News 88.9 KNPR
Classical 89.7 KCNV

member station

Last time, we talked about Becky Harris becoming the first woman to chair the Nevada Gaming Control Board, and only the second woman ever to serve on the board. And we thought you might like to know how the board came to be.

Of all things, it had a lot to do with a libel suit. Hank Greenspun had started publishing the Las Vegas Sun in 1950. He had no problem getting people mad. He had taken on Senators Joe McCarthy and Pat McCarran. In 1954, the FBI raided Roxie’s, a brothel on Boulder Highway. The Sun accused then-Sheriff Glen Jones of letting Roxie’s operate because he’d been on the take. Jones sued the Sun for libel.

The Sun had a source. But when the source’s memory faltered, Greenspun needed more proof. The Sun brought in a private detective from New York to pose as a mysterious hoodlum interested in buying a casino. He had a room at the El Rancho Vegas, with a recording device in a closet. Just before the 1954 election, the Sun did a series of stories about the recordings. While this made several local politicians look bad, the really big news involved Meyer and Jake Lansky being hidden owners of the Thunderbird on the Strip. Not to mention claims that if Pittman won the governor’s race, gaming control would be gutted.

Support comes from

The revelations helped Russell. He won a second term and promised reform. Not that it was easy: it was a busy legislative session, and several lawmakers saw no real need for more government regulation. But, finally, the 1955 legislature created the gaming control board. It would have three members. They would be responsible for watching the numbers and investigating licensing applicants, and a staff of investigators. But the control board would only recommend yes or no on licenses. The Tax Commission would have the final verdict. Not until 1959 would there be a state Gaming Commission that would replace the Tax Commission in that role.

The first control board consisted of Robbins Cahill, William Sinnott, and Newell Hancock. Cahill came over from his tax commission job. Sinnott had been with the FBI, and Hancock was an accountant. After their tenures, they would remain prominent. Cahill was Clark County manager and head of the Nevada Resort Association. Sinnott later worked for Paul Laxalt. Hancock was with a major Nevada accounting firm.

They and their successors on the control board would spearhead a lot of changes. In 1960, regulators pushed for the creation of the List of Excluded Persons, or the Black Book. Investigators within the control board would eventually dig into organized crime, despite concerns about its political power. In the 1970s, the skimming they found at the Stardust was an important nail in the mob’s coffin.

The gaming control board has an important job: trying to assure the integrity of the gaming industry. Today, the gaming commission and control board have about 400 employees and are responsible for overseeing about 3,000 licenses and a revenue stream of more than 11 billion dollars. Becky Harris joins a long line of appointees to the gaming control board who have needed to stand strong.

Nevada Yesterdays
Jan 26, 2018

Becky Harris, Part 1

You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for.  If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.

More Stories

Becky Harris
Nevada Yesterdays
KNPR's State of Nevada
KNPR's State of Nevada