Lake Tahoe’s Cal Neva to close casino; 29 employees to be laid off |

Lake Tahoe’s Cal Neva to close casino; 29 employees to be laid off

Jason Shueh
Sierra Sun

UPDATE: 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 25

CRYSTAL BAY, Nev. and#8212; Slot machine jingles and flashing lights and#8212; and the future of 29 employees and#8212; will all be on hold when the famed Cal Neva Resort shuts down its casino floor at monthand#8217;s end.

The 5,365 square-foot casino owned by Canyon Capital Realty Advisors will close March 31, the company announced in a Wednesday statement, effectively cutting ties with current casino operator Luna Gaming Tahoe, which is owned by Luna Entertainment.

In a Wednesday interview, Cal Neva Casino Gaming Manager Wayne Thompson said he is among 29 Luna Gaming Tahoe employees who will be laid off at monthand#8217;s end. If the resort is able to secure another gaming manager, Thompson said he hopes current casino employees will be considered for positions once it opens.

Canyon estimates the casino could re-open by yearand#8217;s end, so long as a new Nevada-based gaming operator is hired; Bosworth said the resortand#8217;s restaurants, lounges, showroom and wedding facilities will continue to operate during its closure.

and#8220;Canyon has already been in discussion with several gaming-license holders who have expressed interest in becoming Cal Nevaand#8217;s new casino operator,and#8221; said Canyon executive Richard Bosworth in the statement. and#8220;Canyonand#8217;s decision to move forward with new casino management reflects our continued commitment to securing the future of this incredible landmark.and#8221;

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Canyon spokeswoman Emily Heidt, of Sugarman Communications, declined to reveal names of those potentially interested.

She said Canyon management feels a new operator will help boost the resortand#8217;s value by investigating new gaming strategies, something she said Luna Gaming Tahoe, the casinoand#8217;s operator since early 2007, was unwilling to do.

Heidt did not comment when asked if the casino is generating revenue, but said since taking ownership in April 2009, Canyon has led a significant turnaround in Cal Nevaand#8217;s business operations, resulting in a 300 percent increase in wedding bookings and a 27 percent increase in the Lake Tahoe hotel market penetration. The entire building straddles the Nevada/California state line, with the casino on the Nevada side and hotel on the California side.

and#8220;We have worked hard to successfully stabilize business operations over the past year, and we are confident that an operator shift at the casino will only further enhance the value of the Cal Neva resort,and#8221; Bosworth said in the statement.

Nevada casinos lost $6.7 billion in fiscal year 2009, according to The Nevada Gaming Control Board’s annual Gaming Abstract.

According to the most recent monthly numbers, casino win in January 2010 was $2 million less than the year prior in Nevada. North Lake Tahoe casinos were down 11.3 percent to $1.99 million for January and#8212;-on top of an 11.4 percent decrease in January 2009.

Canyon and#8212; which took over operations in 2009 after a bidder-free, two-state foreclosure auction, then quickly hiring NHH Hotels and Resorts to manage hotel operations and#8212; still is seeking a buyer for the entire property.

It hired CB Richard Eliss Global Gaming Group and Hotel Group in August 2009 to market and sell the property. According to previous reports, Canyon had estimated a sale would be completed as early as September 2009.

A price for the property has not been set. The minimum bid at the April auction was set at $15 million.

Originally built in 1926, Cal Neva was owned by Frank Sinatra in the early 1960s, and flourished as a popular destination for the Hollywood and political elite. The resort includes 219 rooms and cottages, restaurants, a spa and open space featuring panoramic views of Lake Tahoe. The property also features a 350-seat show room, 16,000 square feet of meeting space and a lounge.