ELKO — The decision to let the proposed “Nonrestricted Gaming License” Ordinance No. 764 die during Tuesday’s City Council Meeting was bittersweet to the room full of concerned business owners and residents.
The ordinance, proposed to the council Oct. 9 by attorney Sean T. Higgins of Las Vegas, would require existing establishments with nonrestricted gaming licenses (businesses with at least 15 slot machines) to qualify as a “rural resort hotel” by developing a hotel and restaurant in order to expand their gaming operations.
According to Higgins, the ordinance would also prevent future nonrestricted gaming licensees from popping up in the community without investing in valuable resources that could improve Elko’s economy.
The Council decided that in order to proceed with the adoption process, a business impact statement must first be obtained. The need for a study falls under Nevada Revised Statute 237.080, which states that “before a governing body of local government adopts a proposed rule, the governing body or its designee must notify trade associations or owners and officers of businesses which are likely to be affected by the proposed rule ...”
Once the applicable businesses have been contacted, they will have 15 working days to present data or arguments to City Council.
The purpose of the impact statement is to “consider other methods to reduce the impact on businesses,” City Attorney Dave Stanton said. “The statute makes the city consider the impacts, but doesn’t prevent them (the City Council members) from going forward with it (the ordinance).”
Several Elko residents expressed outrage that the Council had not considered initiating an impact statement before allowing the ordinance to reach its second reading.
“I hope next time you get the agenda right,” former Assemblyman John Carpenter said during the public hearing, which continued even after it was clear the ordinance would not be passed.
“You guys did not comply with the open meeting laws,” he said. “Next time, let us know what’s going on. ... You need to tell the people what you’re doing. It’s that simple.”
Nevada Open Meeting Law says state and local governments “exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business” and requires “that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”
Carpenter filed a complaint on Oct. 30 with Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto regarding City Council’s vague presentation of the ordinance proposal.
“I believe the City should be instructed to start over on the process of this ordinance and do it right so the public can be aware of what the true intent of (this) ordinance’s changes really are,” Carpenter’s complaint concluded.
The Office of the Attorney General responded on Oct. 31 by requesting that City Council fix the agenda item containing a potential Open Meeting Law violation and stating that the issue needed to be addressed more clearly at the following meeting.
“This office requests an explanation as to why the creation of a ‘rural resort hotel’ gaming establishment was not noticed on (agenda) item V. B of the Oct. 23, 2012 Council meeting ... We request that legal counsel for the Board prepare a response to the allegations contained by Mr. Carpenter’s Complaint.”
Dale White and his wife, Audrey, also read a prepared statement admonishing the council for its failure to conduct a business impact statement.
Audrey stated that she and her husband owned and operated businesses in Elko for 42 years. As business owners, they were surprised that City Council had not issued a BIS prior to the second reading of the ordinance, which they believed would restrict small business owners from expanding their casinos.
“Some people’s dreams are small. Ours were,” Audrey White said. “We (Elko) are not Las Vegas, Reno or Carson City. There are few communities where small dreams are still possible. ... I agree with the growth of Elko, but keep it Elko.”
Steve Hixon, general manager of the Dotty’s casinos in the Reno area, was also present. Dotty’s is one of the establishments with a nonrestricted gaming license whose business would be restricted by the ordinance.
“Of all the counties in the state, I thought Elko would be the last one to get behind this,” Hixon said. “It’s supposed to be a free market, but this doesn’t sound like a free market anymore ... Restricting anyone from expanding is crazy ... No one is going to come in here and build a hotel casino, not in this economy.”
Although the council chose to take no action regarding the ordinance — a decision that essentially prevented its adoption — some members expressed interest in restarting the adoption process once a BIS had been established.
“I’ve had enough people come to me, who aren’t in the room, who would like to see this (ordinance) through,” Councilman John Rice said. “I think we should give those people an opportunity to speak as well.”
Assemblyman John Ellison proposed an independent meeting in the near future to gather opinions from concerned citizens and to work out possible solutions. A sign-up list for the meeting was almost immediately passed across the room.
“I don’t like the ordinance,” Councilman Rich Perry said. “Maybe we’d get a little more creative ... if we start over.”