Nevada’s casino regulatory system is intimidatingly massive. The relevant sections of the Nevada Revised Statutes span more than 83,000 words—more than 150 pages, single-spaced. But that’s just the foundation: The Gaming Control Board and Gaming Commission promulgate regulations, technical specifications, policies, suitability findings, industry notices, and minimum internal control standards, which themselves run to hundreds of pages. In 2014, gaming regulations have the feel of being, like the mountains and desert, part of the timeless geography of Nevada.
But that system had human architects. One of the most prominent, attorney Robert Faiss, passed away last week, concluding a career that helped to create an area of practice.
Faiss shaped the evolution of Nevada’s gaming regulation as an attorney who represented some of the state’s largest casinos, but never lost sight of what he considered truly important: what was best for Nevada. When he joined Lionel Sawyer & Collins in the early 1970s (after service with the state and federal governments, and finishing a four-year night law degree program in three years), there was no such thing as a “gaming attorney.” Faiss was part of the generation of practitioners that codified gaming law as its own specialty.
In the way Faiss served his clients, he helped shape both our state and the gaming business beyond its borders. He represented Caesars World when, in 1979, it won the right to become the first Nevada company to operate a casino in a “foreign” jurisdiction, then-burgeoning New Jersey. Had Faiss been unsuccessful then, it’s possible that the international expansion of Las Vegas-based casino operators might have happened quite differently, if at all; in 1985, he successfully argued for Hilton Hotels’ approval to operate a casino in a foreign country (Conrad Jupiters, on Australia’s Gold Coast).
Also that year, Faiss client Genji Yasuda became the first non-American citizen licensed to own and operate a Nevada casino when he bought the bankrupt Aladdin. The language, cultural, and administrative barriers that gaming agents crossed while conducting the Yasuda investigation, primarily in Japan, would position the state well as international owners became increasingly interested in Las Vegas. Faiss was also instrumental in drafting the 2001 legislation that opened the door for Nevada to become, more than a decade later, the first U.S. state to permit Internet gaming, a frontier in its own right.
In short, Faiss helped to usher Nevada into the global era of gaming, one in which casino ownership and operation transcends borders. Today, as several Las Vegas-based operators earn much of their revenue from Asian operations and a Malaysian company develops the next major Strip casino, it’s easy to see that the Strip would look much different without Faiss.
Faiss contributed in smaller ways as well. Originally, all meetings of the Gaming Control Board had, by statute, to take place in Carson City, an encumbrance for the growing Southern Nevada industry. Once, while discussing potential amendments to gaming law with GCB chair Richard Bunker, Faiss casually asked whether it would be possible to drop that requirement. Bunker was amenable, and as a result the Board and Commission alternate their meetings between the north and south.
Yet Faiss’ legacy is more than the sum of his legislative or regulatory contributions. His most enduring contribution might be the education and encouragement he imparted to future generations. Through his work as the chair of Lionel Sawyer & Collins’ gaming department, he mentored many young attorneys who have themselves gone on to prominence. In a more formal role, Faiss taught at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law beginning in 2001, taking time from a crowded schedule to personally instruct students.
In a 2006 interview with the University of Nevada’s Oral History Program, Faiss was characteristically humble. When asked about his proudest accomplishments, he thanked his clients and his colleagues at Lionel Sawyer & Collins. But it wasn’t about individual attainment; it was about working to make the system run better.
“As long as I feel I’m making a contribution, and nobody I respect contradicts it, I’m going to keep working,” he said.
Over his long career, Faiss contributed more than his share. For decades to come, his work, directly and indirectly, will continue to define gaming law and regulation in Nevada.
David G. Schwartz is the director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.