Lawmakers ponder change in state gaming legal team

Published: May. 17, 2017 at 11:41 PM PDT
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A joint hearing of the legislature's two money committees took up a proposal Wednesday night to give state gaming officials their own in-house legal counsel.

But the discussion centered around a simmering ethics controversy over a year-old conversation between the current Gaming Control Board chief and the Attorney General.


took place in March 2016 at a Reno coffee shop and concerned a wrongful termination suit against Las Vegas gaming giant Sheldon Adelson and his Sands corporation.

Attorneys representing the employee were attempting to gain access to confidential documents from gaming officials that raised the question of a possible amicus--friend of the court--brief by the Gaming Control Board.

That much everyone agrees on. Beyond that it depends on what people hear and read of that conversation.

Gaming Control Board Chairmman Burnett felt uneasy about the meeting, enough so that he secretly recorded it.

"It's a tough request," Laxalt says at one point. "That's why I'm having the one conversation with you."

"We just don't interfere in the litigation just just never have," says Burnett.

"i wanted to be extremely cautious and have a recording of that because I didn't know what was going to happen after that," Burnett told the lawmakers.

He eventually took the recording to the FBI. They determined there had been no crime and Burnett says he felt the matter was settled. But word of it leaked and it raised questions in some quarters.

Was the attorney general asking gaming authorities to intervene on behalf of Adelson, his biggest donor to his campaign three years ago, someone he'd likely approach again if, as expected, he runs for governor next year?

Laxalt says a reading of that conversation will show in fact that he and Burnett both agreed at the end of that conversation that a brief would not be in the Control Board's best interests and in any case wouldn't be helpful to the Sands.

"As the transcript clearly shows it was an absolutely routine attorney client communication," Laxalt said. "Mr. Burnett has made it clear that my office does an incredible job. My office continues to represent them. So to shift the entire structure over this conversation that we've all now gotten to listen to it's just simply impossible to understand how that conclusion could be made."

But Las Vegas Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, disagreed.

"I believe there's a conflict here and that's why we brought the bill. The fact that your client was uncomfortable enough to record the conversation gives me pause."

The committees took no action on the bill, but with an election year coming up, the debate over

and the disputed conversation that launched it, will no doubt continue.