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OPINION: Sibella is out. Will others close to the Nix scandal join him?

John L. Smith
John L. Smith

The Las Vegas casino community is still talking about the precipitous downfall of former gaming executive Scott Sibella in connection with an ongoing federal investigation of a multimillion-dollar illegal bookmaking operation run by former minor-league pitcher Wayne Nix.

Last week in a federal courtroom in Los Angeles, former MGM Grand Las Vegas President Sibella signed off on a plea agreement admitting he violated a provision of the Bank Secrecy Act. He knew Nix was an illegal bookmaker and failed to file a required Suspicious Activity Report with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. It appears to be the first conviction of its kind for an executive in casino industry history. Sibella faces a possible five-year prison sentence.

The MGM Grand and The Cosmopolitan, meanwhile, agreed to pay $7.45 million in fines and forfeitures as part of their non-prosecution agreements. They also agreed to embrace tougher rules for their casino compliance failures.

Some industry observers surmise the worst is over, that this storm over the Strip is passing. Save for the likely prosecutions of the casino marketing officials who catered to Nix’s high-rolling action with the knowledge he was an illegal bookie, the California-based agents from IRS Criminal Investigations and Homeland Security Investigations are ready to move on. Or at least that appears to be the hope in some circles.

In general, the prevailing gaming industry rhetoric goes like this: The Sibella-Nix fiasco is a wakeup call with lessons to be learned. Due diligence is the byword. There’s a gold standard of regulation to uphold, and all that.

Those who bother to look needn’t search far to find clues that offer a reality check and lead to unanswered questions in the case.

Here’s one that might spark a conversation at the water cooler: Was Nix a substantial player at MGM Grand prior to Sibella being named its president? Informed sources say the bookie gambled at MGM Grand approximately four years before Sibella became the boss. Nix appears to already have made connections with the casino marketing department. And Nix played at multiple casinos.

This absolves Sibella of nothing, but it makes me wonder whether there’s more digging to do.

Given the bookie’s interest in courting new customers for his Costa Rica-based Sand Island Sports operation, it’s hard to imagine Nix kept his profession a state secret from fellow players and casino hosts wherever he gambled. Facts in evidence show he did just the opposite and had marketing help from his hosts.

If Sibella and Nix’s two hosts knew the truth, could others in similar positions somehow have remained in the dark? That seems really unlikely.

While we’re asking questions, who provided Nix credit? Who approved Nix to pay his debt in cash? Shouldn’t such transactions have roused the casino’s compliance team from its slumber? 

Amid all the unanswered questions, one thing is certain. This is a call to action for the Nevada Gaming Control Board. Its protocols with federal law enforcement aside, it has looked especially slow-footed in its pursuit of the facts of incidents involving Resorts World Las Vegas and MGM Grand.

Then there’s the human wild card, controversial gambler Robert “R.J.” Cipriani. In recent years, Cipriani’s scattershot allegations about Sibella, MGM, Resorts World Las Vegas and a litany of casino employees have often been marbled with tabloid-style innuendo and packed with more opinionated heat than factual light. But it’s also true that he raised troubling issues about Sibella and those around him as early as 2019, around the time he had been 86’d from the casino and was in the process of filing a lawsuit. That made it easy to write him off as a disgruntled player, but these days he’s crowing like Chanticleer on social media about helping to take Sibella down.

Should authorities inside the company and at gaming control have taken Cipriani’s accusations more seriously? The answer’s pretty obvious.

In a gargantuan corporation the size of MGM Resorts International, how was Nix allowed to play and party for so long with all the eyes on all the players and their money? Was that also Sibella’s doing?

As the federal investigation heated up, sources say MGM managed to discover several other illegal bookmakers gambling and sent them packing. It makes me wonder whether they had been hiding in plain sight for years.

The hosts took kickbacks from Nix, bet with him and collected for him, but whatever charges they face, if any, have yet to be revealed. Other high-ranking casino executives said to have knowledge of Nix’s high-rolling background, I’m told, weren’t interviewed.

During his own interview with law enforcement, Sibella admitted that he knew the millions Nix had at his disposal came from an illicit source — something that should have generated a Suspicious Activity Report and an escort to the door — but failed to act. Traditionally in the Las Vegas casino racket, “don’t ask, don’t tell” has a very different meaning.

Sibella admitted his transgression and is paying for it. That’s the way it goes. But it appears he’s also picking up the tab for actions shared by others who are skating on the consequences.

Nix’s gambling history at MGM and other casinos shouldn’t be considered confidential at this point. It’s time to see just how good a customer he was and where he played.

That alone should complicate matters for those seeking to put this case, and the troubling issues it’s raising, to rest.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR.


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