GAMING CONTROL BOARD LOSING AGENTS

Friday, November 24, 2000

By JEFF SIMPSON
lasvegas.com GAMING WIRE
 

  The Nevada Gaming Control Board is having a difficult time retaining its
agents, and the reason is simple.
  Money.
  Board agents who enjoy their work and would like to remain are choosing
instead to accept more money to work for other government agencies or in
private industry, both in and outside Nevada.
  "Exit interviews with our agents who leave reveal that they're leaving
because they'll earn significantly more elsewhere," Control Board Chairman Steve
DuCharme said.
  They're offered more elsewhere because the board's agents are highly skilled
and well-trained, noted DuCharme, who announced his intention last week to
leave the board in January after 10 years of service.

  The board employs 430 workers. Of those, 341 are agents. Nonsupervisory
control board agents earn between $30,000 and $46,000, depending on their
length of employment and credentials, the chairman said.
  The board's agents have traditionally been paid better than other state
employees, DuCharme said.
  "It's always been the most prestigious state agency," he said. "Our audit
agents can earn 70 percent more working as certified public accountants in
private industry, and our investigations and enforcement agents can earn up
to $60,000 and get a car to drive from other regulatory agencies in other
gaming jurisdictions."
  Most Board agents aren't given cars to drive, he noted.

  The board found that 71 agents left for avoidable causes between July 1,
1998 and this past Oct. 6, defining avoidable turnover as employees leaving
for reasons other than death, retirement or other unavoidable reasons,.
  Carol Thomas of the State Department of Personnel quantified the control
board's turnover on an annual basis. Investigator agents had a 19 percent
annual turnover rate while enforcement agents left at a 13.6 percent annual
rate.
  "The board's auditors had an astounding 26.6 percent turnover rate," she
added.
  By way of comparison, the turnover rate for state employees is 14.1
percent, Thomas said.

 Just as Willie Sutton said he robbed banks "because that's where the money
is," Nevada's agents are recruited by industry and other states because
Silver State regulators possess skills needed by an expanding industry and
new gambling jurisdictions.
  "We're looking for folks with expertise and experience," said
California's Director of the Division of Gambling Control Harlan
Goodson, whose agency has hired several control board agents since
his state's voters approved legalizing tribal casinos in March.
"Nevada has a 40-year history of regulating gambling, and it's been
our experience that their agents are both well trained and well regarded."

  Board Enforcement Division Agent Paul Stolberg is now going through the
application process at California's Division of Gambling Control. After
doing criminal investigations for the control board for 10 years,
Stolberg has reached  the maximum salary he can earn, about $45,000
per year.
  "I'm topped out here, and I'd earn $7,000 more per year in California,
plus I'd get a car," Stolberg said.
  He said he was asked to apply for the California position, which will be
similar to his current job, when it became apparent the Golden State's
voters would approve tribal casinos.
  Stolberg said he'll be able to earn regular pay increases as well, with
agents' salaries topping out at more than $60,000 per year.
  "All things being equal, I'd like to stay in Nevada," he explained. "It's
a good job I have here, but I just want to earn more money."

  The Venetian's Director of Compliance, Julie Damavandi, expressed a
similar rationale for her decision to leave the control board in
March.
  A single mother with two children, one of whom was ready to go to
college, Damavandi said she couldn't afford to stay at the board,
where she'd worked as an investigations agent for more than two years.
  "Every paycheck was a struggle," Damavandi said. "I was very happy with my
job, but I would have only received a 2.5 percent pay raise, and The Venetian
offered me more than 30 percent more than I was making."
  Damavandi now helps The Venetian comply with the same federal and state
regulations she used to investigate others for breaking.
  Board member Bobby Siller said in May that retaining the board's employees
was the biggest challenge facing Nevada gaming regulators.
  "They are grossly underpaid," Siller said.
  Siller noted at the time that he and the other board members have expressed
the need for better agent pay to Gov. Kenny Guinn and his staff, and that he
expected significant salary increases to be approved when the governor and
legislature write a new budget next year.

  DuCharme said Guinn has been supportive, and believes the governor will do
all he can to increase agents' salaries.
  "We need at least a 15 percent kicker to our agents' salaries just to
remain competitive," DuCharme said. "We've got a tremendous brain
drain, and it's not  going to stop unless the salaries are substantially increased."

  DuCharme's concern for the employees he leads and the agency he's planning
to leave couldn't mask the ironic note he struck at September's Nevada Gaming
Commission meeting.
  Station Casinos Chairman Frank Fertitta III explained to commissioners
considering his company's staffing plans for the newly acquired Santa Fe
Station that his company tries to promote from within, and that it
considers its employee talent pool a "farm team" to use for
promotions.
  When Station Casinos Executive Vice President and General Counsel Scott
Nielson later told the commission that several National Indian Gaming
Commission investigators working on the company's deal with the United
Auburn Indian tribe to build a casino in California's Gold Country were
former Nevada Gaming Control Board investigators, DuCharme had a
ready quip.
  "Mr. Fertitta's not the only one with a farm team," the chairman said,
shaking his head.

Jeff Simpson
lasvegas.com Gaming Wire
 

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