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September 30, 2014

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Proposal aims to define ‘neighborhood casino’

Clark County Commissioner Lynette Boggs McDonald said Monday that she will ask the county's planning staff to draft a proposal to define what is -- and isn't -- a "neighborhood casino."

Boggs McDonald said the move is needed to eliminate the possibility of surprise when residents move into an area in which a neighborhood casino is planned. She said her proposal would not try to eliminate neighborhood casinos but to control their size and impact on neighborhoods.

The measure is needed because Senate Bill 208, a state law that passed in 1997 to limit the number of casinos in residential neighborhoods, allows some significant loopholes, she said.

"SB 208 dealt with the where, but there is a book of loopholes as relates to the what," Boggs McDonald said. Her proposal, which she plans to refine with Clark County Comprehensive Planning in the next several weeks, would address "the height, square footage, number of rooms and those types of issues," she said.

SB 208 allowed more than a dozen sites already slated for neighborhood casinos and allowed new sites to be established at the intersections of major highways. However, it also barred new sites when such projects would have a detrimental impact on existing residential neighborhoods.

Boggs McDonald said another loophole that the law allows is that companies could seek and win approval for new casino sites miles away from residential areas. But construction would only come when the homes are built nearby, she said.

"SB 208 created loopholes that said new sites can be identified where no residents live," Boggs McDonald said. "Development always follows the rooftops. No one is going to develop a project until the neighborhoods come in."

A new rule guiding neighborhood casinos would relieve some of the controversies that have erupted in the Clark County Commission chambers over neighborhood casinos.

The Clark County Commission in 2000 sparked a hot controversy when it approved a "neighborhood casino" in Spring Valley. A special state board ultimately reversed the county commission decision, ruling that the approval would have hurt nearby homeowners. However, the issue helped doom at least one commissioner's political life on the board.

This year, the commission also has wrestled with the issue of height for the Red Rock Station casino planned for West Charleston Boulevard in Summerlin. A county-brokered compromise lopped 100 feet off the original plans that called for a 300-foot tower at the Station Casinos project, now under construction.

Some of the same activists who railed against the Red Rock project are protesting plans by Station Casinos to build a 200,000-square-foot casino near Durango Drive and the Las Vegas Beltway. Boggs McDonald said she plans to meet with Station Casinos representatives this week in an effort to find a compromise that would scale back the planned casino dubbed Durango Station.

The Durango Station issue is scheduled for discussion tonight at the Spring Valley Town Advisory Board. The board, which recommends land-use decisions to the Clark County Commission, is to consider the extension of time for the project's use permit and design. Town board meetings are held at 6:30 p.m. at the West Flamingo Senior Center, 6255 W. Flamingo Road.

Boggs McDonald, who before her appointment to the county board in March by Gov. Kenny Guinn served on the Station Casinos board of directors, said she hopes that the company will scale back the entitlements that have been granted by the state and county -- especially the size of the casino floor, which is the size of the floor at the Strip's MGM Grand.

Boggs McDonald said the rule she is proposing would come years too late to directly impact the Durango Station project, which the county first approved in 1997 and was "grandfathered" into SB 208.

She said a new rule, however, would curb some of the controversies in the future.

"We need to get ahead of the curve instead of always being in a reaction mode," Boggs McDonald said. "That way the residents have an expectation of predictability, and the gamers know what their parameters will be as they come forward for future projects."

Residents, she said, have an idea of what a neighborhood casino is, and the plans should follow that impression.

"They have in their minds visions of the Suncoast or Green Valley Ranch. They don't envision the MGM Grand or Mandalay Bay."

Before the county planning staff could move forward drafting an ordinance, the full county commission would have to give that direction to the staff. Boggs McDonald said she hopes to have the issue up for discussion in early January. It would take at least a month for the ordinance to come up for public discussion and be passed into county law.

Terry Murphy, a consultant to businesses, among them Station Casinos, working with local governments, said she would need to know the details of Boggs McDonald's proposal before commenting.

"I need to know more about what it would look like, but if the board of county commissioners chooses to better define what a neighborhood casino looks like, that is their prerogative," Murphy said. "It may make a lot of sense to have some guidelines. I would hope that members of the industry would have an opportunity to comment on it."

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