Watkins preparing to chair GCB, albeit short-lived – The Nevada Independent

Brittnie Watkins knows her tenure as chair of the Nevada Gaming Control Board could be as short as two months.

Her future on the board rests with Governor-elect Joe Lombardo after he was sworn into office in January.

Watkins has two and a half years left in her four-year appointment to one of three board positions overseeing the nearly 400-strong state agency tasked with regulating and enforcing the laws associated with Nevada’s largest industry.

“Hopefully he decides that I’m doing my job well enough to keep my role as chairman,” Watkins said in an interview the day after outgoing Gov. Steve Sisolak named her to succeed Brin Gibson, who stepped down in late November.

The first meeting, which Watkins will chair in December, includes Hard Rock Entertainment’s license application to acquire operations of The Mirage from MGM Resorts International for nearly $1.1 billion. Hard Rock is owned by Florida’s Seminole Indian Tribe, who aspire to join the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians to become the third tribal corporation licensed to operate a casino in Las Vegas

Watkins and board member Philip Katsaros will be the only two regulators to hear the December and January agendas. But it’s not an uncommon occurrence. In 2007, a dispute between Gov.-elect Jim Gibbons and outgoing Gov. Kenny Guinn over who had the right to negotiate an appointment to the board of control kept the board down to just two members for two months.

Watkins said she and Katsaros are ready for the upcoming hearings. The Board of Control makes recommendations on licensing matters to the part-time Nevada Gaming Commission, which makes the final decision.

A Michigan native, Watkins is a graduate of Michigan State University with two bachelor’s degrees in psychology and criminal justice. He came to Las Vegas to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice from UNLV.

That was just the beginning.

Watkins earned her Juris Doctor and Master of Law (LLM) degree in gaming and regulation from UNLV’s Boyd School of Law and a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from UNLV.

“Honestly, I came to Las Vegas thinking I’d stay here for a while and then go to California, but I loved it here and never left,” she said.

Watkins worked as a paralegal for former Nevada Supreme Court Justice Michael Douglas before joining the law firm of Pisanelli Bice in Las Vegas, where she practiced complex commercial litigation, including hotel and gaming disputes, at the district court and appellate court levels.

In 2020, Watkins became the first black woman to be elected to the State Bar of Nevada Board of Governors. She is the second black woman to chair the governing body, after Sandra Douglass Morgan.

Lombardo will have two appointments on the board of directors – a replacement for Gibson and the seat of Katsaros, who could seek reappointment after his term expires in late January 2023. Watkins knows she will either continue as chair in January or remain on the board as a member.

“I am aware of the times we are in and I am fully aware that I follow Chairman Gibson in trying to maintain the supremacy of the best regulator in the world,” Watkins said.

From left, Nevada Gaming Board members Brittnie Watkins and Philip Katsaros, and Brin Gibson during a Nevada Gaming Commission hearing on Thursday, February 17, 2022. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

How did it come about that you were appointed to the Control Council in April 2021?

They were looking for someone to replace Terry Johnson (whose term was up) and I guess my name came up. I had a few interviews with the governor’s staff and spoke to the chairman. It wasn’t necessarily something I had planned. I had fun and enjoyed high end processes at Pisanelli Bice. They are great people and I have a lot of respect for them. But when I got the call, I knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime.

How was the transition from private attorney to gambling regulator?

I have an LLM in Gaming Law Regulation so I had theoretical knowledge about gaming and how things should work. It’s very different from a regulator’s perspective, and getting there I had a lot to learn. I think I learned quickly and adapted quickly. I read a lot and checked the rules of the game before joining the board. I refreshed myself by reading through my LLM notes. I understood what my role on the board meant.

What have you learned in the first 20 months on the supervisory board?

Gaming touches on more subject areas and has more specializations that I never really understood before I was on the board. With this understanding, just hope to continue to improve the industry’s ability to self-regulate to ensure the integrity of the gambling industry and its success. The market is becoming increasingly competitive and the global business climate is enormous and spans so many different subject areas.

What is your goal for the hearing in December?

I’m just focused on continuing to ensure the integrity, security and stability of gaming – not just of the gaming industry, but of our citizens. That will be my goal, not just in this meeting, but in all future meetings.

As Executive Director of the Agency, are you preparing for the 2023 legislature?

Budgeting for next year is in progress. Chairman Gibson has helped us become more efficient, technologically savvy and competitive in our talent search. I think his sense of integrity permeated the agency and I just hope I can make the same impact. My goal is to keep a steady hand and ensure we make informed, long-term decisions.