by Anthony Cruz1Anthony Cruz is a J.D. Candidate (2022) at New York University School of Law. This piece is a commentary on the 6th Annual Frank A. Schreck Gaming Law Moot Court Competition. The issue in the problem concerned whether the fictitious Boyd Gaming Control Board and Commission (modeled after those of Nevada) can revoke a gaming license for an individual’s private medical marijuana use.


For many gam­ing com­mis­sions across the Unit­ed States, mar­i­jua­na remains off-lim­its despite local and state laws that have allowed for legal mar­i­jua­na. In many of those same states, gam­bling oper­a­tors are licensed with the require­ment that they com­ply with state, local, and fed­er­al law.2 See, e.g., Nev. Gam­ing Reg. 5.011(8) (explain­ing that “[f]ailure to com­ply with or make pro­vi­sion for com­pli­ance with all fed­er­al, state and local laws and reg­u­la­tions” con­sti­tutes grounds for revok­ing a gam­ing license). There are often rel­e­vant con­flicts between state and fed­er­al law. The Con­trolled Sub­stances Act3 21 U.S.C. § 801. is a fed­er­al law that par­ti­tions con­trolled sub­stances and oth­er nar­cotics into sched­ules and pro­vides for means of enforce­ment and reg­u­la­tion. All state laws legal­iz­ing mar­i­jua­na are pre­empt­ed by the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act.4 See Gon­za­lez v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005) (hold­ing that the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act pre­empts California’s statute legal­iz­ing mar­i­jua­na under Congress’s Com­merce Clause pow­er). To date, six­teen states have legal­ized mar­i­jua­na for adults over 21 and 36 states have legal­ized mar­i­jua­na for med­ical rea­sons.5 Jere­my Berke, et. al., Mar­i­jua­na Legal­iza­tion Is Sweep­ing the U.S. See Every State Where Cannabis Is Legal, Bus. Insid­er (Apr. 14, 2021), https://www.businessinsider.com/legal-marijuana-states-2018–1#:~:text=Since%202012%2C%2016%20states%20and,marijuana%2C%20whether%20medically%20or%20recreationally. The ques­tion remains whether state gam­ing boards and com­mis­sions, as crea­tures of the state leg­is­la­ture, can pro­mul­gate rules that man­date com­pli­ance with a fed­er­al law that con­flicts with the laws of the leg­is­la­ture that cre­at­ed the gam­ing boards and com­mis­sions in the first place.

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In May 2014, as mar­i­jua­na dis­pen­saries were begin­ning to receive licens­es, the Neva­da Gam­ing Com­mis­sion cir­cu­lat­ed notice #2014–39.6Notice, State of Nev. Gam­ing Con­trol Bd., Notice #2014–39, (May 6, 2014), https://gaming.nv.gov/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=8874. That mem­o­ran­dum estab­lish­es an unequiv­o­cal demar­ca­tion between the gam­ing and cannabis indus­tries, pro­hibit­ing any­one with a gam­ing license from par­tic­i­pat­ing in Nevada’s mar­i­jua­na indus­try unless fed­er­al law changed.7 Id. Sim­i­lar­ly, in Col­orado, the Lim­it­ed Gam­ing Con­trol Com­mis­sion added reg­u­la­tions on Sep­tem­ber 20, 2018 to pre­clude any­one involved in the mar­i­jua­na indus­try from obtain­ing a Col­orado gam­ing license.8 Colo. Ltd. Gam­ing Con­trol Comm’n, Res­o­lu­tion of the Col­orado Lim­it­ed Gam­ing Con­trol Com­mis­sion Regard­ing Mar­i­jua­na and Gam­ing, (Sept. 20, 2018), https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/Signed%20Resolution%20Gaming%20Licensees%20and%20Marijuana.pdf. Colorado’s Res­o­lu­tion specif­i­cal­ly prohibits

hold[ing] or obtain[ing] a mar­i­jua­na license; . . . contract[ing] with or maintain[ing] busi­ness rela­tion­ships with . . . indi­vid­u­als, enti­ties, or estab­lish­ments involved in the sale, cul­ti­va­tion, or dis­tri­b­u­tion of mar­i­jua­na; . . . and receiv[ing] financ­ing from or provid[ing] financ­ing to indi­vid­u­als, enti­ties, or estab­lish­ments that sell, cul­ti­vate, or dis­trib­ute mar­i­jua­na.9 Id.

What’s more, the Res­o­lu­tion puts the onus on gam­ing licensees to do the nec­es­sary due dili­gence to ensure they are in com­pli­ance with fed­er­al law.10 Id.

