Trying to hit the right note between too much and too little regulation

September 6, 2023 8:07 PM

Trying to hit the right note between too much and too little regulation

Photo: CDC Gaming Reports
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports
September 6, 2023 8:07 PM
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports

Those of you who have spent any time at the annual G2E have inevitably found yourself wandering through the vast expanse of the Venetian Expo center amid the dizzying displays heralding the latest slot technology and cutting-edge gaming gadgetry about to enter the insanely competitive market of a rapidly expanding industry.

One tour of the floor and I come away with senses buzzing and the conclusion that I will never quite understand what makes it all work. This year’s G2E is set for Oct. 9-12 and is expected to draw at least 25,000 people, more than 350 exhibitors representing more than 100 jurisdictions. I will venture to guess that I’m not alone in my bewilderment.

This year’s G2E will showcase the latest sensations and some tried-and-true technology dressed up for a new generation. And it’s important to remember that, beyond all that technology, the conference is also about the networking of humans, most of whom are attempting to navigate industry changes that at times appear to be coming at breakneck speed. 

Readers of this column know that a lack of information has rarely stopped me from wading into intellectual waters that are far over my head. With that, I go swimming.

Still in his first year in the Nevada governor’s office, Joe Lombardo has sent an undeniable message that he’s listening note for note to the expressed wishes of the gaming industry when it comes to streamlining and updating regulations. As Howard Stutz reports this week in his newsletter in The Nevada Independent, Gaming Control Board regulators aren’t waiting around for the governor to ask twice and already have more than a dozen regulations they’re preparing to delete in the name of speeding the process in the rapidly expanding industry.

The proposed changes emerged following a lengthy public workshop in March, in which regulators and gaming-equipment manufacturers raised concerns about the time-consuming process of bringing a new product into use in Nevada at a time of record competition in other jurisdictions. At one point, Acres’s board member and former Nevada Gov. Bob List lamented that the state he once led is no longer “the gold standard when it comes to innovation.” That, we’re led to presume, is due to time-consuming regulations that are turning Nevada into the slow horse in the race.

That theme has obviously struck a chord, not only with the current governor, who took time to fire off a directive in January just days after taking office, but also with his top regulator, GCB Chairman Kirk Hendrick. With the industry watching, Hendrick last month hit the delete key, noting that new or modified gaming devices already approved in other states won’t require a field trial in Nevada as long as another state’s casino regulatory body has stamped its approval.

On its face, this makes some sense. After all, many regulatory agencies in other states base their entire operations on the Nevada model. Gold standard and all that.

It’s also true that the industry itself has long since crossed state lines, its machines and games becoming ubiquitous. So you could argue it makes sense that a game approved elsewhere might easily be okayed here.

Except that, with all due respect to the better regulatory boards around the country, not all states are created equal in this regard. It’s not too much of an overstatement to say that some are little more than places for a governor’s golfing pals to meet once a month.

Call me an old scold, but so much streamlining and rapid change also make me wonder whether the Control Board itself doesn’t run the risk of losing its regulatory relevance in an industry that has shown many signs of outgrowing it.

Perhaps that’s the nature of change.

What was once a glorified black-hatted racket has emerged, thanks in great part to Nevada’s hard-won efforts to regulate its casinos, as an industry that’s now synonymous with tourism and entertainment, not to mention amateur and professional sports.

It would be worse than a shame to lose that edge.