Reno Market Looking Up

Gaming revenues will never return to pre-recession levels, but Reno has adjusted to new competition from tribal casinos in Northern California. And gaming executives there say they will continue to be competitive, because of a “more complete” destination experience. Siri’s Casino (l.) opened last week.

Former Primadonna reopens as Siri’s

There are more signs of life in Reno’s casino market, which has lost ground in recent years to Northern California’s Indian tribes, and to lackluster tourism following the recession.

According to the Sacramento Bee, the marketplace could be on the verge of a modest comeback. Combined casino revenue in Washoe County, including the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, rose almost 4 percent last year. It was the first increase since 2006.

“All the indicators are looking good,” said Carlton Geer, the new president and chief executive officer of the Nugget, a casino with its origins in the 1950s. “Most of those Indian gaming impacts have been absorbed by the market.”

Even November’s opening of the $800 million Graton Resort & Casino in Sonoma County did not seem to rattle the market. “So far our data would show we have not had a major impact,” said Gary Carano, general manager of the Silver Legacy in downtown Reno, which has just emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The jurisdiction is adjusting to a new reality in which much of the gaming business is gone for keeps. Although Reno drew 4.7 million visitors last year, the most since 2008, that was nearly 1 million less than 2004. Gaming revenue in Reno is about 25 percent lower than it was a decade ago, a loss of $250 million.

“Everybody is in full realization,” University of Nevada Reno economist Brian Bonnenfant told the Bee. “Reno is … sober about gaming and how far we can take it.”

Carano says the jurisdiction has enough nongaming amenities?including great-outdoors activities, a trendy new restaurant scene, and special events such as the Hot August Nights classic car festival?to remain competitive with new casinos across the border.

“We offer the total destination resort-casino experience,” Carano said. “That’s what Reno has to offer as a getaway that the Native American casinos in Northern California do not offer.”

Even so, nearly two dozen casinos have closed in the past 20 years, including Harold’s Club, the Flamingo Hilton, the Horseshoe and the Comstock. Reno gaming analyst Ken Adams says California casinos are still a threat to northern Nevada, especially at Lake Tahoe. Hotel occupancy on the South Shore has dropped by more than 30 percent in the past decade.

But casino executives are renovating properties in hopes of standing strong, and the business community as a whole is rallying to bring back tourism. “We’re really looking to diversify the economy,” said Mark Nichols, an economist who studies the gaming industry at UN Reno.

And in the ultimate show of optimism, Siri’s Casino, formerly the Primadonna, has just reopened to the public.

Owner Jeff Siri, president of Club Cal Neva, says his goal is to revitalize all of downtown Reno. “There hasn’t been a new casino in this part of downtown Reno since the Silver Legacy opened in 1995,” Siri said. “Now we have more lights, more activity, more things going on. So hopefully it won’t just benefit us, but everyone in the downtown area.”