Giv­en the prece­dent set by states like Neva­da and Col­orado, oth­er states with legal­ized mar­i­jua­na and gam­bling hubs will like­ly fol­low suit. While it may be too ear­ly to tell what the amal­gam of gam­ing and cannabis use will look like, indus­try experts and pub­lic offi­cials sus­pect an adher­ence to the Neva­da rule—the log­ic being that marijuana’s ille­gal­i­ty under fed­er­al law presents “sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges to bank­ing laws, anti-mon­ey laun­der­ing pro­vi­sions and employ­ee pro­tec­tions.”11 David Danzis, Don’t Bet on High Times in Atlantic City Casi­nos When Mar­i­jua­na Is Legal, Atl. City Press (Dec. 13, 2020), https://pressofatlanticcity.com/news/local/dont-bet-on-high-times-in-atlantic-city-casinos-when-marijuana-is-legal/article_e0341079-d8c8-59e9-b063-cf6a1b639c3e.html. Because casi­nos and banks are con­sid­ered finan­cial insti­tu­tions by the Finan­cial Crimes Enforce­ment Net­work arm of the Unit­ed States Trea­sury, cannabis-relat­ed streams of rev­enue can­not flow through, or finance, tra­di­tion­al bank­ing and casi­no oper­a­tions.12 See Secure and Fair Enforce­ment Bank­ing Act of 2019, H.R. 1595, 116th Cong. § 1 (2019). How­ev­er, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives recent­ly passed the SAFE Bank­ing Act, which would immu­nize dis­po­si­tions of cannabis relat­ed funds by finan­cial insti­tu­tions.13 See Cia­ra Lin­nane, Cannabis Stocks Ral­ly Pre­mar­ket After House Pass­es SAFE Bank­ing Act, Mar­ket Watch (Apr. 20, 2021), https://www.marketwatch.com/story/cannabis-stocks-rally-premarket-after-house-passes-safe-banking-act-2021–04-20. Until the SAFE Bank­ing Act and sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion is enact­ed, casi­no exec­u­tives and reg­u­la­tors in states like New Jer­sey remain con­cerned that one’s cannabis relat­ed activ­i­ties in one juris­dic­tion would impact their gam­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions in oth­er juris­dic­tions where mar­i­jua­na is not legal.14 See Danzis, supra note 10. The SAFE Bank­ing Act would sur­gi­cal­ly address the hur­dles affect­ing cannabis com­pa­nies’ access to financ­ing with­out legal­iz­ing cannabis at the fed­er­al lev­el.15 See Gus­tav Stick­ley V, The SAFE Bank­ing Act: A Rea­son­able and Nar­row­ly Tai­lored Approach to Address­ing Pub­lic Safe­ty Con­cerns and Lack of Finan­cial Ser­vices in Today’s Cannabis Indus­try, JD Supra (Jul. 8, 2021), https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/the-safe-banking-act-a-reasonable-and-2393575/.

The imme­di­ate impli­ca­tions of the prob­lem go beyond the legal ones—the eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tions of states’ con­tin­ued asceti­cism will have wide-reach­ing con­se­quences for smok­ers, casi­no exec­u­tives, tourists, and casi­no patrons. While the Biden Admin­is­tra­tion has relaxed fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tion of mar­i­jua­na con­sump­tion, nation­wide legal­iza­tion remains elu­sive.16 See Ger­man Lopez, Biden’s Blunt Oppo­si­tion to Mar­i­jua­na Legal­iza­tion, Vox (Apr. 16, 2021, 12:50 PM), https://www.vox.com/22387746/biden-marijuana-weed-legalization-schumer-polls. Giv­en the expan­sion of mar­i­jua­na legal­iza­tion (most recent­ly in four states as a result of the 2020 elec­tion) the futures of cannabis and gam­ing are like­ly to be very much inter­twined.17 See Bruce Y. Lee, 4 States Vote to Legal­ize Recre­ation­al Mar­i­jua­na Use: Ari­zona, Mon­tana, NJ, South Dako­ta, Forbes (Nov. 4, 2020, 10:38 AM), https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucelee/2020/11/04/4‑states-vote-to-legalize-recreational-marijuana-use-arizona-montana-nj-south-dakota/?sh=1cfcbbc0558f. Met­ro­pol­i­tan cen­ters with gam­ing like Las Vegas are see­ing increased tourist attrac­tion because of legal mar­i­jua­na.18 See Mark Lugris, Las Vegas is Bet­ting on Pot Tourism as the New Trend in Trav­el, The Trav­el (Sept. 20, 2019), https://www.thetravel.com/las-vegas-is-betting-on-pot-tourism-as-the-new-trend-in-travel/. State gam­ing reg­u­la­tors and oth­er stake­hold­ers remain keen on pre­serv­ing their auton­o­my in the sphere and their dis­cre­tionary pow­ers regard­ing gam­ing. Ulti­mate­ly, this Con­tri­bu­tion argues that states should avoid enforc­ing or pro­mul­gat­ing reg­u­la­tions that lead to over­ly strin­gent restric­tions on casi­no licensees con­cern­ing their pri­vate mar­i­jua­na usage, espe­cial­ly if they are oth­er­wise in accor­dance with state and local laws and protocols.

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The issue of intra-state fed­er­al­ism is para­mount to unrav­el­ing the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act’s strong­hold over local gam­ing com­mis­sions in the face of con­tra­ven­ing man­dates from state leg­is­la­tures. Courts will have to adju­di­cate the legal­i­ty of a state-cre­at­ed entity’s deci­sion to favor fed­er­al law over the con­flict­ing law of the state in which the enti­ty sits.

