Thursday, April 7, 2011

All About Dotty's

In case you missed it, there was a huge fight at The Clark County Commission this week over Dotty's.

Some taverns came under fire from big casinos that argued Dotty’s and some similar establishments weren’t in compliance with regulations that allowed taverns to have a “restricted” gaming license if slot machines were “incidental” to the main business.

The Nevada Resort Association argued that some of the taverns used gaming as their main business, while Dotty’s said its business model was already approved by the Gaming Control Board and previous commissioners.

New ordinances initially were proposed by the Resort Association, the Nevada Tavern Owners Association and commissioners Giunchigliani and Steve Sisolak.

After more than three months of discussions, the two associations and some of the other interested parties came to an agreement on the proposed changes, but Dotty’s and a handful of other tavern operators still argued against the ordinance, saying they had done nothing wrong.

So what got passed? After a series of confusing votes Tuesday, this is what finally emerged.

The ordinance requires new taverns to be at least 2,000 feet apart, have a minimum of 2,500 square feet of space open to the public, a bar with at least eight slot machines built in, a kitchen, and a restaurant with at least 25 seats that serves food for at least 12 hours a day.

The changes also require existing taverns that don’t have a bar with machines to add one within two years. Existing establishments don’t have to add a restaurant or meet the other requirements.

Commissioners did add a line to the ordinance allowing existing taverns that are more than 20 years old to be grandfathered in and not have to meet the bar requirement.

But the changes essentially end Dotty’s business model of small establishments that only serve basic food and drinks.

So what is this about? Is there a real issue here? Or is Dotty's forced into a competitive disadvantage?

Believe it or not, there may really be a serious issue here.

Not even Dotty's own lobbyists and consultants can deliver a straight answer as to who and what they are. If they're casinos, then they need to abide by the same laws as other casinos. If they're bars, they need to obey the same laws as other bars. But until this week, they've been able to grow in this very murky legal environment where they make money on slot machines while escaping most of the legal regulation of casinos. And until this week, they've been able to enjoy the the more favorable regulations of grocery stores (with slot parlors near the entrance) without offering much more than slots.

So starting this week, everything changes... But is it fair?

There really are important issues to be resolved with "tavern" casinos, like Dotty's, that have skirted the law for the last 16 years. How many casinos, whether they be official or "incidental", should be allowed in a mostly residential neighborhood? Are local bars and other small businesses hurt by "taverns" like Dotty's? And are these "taverns" just more venues for gambling addicts to fuel their dangerous habit?

Unfortunately, this whole matter gets clouded when The Nevada Resort Association enters the scene and questions are raised over whether this new law fairly addresses the Dotty's problem, or if it's just another attempt by big gaming to snuff out competition.

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