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Station Casinos again uses clout against smaller competitor

First, Station Casinos decided competitors like Dotty’s were in violation of state gaming regulations. And the Nevada Gaming Commission agreed.

Now, Station Casinos has decided the closed Roadhouse, a small potential competitor two miles from Sunset Station, shouldn’t reopen though Henderson officials said it could. Instead of caving, Henderson is fighting it.

Is the gaming behemoth once again using its clout to squelch a competitor?

Sunset Station attorney Todd Bice conceded Wednesday that competition was one reason it sued the Roadhouse owner and Henderson last November.

“I would be silly to suggest it’s not about competition, but it’s about legal competition. Everybody has to play from the same rules,” Bice said. “It’s a pretty standard legal dispute you see any time the government tries to waive the requirements of one business owner against all others.”

That’s basically the same argument he made about the Dotty’s-style gaming parlors, an argument embraced by four of the five gaming commissioners.

Bice argued that Sunset Station and Green Valley Ranch have invested $1 billion, yet the Roadhouse, which owner Robert McMackin operated from 1988 until 2003, wants to reopen without building the 200 rooms required of any unrestricted casino opening today.

The latest legal fight started after the Roadhouse filed for a design application review with Henderson a year ago as the first step toward reopening the locals casino. The original plan was to have the reopening this past summer and provide 90 permanent jobs.

Has the Roadhouse, at 2100 N. Boulder Highway, lost its land use permit? Some say yes; some say no.

McMackin contends the Roadhouse protected its status as a neighborhood casino grandfathered in and allowed to exist without a hotel. Sunset Station counters he hasn’t followed the rules and needs to build a hotel.

The city of Henderson is siding with McMackin though in 2006 the city denied his use permit. In 2010, an assistant city attorney opined “the original use permit for this site is still in existence.” Bice said there is no evidence city officials reversed themselves.

District Judge Gloria Sturman will have to sort out this bag of worms involving Sunset, McMackin and Henderson. Essentially, both sides said the other side didn’t follow city rules and regulations.

Was L. Tracy Foutz, assistant director of Community Development for the city of Henderson, coerced into signing a letter rejecting Sunset’s appeal of the Roadhouse design review application? Bice said he was; Foutz said he wasn’t.

Was there any hanky panky when Sunset lobbyist John Marchiano suggested Foutz call attorney Norman Kirshman to protect his job? Was there hanky panky when Kirshman supposedly shared attorney-client information with Sunset attorneys? Accusations soar back and forth in legal pleadings with multiple charges of back-room deals and distortion.

The judge dismissed Sunset’s allegations the city violated the state Open Meeting Law, a victory for the city. But in a defeat for the city, she ruled that Sunset had standing to sue.

McMackin keeps the Roadhouse’s grandfathered state gaming license active by opening the casino for eight hours every other year, hauling in 16 machines and serving a sandwich or two. But Sunset isn’t challenging that state laws have been violated, just that the Henderson regulations haven’t been met.

“I never met the Fertitta brothers. I know they do a lot of charitable stuff. I thought kindly of them until this came about,” said McMackin, 84, who served in World War II and the Korean War before moving to Southern Nevada 53 years ago and becoming a land developer and contractor.

Perception is reality. Even if Bice is legally correct, once again Station Casinos looks like a bully picking on a smaller competitor and telling officials the casino company knows best about government regulation.

Who made Station Casinos the top cop for government and gaming regulation?

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

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