Safe Bet: Why Vegas Casinos Won’t Gamble on Allowing Marijuana

Vegas Casinos Cannabis Now

Federal regulations will have to change in order for casinos to collaborate with Nevada’s legal adult use cannabis industry.


Dina Titus represents Las Vegas in the House of Representatives, meaning she’s one be one of the most marijuana-friendly lawmakers in Congress by default.

Las Vegas’s recreational marijuana sector is booming — where else in America can you find (legal) 24-hour cannabis dispensaries? Spoiler: nowhere — and Titus is acting accordingly on Capitol Hill. Titus is a reliable cosponsor of federal legislation that would, at long last, update the federal government’s long-exploded blanket prohibition on marijuana.

By now, the problems caused by the Controlled Substances Act are obvious, and they are manifest. Marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I substance has meant that cannabis businesses can’t open up a bank account. The insurance industry has stayed away. Medical research is stalled.

In Las Vegas, federal marijuana policy has also led to a bizarre separation of church and state in America’s gambling and nightlife mecca: Cannabis and casinos can’t mix. The Nevada Gaming Commission, which regulates and licenses any establishment that hosts games of chance, from the floor of the Strip’s glitziest hotels to the humble slot machines in an exhausted liquor store on a dusty side street, has been clear they discourage all collaboration with the cannabis industry.

There’s been some question if there aren’t nefarious forces at play. It’s well-documented that Vegas billionaire Sheldon Alderson, a casino magnate, huge supporter of Donald Trump, and campaign bankroller of anti-legalization efforts, is no friend of weed.

But it appears the problem is much more obvious — and mundane. As Forbes’s Tom Angell reported, Titus maintains that casinos simply cannot and will not allow cannabis sales or even cannabis-related activity until there’s a change in federal law.

“It won’t happen until federal legislation happens, because gaming is so tightly regulated and they’re not going to take any chances of losing a license or having the feds step into the gaming world because of marijuana,” Titus said in an interview with Forbes.

“It’s kind of like the banks that don’t want to do business with marijuana companies because of federal regulation,” she added. “So it’s going to take not just becoming mainstream or not just becoming legalized at the state level, but federal action before that happens.”

At least some members of Congress have been keen to update the federal government’s dusty and unpopular policies on cannabis — change that a sizable majority of Americans of every political persuasion want. But so far, those efforts have been thwarted by a minority.

That minority, unfortunately, happens to the Republican-controlled Congress’s leadership — who, in addition to prohibiting cannabis in casinos, are also blocking reform that would make it easier for military veterans with PTSD to access weed.

Titus isn’t wrong, but she’s also running a little bit of cover for the gaming industry, with whom she wants to remain on good terms, for obvious reasons.

The Gaming Commission could absolutely allow cannabis — or at the very least remain either neutral or inactive on enforcement, daring federal authorities to make the first move.

That’s exactly how medical marijuana and then recreational cannabis became legal — state authorities defied the feds. In some cases, the feds did something. But in only a few cases. And look: weed’s legal now.

Don’t look for that kind of maverick behavior from gambling palaces. Casinos are not known for taking risks. There’s a reason why the house always wins and casinos remain a fantastically profitable venture. The odds are squarely in their favor.

In a way, this is good — this means Vegas’s biggest power brokers aren’t taking a bite out of weed. At least for now. This means in a few years’ time, those who really need to mix cannabinoids and casinos might be able to play the slots at a medical marijuana dispensary — instead of buying a few grams at the Wynn.

TELL US, do you think casinos should allow cannabis?

Chris Roberts has written about medical cannabis, drug policy, and legalization ever since spending a few months in Humboldt County in 2009, with bylines for the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, and SF Weekly. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cbloggy.

1 Comment

  1. GARY WILLIAMS

    November 19, 2017 at 4:40 am

    If “something” has to change, then “change” IT!

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