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A.G. Burnett Reflects On Career In Gaming Regulation

Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett talks at the Legislative Building in Carson City, Nev., on Friday, May 10, 2013.
(AP Photo/Cathleen Allison)

Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett talks at the Legislative Building in Carson City, Nev., on Friday, May 10, 2013.

For the better part of five years, A.G. Burnett might have been the most powerful person in Nevada that you never heard of.

Burnett was a member of Nevada's Gaming Control Board since 2011, serving as the agency's chairman since 2012.

But at the end of December, he stepped down from his post to get back into the private sector.

Although the Gaming Control Board, or GCB, is a powerful agency, Burnett said many people don't know what the board does. He explained almost every transaction made by an individual or entity with a gaming license has to be approved by the GCB and then the Gaming Commission.

He said there are more than 400 people on the GCB's payroll who watch over the 3,000 licensees in the state -- from a7-Eleven owner with a few slot machines, to the CEO of a major Strip resort. 

Burnett said the control board has to walk a fine line between regulating the gaming industry and making sure it flourishes.

"You do have to be harsh, you do have to be tough, and you do have to be firm when it is appropriate and called for," he said. "But ... I always looked at it like I have one client, and that is the state of Nevada. That is who I'm here to protect."

During his tenure at the helm of the GCB, Burnett maintained a low profile, preferring to use the Teddy Roosevelt method of "speaking softly, but carrying a big stick."

However, Burnett's name did make headlines after a recording he made of a conversation he had with Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt came to light.

Laxalt asked Burnett to intervene in a lawsuit involving Las Vegas Sands, the gaming company run by Sheldon Adelson. 

After consulting with his own staff and the governor's office, Burnett turned the recording of the conversation over to the FBI. Burnett said the Gaming Control Board must maintain its impartiality, and keep its reputation for being the gold standard of gaming regulation around the world.

"I have always taken the approach -- and I think the board in general has taken the approach -- that if we're going to weigh in on licensees or applicants suitability, we need to hold those same standards ourselves," he said.

As far as Burnett is concerned, the incident is "water under the bridge." 

As Burnett leaves the agency, there are a few changes coming to the gaming industry he says the next chairman will have to tackle, including continuing issues around legalized marijuana and the emerging technology of skill-based games

Burnett said when he took the reins of the agency, he tried to follow the direction given by a past chairman to "keep up" -- to keep up with the mountain of reports, monthly hearings and meetings, and the thousands of pages of information that cross the chairman's desk.

"I held the line," he said. "That's what I think our regulators have to do."

A.G. Burnett, former chairman, Nevada Gaming Control Board (2012-2017)

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Casey Morell is the coordinating producer of Nevada Public Radio's flagship broadcast State of Nevada and one of the station's midday newscast announcers. (He's also been interviewed by Jimmy Fallon, whatever that's worth.)