It’s really too bad for the Clark County Commission that they simply couldn’t pass an ordinance that says, “All Dotty’s must close immediately!”
Because no matter what else, it was unmistakably the intent of an ordinance approved last week by a commission majority to make it more difficult for the Dotty’s neighborhood gambling bars to continue to do business.
By approving an ordinance that narrowly prescribes how high and wide a bar must be, the kind of kitchen each location must have, how long the kitchen must be open every day, how video slot machines must be mounted within the bar and other details, the county was sending a very clear message, which is this: Gambling giant Station Casinos really doesn’t like competition.
Sure, the county — specifically Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak, who drove this discussion — will tell you Dotty’s is really a slot parlor, that the chain is operating outside the spirit and even the letter of state and local gambling laws, and that its business model of a small, homey type casino with limited food service is bad for the city.
But why is it that when commissioners say that, you can almost see the hand of the Nevada Resort Association moving their mouths like live-action versions of Jim Henson’s Muppets, only without the valuable life lessons?
The Dotty’s fight has been brewing ever since a company called Nevada Restaurant Services, led by Craig Estey, began opening taverns that featured sit-down slot machines in strip malls, many in locations where other neighborhood bars had been forced to close by the recession. The taverns opened with the blessing of state and local officials, but soon drew the ire of local gambling giant Station Casinos.
Station points out that it must spend millions on its resorts, with a long list of requirements including hotel rooms, entertainment venues, kitchens, room service and the like. Then again, those requirements are preferred by the Gambling Guild so as to make getting a nonrestricted license prohibitive.
Although Station Casinos claimed Dotty’s operation violates state gambling law — which stipulates that gambling in taverns must be “incidental” to the primary business, presumably food and beverage sales — Station nonetheless made an offer to buy Dotty’s in February 2013, an offer that Dotty’s rejected. The gambling establishment then went after the Dotty’s chain fiercely in the 2013 Legislature, and has continued the fight all the way through the commission’s meetings this week.
Sisolak was the most adamant of the commissioners, railing against Dotty’s for allegedly violating the terms of a 2011 revision of county codes aimed at forcing Dotty’s to use slot machines embedded into the top of a bar. (Instead, Dotty’s creatively built bars atop the sit-down console-style machines that the chain’s customers apparently prefer, arguably complying with the law, but further annoying their competitors.)
Not anymore: Now the machines must be placed in the flat, horizontal top of a bar that’s 42 inches tall and 24 inches wide, except where the Americans with Disabilities Act requires different dimensions. Take that, Dotty’s!
A bid by Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani to make the rule effective going forward was defeated; the county’s ordinance reaches back in time, and Dotty’s will have to spend big to come into compliance, or, in the alternative, lose more than half of the machines it’s typically allowed.
“Government should never be used to stifle competition, because once we do it to you, we’ll do it to someone else,” Giunchigliani said, one of the most sensible remarks during a long hearing. She was the lone vote against the ordinance.
Because even if Dotty’s skirts the law, and that’s still an open question legally, the county’s ordinance has the effect of harming a competitor to Nevada’s established casinos. And the county has been an eager partner in that process.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.