Executives: Tourism basics key to gaming rebound

Rob Sabo
Gaming in Northern Nevada took in $727 million in revenue in 2012, down from its peak of $1.14 billion in 2000.
Courtesy photo |

The future of gaming in Northern Nevada lies in strengthening the basics of the tourism sector in Greater Reno-Tahoe, regional gaming executives say.

It’s no secret that Northern Nevada casino properties fell on hard times as gaming proliferated throughout the United States and particularly in California over the past decade. A few telling statistics:

In 2012, the regional gaming market brought in roughly $727 million. In 2000, that figure stood at $1.14 billion.

In 2000 there were 29,000 slot machines in the Reno market; by 2012 that number had fallen to 17,700, a 39 percent decrease. Conversely, in California, where most of the competition for gaming dollars in Greater Reno-Tahoe comes from, there were 19,000 slots in 2000; now there are just under 50,000 — and new tribal casinos are under slated to open near Madera and Rohnert Park.

There are several ways casinos can stay in the black, gaming executives said last week at a luncheon hosted by The Chamber. Among them: Reinvesting in existing properties, focusing on providing excellent hospitality, increasing special events, bringing premier entertainment acts to the region, and boosting air service to Reno-Tahoe International Airport to increase the area’s convention business.

Gaming’s heyday in the Silver State never is coming back. Those days began to disappear as Nevada lost its exclusivity on gambling in 1976 when gaming was legalized in New Jersey. Gaming revenue in 2012 was down 2.5 percent from the previous year — the sixth consecutive year of decline, says Bill Hughes, director of marketing operations for the Peppermill Hotel Casino.

To garner its share of the locals and tourist markets, the Peppermill made the decision to shift its focus from being a casino with resort amenities to being a resort destination that also has casino gaming when it brought its $400 million Tuscany expansion online in 2007. The change reflects a greater regional push to move the image of Greater Reno-Tahoe away from that of a gaming destination to a resort and outdoors destination that also offers gaming.

“We wanted to change how people viewed us,” Hughes says. “What we did with expansion is add hotel rooms, convention facilities and things we thought would draw leisure travelers, sales and convention business.

“If we continue to reinvest in our properties and continue to work on building our image in the marketplace, and look for new events, Reno will still be a great place that people come to visit.”

Another element that could indirectly lead to an increase in gaming revenues, says Gary Carano, chief executive officer and general manager of the Silver Legacy, is providing excellent customer service for visitors to the region. Workers throughout the area, Carano says, can positively affect the visitor experience.

“In 1931 we had legalized gambling in Nevada, and we have been in the hospitality business for that long,” he says. “We need to continue to grow that, and it’s not just the hotel-casinos. It’s the taxi drivers, or anyone who is touching a visitor or a local, too. We need to treat them like we want them to come back; hospitality is an area where we can continue to grow and compete in the future.”

Carano also points to declining air service at Reno-Tahoe International Airport as another crucial element that’s adversely affected gaming revenues. Long gone are the days when Carano slipped out of his downtown office and set foot on a plane 20 minutes later. Security measures now make that a nearly two-hour experience, but the greater issue is the dwindling number of flights coming into and leaving the region.

Executives for the annual Safari Club International convention in January cited this fact as a primary reason for moving their huge convention out of Reno. Increasing flights to the region to help boost convention business will bring more potential gamblers to the region, Carano says.

Lastly, getting major artists to perform in Reno-Sparks can help put more people into local casinos. Reno’s off the radar for huge acts such as U2 or Lady Gaga that can sell 70,000 tickets at venues such as Coliseum in Oakland. But Reno often succeeds in scoring mid-week stops for large artists making West Coast swings.

If big acts are booked in Reno, Hughes adds, rather than in feeder markets in Northern California, residents in those areas will travel to northern Nevada to see their favorite performers, stay in regional hotels and spend gaming dollars here.

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