As a longtime employee and later a member of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, A.G. Burnett was appointed chairman by Governor Brian Sandoval in 2012. An attorney, with expertise in corporate securities, Burnett has been instrumental in some of the recent developments in the Nevada regulatory landscape including skill games, eSports and the expansion of sports betting. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros at the GCB offices in Las Vegas in May.
GGB: You were appointed chairman just in time for the introduction of iGaming, the initial wagering on eSports, the definition and introduction of skill games, the expansion of sports betting, and dozens of other issues. Does it seem like it’s always just been one thing after another?
A.G. Burnett: I’ve been here for 19 years, and as luck would have it, or chance would have it, or skill—one of those—I would not have been here this long, had it not been for the great people here. We’ve got 400 people on staff. It’s just been an incredible working environment, to work with some of the greatest people I’ve ever been able to work with. But yeah, you’re absolutely right; it’s been one thing after another, continuously, but that’s gaming.
When you took over, there had already been extensive hearings on iGaming. What were some of your first concerns in Nevada, when iPoker was launched?
When iPoker was first being launched, I was on the Gaming Control Board, and I knew that it was going to be a big event. I knew that it was going to be something that we had to look at strongly as regulators, and I think we all collectively had a feeling at the time that it might be a game-changer for the state of Nevada.
My greatest fear was twofold. One, that it would flop immediately, and not get off the ground. You would have a green light, launch, and things would shut down. And two, that some patron would be ripped off, both of which would be embarrassing events for the state of Nevada. We don’t want anyone to be harmed when they play a game or a slot machine; that’s why we regulate in the way we do. It went off well. There weren’t any of those types of scandals or events or hitches. Things went up, and they were off and running.
More than a year ago, Governor Sandoval signed a bill, reaching an agreement with Delaware to share poker liquidity. What’s happened with that agreement, and is it working?
It’s the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement. It’s working well. Our colleagues in Delaware have been great to work with. It is something that is not on my list of problems, day to day. Staff at the Gaming Control Board has meetings, periodically, with Delaware, and the numbers aren’t big enough, or the number of licensees aren’t large enough to require much more than that at this point. But I think that it has been a success from our perspective.
Sports betting revenue in Nevada has grown pretty substantially over the past five or six years, mainly because of in-running betting, as well as mobile betting. What kind of role will Nevada play if and when sports betting is legalized on a national basis?
That’s a really good question. And I don’t have an answer, because I think it depends on what a federal law does. If (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) is just repealed, without any further guidance from Congress, that’s one thing. If there is a law passed in its place regarding sports betting, and the states’ ability to do that, I would imagine it would look a lot like the other gaming laws that are promulgated by Congress, which would be to ban it, but say that if a state wishes to do it, it can enter into that activity, as long as it’s legal within the state. So, if that were to occur, I would imagine other states would ask us questions as to how we regulate sports betting. Our licensees will be in those states. It’s going to be the Nevada licensees exporting their knowledge and expertise into that, which I think is incredibly important with sports betting, because it is so nuanced, and so highly specialized.
Let’s talk about skill games. Why was Nevada so quick to figure out how this was going to work?
There was a body created to study the impact of technology on gaming. I was part of that, along with Chairman Pete Bernhard of the state Gaming Commission, and that committee’s duty was to study what’s next, and try to determine what Nevada should do. The result of that, obviously, Nevada needs to continue to be at the forefront. What does that mean? For me as a regulator, it meant that we regulate to the statutes.
Eventually we called it a hybrid game, and I consulted with my technology division staff, and they agreed. And so, that’s what ended up being SB9—this concept of the gaming device, the traditional slot-machine gaming device, and then there’s a hybrid game.
The mandate that I gave my staff was this: Right now in Nevada, there’s an end zone. The very first statute says, gaming has to be regulated strictly, it has to be competitive, and these are the things that we have to do to protect the state, and the industry, the state’s population, and all 40 million visitors that come here every year. I said let’s move the goal post. Once we do, it’s going to be up to the industry to fill that space.