It is an open ques­tion whether state agen­cies are behold­en to the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act. There are Tenth Amend­ment issues impli­cat­ed by any state agency’s claim that it must con­tra­vene state law to uphold fed­er­al law as “[t]he pow­ers not del­e­gat­ed to the Unit­ed States by the Con­sti­tu­tion, nor pro­hib­it­ed by it to the states, are reserved to the states respec­tive­ly, or to the peo­ple.”19 U.S. Con­st. amend. X. There may also be latent anti-com­man­deer­ing issues with a state agency tak­ing it upon itself to uphold a fed­er­al reg­u­la­to­ry scheme.20 See Printz v. Unit­ed States, 521 U.S. 898, 935 (1997) (hold­ing that fed­er­al statutes can­not force states or state offi­cials to enact or enforce a fed­er­al reg­u­la­to­ry gun con­trol mea­sure); see also Va. Off. for Prot. & Advoc. v. Stew­art, 563 U.S. 247, 257–58 (2011) (hold­ing that a state can­not be said to have con­sent­ed to suit by an in-state agency just because that state agency receives fed­er­al funds and car­ries out a fed­er­al statute that cares for the indi­vid­ual states’ dis­abled). In the admin­is­tra­tive law con­text out­side of gam­ing, it has been a well-set­tled prin­ci­ple in sev­er­al states that enforce­ment actions can­not depart from the pri­or­i­ties and poli­cies under­scor­ing the state statute.21 See, e.g., E & T Real­ty v. Strick­land, 830 F.2d 1107, 1111 (11th Cir. 1987) (dis­cussing prin­ci­ple under Alaba­ma law); Mal­one v. Fend­er, 385 A.2d 929, 932 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1978) (hold­ing that a state agency’s rul­ing in con­tra­ven­tion of state law will not be enforced). With these back­ground norms in mind, one can­not with­out a mod­icum of dif­fi­cul­ty square the aims of sev­er­al states’ leg­is­la­tures in legal­iz­ing marijuana—to pro­mote eco­nom­ic vital­i­ty and to make up bud­get gaps caused by the COVID-19 virus22 See Nick Reis­man, How Cuo­mo Wants to Spend Legal Mar­i­jua­na Rev­enue, Spec­trum News (Feb. 16, 2021 8:39 AM), https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/ny-state-of-politics/2021/02/16/how-cuomo-wants-to-spend-legal-marijuana-revenue.—with gam­ing com­mis­sions’ attempts to ban any type of mar­i­jua­na usage near casi­nos.23 See, e.g., Nev. Cannabis Com­pli­ance Bd., Study on Neva­da Cannabis Con­sump­tion Lounges, (Jan. 1, 2021), https://ccb.nv.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/CCB-Cannabis-Consumption-Lounge-Study-FINAL.pdf (explain­ing that cannabis smok­ing lounges must be at least 1500 feet from any gam­ing establishment).

The uncer­tain­ty aris­ing from the ques­tion is mud­dled even fur­ther if one con­sid­ers that state mar­i­jua­na laws may not be direct­ly pre­empt­ed despite the hold­ing in Raich. Oklahoma’s Supreme Court recent­ly upheld the state’s abil­i­ty to demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly amend the Okla­homa Con­sti­tu­tion in order to legal­ize, reg­u­late, and tax mar­i­jua­na.24 See Tay v. Kiesel (In re State Ques­tion No. 807, Ini­tia­tive Peti­tion No. 423), 468 P.3d 383, 389 (Okla. 2020) (hold­ing that because the Unit­ed States Supreme Court has not direct­ly addressed the pre­emp­tion issue, the state courts are able to make their inde­pen­dent deter­mi­na­tion free from Suprema­cy Clause obsta­cles). The Okla­homa Supreme Court posit­ed that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment sim­ply does not have the abil­i­ty to force states to enforce the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act or to crim­i­nal­ize it with­in their bor­ders and there­fore, states like Okla­homa are free to reg­u­late cannabis as they see fit.25 Id. at 391.

Regard­less of the mer­its of a par­tic­u­lar deci­sion by a gam­ing com­mis­sion to grant or revoke a gam­ing license, it is clear that leg­is­la­tures invari­ably grant their gam­ing com­mis­sions lee­way in enforce­ment. For instance, accord­ing to the Neva­da Revised Statutes, the Com­mis­sion has “full and absolute pow­er and author­i­ty to . . . lim­it, con­di­tion . . . restrict . . . revoke or sus­pend any license.”26 See Nev. Rev. Stat. § 463.1405. It is clear the Neva­da leg­is­la­ture intend­ed to give the Com­mis­sion broad dis­cre­tion in both grant­i­ng and rescind­ing gam­ing licenses.

The com­mon law in Neva­da like­wise sup­ports the propo­si­tion that the Neva­da Gam­ing Board and Com­mis­sion have flex­i­bil­i­ty in inter­pret­ing and enforc­ing their statutes. The Supreme Court of Neva­da in State v. Rosen­thal held that the Neva­da Gam­ing Com­mis­sion had broad pow­ers and there were only lim­it­ed cir­cum­stances for appro­pri­ate judi­cial intru­sion.27 See State v. Rosen­thal, 559 P. 2d 830, 836 (Nev. 1977) (“We view gam­ing as a mat­ter reserved to the states with­in the mean­ing of the Tenth Amend­ment . . . . With­in this con­text we find no room for fed­er­al­ly pro­tect­ed con­sti­tu­tion­al rights. This dis­tinc­tive­ly state prob­lem is to be gov­erned, con­trolled and reg­u­lat­ed by the state leg­is­la­ture and . . . the Neva­da Con­sti­tu­tion.”). In Rosen­thal, the Neva­da Gam­ing Com­mis­sion did not cite to any crim­i­nal con­vic­tions in Neva­da or to any alleged crim­i­nal behav­ior in Neva­da when the Com­mis­sion revoked Mr. Rosenthal’s gam­ing license. The Com­mis­sion only had evi­dence that Mr. Rosen­thal vio­lat­ed a law in North Car­oli­na, and it was only alleged that Mr. Rosen­thal vio­lat­ed a fed­er­al law and Flori­da state law.28 Id. at 833.

