The powerful Nevada Resort Association urged state lawmakers Wednesday to approve a bill banning small establishments with restricted gambling licenses from having sports-betting kiosks.
A hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee over Senate Bill 416 was a David-versus-Goliath clash between the state’s biggest resorts that have full-service sports books and smaller locations that are limited by law to 15 gambling devices.
Lobbyists for the resort association argued that the kiosks cross the line from slot and video poker machines and enter the realm of unrestricted gambling.
“Competition is good as long as it’s fair,” said resort association lobbyist Pete Ernaut. “Make no mistake, the NRA doesn’t shy away from competition.”
Ernaut said the lines have become blurred between what restricted and non-restricted license holders can offer, and that legislators need to define the boundaries.
“I contend if this decision is not made, it’s only going to get harder and more complicated,” he said.
“If we say sports-book kiosks isn’t a problem today ... then is virtual blackjack OK? What happens when they’re in Starbucks?”
He added, “Restricted licenses are allowed 15 machines. Period. That’s the law.”
Opponents countered the kiosks are not sports books because they don’t pay out winnings. People set up accounts and place bets. Losses and winnings are recorded, and account holders can withdraw up to a certain amount daily.
Kiosks under state gambling regulations are considered communication devices or associated equipment. Those do not require full licensing and are an example of how technology is changing the gambling landscape.
In 2012, kiosks accounted for about $600,000 in Nevada gambling revenue, a fraction of the $170 million in overall sports betting revenue.
Sean Higgins, representing the Nevada Restricted Gaming Association, said the large resorts were trying to stifle the success of smaller competition.
“Over time, simple businesses grow and become successful,” he said. “And when they get successful, they end up on people’s radar screens. No one said a word until they started getting out there more. If you’re too successful, people are going to try to push you back down.”
Blake Sartini, founder and CEO of Golden Gaming Inc., which operates about 40 PT’s Pub and Sierra Gold taverns around the state, noted that kiosks were vetted and approved by state gambling regulators before they went into operation.
He accused the NRA of creating a problem where none exists.
“One would assume there’s a three-alarm fire which has been ignited over this issue,” he said. “There is no fire. This is a false alarm.”
He also dismissed suggestions that doing away with kiosks would increase traffic at resort sports books, saying the kiosks appeal to a certain clientele unlikely to make the effort to visit a megaresort.
“It’s not going to happen,” he said.
No action was taken by the committee.