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Ownership of popular taco shop at Resorts World Las Vegas becomes gaming issue

One of the most talked about stories roiling inside the gaming community these days isn’t the NFL draft this week, it’s the question of who really owns the popular taco shop at the $4 billion Resorts World Las Vegas.

A pair of controversial gamblers contend the restaurant Tacos El Cabron is owned in part by a convicted illegal bookmaker who once bragged about laundering money through California card rooms and Las Vegas casinos.

The man in question, David Stroj, denies he is an investor, but admits his father is involved. Now the Gaming Control Board is investigating the allegations.

State of Nevada contributor John L. Smith has been following this story closely.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity.

JOE SCHOENMANN: With so much going on up and down the Strip, how did this issue become news?

JOHN L. SMITH: At its base, it raises a question of what is the role of Gaming Control in regulating the casino industry? Just how much of a policeman is Gaming Control? Is it going to be doing a micro search and check? Or is it more of a macro agency? It surfaced because this is one of the allegations that was leveled by a controversial gamblers Brandon Sattler and R.J. Cipriani at the connection of Stroj, who is who's notorious.

He has an organized crime connection years ago in Philadelphia, and, you know, convicted felon, he has an illegal gambling background, so that makes it more controversial. Some of the allegations that have surfaced do make it newsworthy, and I think that's what's put it in the press is the marketing of the issue and the fact that Cipriani -- he was arrested for cheating at gambling at Resorts World. It’s a real a box of rocks.

SCHOENMANN: The Cipriani case, which we talked about previously, seemed relatively minor, did that set the bar so low that they must go for everything? Or is this Stroj case potentially bigger? And I guess I would think it's bigger because people who work in the casinos need Sheriff cards, they presumably get background checks.

SMITH: Their license requires a level of due diligence for their own people and the folks who lease areas as you know, most restaurants in the on the Strip these days are leased out spaces, they're not really generated from the actual owner, you have a different generation of ownership, and it makes it more complex, but they do have compliance committees for that inside every licensees operation.

SCHOENMANN: Are there regulations now that say, if I were a criminal in a previous life, and my dad is investing, that he can't invest in something in a casino now, because of me?

SMITH: Interestingly enough, there are a number of convicted felons who work in the casino industry, it's no secret. What makes it more problematic is when you have someone potentially investing in a casino or owning something inside the casino, who has an illegal gambling background. And by listening to his wiretaps, I mean, bragging about laundering money in casinos, that's really a bad look. And I think that's what has raised the eyebrows of Gaming Control enough to where they're investigating, even though the accusers are these other guys who have their own problematic issue.

SCHOENMANN: So, this kind of investigation is going to go beyond the typical criminal background check. We're talking about maybe getting into bank statements, seeing how money was transferred?

SMITH: It's possible or they could just look at the indictment and see other people, this is not a real intensive investigation. Just look, see if there are any names that are associated with the business at Resorts World, and you'll find that there are a couple of names that are similar.

SCHOENMANN: The taco shop and Resorts World. What are they saying in relation to this?

SMITH: Resorts World denies having any regulatory issues at all. They placed the blame for this on a Brandon Sattler who gave a deposition that was very damning of an official at Resorts World and raised the issue of who owns that shop, that taco place and as well as Cipriani, who was charged with a very minor gambling offence, and now has a bench warrant out that would remand him to custody until trial without bail, were he to surface or be apprehended.

SCHOENMANN: I want to go back real briefly to Brandon Sattler, tell people again why he's important in this.

SMITH: He has a previous conviction for bank fraud, but that doesn't make him a guy who couldn't gamble at Resorts World. He owns a company that puts televisions into businesses and hotels. He has told investors that he had many contracts throughout the casino industry. He clearly had some contacts in the casino industry. He says that he's the one who put the televisions inside the taco area with the surveillance camera and all of that.

So, he worked for them, he didn't exactly work for Resorts World. But he said in his deposition that he had kind of a bird's eye view of everything. And that Stroj, the son, not the father, is the guy there. Whether that's to be believed or not, you know, certainly he's being accused of bankruptcy fraud by some investors in his company. You've got plenty of controversy and a lot of areas where the casino company can throw water on those spot fires.

SCHOENMANN: Give me your take on Gaming Control? Are they really taking this very seriously? How seriously, on a scale of one to 10?

SMITH: A couple of documents that I've obtained showed that there was an interest in some of the players there, that security at the resort was aware that some of the players had those problematic backgrounds. And so that's one issue. The other issue is during the march licensing hearing at the Gaming Control Board, Brittany Watkins, she raised the issue -- did not mention Sattler by name -- but raised that issue in the hearing, did not mention Cipriani by name, I don't believe, but also raised a question about some of those allegations that he was leveling. So clearly, it's on their radar.

SCHOENMANN: Let's go back to Cipriani. We talked about him again last week, he goes by the nickname Robin Hood 702. I guess he is known for, or says he was, giving some of his gaming wins to the poor. But he doesn't live in the 702 these days, and a judge has signed a bench warrant for his arrest and said he would be held without bail.

SMITH: He's accused of a couple of things, of taking a person. This is one of the people he was trying to out as a convicted felon who was playing at the casino. He took that guy's cell phone and tried to turn it into security. But taking someone else's property, you know, would be in most cases would be considered theft. The other thing is he's accused of -- he's about $1,000 a hand blackjack player, he played 500 at a $1,000 table. You know, it's really kind of a fuzzy area there, whether he did something on purpose or by accident. As we've said before, this isn't something that would raise the meter compared to a lot of other casino thefts and cheating.

SCHOENMANN: And one more thing about Cipriani, how does he connect to the tacos?

SMITH: He also raised the issue of just who owns the place? In addition to that, he's not only raised that issue, and this is where I think our story focuses more. He also raised the issue on social media. After he ran into trouble and got kicked out of Resorts World, social media lit up, and he was clearly pulling the tail of management there. Whether this is what you get for pulling the tail or not. I guess we'll find out.

John L. Smith, contributer, State of Nevada 

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.