New Jersey State Bar Association - The voluntary Bar Association of New Jersey, serving members since 1899.

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Casino Lawyers Beat the Odds

Laura McAllister Cox is the chair of the New Jersey State Bar’s Casino Law Section. She is the Chief Legal and Compliance Officer for Gaming Partners International Corp., in Atlantic City. She recently spoke about casino lawyers, the economy and chips.

Q: What’s new in the world of gaming?

A: In New Jersey, there are two State gaming regulatory agencies: the Casino Control Commission and the Division of Gaming Enforcement. Josh Lichtblau became the director of the gaming enforcement division in January 2008. This has been an interesting time in the gaming world for both agencies and for those of us who practice casino law.

Q: Why is that?

A: There have been some significant and ongoing issues in New Jersey. Tropicana is still fighting over having had their license renewal denied. There have been several mergers and acquisitions in the industry. And it is a time of the state budget crisis and the initial effects of an early retirement program.

Q: What is the issue with the state’s early retirement program?

A: Many people have been with the gaming agencies for 20 to 30 years. These longtime government employees had vast amounts of institutional knowledge. We all got very used to relying upon the idea that people had been at the commission or division for 20 years or more and would know about licensing nuances, gaming equipment approval issues and other operational developments. The chair of the commission and the new gaming enforcement director now face the challenge of recapturing the history. Lichtblau shared recently that his agency lost several hundred combined years of experience with retirements in June of this year.

Q: What other challenges are facing the gaming world? What effect is the economy having on everyone?

A: Gaming is entertainment and I’m not sure how to read what is happening in the industry. Gaming, to me, has always seemed recession-proof, but this is the first time it has taken a hit. Right now it appears to be affecting everybody. In Atlantic City, Harrah’s and Borgata have recently announced layoffs and Pinnacle and MGM/Mirage have put new casino projects on hold. Visitor numbers and revenue figures are down pretty much in every gaming market. The gaming numbers are also down in Atlantic City, but you walk the casino floors and you still see people playing and enjoying the amenities.

Q: How did you get into the field?

A: I was in casino accounting in the Playboy Hotel in 1980. I worked there for four years and I went to law school. Then I joined a firm in Atlantic City that represented a number of the casinos. As gaming grew across the country, I focused on being able to represent my clients in multiple jurisdictions. Now, I’m in-house counsel for a table game manufacturing and supply company. I do licensing and gaming compliance work all over the world.

Q: What is your company best known for?

A: Our hallmark product in the US is the Paulson gaming chip. They have a particular feel and sound to them. In the United States, it is the primary chip used by casinos over the past 40 years.

Q: Do you have a favorite game to play?

A: I’m not allowed to play casino table games. My company makes table game products and all of our employees are prohibited from playing table games.

Q: What about slots?

A: I could play slot machines but I don’t have any interest.