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September 17, 2014

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WEEK IN REVIEW: CARSON CITY

CARSON CITY - Assemblymen Marcus Conklin and Ruben Kihuen are young Democratic up-and-comers from Las Vegas who made a case for a state lottery this week with a cogent presentation, whatever one thinks of the merits.

They and other Assembly Democrats looked in the eye of the gaming industry, which opposes the bill, and refused to blink.

From gaming's perspective, a lottery amounts to unfair state-sponsored competition that will hit their bottom line. Yet the Assembly approved the legislation and it is now pending in the Republican-controlled Senate.

For some observers here, including two influential lobbyists, one a Republican and one a Democrat, the lottery can be viewed as another in a long series of seemingly insignificant events that add up to a larger story: The power of big gaming is on the wane, and one of these days, someone will run against it and win.

It's by no means a new development, nor is this the first time it's been said. But it's becoming clearer, they think.

"It's a glacial change. But it's happening, and it's going to continue to happen," the Democratic lobbyist said.

The industry is now thoroughly consolidated and corporate. That means fewer companies to give to political campaigns, and accountants in New York who wonder whether they can't cut political contributions here and there to improve quarterly earnings.

Also, corporations, such as MGM, are bound by the tough corporate governance law Sarbanes-Oxley, which makes corporate spending more transparent. That in turn has shareholders around the world wondering whether everyone in the Nevada Legislature really needs 10 or 20 or 50 grand for his or her campaign fund.

A political consultant said the percentage of a campaign budget coming from gaming has steadily declined. Also, the state's economy has diversified somewhat, and the new players are picking up the slack.

The real driver here, though, will be voters. By large margins, when polled, they say the gaming tax ought to be increased to pay for the state's failing schools and health and transportation systems.

Sooner or later, the lobbyists say, a new generation of candidates will arise, especially as many current legislators are forced out by term limits. A few of the candidates are going to run against gaming.

An Assembly race here, a state Senate race there. Pretty soon, you will see a little group of them.

On the other hand, ask Joe Neal about running against gaming. He tried that in the 2002 governor's race and lost by a landslide.

As one of the lobbyists noted dryly, "Demonstrating their lack of weakness, I don't want my name used."

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