Draw­ing from a robust field of admin­is­tra­tive law, gam­ing com­mis­sions are agents of the leg­is­la­ture that cre­at­ed them; ergo, they should be giv­en due def­er­ence when inter­pret­ing state gam­bling statutes and rules they them­selves pro­mul­gat­ed. As the Supreme Court held in Mead: “Admin­is­tra­tive imple­men­ta­tion of a par­tic­u­lar statu­to­ry pro­vi­sion qual­i­fies for [the great­est lev­el of def­er­ence accord­ed under Chevron] when it appears that Con­gress del­e­gat­ed author­i­ty to the agency gen­er­al­ly to make rules car­ry­ing the force of law . . . .”29 Unit­ed States v. Mead Corp., 533 U.S. 218, 226–27 (2001). Of course, whether or not each indi­vid­ual state with legal­ized gam­ing has a state com­mon law ana­logue of the Chevron doc­trine is a state-depen­dent inquiry.

Neva­da has fur­ther estab­lished by statute that the bur­den of prov­ing one’s qual­i­fi­ca­tions for a gam­ing license falls square­ly on the licensee.30 See Nev. Gam­ing Reg. 5.030 (“It is the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the licensee to keep him­self informed of the con­tent of all such reg­u­la­tions, and igno­rance there­of will not excuse vio­la­tions.”).The leg­is­la­ture of Neva­da has also made their inten­tions clear that the Neva­da Gam­ing Com­mis­sion is free to strict­ly enforce its reg­u­la­tions so as to main­tain pub­lic con­fi­dence and trust in gam­ing.31 See Nev. Rev. Stat. § 463.0129(c) (“Pub­lic con­fi­dence and trust can only be main­tained by strict reg­u­la­tion of all per­sons, loca­tions, prac­tices, asso­ci­a­tions and activ­i­ties relat­ed to the oper­a­tion of licensed gam­ing establishments . . . .”).

How­ev­er, even if the gen­er­al pur­pose of the leg­is­la­ture was to empow­er the Gam­ing Com­mis­sion and Board, these admin­is­tra­tive bod­ies are still bound by the rules they set for them­selves and for gam­ing licensees. The fact that the state leg­is­la­tures went out of their way to enu­mer­ate spe­cif­ic trig­gers for vio­lat­ing fed­er­al law pre­cludes gam­ing reg­u­la­tors from cit­ing fed­er­al law gen­er­al­ly as a rea­son to rule against a licensee. Accord­ing to the applic­a­ble gam­ing reg­u­la­tions in Neva­da, gam­ing licensees must not be in vio­la­tion of state, local, and fed­er­al laws that per­tain to the “oper­a­tions of a licensed estab­lish­ment includ­ing . . . pay­ment of all license fees, with­hold­ing any pay­roll tax­es, liquor and enter­tain­ment tax­es and antitrust and monop­oly statutes.”32 Nev. Gam­ing Reg. 5.011(8). These enu­mer­a­tions seem to spec­i­fy what the per­ti­nent state, local, and fed­er­al laws are. The pay­ment of pay­roll and liquor tax­es as well as com­pli­ance with antitrust laws sug­gest that sub­sec­tion 8 should be read to man­date sub­mis­sion to com­mer­cial fed­er­al admin­is­tra­tive schemes that gov­ern the con­duct of businesses—not nec­es­sar­i­ly laws that gov­ern pri­vate or indi­vid­ual behav­ior like pri­vate med­ical mar­i­jua­na use. Thus, the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act seems not to be impli­cat­ed at first glance. The lan­guage in the Neva­da gam­ing reg­u­la­tions may be fur­ther clar­i­fied by sub­se­quent­ly enact­ed legislation—specifically, state laws that pro­tect employ­ees from ter­mi­na­tion because of their med­ical mar­i­jua­na use.33 Assemb. B. 132, 2019 Leg., 80th Sess. (Nev. 2019).

Regard­less of the text’s plain mean­ing, the Neva­da Gam­ing Com­mis­sion “in the exer­cise of its sound dis­cre­tion can make its own deter­mi­na­tion of whether or not the licensee has failed to com­ply” with Neva­da Gam­ing Reg­u­la­tion 5.011(8), but any such deter­mi­na­tion is bound by “estab­lished prece­dents” in inter­pret­ing the gam­ing reg­u­la­tions.34 Nev. Gam­ing Reg. 5.011(8).

