Sunday, Jan. 15, 2006 | 8:02 a.m.
Jeff Simpson is business editor of the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at [email protected] or at (702) 259-4083.
Nevada's Gaming Control Board is investigating the activities in Las Vegas casino resort nightclubs -- including Light at Bellagio, one of the Strip's top two resorts.
The board has already met with casino executives to let them know that there is concern about activities in the clubs, and the board continues to look into what is taking place in the pricey and risque venues.
An event taking place tonight at Light is an example of the kind of event that is fueling the scrutiny of the Control Board, the gaming industry's cop and tax collector.
Light this evening is holding the Crazy Horse Too strip club's 2006 calendar release party, an event that will be hosted by the women who pose for the calendar.
Only two years ago the Control Board roasted license applicant Tim Poster for his friendship with Crazy Horse Too owner Rick Rizzolo, telling the future (and now former) Golden Nugget owner that Rizzolo was the subject of an FBI investigation and that the club employs several people with organized crime connections.
"I'm very familiar with Mr. Rick Rizzolo," Control Board member Bobby Siller said at Poster's January 2004 licensing hearing. Siller, a former FBI special agent in charge of the bureau's Las Vegas operations, told Poster why he thought Rizzolo had befriended him: "People such as you, very successful, very young, are considered marks. People in organized crime try to set you up, get some of your funds. And I think that's what they were trying to do with you."
As surprising as it might seem that a major Strip hotel owned by heavyweight MGM Mirage would allow its top nightclub to stage an event benefiting Rizzolo's strip club, MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said tonight's event makes sense from a business perspective.
Noting that the nightclub is operated by the Light Group, a separate company, but acknowledging that Light's lease allows Bellagio the right to nix events it deems unsuitable, Feldman said the incredibly intense competition in the nightclub business explains the Light-Crazy Horse Too relationship.
"The club business is a competitive environment; it's very sexy," Feldman said.
Feldman downplayed the Control Board's past concerns about Rizzolo and whether they should have made the Light Group wary of staging an event promoting the strip club's calendar. He noted that Rizzolo hasn't been indicted, and said Rizzolo and the strip club aren't being paid for the calendar release party or for the calendar girls' appearances.
Feldman admitted that Rizzolo and his club would benefit from the event.
"This is a promotional exchange," Feldman said. Light gets the benefit of the sexiness of the Crazy Horse Too brand in promoting its Sunday night event, and the Crazy Horse gets a promotional event at Light."
Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said last week that the board will look into the event, but declined to comment on whether Nevada casinos should have business relationships with Rizzolo and his strip club, promotional or otherwise.
"I'm not going to get into that until I have a chance to take a look at it," Neilander said, although he did note that the board's insistence that Poster live up to his promise to sever his friendship with Rizzolo involved a personal relationship, not business.
Whether or not the board cracks down on Bellagio and its Light tenant, one thing is clear: The ultracompetitive nature of the Strip's nightclub business has drawn the attention of Nevada gaming regulators.
Casino nightclubs have been warned to keep illegal activity out, and gaming bosses know that the Control Board is watching.