Critics question Gaming Commission appointments

31 March 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- When the two newest members of the Nevada Gaming Commission take their seats, four of the five members will be attorneys -- which is seemingly contrary to language in the statute that covers eligibility and qualifications of the regulatory panel's makeup.

A spokesman for Gov. Jim Gibbons, however, said the two newest members of the gaming commission were the most qualified candidates available, which is also part of the statute's language.

On Friday, Gibbons appointed Las Vegas attorneys Joe Brown and John Moran Jr. to seats on the Nevada Gaming Commission, replacing former Lt. Gov. Sue Wagner of Reno and Las Vegas businessman Art Marshall, whose appointments expire at the end of April. Wagner and Marshall are not attorneys.

Brown and Moran will join fellow Las Vegas attorneys Pete Bernhard, the commission chairman, and Radha Chanderraj on the part-time gaming panel. Dr. Tony Alamo Jr., a Las Vegas-area physician, is the fifth member of the commission, which sets policy on gaming matters and acts upon licensing recommendations of the Gaming Control Board.

The appointments also leave Northern Nevada without a representative on the gaming commission.

Nevada Revised Statute 463.022 states the intentions of the Legislature were for the governor to appoint "the most qualified persons available, preferably no two of whom shall be of the same profession or major field of industry."

Gibbons spokesman Dan Burns said Monday that Brown and Moran were the best candidates when the governor began looking for gaming commission members.

Brown, 67, is president of the Jones Vargas law firm. Moran, 62, who manages his own law firm, was a member of the gaming commission for eight months before resigning in August 2006 to run for lieutenant governor. He eventually dropped out of the race.

"If the Legislature had intended there be no more than two attorneys, then it would have been written that way," Burns said. "What the law says is find the best candidates and that's what the governor did."

Edie Cartwright, spokeswoman for Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, said the office had not done a legal analysis on the matter and wouldn't comment on the appointments.

Michael Green, a history professor at the College of Southern Nevada, said the appointments were odd because the original criteria in the commission's makeup was for citizen involvement. The idea, Green said, was to take politics out of the gaming regulatory process.

"To be fair, there are issues that may come up where an attorney is more likely aware of more pitfalls than a nonlawyer," Green said. "But the appointments do deprive the panel of other forms of analysis that someone from another profession would bring to the commission."

William Eadington, a professor of economics at the University of Nevada, Reno who also is the director of the school's Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, said it was surprising that people with a financial background were not chosen for the gaming commission.

Many of the major casino companies could be facing financial restructuring issues that will have to be approved by regulators.

In addition to being an attorney, Chanderraj is a licensed certified public accountant.

"You would think that in the best interest of the state, you would want different backgrounds and not just a concentration of attorneys," Eadington said.

"Given the kind of financial crunch the industry is in, you would think it would be more valuable to have someone with a financial background," he added.

Neither Eadington nor Green seemed too concerned that Northern Nevada would lose its sole representative with Wagner's departure.

"It's interesting that Gibbons, who is so tied to the north, would not have someone from Reno on the panel," Green said.

Brown, who has served as a member of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, said he will not participate in deliberations on matters that concern gaming clients of Jones Vargas. He said Michael Alonso, who works out of the firm's Reno office, is the only member of the firm who represents gaming clients in front of the Nevada gaming regulators.

Brown said he told members of the firm on Friday that he couldn't have any knowledge of their activities if they were working with gaming clients.


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