State Senator Becky Harris Named First Female NV Gaming Chair

Written By Joss Wood on January 17, 2018
old fashioned slot machine

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval recently appointed Becky Harris to be the next Chair of the Nevada Gaming Control Board (GCB). She is the first woman ever to serve as chair. Additionally, she is only the second woman to serve on the board.

The importance of gambling to Nevada makes this appointment more significant than most. Both the state and the Nevada gaming industry will be keen to ensure the new incumbent provides a safe pair of hands.

They will expect Harris to do nothing that risks either tax or business revenues. At the same time, she needs to protect Nevada citizens and provide a proactive approach to technological, political, and cultural changes impacting the industry.

As Sandoval said when announcing the appointment:

“Nevada’s gaming regulatory structure is the best in the world and it is imperative that the public servants who serve on this commission are beyond reproach and willing to make difficult decisions.”

Harris faces some difficult decisions?

Sandoval is confident that Harris will not just make the difficult decisions, but will make good decisions on the difficult issues:

“Becky has served her community as an elected official and worked to pass legislation which codified the e-gaming decision made by the Gaming Policy Committee which authorized e-gaming competitions, helped spur innovation in gaming, and ensured Nevada remain on the forefront of new opportunities in one of our state’s oldest industries. I am confident she will continue to serve with distinction and integrity.”

Harris certainly has the right qualifications. The role demands political perceptiveness, knowledge of gambling law and regulation, and a positive approach to the industry.

Like her predecessor, A.G. Burnett, who resigned last month, she is a lawyer. Harris has a Juris Doctor from J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University. She is also a  State Senator for District 9 in Clark County.

Harris is currently a Republican. However, until 2004 she was a Democrat. Additionally, her Senate seat is likely going to be one of the most hotly contested in the next election. Experience of both sides of the political spectrum can only help Harris navigate any stormy waters though.

Harris has a strong background in gambling regulation

Reassuringly for the industry, she took a serious interest in gambling very early in her political career. Harris enrolled in the inaugural LL.M. in Gaming Law and Regulation from the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, in 2016.

She is actively involved in state gambling regulation via the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS), where she is the current Treasurer.

The NCGLS has a particular role in promoting best practice regulation. Its draft template for gambling regulations is, in effect, an early position paper on standardized gambling regulations across the US.

Nevada now has interstate compacts with Delaware and New Jersey. As such, Harris’ regulation experience at NCLGS will come in handy as that compact grows.

The reality is that other countries are well ahead of Nevada in some regulatory areas. Some examples include the use of virtual and cryptocurrencies and the regulation of a more diverse set of games, like esports and virtual sports.

NGCB are starting to address some of these issues. Nonetheless, technical progress means new ventures that may or may not require regulatory intervention are developing quickly. And when it comes to inaction, sometime doing nothing can be as damaging to the gambling industry as being overzealous.

Switching from politics to gambling regulation may be a step up

Harris is in no doubt as to how important her role is. In order to take the job, she has to vacate her Senate seat. After accepting the position, she acknowledged the scale of the task facing her:

“To be appointed to the finest regulatory system in the world is a tremendous responsibility. I am grateful for the trust and confidence Governor Sandoval has placed in me. I am committed to serving with determination and honor. I will miss serving in the Nevada State Senate and working for the constituents in District 9, but my public service to the citizens of Nevada will certainly go on in this new full-time role.”

Harris is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as Mormons. This is perhaps unusual for someone who is now a critically important figure for the Nevada gambling industry.

The church vehemently opposes to gambling. However, in this respect, the Mormon position is not materially different from that of most major religions. When Massachusetts sought to expand gambling in 2011, the four senior Catholic bishops in the state issued a public statement condemning the proposed law.

Despite being placed in a tricky position finding a replacement political candidate, Republican Senate Leader Michael Roberson believes Harris is the right woman for the job.

“There is no better person to be appointed to the Gaming Control Board and her historic appointment as the first female chairwoman is befitting considering her resume, which is second to none. I am extremely happy for Becky and know she’ll be outstanding in this position.”

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Joss Wood

Joss Wood has a master’s degree in organisational development from the University of Manchester as well as an English degree from the University of Birmingham and also earned. His writing primarily centers on international online gambling markets, though he also writes about the legal US online gambling industry in addition to sports betting and esports gambling.

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