Six months after passage, changes to Nevada sexual harassment gaming regulations await final approval

Six months after passage, changes to Nevada sexual harassment gaming regulations await final approval

  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
June 1, 2019 9:30 PM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
  • Other

More than six months after Nevada gaming officials approved policy changes to regulations governing sexual harassment awareness and prevention, the eight-page document is gathering dust.

The Nevada Gaming Commission, which has final say over the state’s gaming policy and regulations, has yet to act on the matter.

UNLV International Gaming Institute Academic Fellow Becky Harris addresses IGI’s 17th International Conference on Gambling & Risk Taking.
(Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)

“Any commissioner can bring the matter up for discussion,” former Gaming Control Board Chairwoman Becky Harris said her during a lunchtime keynote address last week at the 17th International Conference on Gambling & Risk Taking at Caesars Palace.

“It’s my hope the commission with take up and unanimously pass the proposed regulations as recommended,” said Harris, who was not reappointed to the board when her term expired in January.

The control board approved the policy changes in November on a 3-0 vote after nine months of taking input from the gaming industry and interested parties. Workshops on the issue, however, were sparsely attended and several casino operators said regulatory changes weren’t required. Gaming companies already comply with guidelines overseen by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Nevada Equal Rights Commission.

If Harris was frustrated over the changes sitting untouched, she displayed a pretty good poker face. A former state senator before she was elevated as the first woman to lead the control board in the agency’s 63-year history, Harris knows how to hide her hole cards.

Still, addressing an international audience some of some 600 gaming conference attendees, Harris spoke of the effort as unfinished business.

“Why create new regulations? They would serve as a tool of compliance,” Harris said.

The effort began after the Wall Street Journal published an article on Jan. 25, 2018, describing years of sexual harassment and abuse charges against Wynn Resorts Chairman and CEO Steve Wynn. It was Harris’s fifth day on the job. The control board opened an investigation into the charges and Wynn left the company and the industry 10 days later.

The control board brought a 10-count complaint against Wynn Resorts on Jan. 28 – Harris’ last day as chairwoman. A month later, the commission fined the company a state record $20 million and closed that part of the matter.

In an interview Friday, Nevada Gaming Commission Chairman Tony Alamo Jr. said it was unclear if the control board was still looking to bring charges against Steve Wynn personally or against other current or former company executives. Because that part of the case is still open, he is reluctant to bring any sexual harassment regulation matters in front of the commission.

“The board has two new members and they are taking a slow, methodical deep dive into this matter,” Alamo said. “I don’t know if they will bring anything forward to us. And the commission doesn’t want to do anything that would alter or taint the process. We will wait until the board tells us one way or the other.”

UNLV International Gaming Institute Academic Fellow Becky Harris.
(Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)

The five-person commission also has two new members appointed last month by Governor Steve Sisolak.

#MeToo in Nevada gaming

In introducing Harris for the keynote address, Shekinah Hoffman, a researcher and doctoral candidate at the UNLV International Gaming Institute, told the audience that “sexual harassment remains one of the gaming industry’s most pressing issues.”

Hoffman said she has interviewed dozens of female gaming executives across all gaming settings in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe to explore the gender leadership gap in the industry.

The #metoo issues are not just U.S.-based, she said.

“From Stockholm to Seoul, from Toronto to Tokyo, accusations from women and men across industries and backgrounds have poured out,” Hoffman said. “Powerful men and women have lost their jobs. Survivors have spoken — some have been taken seriously and some have not.”

Hoffman told the egregious story of “Amy (not her real name), who works for gaming technology company,” who was solicited for a sexual encounter by her direct supervisor. Both “Amy” and the supervisor still work for the company, but she no longer reports to him.

“I wish I could say that Amy’s story is the rare exception, but it is not,” Hoffman said. “Of course, it is important to note, not all of the woman I’ve interviewed have had #metoo experiences. But the overwhelming majority did.”

High profile support

Harris had high profile support for the sexual harassment regulation changes.

Eight speakers – including longtime Nevada gaming figure Patricia Becker and Caesars Entertainment executive Jan Jones Blackhurst – all spoke in favor of the regulations in the lead-up to the board’s vote.

“This is the right thing to do,” said Becker, who was the first woman to serve on Nevada’s control board. She said the regulation changes allow the gaming industry to take over the narrative and “set a positive statement.”

Then-Governor Brian Sandoval sent a letter in support of the regulation changes that was read into the record. He also attended the last part of the hearing in time for the vote.

“I was told this was the first time the governor had ever attended a board hearing,” Harris said. She also thanked former board member Shawn Reid and current board member Terry Johnson in supporting the changes.

“After eight months of refining and having difficult conversations, we were able to send an important message to our daughters and sons and to the gaming industry,” Harris said.

After leaving the control board, Harris joined UNLV’s International Center for Gaming Regulation as an academic fellow with an emphasis in the study of sports betting.

Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at hstutz@cdcgamingreports.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.