Even if the Neva­da Gam­ing Com­mis­sion is free to apply rules harsh­ly, “estab­lished prece­dents” in Neva­da and in Col­orado seem to sug­gest a notable lev­el of tol­er­ance for those who use med­ical mar­i­jua­na pri­vate­ly or are involved with the mar­i­jua­na indus­try off casi­no premis­es. A relaxed con­struc­tion of gam­ing reg­u­la­tions that seek to sep­a­rate out mar­i­jua­na from gam­ing would like­ly mean that gam­ing com­mis­sions should take on a holis­tic process in review­ing appli­ca­tions. An exam­ple of this holis­tic review process at work comes from a 2018 issue of Neva­da Gam­ing Lawyer.35 See Ter­ry John­son, High States: Bal­anc­ing Gam­ing Reg­u­la­tion and Mar­i­jua­na, Nev. Gam­ing Law. (Sept. 2018), https://www.nvbar.org/wp-content/uploads/7‑Gaming-Regulation-and-Marijuana.pdf. Accord­ing to Neva­da Gam­ing Com­mis­sion­er Ter­ry John­son, “[d]uring the appli­ca­tion process [for a gam­ing licensee look­ing to expand their gam­ing oper­a­tions], it was deter­mined that an appli­cant had obtained a reg­istry iden­ti­fi­ca­tion card for pur­pos­es of the med­ical use of mar­i­jua­na.” After a hear­ing dur­ing which the appli­cant was asked about the valid­i­ty of their med­ical pre­scrip­tion, the like­li­hood that the appli­cant was engaged in illic­it crim­i­nal activ­i­ty, and per­haps most impor­tant­ly, whether or not the appli­cant had ever used, pos­sessed, or been impaired by mar­i­jua­na while at or run­ning the casi­no, the Neva­da Gam­ing Board unan­i­mous­ly rec­om­mend­ed licen­sure and the Com­mis­sion unan­i­mous­ly approved.36 Id.In this case, the Neva­da Gam­ing Com­mis­sion was able to bal­ance the vot­er-appro­bat­ed pub­lic pol­i­cy of mar­i­jua­na legal­iza­tion with the pub­lic poli­cies con­cern­ing the strict reg­u­la­tions on gam­ing officials.

In Col­orado, the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic hit the gam­ing indus­try espe­cial­ly hard.37See Chris­tine Ric­cia­r­di, Colorado’s Fur­loughed Casi­no Employ­ees Now Eli­gi­ble for Fast-track Hire Into Mar­i­jua­na Indus­try, Dai­ly Cam­era (Apr. 6, 2021, 3:37 PM), https://www.dailycamera.com/2020/04/06/colorado-casinos-marijuana-coronvavirus/ (“Gov. Jared Polis closed all Col­orado casi­nos by exec­u­tive order on March 17 to mit­i­gate the spread of the nov­el coro­n­avirus, caus­ing wide­spread fur­loughs through­out gam­bling towns Black Hawk, Cen­tral City and Crip­ple Creek.”).To mit­i­gate the dele­te­ri­ous effects of the casi­no clo­sures, the Mar­i­jua­na Enforce­ment Divi­sion adopt­ed emer­gency rules to allow casi­no employ­ees to move over into the cannabis indus­try since casi­no employ­ees under­go back­ground checks sim­i­lar to work­ers in the mar­i­jua­na dis­pen­sary busi­ness.38 Id. This arrange­ment is the prod­uct of con­ver­sa­tions between both the Mar­i­jua­na Enforce­ment Divi­sion and Col­orado gam­ing reg­u­la­tors.39 Id.

The afore­men­tioned exam­ples go to show that the oppo­si­tion by gam­ing com­mis­sions to cannabis is ground­ed most­ly in con­cerns regard­ing cross invest­ments between the gam­bling and cannabis indus­tries. Invest­ment rela­tion­ships and financ­ing are called out explic­it­ly by the Neva­da Gam­ing Com­mis­sion.40 Haley N. Lewis, Note, Unlike­ly Con­se­quences: How Med­ical Mar­i­jua­na Is Affect­ing Nevada’s Gam­ing Indus­try, 6 UNLV Gam­ing L.J. 299, 307 (2016) (“[T]he [NGCB] does not believe invest­ment or any oth­er involve­ment in a med­ical mar­i­jua­na facil­i­ty or estab­lish­ment by a per­son who has received a gam­ing approval . . . is con­sis­tent with the effec­tive reg­u­la­tion of gam­ing.”) (inter­nal quotes omit­ted). In 2014, the Neva­da Gam­ing Com­mis­sion even ruled that a com­pa­ny that man­u­fac­tured gam­ing devices could not trans­act with a restau­rant own­er to install slot machines on his busi­ness premis­es because the owner’s spouse had a minor­i­ty share in a mar­i­jua­na busi­ness, demon­strat­ing the pri­ma­cy of finan­cial con­cerns.41 Har­ry Arnold, Com­ment, When Your Black­jack Deal­er Takes a Hit: How Neva­da Assem­bly Bill 132 Threat­ens Vegas Casi­nos in an Age of Legal­ized Mar­i­jua­na, 28 Geo. Mason L. Rev. 449, 459 (2020).

* * * * *

A final issue that deserves atten­tion is whether or not the infor­mal res­o­lu­tions and ad-hoc notices dis­sem­i­nat­ed by gam­ing com­mis­sions effec­tu­ate pol­i­cy and car­ry the force of law. Issues of this nature are extreme­ly state-depen­dent and most like­ly turn on whether or not each indi­vid­ual state has enact­ed some­thing akin to the fed­er­al Admin­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dure Act.42 See 5 U.S.C. § 553 (2006) (§ 553(b) and § 553(c) of which requires fed­er­al exec­u­tive agen­cies to allow for notice and an oppor­tu­ni­ty for pub­lic com­ment pri­or to any offi­cial rule­mak­ing can take effect).

