New Gaming

New gaming commissioner promises tough approach

Former police chief says commission will flex its muscle but in cooperative manner

Burks “Dean” Shelton, the state’s new Gambling Control Commission chairman, is a former cop who’s taking a get-tough approach to his new job.

Shelton says he’s familiar with gambling and the kind of serious crime it attracts from his days as police chief in South Lake Tahoe.

While the commission has been criticized as being toothless, Shelton says it has the authority to audit and inspect casinos.

“We can yank their licenses for those slot machines if they don’t cooperate,” Shelton said this week.

However, Shelton said, he wants to work cooperatively with the state’s Indian tribes.

At the same time he asserted the commission’s authority, Shelton said it would be helpful to clarify that authority. He said he is seeking some answers now from the renegotiations of agreements on casino operations between the governor and several tribes.

He wouldn’t specify what changes he was requesting through the governor’s negotiator. The commission isn’t directly involved in the negotiations, Shelton said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is trying to convince Indian tribes to renegotiate the lucrative 20-year gambling compacts signed by former Gov. Gray Davis.

Schwarzenegger wants the tribes to contribute a share of profits to ease the state’s budget crisis.

The governor said that money would also better compensate surrounding communities for the sorts of gambling-related crime and traffic Shelton said he encountered at a time when only Nevada had casinos.

There has been more cooperation from tribes since voters replaced Davis with Schwarzenegger last fall, said Shelton and veteran commissioner Arlo Smith, who had been acting chairman.

He and Smith also said they are taking issues like building and fire codes off the back burner and beginning to work on them again with tribes.

“I also believe it is up to the commission to work with the Indians to show the need for these regulations,” Shelton said. “This is a joint venture.”

As for the state’s approach to gambling regulation, Shelton said, “We’re on the right track and we’ve got a long ways to go.”

But compared to states like Nevada, he said, “We’re still babes in the woods.”

Jake Henshaw of The Desert Sun’s Sacramento bureau contributed to this report.