Ninth Circuit on Casino Rule: No Dice

December 9, 2020

Thanks to coronavirus, collecting the offering is tough -- but cashing in your chips isn't! That's the state of play in Nevada, where pastors are struggling to fill their pews under the governor's unfair COVID rules. If you run a casino, you can pack it out. But if you want to worship God in a 1,000-seat sanctuary, you have to limit it to 50 people -- or else.

Fortunately, some pastors in the state have had enough. Huddling with attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom, churches like Calvary Chapel Lone Mountain and Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley decided to sue. If people can gather to bet, they argued, then they should be able to gather to pray. And at oral arguments in the Ninth Circuit Court Tuesday, three judges seemed inclined to agree.

"[It's] really insane to think that, at the outset, the casinos, when they reopened, [were doing so] at 50-percent capacity," ADF's Ryan Tucker said on "Washington Watch." "So you could have hundreds, if not thousands of people in Las Vegas Strip and the MGM Grand or one of the other large casinos. But this church, Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, which is in rural Dayton just outside of Carson City, [was] limited to 50 people. And, you know, it's just nonsensical -- and unconstitutional as well. And I really do think that the judges recognized that... during the discussion."

For Governor Steve Sisolak (D), the outlook wasn't exactly optimistic. The U.S. Supreme Court had already ruled discriminatory rules like his in New York City this month. And that decision was being used all over the country to beat back similar policies. "I think the Supreme Court has made it very clear," Judge Mark Bennett said, "when you treat bike repair shops and liquor stores far more favorably than houses of worship, you are not meeting the applicable First Amendment test." His colleague, Milan Smith, agreed.

Things got worse for the governor when his Deputy Solicitor General Craig Newby suggested that casinos are in a different category than churches because they're regulated by the Nevada Gaming Commission. Nice try, Smith said. "I read that in your brief, and I couldn't stop laughing," he told Newby. "The reality is, when you have all these people in casinos, they're not paying attention to any rules -- I don't care how well it's regulated. So I don't see how you justify treating religious [groups] worse than casinos."

There's no such thing as the freedom to gamble. There is, however, freedom of religion -- and it's spelled out right there in the Constitution. "You can't be treating the church and its members in a second class capacity. You can't place priority on liquor stores, on big box stores, on other retailers, and not at the very least of how the church is operating at those same restrictions. You can't treat them less than these other secular competitors," Tucker insisted. We'll see if the three-judge panel agrees. If they do, it'll affect churches across Nevada and all down the West Coast.

All the more reason to join FRC and Ryan Tucker tonight at 8:00 p.m. (ET), as we pray for courts like this one to respect America's freedom. Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills will be joining us, as well as Times Square Church's Pastor Carter Conlon. For more information or to catch the live stream, visit