Lawmakers quietly amended gaming distance law to benefit Red Rock development near school

21 July 2023

Without any public input or discussion, Nevada lawmakers last month amended and passed legislation changing a 26-year-old law restricting the distance between casinos and schools and places of worship on behalf of a major casino company.

The amendment to SB266 — adopted on the second-to-last day of the state’s 120-day legislative session — changed a nearly three-decade-old state law to clear the way for a planned casino-resort development operated by Red Rock Resorts, according to sources familiar with the legislation who were granted anonymity to speak freely about the matter.

The gaming company wants a small portion of a nearly 125-acre site on Cactus Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard to be placed into a gaming enterprise district, which is defined in Nevada law as an area that has been approved by a county, city or town as suitable for operating an establishment that has been issued a nonrestricted gaming license.

Red Rock, which acquired the land last year, plans to develop a casino and resort complex on the site — about 1 mile south of the South Point Hotel & Casino and 3 miles north of M Resort. 

A 25-acre piece of the Red Rock Resorts parcel is located opposite Dennis Ortwein Elementary School on Dean Martin Drive but separated by Interstate 15. However, the school is less than 1,500 feet from the casino site, which would have disqualified that part of the 125 acres unless a change was made.

Red Rock Resorts spokesman Michael Britt said 80 percent of the company’s site was not restricted because its distance from Ortwein Elementary School is farther than 1,500 feet.

“We were seeking to have a clean slate for development,” Britt said. “We thought that an interstate highway defined the definition of a barrier. So, it obviously benefits us with that property but it also helps others along [Las Vegas Boulevard].”

Britt said Red Rock Resorts does not have immediate plans to develop the Cactus Avenue site, but the change in law “gives us the full ability to use the entire piece of land as we see fit for gaming.”

The amendment, sponsored by Assemblywoman Shea Backus (D-Las Vegas), creates an exemption to allow for an interstate highway to serve as a buffer between a casino site and areas included in a 1997 state law written to prevent the proliferation of casinos near residential neighborhoods. The exemption only applies if the proposed establishment consists of 20 or more contiguous acres and is located within the Las Vegas Boulevard gaming corridor.

The amendment was introduced on the floor of the Assembly on June 4 and adopted on the same day. A day later, it passed out of the Assembly on a 40-2 vote, and the Senate approved the amended version just before the midnight adjournment of the session. There were zero discussions in either legislative house on AB266.

Gov. Joe Lombardo signed the bill on June 13. 

Dennis Ortwein Elementary School sits across Interstate 15 less than 1,500 feet from a portion of a 125-acre future hotel-casino site owned by Red Rock Resorts at Cactus Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard. The school is seen on Thursday, July 13, 2023. (Howard Stutz/The Nevada Independent)

Slowing development

Backus and legislative sources did not respond to multiple phone calls, emails and text messages to comment on the amendment.

The 1997 law, which required a 1,500-foot separation between the property line for a gaming establishment and the property line for a school or religious building, was controversial at the time because it was viewed as slowing development in Southern Nevada.

In 2003, the law stopped Boyd Gaming Corp. from developing a hotel-casino in Spring Valley because the site was near a church and a junior high school.

After the 1997 law was passed, Red Rock Resorts, then known as Station Casinos, which had multiple gaming development sites in the Las Vegas Valley placed into gaming enterprise districts, provided signage on those sites designating them as zoned for a “casino & resort hotel” as a matter of public information.

SB266 was originally written on behalf of casino operators to exclude portions of customer entry fees for tournaments and contests from gross gaming revenue when calculating certain licensing fees. The bill was amended late in the session to include a section of SB379, proposed by students from the UNLV Boyd School of Law, that would change Nevada’s foreign gaming reporting requirements, but it died in committee. 

The only public discussion of the law change came via an oblique reference to the amendment during a late-night Assembly Ways and Means Committee on June 3 by Sen. Julie Pazina (D-Las Vegas), who was testifying in support of the bill’s primary language to change the tax calculations. 

“[Assembly] Speaker [Steve] Yeager [D-Las Vegas] had mentioned adding an amendment on the floor but that is nothing that has happened yet and it’s not part of the bill that’s presented today,” Pazina said.

The gaming enterprise district law was amended just one other time to allow Wynn Resorts to move a portion of the former Desert Inn Golf Course into its gaming zone. The land became part of Encore at Wynn Las Vegas when the resort was built in 2008.

The Wynn land is across from the Guardian Angel Cathedral, the parish for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas. It was determined by lawmakers at the time that the Desert Inn Super Arterial was a sufficient buffer separating the church from the planned casino.

Signage on 58 acres owned by Red Rock Resorts at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Town Center Drive in Summerlin is designated as a site for a future hotel and casino and seen on Thursday, July 13, 2023. (Howard Stutz/The Nevada Independent)

Red Rock land purchases

According to the Clark County Assessor’s Office, Red Rock paid $175 million — or $1.4 million per acre — in July 2022 to purchase the site that covers seven parcels ranging from 1.7 acres to almost 74 acres. The land was acquired through S C Cactus LLC, whose address matches the corporate offices for Red Rock Resorts in Summerlin.

The south end of the Red Rock parcel abuts Ariva Las Vegas, a luxury apartment complex that covers 15 acres.

According to the assessor, Red Rock in December sold several parcels totaling 25 acres on the northwest corner of Cactus Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard to a company with a Nashville address. The site had been owned by Red Rock for several years and was put on the market after the company acquired the southern Cactus Avenue site. Gaming entitlements were not included in the sale.

Red Rock controls 522 acres of vacant land in Southern Nevada. It has put several parcels up for sale including three properties closed for more than three years following the pandemic. The hotel-casinos have since been demolished and the sales do not include the gaming entitlements.

The company operates six large casino resorts in Las Vegas and Henderson and a chain of smaller casino-only properties under the Wildfire brand.

In 2021, Red Rock executives said they were formalizing plans to double the size of the company’s Southern Nevada footprint by 2030.

Red Rock’s $780 million Durango Station casino in southwestern Las Vegas is expected to open by the end of the year, which could clear the way for additional development. Analysts said the focus will be on a 45-acre parcel the company owns in the Inspirada community in Henderson.

Red Rock paid $55 million a year ago for a 67-acre parcel at Losee Road and the 215 Beltway for a North Las Vegas hotel-casino.

Britt said the company is in various stages of securing the gaming entitlements for those development sites, including the Cactus Avenue property. 

The post Lawmakers quietly amended gaming distance law to benefit Red Rock development near school appeared first on The Nevada Independent.

Need help?

Please use the contact form to get support. Thank you.