Proposed policy changes to Nevada gaming regulations governing sexual harassment awareness and prevention were forward to the Nevada Gaming Commission Wednesday, after a public hearing drew as many participants as all previous hearings had combined.
The eight speakers – including longtime Nevada gaming figure Patricia Becker and Caesars Entertainment executive Jan Jones Blackhurst – all spoke in favor of the new regulations during the nearly 90-minute Gaming Control Board public workshop.
“This is the right thing to do,” Becker said, adding that regulation changes allow the gaming industry to take over the narrative and “set a positive statement.”
Ahead of the hearing, the control board received high-profile support for the changes from outgoing Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and former Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett.
The control board voted 3-0 to forward the changes, which apply to Regulation 5, to the Gaming Commission. The recommendation includes proposed amendments from Nevada Resort Association President Virginia Valentine and Gaming Control Board member Terry Johnson, and the official implementation of a sexual harassment awareness and prevention standards checklist to be completed by all Nevada gaming license holders.
Control Board Chairwoman Becky Harris said it was unclear when the commission would take up the matter. She said gaming license holders would have up to a year to comply with the new policy after the commission makes its final ruling.
Some casino operators argued in previous hearings that the proposed changes to Regulation 5, which covers the operations of gaming establishments, went beyond the traditional scope of gaming regulation.
However, Sandoval, in a letter addressed to the Control Board and the Gaming Commission that was read into the hearing, said the state “has the opportunity to lead in the vitally important realm of sexual harassment prevention and reporting.”
The Republican governor, a former chairman of the Gaming Commission, said that both the regulatory changes and the awareness checklist “provide clear guidance regarding the prevention and reporting of harassment.”
Sandoval, who arrived at the hearing to watch the vote, said the changes place the burden on the employer, rather than the employee, a move which complies with federal sexual harassment standards. He said the most effective weapon against sexual harassment and discrimination is prevention.
“While the vast majority of the requirements being considered today should already be in practice in most licensed gaming establishments and businesses, I believe adopting the proposed amendments will make it clear that Nevadans will not stand for harassment,” Sandoval wrote. “The regulations proposed today ensure that, from the first day of employment, employees of licensed gaming establishments and businesses are aware that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.”
Burnett, in an email to Harris, said “recent issues” concerning sexual harassment in the gaming workplace require regulation changes that are both “welcome and appropriate.”
Nevada gaming companies “are well-positioned to lead the way” on the issue, he said. The changes ensure that “there is not only legal compliance with relevant state and federal employment laws, but also (the assurance) that Nevada gaming regulatory standards remain the best in the nation.”
Ann McGinley, a professor at UNLV’s William S. Boyd School of Law who specializes in employment discrimination law, also wrote in favor of the changes, saying that research – which included interviews in Las Vegas resorts – found employees continue to suffer from sexual harassment in casinos perpetrated by supervisors, co-workers, customers and third parties.
“Many employees working in gaming establishments are unaware of what sexual and sex-based harassment is, whether their employers have a policy against harassment, and how to report harassment to their employers,” McGinley wrote.
Several casino companies countered that changes to Nevada’s regulations are unnecessary because gaming companies must already comply with guidelines overseen by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Nevada Equal Rights Commission.
Nevada gaming regulators began looking at state regulations covering sexual harassment soon after Wynn Resorts founder Steve Wynn stepped down as company chairman and CEO and divested his stock holdings in February following a Wall Street Journal investigation that uncovered multiple allegations of sexual harassment against Wynn. Wynn denied the charges. Meanwhile, the company, along with Nevada and Massachusetts gaming authorities, opened their own investigations.
Soon after the Wynn matter surfaced, Harris – who was appointed chairwoman by Sandoval in January – said the state would draft regulations covering sexual harassment. In September, she said other states gaming boards were watching Nevada.
“I think this is an important issue in our time,” Harris said in September. “I think the regulations are very vague. This is an attempt to highlight that sexual harassment prevention and awareness are important, but the board wants some parameters and minimum standards about what these policies should look like.”
The control board also released a “minimum standards checklist” that must be completed annually by all Nevada gaming license holders to ensure “a work environment that is safe for all employees, one in which diversity, inclusion and the dignity of each employee is respected and free from any form of discrimination or harassment.”
Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.