In March 2016, Attorney General Adam Laxalt asked Nevada Gaming Control Board (GCB) Chair A.G. Burnett to intervene in a lawsuit between Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson and a former employee. Burnett, a registered Republican who was appointed to the GCB by Governor Brian Sandoval (R) in 2011, balked over the suggestion that even Laxalt’s own deputy attorney general rejected. Burnett then secretly recorded conversations with Laxalt involving Laxalt’s request that the State of Nevada intervene on behalf of Adelson in the civil suit.
At the time, Las Vegas Sands was embroiled in a corruption scandal centered on Adelson’s push to gain “leverage” on gaming officials in Macau, China’s casino gaming destination. The 2016 civil suit resulted in a $75 million settlement for former Sands executive Steven Jacobs.
The revelation of Burnett’s secret recordings in February launched the investigation into Laxalt’s advocacy on behalf of Adelson’s business.
Laxalt and his political allies have been attacking A.G. Burnett since the initial revelation. Those attacks reached a climax yesterday, when Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson (R-Henderson) accused Burnett of colluding with Democrats to attack Laxalt. Never since the days of Estes Kefauver investigating mafia influence on the Las Vegas Strip has the State of Nevada’s oversight of the gaming industry become front and center in a political scandal.
Last Friday, Governor Sandoval stood by his GCB Chair. “He worked with me when I was the Attorney General of this state. […] I have a great amount of respect for him.” Despite Roberson’s escalating attacks on Burnett, Sandoval continues to voice confidence in Burnett as an “honorable public servant”.
All of this sets the stage for tomorrow night’s hearing at the Nevada Legislature.
Yesterday, the Assembly Ways and Means Committee introduced AB 513 to provide independent legal counsel for the GCB. The Attorney General’s office is currently tasked with offering legal representation for state gaming regulators. The Legislature’s money committees (Assembly Ways and Means, and Senate Finance) will hold a joint hearing on the bill tomorrow at 6:00 PM. In advance of the hearing, the Legislature released the transcript of Laxalt’s conversation with Burnett.
It remains to be seen if Laxalt refuses to attend another hearing in need of his participation. Laxalt had previously scheduled a Washington, D.C., fundraiser featuring top national Republicans for the same night. Laxalt requested questions in advance, a request Assembly Ways and Means Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Sunrise Manor) quickly denied.
Did Adam Laxalt break any laws? Even if he did not, was Laxalt’s behavior ethical? Could Laxalt’s advocacy for Adelson have risked the future of Nevada’s gaming industry by casting doubt on the integrity of Nevada’s gaming regulations? Was he looking out for the best interest of the people of Nevada? Or was he only concerned about the bottom line for one Sheldon Adelson?
Many people inside and outside the Legislative Building have questions for Laxalt. Will he even bother to show up tomorrow to answer any of them?