Q+A: Retiring gaming chief John Moran on future of Las Vegas, a lottery in Nevada

Nevada Gaming Commissioner John Moran Jr. is shown during an interview in his office April 17, 2013. Moran, who has served on the commission for 13 years, announced his retirement from the board this week.

John Moran Jr., chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, announced his resignation Thursday after serving more than 13 years.

Moran was first appointed to the body that oversees the state’s gaming industry by former Gov. Kenny Guinn and served from August 2004 to April 2005.

He was appointed again in April 2009 and has served continuously since, taking over as chairman following Tony Alamo’s resignation in April 2020.

A lawyer by trade, Moran, 74, has also served on the state’s Colorado River Commission and the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners. He spent time as chairman on those commissions, too.

Moran’s father, John Moran Sr., was a three-term sheriff in Clark County and helped orchestrate the merger of the sheriff’s department and Las Vegas police department to create what is the Metropolitan Police Department.

Moran Sr. moved the family from California to Las Vegas in 1947, when Moran Jr. was just 6 months old.

The Sun recently interviewed Moran about why he decided to step aside and what’s next for a man who has been synonymous with gaming regulation in Nevada.

You’ve spent a lot of time on the Nevada Gaming Commission. What are you most proud of during your time?

I’m most proud of being a part of a commission that approved very large corporations and people like Kirk Kerkorian, Steve Wynn and his projects, MGM, Caesars Palace — those were huge developments.

It was predicted that the large companies would get larger by gobbling up the smaller ones, and that’s kind of what we’re seeing. A lot of the companies now have a lot of interests outside the state of the Nevada, and that’s a dramatic change from the early days. I’m glad I could be a part of that.

I’m also proud of helping to combat the COVID-19 problems as we worked to limit the spread of the virus in our hotels and casinos. I worked closely with (Gaming Control Board) Chairman J. Brin Gibson, who did a wonderful job, along with our governor.

Gov. (Steve) Sisolak was thrown this COVID-19 hand, and he picked it up and saved a lot of lives by the way he handled that.

Also, we set a record for gaming in July ($1.36 billion). That’s something I like to hang my hat on a little because I was chairman at that time and leading up to that.

What’s changed in gaming during your stints on the commission?

A lot has changed over the years in gaming. I’ve spent about 14 years on the commission. Look at the types of machines we have now; it’s astonishing.

Years and years ago, it was table games; that was the whole thing. Now, slots have really taken over. These machines — slot-type arcade games — can do all sorts of interesting technological things.

I think younger people don’t have as much interest in the table games. A lot of young people do still play blackjack, but these are people who grew up on Game Boys and Xbox. Online gaming is also here now.

What’s something that you’d like to see happen that hasn’t happened yet in Nevada on the gaming side?

I’d very much like to see Nevada get a lottery like what these other states have. I think we need that as an additional source of money.

A lot of people go out of state to play these lotteries, and that’s revenue that we’re missing out on. We’re leaving a lot of money on the table by not having a lottery. Other states, they direct a lot of lottery funds to all sorts of things that help the community, such as education and programs for veterans. If we could generate $300 million to $500 million per year by virtue of a state lottery, those numbers are really appealing. That’s the one thing I feel like I didn’t accomplish.

Why did you decide to step away and what’s next on your plate?

I was appointed to three different commissions by five different governors. Two of the governors were Democrats and three were Republicans. My goal was always to be on three state commissions and to chair all three.

If anyone has been on three, I know they haven’t chaired all three, so I met that goal that I had. I just thought it was a good time to step away.

Looking ahead, I’m considering some business opportunities that were brought to me, though I can’t talk about anything right now.

You took over the commission chairman role in April 2020, just after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. When we started to realize just how much Nevada was going to be affected by the virus, in the days leading up to that infamous March closure of all casinos in the state, what were those times like for you?

It was a very, very troubling time. We had never experienced anything like that in the community or in the gaming world. Now, all of a sudden, the tourist traffic to Las Vegas and up North was diminished.

Then we had some people who didn’t want to wear masks or social distance, and there was pushback on vaccinations. Those were scary times. We did keep gaming, our chief industry here in Nevada, alive. We kept it functioning.

What’s the future of Las Vegas? Is the city set up well for the years and decades to come?

I think what’s happened, our recovery here and in the state of Nevada, has surprised a lot of people and surprised a lot of gaming people outside the state. We were able to get on top of what we had to do during a very difficult time.

We’re the gold standard here in Nevada. I think you saw a lot of people copying what we did here to protect its citizens, its industries and the people who work in those industries.

As far as competition outside the state of Nevada on gaming, I don’t worry about that. That’s because there’s really only Las Vegas and Reno, particularly, there’s only one Las Vegas. You can’t duplicate that history and all that we provide.

People want the excitement of Las Vegas. Look at the Raiders, look at hockey and soon baseball, along with the big shows and the big entertainers — there’s nobody that can compete with that.

You’re familiar with the various water issues facing Nevada. As we look to the future, will the state, particularly Southern Nevada, be able to solve its water issues?

I think we’ll be able to solve them, but it will take some pretty interesting projects to do that. When I was chairing the Colorado River Commission under the Boulder Canyon Act, we were allocated a very small share. When my family came to Las Vegas, there were only about 30,000 people here. We’ve grown quite a bit since that time.

Going forward, we’re up against it. We need water. I think desalinization and pipelines would help. I think solutions like that will need to be utilized.