Although peo­ple employed by casi­nos may have med­ical mar­i­jua­na pre­scrip­tions, it is not nec­es­sar­i­ly the case that they auto­mat­i­cal­ly fall under the reg­u­la­to­ry umbrel­la of the local gam­ing com­mis­sion. This is espe­cial­ly true when the state has by statute cre­at­ed a cannabis com­pli­ance board to do just that—operationalize and man­age the licen­sures of med­ical and recre­ation­al mar­i­jua­na facil­i­ties.43 See, e.g., N.J. Stat. § 24:6I-44(k) (2021) (“Any cannabis or cannabis item may be trans­port­ed or deliv­ered, con­sis­tent with the require­ments set forth in this sec­tion and reg­u­la­tions pro­mul­gat­ed by the com­mis­sion, to any loca­tion in the State. . . . [I]n no case may a munic­i­pal­i­ty restrict the trans­porta­tion or deliv­er­ies of cannabis items to con­sumers with­in that munic­i­pal­i­ty by adop­tion of a munic­i­pal ordi­nance or any oth­er mea­sure, and any restric­tion to the con­trary shall be deemed void and unen­force­able.”). For instance, the Neva­da Cannabis Com­pli­ance Board is charged with part­ner­ing with local and state offi­cials on cannabis relat­ed mat­ters.44 Nev. Cannabis Com­pli­ance Bd., FY 2022–2023 Bien­ni­um Bud­get Request, (Mar. 12, 2021), https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL/81st2021/ExhibitDocument/OpenExhibitDocument?exhibitId=48550&fileDownloadName=Nevada%20Cannabis%20Compliance%20Board_Presentation.pdf. It would seem unrea­son­able to neglect these admin­is­tra­tive bod­ies’ pow­ers sim­ply because there may be over­lap­ping juris­dic­tions between the cannabis reg­u­la­tors and the gam­ing regulators.

* * * * *

As a pol­i­cy mat­ter, states should not seek to unrav­el a vot­er approved admin­is­tra­tive scheme out of an abun­dance of cau­tion when doing so does not help gam­ing reg­u­la­tors pro­tect the pub­lic con­fi­dence or trust in gam­ing. Over­reach­ing and expan­sive read­ings of state statutes grant­i­ng gam­ing com­mis­sions pow­er to dis­ci­pline gam­ing licensees can actu­al­ly serve to frus­trate the devel­op­ment of a vibrant and robust cannabis mar­ket. State gam­ing com­mis­sions dis­ci­plin­ing gam­ing licensees for pri­vate med­ical mar­i­jua­na use is an exer­cise of reg­u­la­to­ry over­sight that was most like­ly meant for oth­er agen­cies estab­lished by the state, not gam­ing com­mis­sions.45 This com­ment should not be read to imply that indi­vid­u­als who are intox­i­cat­ed by a con­trolled sub­stance while work­ing at a gam­ing estab­lish­ment may escape dis­ci­pli­nary actions by the per­ti­nent gam­ing boards. More­over, the cloud of uncer­tain­ty that state agen­cies work under when apply­ing dif­fer­ent stan­dards of con­flict­ing laws makes the argu­ment for cir­cum­scribed enforce­ment stronger. In oth­er words, the state agency when con­front­ed with a state and fed­er­al law con­flict with hazy pre­emp­tion impli­ca­tions, should not act in a man­ner that is con­trary to the state legislature’s intent. Final­ly, “estab­lished prece­dent,” vague­ly pro­mul­gat­ed notices, and sub­se­quent state leg­is­la­tion cre­at­ing cannabis com­pli­ance com­mis­sions with their own statu­to­ry pow­ers may cumu­la­tive­ly give effect to a casi­no employee’s ultra vires claims if a gam­ing board cites a med­ical mar­i­jua­na reg­is­tra­tion card as suf­fi­cient grounds to take away that employee’s livelihood.


