The Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Oct. 8, 2017. Steve Marcus, Associated Press)

Nevada gambling leaders grapple with future of cannabis in casinos

LAS VEGAS — A committee exploring the effects of recreational marijuana on Nevada’s gambling industry is wrestling with how the state’s casinos might deal with the pot business while not running afoul of federal law.

Lured by a potential economic impact in the tens of millions of dollars, Gov. Brian Sandoval’s Gaming Policy Committee is trying to figure out how casinos can host conventions and trade shows on marijuana.

The 12-member committee ended its meeting Wednesday without a formal decision on the matter, but Sandoval said he hopes to have committee recommendations for possible regulations by February.

The Nevada Gaming Commission has discouraged licensees in the past from becoming involved with the marijuana business, fearing legal backlash. Committee members have also voiced opposition to the idea of allowing marijuana use at resorts.

However, events like MJBizCon, a conference on various aspects of the marijuana growing industry, have drawn the attention of the gambling industry because of their strong turnout.

Cassandra Farrington, who started the conference, told the committee that the event brought about 18,000 people to the Las Vegas Convention Center last month and it’s only expected to grow. She noted that marijuana products are not allowed on the show floor, and people who violate that ruled are expelled.

Trade shows like Farrington’s conference can generate millions of dollars in tax revenue, said Deonne Contine, the director of the Nevada Department of Taxation. Contine told the committee that a show with about 15,000 people can produce a $28.2 million economic impact on the city.

Attorney Brian Barnes said any marijuana business in gambling facilities could be considered racketeering or money laundering under federal regulations.

“Marijuana business is illegal under virtually every aspect of federal law,” Barnes said.