Betting on Reno

In 1931, Nevada’s state legislature legalized gambling. Reno became the gaming capital of the world overnight. This distinction was held for decades. For over eighty years, Reno’s wherewithal has been in casinos. Yet, change is a constant. According to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, February marks the eighth month in the previous 12-month period of falling year-over-year gaming revenues in Washoe County. Meanwhile, Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe are still catching fish; their gaming revenues are up. If Reno wants to eat, we’ll have to change our bait or fish in a new pond.

Nevada ClubThe casino and gaming industry is a pillar of Reno’s brand. The tax revenue has built our infrastructure. Reno’s streets were paved with slot machine pulls. Some paramount moments in Reno’s gaming history include the Harold’s Club, the Mapes, and the Nevada Club. Like baseball to America, gaming is Reno’s pastime.

Reno is competing with reservation casinos including the Thunder Valley Casino, Red Hawk Casino, and by November the $800 million, 200-room Graton Resort and Casino. These resorts are more convenient for Sacramentans and San Franciscans, Reno’s primary visitor base.

How does the Reno casino adjust? Perhaps they open up more street level entrances. More activity on the street level creates a more open environment. After all, entertainment is everything to the consumer. Upgrade the attraction. When you look out the windows of a downtown casino room, your view is composed of air conditioner units and dilapidated roofs. If there isn’t a view, create one. Disrupt the ordinary and bring in artists and give them creative freedom.

NOTE: The thoughts and opinions expressed by Paul Klein in this blog are personal and not that of the City of Reno.


19 thoughts on “Betting on Reno

  1. Really good post Paul! People that just wanna gamble are gonna go with what’s more convenient. Hopefully Nevada’s recent online gambling legislation takes some of that revenue back from reservation gaming. As for everyone else who likes gaming as part of a broader experience, Reno could have much more to offer. “Reno’s streets were paved with slot machine pulls.” What will Reno’s river walks be paved with?

    “If there isn’t a view, create one.” Brilliant! Calling all artists–I think a massive mural movement may even help discourage graffiti a little.

  2. Well, we just gave away $250,000 to the Safari Club. That money may have been better spent actually cleaning up downtown a bit.

    We also have the Reno demographic in our two Mayors (Reno 75, Sparks 67). That is the age group that Reno seems to want.

    It will take more than internet blogs and chat to change Reno. People have been complaining about the demographics for years on facebook, yelp and other online media. Nothing has changed..well people have stopped coming to Reno, so its changed in that way.

    Reno needs a Steve Wynn or Zappos to kick the city into 2013. That may not ever happen because the people that run Reno will not change.

    Shame..lets just set laws to prevent slot parlors, food trucks, internet gambling and stay where we are in 1970..oh wait we are doing that already.



  3. Reno doesn’t have a Steve Wynn and we don’t have Zappos — what do you we have? It’s important to look at what we do have and leverage that — we have some amazing people here doing amazing things and it’s time we highlight that and push the message out. You are right when you say that Reno markets to people that are the same ages as both Mayors — there is new blood in city government and things are going to change. But the community has to band together and push for that change.

  4. Paul, with your credentials it should be easy for you to see what Reno needs. I wonder why you haven’t mentioned these:

    1. Clean streets.
    2. Pedestrian malls
    3. Good entertainment in the casinos
    4. Street performers
    5. Festivals every weekend

    The above are just a few of my many ideas of how to make downtown Reno attractive not just for tourists, but for people who live here.

    1. Those type of things you mention can happen without the casinos. I’m curious what specially would the casinos need to do to keep pace with Reno’s direction. Reno’s identity is on the move, how can they join ride?

      1. The casinos are dead because their entertainment isn’t very entertaining. One used to be able to see very good acts for a two drink min. in the lounges. Now, that’s no more. I can’t remember when someone with any star quality played a lounge. The shows in the showrooms are mostly shows – either T&A, a magic act, or a lame way off B’way production. Bring in heavy hitters. All you have to do is book people on their way to or from the Bay Area. I’ve been in Indian casinos that had beautiful exhibits of Native American arts. Ever see anything resembling art in a Reno casino? Is there one casino that has anything on display worth the trip there? How many casinos try to tie-in with Burning Man? Do they have pre-Burn events? Photos, exhibits, fashion shows, anything? The casinos seem to tie in more with old age homes.

      1. That’s the Circus Circus logo & that sign cost A LOT of money. It’s their property & if their sign conforms to code, they can have whatever they want. CC seems to draw the people with their low prices & midway, though I’ve always found the place cheesy. Never go there as a destination.

      2. @ Ausscyn: It is amazing what people will spend good money on. I happened to wander into an area of Circus Bozo and was immediately struck at how seedy the place is. Smells to high heaven, and is just plain dirty.

  5. When the Nevada Resort Association, acting as the Nevada Legislature, passed the Resort Hotel Law in 1991, it effectively sounded the death knell for what made Reno’s product unique, and the thing that is driving Reno’s revenues down is not that the casinos that are left aren’t open at the street level (that surely wouldn’t hurt, it’s just not the core of the problem.) The problem is that new investors who aren’t trying to hoard and monetize the remaining vestigial unrestricted gaming licenses need to come in and build the kind of normal attractions that a visitor-oriented downtown would have, in the critical zone between the freeway and the river, on Sierra, Virginia, Center, West and Lake streets. Then Reno’s downtown will be more charming than depressing, and word will spread, and business will pick back up for the whole destination.

  6. Downtown casino operators need quality musicianship in their lounges, not garage bands or low budget, `just show-up-and-play’ sessions by retired performers living locally. The current pay structure for casino lounge entertainment is so low that quality acts cannot afford to travel into town to put on their shows. The result is an entertainment offering that nobody is going to want to travel to Reno to attend. The casino operators need to invest in entertainment that will draw in the bands’ followers. This doesn’t have to be expensive, big-name acts, just shows that are produced and rehearsed, and which are performed by bands having their own fan following and which have current performance experience.

  7. The other property downtown that needs overhauling is the Cal-Neva. Haven’t been there for over a year, but when I was, it was such a dump. Dirty, ugly, awful. How does that place stay in business?

  8. I’va had a love affair with Reno since volunteering on a campaign there in 2006. I wish some of the old casinos could reopen.

    Is there any chance we’ll see some smaller casinos opening? Downtown Makeover reported last summer “The closed Golden Phoenix casino fronting Virginia Street directly next to CommRow will be renovated back into a casino/sportsbook.” THat’s from:

    Also, ausscyn: I love Cal Neva. $3 blackjack and it connect me to a time in Reno I never got to experience.

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