 nightclub personnel and all its vice presidents. “The results showed that 97.5 percent of those employees or agents are drug free,” the stipulation said.

Sayre said it’s important that Las Vegas visitors “feel safe that they can come here and let loose and have fun and engage in the type of entertainment that’s unavailable in most other jurisdictions, even worldwide.” He added, however, “if we don’t take care of the 40 million people a year that go through that airport, they’ll go someplace else.”

If the illegal behavior “is allowed to go unchecked, it will only get worse,” Sayre said.

The Planet Hollywood paid $500,000 to settle the complaint against its nightclubs. Issues involving a nightclub at Luxor were resolved through negotiations without a complaint being filed.

But the problem isn’t over.

“The profound issue, I believe, is that gaming establishments in Nevada now are very clear that they are responsible for the conduct that takes place in and on their establishments,” Sayre said.

Plenty of resources were poured into these investigations, and these fines won’t stop certain behavior in Las Vegas.

But if customers are safer, if just one midlevel manager thinks twice about looking the other way when a young woman is carried out by men who may not be her friends, then the money is well-spent.

Las Vegas needs to be a safe place to party.

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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