Q+A: Former gaming regulator A.G. Burnett on sports betting, industry trends

In this file photo, then-Chairman A.G. Burnett, center, asks a question during a Nevada Gaming Control Board meeting at the Grant Sawyer State Building Wednesday, March 1, 2016. Burnett, an attorney, is now a partner at the McDonald Carano law firm.

A well-known name in Nevada gaming circles, A.G. Burnett served on the state’s Gaming Control Board from 2011 to 2017, taking over as chairman in 2012.

An attorney, Burnett, is now a partner at the McDonald Carano law firm, which has offices in Las Vegas and Reno.

Though he’s now out of the public eye, Burnett is considered by many to be one of the leading voices in the state on gaming regulation and policy.

He recently talked with VEGAS INC about gaming issues, including sports betting and industry trends.

Sports betting is now legal in 13 states following the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 to strike down a federal ban. Are you surprised how quickly states have moved to accept sports wagering?

No. Everyone sees how popular sports betting is. Once we saw the Supreme Court rule on PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992), it was inevitable that states would move as quickly as they have as far as legalizing and regulating it. Nevada has served as a good example of how to do that for the past 40 years. It’s just that you had that federal piece of legislation. Once that was gone, it opened up the flood gates.

Mobile sports betting is clearly going to continue to be a big thing moving forward. What’s the future of mobile betting?

It’s only going to continue to grow. Within Nevada, it’s already proven to be popular and proven to be something that can be regulated. It’s something that appeals to a group of folks who, despite if they’re in a casino or not, still watch sports and still are engaged with sports.

As technology continues to progress, we’re going to see more types of mobile sports betting being offered. The future for mobile sports betting is bright. I see upward trends. It’s popular in New Jersey, and I think that is going to be noticed by surrounding states like New York and Pennsylvania. The opportunity for fan engagement is huge.

With baby boomers getting older, there’s concern younger Americans, in general, might not be as interested in gambling. Do you see that as a potential concerning trend for the industry in Nevada?

It’s a concern. Gaming companies, at the operator level and at the manufacturing or content-providing level, are very aware of the fact that people who love playing gambling games on a casino floor are aging. While all those games remain popular, I’m a believer that the gaming industry has to keep up with trends and has to keep coming up with new games and new content that appeals to their consumer.

When you look at the actual act of gaming — whether it’s blackjack or slot machines or baccarat or poker — those numbers continue to remain relatively static. For the integrated casino resort, you see more growth with things like food and beverage, entertainment and hotel amenities. In Las Vegas, the strength is the integrated resort offering all those things, but the floor space inside the casino continues to be something that casino operators need to pay attention to.

As time goes on, I think floor supervisors, slot managers and people responsible for the gaming mix on the floor are going to see new challenges as the aging groups change. They’ll need to find ways for the casino to appeal to the customer who is there for other things. I think it would behoove gaming companies to segregate some talent for looking ahead to see what’s next, what’s ahead.

Do you miss being a regulator?

I really don’t. I had my time, and I expended 100% of my energy into the job. I dedicated myself, and I’m happy for the time that I did it. It was the most challenging and rewarding time in my life, but I’m happy now to be doing what I’m doing. I can’t say that I miss it. It’s a job that I don’t think you can necessarily do forever.

With the rise of legalized betting nationwide, what will become of the world of illegal betting?

I think Congress and the federal government need to be looking for ways to empower state and local law enforcement to fight illegal gaming rather than to impose federal legislation or create federal regulations. In Nevada, you have the Gaming Control Board, and nobody can do this type of regulation better. To add federal involvement to that would only mess things up.

However, if the Gaming Control Board could receive funding from the federal government for investigative work for regulatory enforcement, that would be the best way to combat illegal gambling. Just because New Jersey has legalized sports betting, that doesn’t mean there’s not illegal gambling going on in New York.

By and large, the gaming industry in Nevada has kept its distance from the cannabis industry. That’s, of course, mostly because marijuana is still illegal under federal law. How could the gaming and cannabis industries in Nevada eventually mix, if at all?

Unless the federal law changes regarding cannabis, I think the answer is no as far as the two mixing. It’s still a federal crime to produce and deal in cannabis, and gaming licensees simply can’t break federal law. As time goes on, gaming regulators and Nevada law enforcement will probably have to revisit that, but that’s only if the federal law changes because it’s extremely clear.