Becky Harris, the former chair of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, is organizing a sports-betting forum at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and is not ruling out anything in the future — not even a potential run for governor.
Harris made history as the first woman to become the most powerful gaming regulator in Nevada in January 2018, but after less than a year on the job, she found out she was being replaced in a rather unceremonious way.
“He just called me on the phone,” Harris said of newly-elected Governor Steve Sisolak of Nevada.
“I hadn’t been given any indication that a change was in the works,” Harris told GamblingCompliance in a phone interview.
“I’m not going to go back and second guess it,” she said. “It is what it is.”
Harris, 50, was a holdover appointed by former Republican Governor Brian Sandoval, and Sisolak, a Democrat who was elected in November, is certainly entitled to pick his own team.
The new governor wasted little time in replacing Harris, appointing Sandra Douglass Morgan to a four-year term on January 28. Morgan previously served on the Nevada Gaming Commission.
Harris, who ironically was a Democrat before switching to the Republican Party and being elected a state senator, is proud of her record as chair of the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) and does not hesitate to say she wanted to stay.
“I enjoyed every minute of it,” Harris said. “I think that the gaming industry and the regulation that goes along with that is an absolutely fascinating journey.”
Harris, who says she does not do “down time,” accepted an academic fellowship at the International Center for Gaming Regulation at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV) less than a week after she left the NGCB.
UNLV has assigned Harris the task of launching a venture called the U.S. Sports Betting Forum.
“I think it’s an excellent fit for me because I’m the one who came up with the idea,” said Harris who started working on the sports-betting forum while she was still chair of the NGCB.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn a federal sports-betting ban last May ended Nevada’s monopoly on legal wagering, but Harris remains convinced her state will benefit from the landmark ruling.
Last August, her counterpart at the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, David Rebuck, predicted his state would eventually surpass Nevada as the top sports-betting market in the nation.
Harris acknowledged the larger population of New Jersey and surrounding states like New York will enable New Jersey to eventually surpass Nevada in sports-betting revenue.
However, that does not mean New Jersey will replace Nevada as the gold standard for sports betting in the United States, she said.
“Nevada has the experience, the expertise and is the ultimate destination,” Harris said. “In terms of the sports-betting industry, Nevada will always be the leader.”
The Supreme Court’s decision on sports betting, and the NGCB’s settlement of a disciplinary complaint with Wynn Resorts over the sexual misconduct of its founder, Steve Wynn, rank as the two most historic events during her historic one-year term as the NGCB chair, Harris said.
Former Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones Blackhurst, who is executive vice president of government relations and corporate responsibility at Caesars Entertainment, said Harris was nominated to be NGCB chair “at a pivotal time” in the history of Nevada gaming because of the negative publicity surrounding the Wynn scandal.
“She worked swiftly with the gaming industry to develop a checklist and process which would ensure our industry would hold ourselves to the highest standard of behavior and allow victims a safe and secure method to report inappropriate behaviors,” Blackhurst said.
“I do not believe similar action would have been taken so swiftly by a man.”
Harris’ predecessor as NGCB chair, Reno attorney A.G. Burnett, said she should not be remembered just for being the first woman to lead the board.
“She was the first extern we let come to the board from UNLV’s Master of Laws gaming program,” Burnett said. “She’d also served in the legislature, and that has many benefits when your agency is constantly dealing with regulatory changes.”
After her fellowship at UNLV ends, Harris said she will leave herself open to pursue any opportunity which challenges her — whether it is in politics or something else.
“You should always do something that’s a little scary,” she said.