Two Women Who Made Las Vegas History Team Up For Mayor's Race

February 7, 2023
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After representing the gambling capital of the world in Congress for 14 years, Shelley Berkley wants to become mayor of Las Vegas next year.

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After representing the gambling capital of the world in Congress for 14 years, Shelley Berkley wants to become mayor of Las Vegas next year.

Former mayor Jan Jones Blackhurst, a director and former top executive at Caesars Entertainment, is also expected to play a major role in Berkley’s campaign.

“The fact is there’s something about public service that draws me to it,” Berkley told VIXIO GamblingCompliance in a phone interview.

Berkley, a Democrat, became the first woman to be elected to the 1st congressional district of Nevada in 1998 and served in the U.S. House of Representatives until 2012 when she narrowly lost a race for the U.S. Senate.

Since January 2014, Berkley has worked as CEO and senior provost for Touro University, a medical college with campuses in Henderson, Nevada and Vallejo, California.

“Somebody actually had the temerity to suggest that I was too old to do this job [Las Vegas mayor],” said Berkley, who will be 73 when the mayor’s election occurs on April 2, 2024.

“Are they kidding me? I’ve got more energy than two 20-year-olds put together.”

Berkley and Blackhurst, who became the first woman to serve as Las Vegas mayor from 1991 to 1999, have been friends for more than 30 years.

Berkley’s first fundraiser for the mayor’s race will be hosted by Blackhurst at the former mayor’s home.

“She will be a resource when it comes to issues that she’s already dealt with and addressed during her tenure as mayor,” Berkley said.

A former senior executive vice president and now member of the board of directors of Caesars Entertainment, Blackhurst is also CEO-in-residence at the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“It’s her race to lose,” Blackhurst said of Berkley, citing the former congresswoman’s name identification with Las Vegas voters and her prolific fundraising ability.

Two other candidates — Las Vegas City councilman Cedric Crear and Kara Jenkins, an administrator with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission — also have announced plans to run in the mayor’s race.

Las Vegas has a city-manager form of government, but Blackhurst dismisses any suggestion that being mayor is largely a ceremonial post with little impact on the gaming industry.

“Everybody wants to be mayor of Las Vegas because it gives you a bully pulpit and allows you to set the agenda for a broad range of issues, including gaming,” Blackhurst said.

Before being elected to Congress, Berkley worked for Las Vegas Sands in the 1990s as director of government and legal affairs.

In the House, she originally voted against internet gambling, reflecting the Nevada gaming industry’s concern about the potentially negative impact on the revenue of brick and mortar casinos.

Her position has evolved and she now considers internet gambling the wave of the gaming industry’s future.

At the same time, however, Berkley is keenly aware that some Nevada casino companies continue to fear that online gaming will cannibalize their brick and mortar properties, and she is not interested in trying to change their minds.

“I don’t believe, as mayor of Las Vegas, it would be my job to convince anybody to get into internet gaming,” she said.

“I understand how the brick and mortars feel. If they choose not to do internet gaming, they shouldn’t get into the business, but I suspect as time goes on, and with the younger generation doing so much of their entertainment and education online, that it would be inevitable.”

Any politician from Nevada is almost by definition a loyal advocate of gaming and Berkley’s record certainly bears that out.

But Berkley said she wants to diversify the economy of Las Vegas “so we don’t have all our eggs in one basket.”

One of her top priorities, if elected mayor, will be finding ways to cope with homelessness, which has become a plague for big cities in the west like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas.

“Every business owner I have spoken to — including gaming officials — all say homelessness must be addressed,” Berkley said.

If Berkley is elected mayor of Las Vegas, she would succeed another woman, Carolyn Goodman, who has been in office since July 2011.

Both members of the U.S. Senate representing Nevada are women — Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen.

Two of the four members representing Nevada in the U.S. House of Representatives are women — Susie Lee and Dina Titus.

But although women are becoming increasingly powerful in Nevada politics, Blackhurst, the former Las Vegas mayor, is not seeing comparable growth for women in gaming.

“Despite some progress, there remains a dearth of women in leadership in the gaming industry because for the most part, it’s still a good old boy network in the C-suites,” Blackhurst said.

“Sadly, I don’t see the situation markedly improving anytime soon.”

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