Nothing nefarious: Actions by Nevada congresswoman helped small gaming businesses nationwide By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports June 9, 2020 at 8:00 pm It’s not as if Nevada Congresswoman Susie Lee sat through a confidential briefing on the coronavirus outbreak and then profited by selling off millions of dollars from her personal stock portfolio shortly afterward, directly ahead of an epic market collapse that coincided with the spreading pandemic. That would be what Senators Richard Burr of North Carolina and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia did. Lee, along with Nevada’s congressional delegation, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from other casino states, and the American Gaming Association, spent much of April focused on helping hundreds of small gaming businesses that had been shuttered by COVID-19 earn a piece of some $310 billion in paycheck protection loans, which saved their companies and provided financial relief to workers. It turns out that Las Vegas-based Full House Resorts, the small casino company where Lee’s husband is CEO, qualified for loans of roughly $5.6 million to support two of its regional properties in Indiana and Colorado. The reporting of the story Monday by The Daily Beast would have you believe Lee did something nefarious. She didn’t. What she did do, along with Rep. Dina Titus, Rep. Steve Horsford, Rep. Mark Amodei, Sen. Jackie Rosen, and Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto, was help a number of struggling Nevada gaming companies survive the pandemic, despite the ignorance displayed toward gaming by both Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Jovita Carranza, the Administrator of the Small Business Administration. And Nevada wasn’t alone. Representatives and Senators from Pennsylvania, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona also took part in the effort, coordinated by the AGA, to help some 350,000 small casinos, gaming-related businesses, and industry vendors nationwide who were initially shut out of the paycheck protection process, which was part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. Nevada Rep. Susie Lee, center, urges colleagues to support comprehensive coronavirus relief/photo via susielee.house.gov Twice, the SBA changed its position on gaming. First, it declared that small businesses were disqualified if they derived less than one-third of their revenues from gaming, causing tens of thousands of small businesses to miss out on the initial $349 billion in loans. A week later, the SBA disqualified any businesses with less than $1 million in total revenue and with less than 50% of that revenue coming from legal gaming, doing so just as the second round of loans were announced. Finally, after AGA CEO Bill Miller wrote a letter to the White House and lawmakers had questioned the Treasury Department and the SBA directly, the guidelines were changed a third time to make gaming businesses eligible for funds. For her part, Lee, in a letter addressed to both Adm. Carranza and Sec. Mnuchin, said gaming was not confined to the “multi-billion-dollar mega-resorts on the Las Vegas Strip.” Lee’s district covers the western and southern edges of Clark County, an area that includes Summerlin, Henderson, and Boulder City, as well as a swath of rural Southern Nevada, including the Colorado River casino community of Laughlin. Casinos in the locals’ markets were closed along with the Strip, as well as hundreds of restaurants, taverns, and bars that rely on “a handful of video poker machines to (keep) their businesses… functioning.” Lee pointed out that “gaming is an almost mandatory offering” at those locations in her district. “For the SBA to take the position that these small businesses are not eligible for the needed aid because of their involvement in the gaming industry belies the economic realities of their location, and will doom countless small businesses in Nevada to bankruptcy,” Lee wrote. Full House Resorts has two small casinos in northern Nevada – not located within her district – and was eligible to apply for funds from the program. The company used those loans to help rehire employees and prepare for the reopening of Rising Star in Indiana and Bronco Billy’s in Colorado. Did Full House, a small-cap casino operator with five properties in four states, deserve the loans? Absolutely. Did Lee’s effort help all small gaming businesses, including Full House? Of course. Did she know Full House would be seeking loans? Not according to her spokesperson. “She is not involved in any aspect of Full House’s business or decision making,” her office told The Daily Beast. “She had no influence over the decision to file the application, and she had no influence over whether or not that application was approved or denied. The conditions and details under which Full House Resorts received its PPP loan are entirely between Full House Resorts and regulators.” I’ve covered Full House CEO Dan Lee’s involvement in the company since he led the proxy fight to change out the corporate management and board in December 2014, and I’ve been closely following his career through both his seven years as CEO of Pinnacle Entertainment and his decade prior as Steve Wynn’s CFO at Mirage Resorts. He doesn’t discuss the company with his wife. Nor does Susie Lee consult her husband on congressional matters. The non-story was overplayed by The Daily Beast, for whatever reason. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.