As my regular readers know, I'm not a big fan of virtually unregulated American Indian and/or Internet gambling. The huge Thunder Valley tribal casino near Auburn, Calif., just off I-80 on the way to Reno represents a major economic threat to struggling casinos in the Reno/Tahoe area as Nevada gaming regulators continue to ignore that threat.
Thunder Valley, owned by the United Auburn Tribe and operated by a Nevada gaming licensee, Station Casinos of Las Vegas, just announced a massive $400 million expansion that will siphon off even more gamblers bound for Northern Nevada. This definitely wasn't what the all-powerful Nevada Gaming Commission had in mind when it adopted Regulation 5.010 requiring gaming licensees to operate "in the best interests of the people of the state of Nevada."
Casino gambling is a privileged industry in Nevada and the Gaming Commission can impose reasonable requirements on its licensees as long as they aren't "arbitrary and capricious." In other words, a Nevada gaming license is a privilege, not a right. That basic precept was enacted into law by the State Legislature shortly before I went to work for the Commission and investigative Gaming Control Board in 1963 under then-Gov. Grant Sawyer, who was elected on a "hang tough" gaming control platform. One of my first challenges as Sawyer's gaming control press spokesman was the high-profile Frank Sinatra license revocation case.
We revoked Sinatra's gambling license for hosting his friend, Chicago Godfather Sam "Momo" Giancana, at the singer's North Lake Tahoe Cal-Neva Lodge and Casino. That was a landmark case in Nevada gaming control history and I urge the Commission and Control Board to make history again by taking a hard look at licensees who operate Indian casinos that compete directly with Nevada casinos. In the 1960s, Nevada licensees had to choose between their interests inside and outside the Silver State. I still think that's a reasonable requirement in a privileged industry.
Although you may accuse me of wanting to interfere in a free and unfettered marketplace, I think Nevada's interests outweigh other considerations. So I'd give Station Casinos a choice: give up your lucrative management contract with Thunder Valley or relinquish your gaming license allowing you to operate a dozen or more highly profitable casinos in Southern Nevada. I visited one of them earlier this month and it was thriving on a Sunday morning.
Indian gaming, with profits of more than $25 billion per year, is virtually unregulated because for all intents and purposes, tribal casinos police themselves. The toothless National Indian Gaming Commission, a dependency of the inept U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, has fewer employees than Nevada's gaming control agencies, and many more casinos to regulate. So when it comes to Indian casinos, the fox is watching the henhouse. That's clearly not the kind of gambling that Nevada licensees should be associated with.
Nor should Nevada licensees be involved with Internet gambling, which is even less regulated than Indian gambling, if that's possible. Hundreds of offshore Web sites rake in more than $15 billion per year from gullible bettors. Unsurprisingly, the mostly invisible operators of those virtual casinos want Congress to deregulate online gambling by permitting American banks and credit card companies to pay off debts incurred on the Internet. I think that's a terrible idea.
In a truly naive editorial, the Reno Gazette-Journal urged Congress to legalize online gambling. "Nevada learned many years ago that the best way to bring order to the chaos of widespread gambling ... was to legalize it," the RGJ asserted. "The time has come for Congress to learn the same lesson about online gambling because its attempts to ban the booming business ... have only brought about more chaos." That's a spurious comparison, however, because Nevada has developed a strict and effective gaming control system that allows the state to regulate the games and collect its fair share of the proceeds.
Of course there's no way to effectively police offshore gambling Web sites, many of which are based on small Caribbean islands like Antigua, where law enforcement is minimal at best. Some illegal gamblers have moved their operations to the Caribbean in order to avoid the long arm of the law and U.S. tax collectors. But if you choose to throw your credit card number into cyberspace - and God knows who's at the other end of the line - you deserve what you get, most likely nothing.
According to the RGJ, "It's possible to help Internet gamblers help themselves by allowing legitimate, experienced, well-vetted gaming companies to participate (in online gambling)." And just who would determine whether a given offshore gambling Web site is "legitimate?" The United Nations? Give me a break! Another "brilliant" suggestion is to permit Nevada gaming licensees to operate such Web sites. No way! That's worse than allowing them to operate virtually unregulated Indian casinos.
Nevada licensees should be held to high standards, which is why our gaming control agencies should review their involvement with Indian and/or Internet gambling to determine whether such operations are "suitable" and in the best interests of the people of the state of Nevada. For my part, I don't think they are.
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, was the public information officer for Nevada's gaming control agencies during the period 1963-66.