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Nevada Gaming Industry Updates Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Policies

Historically, sexual harassment of casino employees in Las Vegas casinos was not unusual.  

Talk to any waitress or bartender and you’ll hear stories of harassment from bosses and customers. 

But since the news broke almost two years ago that Steve Wynn allegedly sexually harassed several employees, then was forced to resign – there have been earnest attempts to change that culture. 

Wynn has consistently denied the allegations.

Recently, the Nevada Gaming Commission enacted new regulations for harassment and discrimination.

However, Jan Jones Blackhurst, a member of the board of directors at Caesers Entertainment, said the regulations do not go far enough. She wanted the stricter rules that were first purposed under former control board chief Becky Harris

Blackhurst is happy that something was done to address the problem but she feels the industry missed an opportunity.

“My feeling is the industry had the opportunity to show real leadership because we are different," she said, "We regulate responsible gaming. We regulate diversity. We regulate all sorts of issues in the gaming industry.”

Blackhurst said the gaming industry felt that adopting the tougher regulations would put them at a different standard than other industries. Instead, the regulations that were recently codified are basically the regulations outlined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Anthony Cabot is a distinguished fellow in gaming law at UNLV's Boyd School of Law. He said the biggest problems with regulations like these are the avenues for reporting harassers and the discipline if the charges are found to be true.

“I think that the real thing here was we needed in the gaming industry to create an avenue so that these matters are better exposed," he said, "They’re better dealt with at the company level. And importantly, they’re dealt with at the regulatory level.”

He said the new regulations offer a chance for people to report harassment and lets harassers or people who don't step in to stop the behavior know there will be consequences.

“Once the industry at every level starts to realize that there are consequences regulatory consequences that they could lose their right to be the industry or they could lose their license hopefully it will make it a better situation,” he said.

It is the regulatory aspect of the new policies that could make a harasser think twice about his or her behavior, said Ann McGinley, director of workplace law program at UNLV's Boyd School of Law.

McGinley pointed out that if a company is sued it can settle the lawsuit and pay the plaintiff off for a relatively small amount of money. But if the Gaming Control Board can take away a gaming license, that is a lot more serious.

Despite that part of the new policies, McGinley is not convinced the new rules will do what they're designed to do.

“The reason I don’t have a lot of confidence is any sexual harassment policies and training is that the research shows that they don’t work,” she said.

She said that most sexual harassment rules are designed to protect employers from lawsuits but they are not designed to stop harassment from happening.

McGinley said how well the new regulations protect employees depends on how seriously the companies take them.

“They could be safer but it depends on how strongly the employers and the Gaming Control Board interpret these,” she said.

If the company makes it clear to employees that the behavior won't be tolerated, makes sure managers are living up to the company policies, and makes it plain that employees won't be retaliated against for reporting something, then there's a chance the incidents of harassment will go down.

One of the biggest problems with instituting the new rules is whether people will actually use them to make their workplace better.

Brittany Bronson is a part-time instructor at UNLV's English Department. She's been a contributor at the New York Times and other publications and she is also a part-time server on the Las Vegas Strip.

Bronson said whether to say something to a manager about harassment can be complicated and difficult to decide. She said when she's been harassed on the job - which she says has been too numerous to name - she does a quick cost-benefit analysis.

She thinks about if she has enough time to deal with the issue, whether the harasser is a regular and has done it several times before, and whether she's going to get a positive reaction from a manager.

“I think that there’s a lack of nuance in how the complexity of this issue for frontline workers and how they’re trying to respond and take action that I don’t necessarily see happening in some of the conversations,” she said.

Bronson feels she's empowered enough at her job to go to a manager but she's a white woman, who speaks fluent English and is working there part-time.

She noted that statistically, the most vulnerable workers to sexual harassment and discrimination are low to middle-income immigrant women of color.

“So, if we really want to talk about addressing this we have to talk about how do we empower people at that level with the most minimal agency," she said.

Blackhurst agreed and said that it's even more difficult to address the problem when the harasser is your supervisor.

“If this is going to cost you your livelihood, even though it's uncomfortable and you don’t like it, you’re more likely to stay silent,” she said.

Blackhurst believes it is on the industry to truly address the problem by making sure employees know they will be heard if they speak up - whether its a supervisor or a high-roller who is being accused of inappropriate behavior.

Anthony Cabot, distinguished fellow in gaming law, UNLV’s Boyd School of Law;  Jan Jones Blackhurst, board member, Caesars Entertainment;  Brittany Bronson, contributor, New York Times contributor;  Ann McGinley, director of the workplace law program, UNLV’s Boyd School of Law. 

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(Editor's note: Chris Sieroty no longer works for Nevada Public Radio)