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Sandoval leaving MGM to pursue University of Nevada, Reno presidency

By Scott Sonner Associated Press
FILE - This Feb. 24, 2018, file photo shows then-Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada at the National Governor Association 2018 winter meeting in Washington, D.C.
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

RENO — Former Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said he is stepping down from his position at MGM Resorts to pursue the presidency of the University of Nevada, Reno, his alma mater.

The state Board of Regents announced Wednesday an emergency meeting has been scheduled next week to consider the necessary action to allow for appointment of an acting president while it continues a search into September for a permanent replacement to outgoing President Marc Johnson, who leaves in June.

A 1986 graduate of UNR, Sandoval is seen as a favorite for the job.

“Having accomplished my goals at MGM, I have decided to put my time, energy and public and private experience to work as an applicant to become the next president of the University of Nevada, Reno,” Sandoval, 56, said in a statement issued by MGM.

The popular, moderate Republican left the governor’s office in January 2019 after serving the maximum two terms and immediately went to work as the Las Vegas-based casino company’s president of global gaming development.

“He helped to advance our efforts in Japan, in jurisdictions where we were seeking expanded access, and areas where we pursued sports betting opportunities,” said Acting CEO and President Bill Hornbuckle.

Regents President Jason Geddes said Wednesday that in addition to considering a measure next Tuesday clearing the way for appointment of UNR’s acting president, the board plans to consider extending the contracts of UNLV President Marta Meana and state higher education Chancellor Thom Reilly to December 2020 in the interest of continuity in those positions.

Johnson announced in October he planned to step down June 30. Geddes said Johnson is unable to continue serving through the summer.

UNR Provost Kevin Carman told the Reno Gazette Journal in January he intended to apply for the position but neither UNR nor the regents has released a list of formal candidates.

Regents spokeswoman Francis McCabe said the board is expected to appoint an acting president at its regularly scheduled meeting in June.

Finalists at UNR and UNLV will visit campuses and do interviews in September before the board appoints permanent presidents, McCabe said.

Sandoval is known for his dedication to education and drew sharp criticism from many conservatives for pushing a $1 billion tax bill through the Legislature in 2015 to increase spending on schools. He was a state legislator, a member of the Nevada Gaming Commission, state attorney general and a federal judge in Reno before running for governor in 2010.

Sandoval was instrumental in steering money to UNR and UNLV and took a leadership role in UNR’s effort to establish the school as a top-tier university and integral part of the community. He was named its alumni of the year in 2004.

In 2013, Sandoval recalled his college years in Reno while announcing an $8 million contribution from the E.L. Wiegand Foundation to build a $46.3 million recreation and fitness center on campus.

“When I was a student here, this was a dirt slope,” Sandoval said during a news conference at the student union. “If you wanted to work out then, there were eight universal machines behind the swimming pool in about a 100-square foot area. It was hot and it was stinky.”