  • 1
    Antho­ny Cruz is a J.D. Can­di­date (2022) at New York Uni­ver­si­ty School of Law. This piece is a com­men­tary on the 6th Annu­al Frank A. Schreck Gam­ing Law Moot Court Com­pe­ti­tion. The issue in the prob­lem con­cerned whether the fic­ti­tious Boyd Gam­ing Con­trol Board and Com­mis­sion (mod­eled after those of Neva­da) can revoke a gam­ing license for an individual’s pri­vate med­ical mar­i­jua­na use.
  • 2
    See, e.g., Nev. Gam­ing Reg. 5.011(8) (explain­ing that “[f]ailure to com­ply with or make pro­vi­sion for com­pli­ance with all fed­er­al, state and local laws and reg­u­la­tions” con­sti­tutes grounds for revok­ing a gam­ing license).
  • 3
    21 U.S.C. § 801.
  • 4
    See Gon­za­lez v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005) (hold­ing that the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act pre­empts California’s statute legal­iz­ing mar­i­jua­na under Congress’s Com­merce Clause power).
  • 5
    Jere­my Berke, et. al., Mar­i­jua­na Legal­iza­tion Is Sweep­ing the U.S. See Every State Where Cannabis Is Legal, Bus. Insid­er (Apr. 14, 2021), https://www.businessinsider.com/legal-marijuana-states-2018–1#:~:text=Since%202012%2C%2016%20states%20and,marijuana%2C%20whether%20medically%20or%20recreationally.
  • 6
    Notice, State of Nev. Gam­ing Con­trol Bd., Notice #2014–39, (May 6, 2014), https://gaming.nv.gov/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=8874.
  • 7
    Id.
  • 8
    Colo. Ltd. Gam­ing Con­trol Comm’n, Res­o­lu­tion of the Col­orado Lim­it­ed Gam­ing Con­trol Com­mis­sion Regard­ing Mar­i­jua­na and Gam­ing, (Sept. 20, 2018), https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/Signed%20Resolution%20Gaming%20Licensees%20and%20Marijuana.pdf.
  • 9
    Id.
  • 10
    Id.
  • 11
    David Danzis, Don’t Bet on High Times in Atlantic City Casi­nos When Mar­i­jua­na Is Legal, Atl. City Press (Dec. 13, 2020), https://pressofatlanticcity.com/news/local/dont-bet-on-high-times-in-atlantic-city-casinos-when-marijuana-is-legal/article_e0341079-d8c8-59e9-b063-cf6a1b639c3e.html.
  • 12
    See Secure and Fair Enforce­ment Bank­ing Act of 2019, H.R. 1595, 116th Cong. § 1 (2019).
  • 13
    See Cia­ra Lin­nane, Cannabis Stocks Ral­ly Pre­mar­ket After House Pass­es SAFE Bank­ing Act, Mar­ket Watch (Apr. 20, 2021), https://www.marketwatch.com/story/cannabis-stocks-rally-premarket-after-house-passes-safe-banking-act-2021–04-20.
  • 14
    See Danzis, supra note 10.
  • 15
    See Gus­tav Stick­ley V, The SAFE Bank­ing Act: A Rea­son­able and Nar­row­ly Tai­lored Approach to Address­ing Pub­lic Safe­ty Con­cerns and Lack of Finan­cial Ser­vices in Today’s Cannabis Indus­try, JD Supra (Jul. 8, 2021), https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/the-safe-banking-act-a-reasonable-and-2393575/.
  • 16
    See Ger­man Lopez, Biden’s Blunt Oppo­si­tion to Mar­i­jua­na Legal­iza­tion, Vox (Apr. 16, 2021, 12:50 PM), https://www.vox.com/22387746/biden-marijuana-weed-legalization-schumer-polls.
  • 17
    See Bruce Y. Lee, 4 States Vote to Legal­ize Recre­ation­al Mar­i­jua­na Use: Ari­zona, Mon­tana, NJ, South Dako­ta, Forbes (Nov. 4, 2020, 10:38 AM), https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucelee/2020/11/04/4‑states-vote-to-legalize-recreational-marijuana-use-arizona-montana-nj-south-dakota/?sh=1cfcbbc0558f.
  • 18
    See Mark Lugris, Las Vegas is Bet­ting on Pot Tourism as the New Trend in Trav­el, The Trav­el (Sept. 20, 2019), https://www.thetravel.com/las-vegas-is-betting-on-pot-tourism-as-the-new-trend-in-travel/.
  • 19
    U.S. Con­st. amend. X.
  • 20
    See Printz v. Unit­ed States, 521 U.S. 898, 935 (1997) (hold­ing that fed­er­al statutes can­not force states or state offi­cials to enact or enforce a fed­er­al reg­u­la­to­ry gun con­trol mea­sure); see also Va. Off. for Prot. & Advoc. v. Stew­art, 563 U.S. 247, 257–58 (2011) (hold­ing that a state can­not be said to have con­sent­ed to suit by an in-state agency just because that state agency receives fed­er­al funds and car­ries out a fed­er­al statute that cares for the indi­vid­ual states’ disabled).
  • 21
    See, e.g., E & T Real­ty v. Strick­land, 830 F.2d 1107, 1111 (11th Cir. 1987) (dis­cussing prin­ci­ple under Alaba­ma law); Mal­one v. Fend­er, 385 A.2d 929, 932 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1978) (hold­ing that a state agency’s rul­ing in con­tra­ven­tion of state law will not be enforced).
  • 22
    See Nick Reis­man, How Cuo­mo Wants to Spend Legal Mar­i­jua­na Rev­enue, Spec­trum News (Feb. 16, 2021 8:39 AM), https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/ny-state-of-politics/2021/02/16/how-cuomo-wants-to-spend-legal-marijuana-revenue.
