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Roadhouse ruling in Station’s favor smells bad, looks good

Once again, Henderson officials have been pink slimed.

In what initially seemed to be a blatant surrender to Sunset Station, Henderson recently admitted it was wrong when it grandfathered in a land-use permit so that if and when the Roadhouse casino ever reopens, it wouldn’t have to build a hotel.

Henderson City Attorney Josh Reid said a 2010 opinion made under one of his predecessors (Liz Quillin) was in error.

Initially, this seemed like another case of government officials yielding to power flexed by Station Casinos, which owns Sunset Station and has been aggressive about telling local and state officials how to do their jobs.

First, the Nevada Gaming Commission blinked when Station Casinos sought a regulation change requiring Dotty’s taverns to undergo expensive remodels, making Dotty’s less of a competitive threat.

This time, Sunset sued Henderson demanding reversal of a conditional-use permit for the Roadhouse to operate without a hotel. Requiring a 200-room hotel, which is today’s standard for nonrestricted gaming licensees, makes it more costly for the Roadhouse to open … and compete with Sunset Station.

After talking to Henderson City Councilman Sam Bateman, I’m not positive Sunset was wrong this time.

The legal conflict focused on whether the Roadhouse had lost its land-use permit or that the permit was grandfathered in.

Owner Robert McMackin, 84, who operated the Roadhouse from 1988 to 2003, didn’t respond to me for comment. He had met state gaming regulations for grandfathering his casino in under old standards by opening the casino for eight hours every other year. But this is a Henderson code issue, not a state gaming issue.

There’s an interesting timeline here which carries an unexplained but suspiciously rank smell.

In 2006, the city denied McMackin’s use permit.

In 2010, an assistant city attorney advised that “the original use permit for this site is still in existence.”

On March 21, Reid settled Sunset’s lawsuit by admitting the city was wrong in 2010.

What happened over the past six years? City attorneys changed.

In 2006, Shauna Hughes was the city attorney, a job she had held since 1983.

Liz Quillin replaced her in June 2009, after Hughes recommended her for the job. Quillin resigned in August 2011 after a DUI incident. Reid became the most recent city attorney in December.

On Hughes’ watch, a hotel was required.

On Quillin’s watch, no hotel was required.

On Reid’s watch, a hotel is required.

However, and this is intriguing, after Hughes went into private practice, she lobbied Community Development officials to grant the use permit so McMackin could open without a hotel, a complete reversal of her previous advice as city attorney.

Now with the Gordon Silver law firm, Hughes did not respond last week to my request to explain her about-face.

Bateman, a planning commissioner until elected to the council in June 2011, knows the legal twists and turns of land-use issues better than most. Requiring a hotel was the right call in 2006 and in 2012, he said, if someone wants to open the Roadhouse as a nonrestricted gaming operation with more than 15 slots.

Bateman thought it was wrong when Community Development Director Stephanie Garcia-Vause, acting on legal advice, changed positions two years ago.

Bateman, a deputy district attorney, doesn’t always agree with Station Casinos, “but when they’re right, they’re right, and they’re right on this issue.”

Conspiracy theorists suggest Reid made a judgment call to benefit a contributor to his dad, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

As much as I enjoy conspiracies, it looks more like Reid was righting a wrong. If it took Sunset Station’s lawsuit to force that to happen, so be it.

With this second policy victory, I’m surprised Station Casinos didn’t nail a spot on the newly revived Gaming Policy Committee, since making gaming policy seems to be its forte.

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

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