Dealers want tipping rule to go to state’s voters

Casino dealers, frustrated that Nevada lawmakers wouldn’t help them reverse Steve Wynn’s controversial tip-sharing policy, are preparing to take their case to the voters.

A group of Wynn Las Vegas dealers, working outside of their new labor union, says it will begin circulating petitions next year to qualify a voter initiative aimed at prohibiting a company from forcing rank-and-file dealers to share tips with supervisors.

But first, the dealers are turning to the American Civil Liberties Union for help in challenging a new state law that has made voter initiatives more difficult to pursue.

The law requires signatures of 10 percent of vote r s in each of the state’s Assembly districts to qualify a proposal for the statewide ballot. The ACLU, which successfully challenged a previous state law requiring signatures in 13 of Nevada’s 17 counties, says the new law is worse than its predecessor. After a court threw out the previous requirements as unconstitutional, legislators passed an even higher threshold for petition gathering.

„We appeared before the Legislature and they chose to ignore us and hence invite a lawsuit,“ said Gary Peck, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada. „It’s an egregious violation of the bedrock constitutional principle of ‚one person, one vote.‘ „

The requirement to win support of 10 percent of the voters in each of the state’s Assembly districts would be particularly onerous for the dealers, who fear that ranchers in rural Nevada could not care less about their battle for tips.

Wynn Las Vegas‘ tip policy has so far survived multiple lawsuits, labor law complaints and a union drive. It has also won the tacit support of the state ’s labor commissioner .

The Transport Workers Union – elected in a landslide vote by dealers in May and now trying to negotiate a contract with Wynn behind the scenes – isn’t expected to have any success in rolling back the tip policy and was mainly a last-ditch effort by dealers to save their jobs.

That’s why the grass-roots group that fermented the union organizing effort in the first place – the International Union of Gaming Employees – is stepping in with its plan to file a voter petition to change Nevada’s tip law next year.

Some think the petition could be the dealers‘ last – but best – trump card in their fight to roll back the policy, which has become national news and a battle of wills between the rank and file and their forward-thinking but volatile boss.

Wynn executives had no comment on the prospect of a ballot initiative.

The informal dealers group knows that Wynn’s clout in the Legislature would be of little use in preventing a petition effort fueled by the support of thousands of tipped workers in Nevada sympathetic to Wynn dealers and concerned about the future of their own tips. But getting there, especially because the ACLU has yet to commit to a lawsuit or any particular plaintiff or group of plaintiffs, is no sure bet.

To change or repeal a state law, a group could file a ballot initiative with the secretary of state starting Jan . 1 and have until Nov. 11, 2008 , to gather enough signatures. The Legislature would then choose to create a similar bill – or take no action, which would put the matter before voters in 2010.

Besides presenting overwhelming odds, that’s hardly a speedy resolution to dealers‘ concerns.

By that time, the Strip will be buzzing with several new luxury resorts and the story of how Wynn quashed repeated attempts by his dealers to change Nevada’s tip law may be more legend than burning issue.

Not so, says Al Maurice, a Mirage dealer and director of the gaming employees union, whose son deals at Wynn. Maurice, who maintains an e-mail database of more than 500 people, says dealers are keeping heat on the issue because they’re convinced that other casinos nationwide will eventually follow Wynn’s example.