  • 23
    See, e.g., Nev. Cannabis Com­pli­ance Bd., Study on Neva­da Cannabis Con­sump­tion Lounges, (Jan. 1, 2021), https://ccb.nv.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/CCB-Cannabis-Consumption-Lounge-Study-FINAL.pdf (explain­ing that cannabis smok­ing lounges must be at least 1500 feet from any gam­ing establishment).
  • 24
    See Tay v. Kiesel (In re State Ques­tion No. 807, Ini­tia­tive Peti­tion No. 423), 468 P.3d 383, 389 (Okla. 2020) (hold­ing that because the Unit­ed States Supreme Court has not direct­ly addressed the pre­emp­tion issue, the state courts are able to make their inde­pen­dent deter­mi­na­tion free from Suprema­cy Clause obstacles).
  • 25
    Id. at 391.
  • 26
    See Nev. Rev. Stat. § 463.1405.
  • 27
    See State v. Rosen­thal, 559 P. 2d 830, 836 (Nev. 1977) (“We view gam­ing as a mat­ter reserved to the states with­in the mean­ing of the Tenth Amend­ment . . . . With­in this con­text we find no room for fed­er­al­ly pro­tect­ed con­sti­tu­tion­al rights. This dis­tinc­tive­ly state prob­lem is to be gov­erned, con­trolled and reg­u­lat­ed by the state leg­is­la­ture and . . . the Neva­da Constitution.”).
  • 28
    Id. at 833.
  • 29
    Unit­ed States v. Mead Corp., 533 U.S. 218, 226–27 (2001).
  • 30
    See Nev. Gam­ing Reg. 5.030 (“It is the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the licensee to keep him­self informed of the con­tent of all such reg­u­la­tions, and igno­rance there­of will not excuse violations.”).
  • 31
    See Nev. Rev. Stat. § 463.0129(c) (“Pub­lic con­fi­dence and trust can only be main­tained by strict reg­u­la­tion of all per­sons, loca­tions, prac­tices, asso­ci­a­tions and activ­i­ties relat­ed to the oper­a­tion of licensed gam­ing establishments . . . .”).
  • 32
    Nev. Gam­ing Reg. 5.011(8).
  • 33
    Assemb. B. 132, 2019 Leg., 80th Sess. (Nev. 2019).
  • 34
    Nev. Gam­ing Reg. 5.011(8).
  • 35
    See Ter­ry John­son, High States: Bal­anc­ing Gam­ing Reg­u­la­tion and Mar­i­jua­na, Nev. Gam­ing Law. (Sept. 2018), https://www.nvbar.org/wp-content/uploads/7‑Gaming-Regulation-and-Marijuana.pdf.
  • 36
    Id.
  • 37
    See Chris­tine Ric­cia­r­di, Colorado’s Fur­loughed Casi­no Employ­ees Now Eli­gi­ble for Fast-track Hire Into Mar­i­jua­na Indus­try, Dai­ly Cam­era (Apr. 6, 2021, 3:37 PM), https://www.dailycamera.com/2020/04/06/colorado-casinos-marijuana-coronvavirus/ (“Gov. Jared Polis closed all Col­orado casi­nos by exec­u­tive order on March 17 to mit­i­gate the spread of the nov­el coro­n­avirus, caus­ing wide­spread fur­loughs through­out gam­bling towns Black Hawk, Cen­tral City and Crip­ple Creek.”).
  • 38
    Id.
  • 39
    Id.
  • 40
    Haley N. Lewis, Note, Unlike­ly Con­se­quences: How Med­ical Mar­i­jua­na Is Affect­ing Nevada’s Gam­ing Indus­try, 6 UNLV Gam­ing L.J. 299, 307 (2016) (“[T]he [NGCB] does not believe invest­ment or any oth­er involve­ment in a med­ical mar­i­jua­na facil­i­ty or estab­lish­ment by a per­son who has received a gam­ing approval . . . is con­sis­tent with the effec­tive reg­u­la­tion of gam­ing.”) (inter­nal quotes omitted).
  • 41
    Har­ry Arnold, Com­ment, When Your Black­jack Deal­er Takes a Hit: How Neva­da Assem­bly Bill 132 Threat­ens Vegas Casi­nos in an Age of Legal­ized Mar­i­jua­na, 28 Geo. Mason L. Rev. 449, 459 (2020).
  • 42
    See 5 U.S.C. § 553 (2006) (§ 553(b) and § 553(c) of which requires fed­er­al exec­u­tive agen­cies to allow for notice and an oppor­tu­ni­ty for pub­lic com­ment pri­or to any offi­cial rule­mak­ing can take effect).
  • 43
    See, e.g., N.J. Stat. § 24:6I-44(k) (2021) (“Any cannabis or cannabis item may be trans­port­ed or deliv­ered, con­sis­tent with the require­ments set forth in this sec­tion and reg­u­la­tions pro­mul­gat­ed by the com­mis­sion, to any loca­tion in the State. . . . [I]n no case may a munic­i­pal­i­ty restrict the trans­porta­tion or deliv­er­ies of cannabis items to con­sumers with­in that munic­i­pal­i­ty by adop­tion of a munic­i­pal ordi­nance or any oth­er mea­sure, and any restric­tion to the con­trary shall be deemed void and unenforceable.”).
  • 44
    Nev. Cannabis Com­pli­ance Bd., FY 2022–2023 Bien­ni­um Bud­get Request, (Mar. 12, 2021), https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL/81st2021/ExhibitDocument/OpenExhibitDocument?exhibitId=48550&fileDownloadName=Nevada%20Cannabis%20Compliance%20Board_Presentation.pdf.
  • 45
    This com­ment should not be read to imply that indi­vid­u­als who are intox­i­cat­ed by a con­trolled sub­stance while work­ing at a gam­ing estab­lish­ment may escape dis­ci­pli­nary actions by the per­ti­nent gam­ing boards.