he Nevada Gaming Commission on Thursday agreed to a stipulated settlement with Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment for a $60,000 fine after several reality television celebrities, who were paid to promote the Mohegan Sun Casino at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas’ March 25 opening, were photographed not wearing masks or facial coverings.
It marks the largest fine ordered by the state's gaming regulators for a single property that violated Nevada's COVID-19 health and safety protocols, as Deputy Attorney General John Michela told the Gaming Commission, The Nevada Independent reports.
Earlier this month, Mohegan Gaming CEO Ray Pineault apologized to the Gaming Control Board and accepted “full responsibility” for the opening night events. Gaming Commission Chairman John Moran Jr. and other commissioners complimented Pineault, who appeared during Thursday’s hearing in Las Vegas.
“There was no pushback from the licensee,” Moran said. “I think it’s a fair number. You guys ponied up.”
The Connecticut-based tribal operator agreed to a stipulated settlement with the Control Board last month following a five-count complaint for violating both capacity guidelines and the mandatory use of masks or facial coverings. At the time of Mohegan Sun’s opening in Las Vegas, the state’s gaming industry was operating under 50 percent capacity limitations, requiring social distancing on the gaming floor and requiring all customers and employees to wear facial coverings. On June 1, Nevada lifted all COVID-19 restrictions and capacity limitations.
In the complaint, the Control Board cited photos that appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and on the Virgin Hotel’s Twitter account showing the celebrities playing table games without wearing facial coverings and surrounded by crowds of onlookers who were not socially distanced. Gaming Commissioner Steven Cohen noted the company took down the images on their social media feeds “right away.”
Mohegan Sun General Manager Joe Hasson told the Gaming Commission employees had received COVID-19 protocol training, but “what happens in the classroom and real life are different.” He said the incident from opening night will now “empower” Mohegan Sun employees to be more vigilant. Michela said the lack of mask wearing only involved the paid celebrities and not Mohegan Sun employees nor casino patrons.
However, the Control Board still wanted the fine to be the largest for a single licensee. Attorney Marc Rubinstein, representing Mohegan Gaming, said his client was hoping for a lower fine, but didn’t push back when the board sought the $60,000 amount.
The Grand Sierra in Reno and the Sahara Las Vegas, which are both owned by Los Angeles-based Meruelo Group, paid a combined $75,000 fine last September for multiple violations of the state’s COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. Gaming regulators last year settled five other complaints covering COVID-19 protocol violations with fines ranging from $5,000 to $30,000.
Earlier in Thursday’s hearing, the Gaming Commission unanimously approved Pineault’s licensing as an officer for the business arm of the Mohegan Indian Tribe. Pineault, who was interim CEO of Mohegan Gaming when the casino opened, was named permanent CEO on May 27.
On the same day, the regulator also ordered a $10,000 fine against LV Station Management Inc., which operates the Country Club Auto Spa on South Eastern Avenue and is owned by Ali Pourdastan, the licensee. The Auto Spa is a car wash, convenience store and gasoline station that once had five slot machines in operation. The machines have been removed, but the licensee preserved its ability to provide gambling at the site this year. In the complaint, operators admitted they had not properly filed applications for key employees to oversee the five slot machines that were placed in a convenience store adjacent to a car wash.