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California developer plans to build a casino resort near Reno convention center

Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz
EconomyGaming
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Reno hasn’t seen an all-new resort-casino built since 1995 when the former Eldorado Resorts and the former Circus Circus Enterprises got together to open Silver Legacy.

San Diego-based Elevation Entertainment wants to end a three-decade drought for casino development.

The company submitted plans to the City of Reno for a 200-room hotel-casino to be constructed on a long-touted but still empty 20-acre site near the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, at the intersection of South Virginia Street and Kietzke Lane.

“Reno was a great gaming market until Thunder Valley (Casino Resort) was built in Sacramento. They kind of cannibalized the Northern California market,” Elevation CEO Ryan Stone said Monday, describing how California tribal gaming changed Northern Nevada’s economic trajectory in the early 2000s. 

“Reno was kind of left alone until Elon Musk came in and decided to put the (Tesla) battery factory there. It changed everything. Reno has been on this 10-year demographic growth,” Stone added. 

Three months after Legends Bay Casino opened in neighboring Sparks, the developer said Reno is ready for a new casino project.

“It’s super hard to find these types of development deals,” Stone said about the location that includes an 8-acre parcel currently owned by Las Vegas casino operator Red Rock Resorts. The company, when it was known as Station Casinos, once proposed building a casino at the same location that didn’t include a hotel.

Stone said Elevation is under contract to purchase both parcels, which are a few blocks south of the Atlantis Hotel Casino.

“Reno is growing and has a bright future,” Stone said. “It’s a great opportunity.”

The project carries the working title of Firecreek Crossing Resort-Casino, which incorporates the name of the neighboring retail and entertainment complex. Stone said the project’s cost is being determined. The plans include a 65,000-square-foot casino, restaurants and an outdoor pool deck atop the hotel tower.

Elevation built and operates two cardroom casinos in California – Stones Gambling Hall in Sacramento County and Seven Mile Casino in Chula Vista. Stone said the company plans to file an application for a Nevada gaming license to operate the Reno casino.

“We got lucky because we just ran into the site” while the company was looking at opportunities in several western states, Stone said. 

“Our expertise is infill development and because we've been in gaming for 10 years in California, we wanted to start a gaming development company,” he added. “We’ve worked with cities for over 30 years on projects. Our desire is to do more gaming. It fits perfectly with our skill set.”

Reno Mayor Hilliary Schieve said Monday she spoke with the developers but has not yet reviewed what Elevation submitted to the city. While not passing judgment on the plans, she is hopeful the hotel-casino can come to fruition.

“It sounds like an exciting project and I’m looking forward to seeing what they have to offer,” Schieve said. “The location is right in the center of town.”

She said the inclusion of hotel rooms was an added plus in the project’s favor, given its proximity to the convention center.

“Reno's been on this incredible trajectory and is becoming a great destination,” Schieve said. “We've worked really hard in our imaging and branding and it's become a pretty attractive place.”

Stone hopes the city can approve the project by next summer with construction beginning in 12 to 18 months.

“We submitted a complete project to the city,” he said. “We've thought through the restaurants and the amenity spaces. This is going to be an entertainment facility. It's not just the casino. It’s going to be a full-service resort.”

The Reno Arch in downtown Reno on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Reno-Sparks gaming sees revived interest

Reno casinos recorded a single-year record of $859 million in total gaming revenue in 2000, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board. However, many smaller casinos closed in the mid-2000s after competition from California Indian casinos sliced into the Northern Nevada casino business and revenue totals fell significantly over the next two decades.

In 2021, Reno reported $728.4 million in gaming revenue, its highest single-year total since 2007. For the first 10 months of 2022, Reno's gaming revenue is $628.7 million, which is 2.6 percent ahead of 2021’s total.

Reno had 27 locations in fiscal year 1995 that reported gaming and non-gaming information to the Gaming Abstract, a state publication that covers revenues for casinos that grossed $1 million or more during a fiscal year. By fiscal year 2020, the number of Reno reporting locations was down to 16, or almost half.

But there has been a recent surge of non-gaming opportunities.

In 2014, the long-shuttered Fitzgeralds Reno was reopened as the Whitney Peak Hotel, a non-gaming, non-smoking 310-room hotel near the Reno Arch.  

Historic Harrah’s Reno closed in March 2020 because of the pandemic and never reopened.

The property was sold two months earlier by Caesars Entertainment and VICI Properties for $50 million to Las Vegas-based CAI Investments, a real estate development and management company. It has since been converted from a hotel-casino into Reno City Center, a mixed-use, non-gaming development.

Gaming expansion has also bounced back.

Las Vegas-based Olympia Gaming opened the $120 million Legends Bay Casino in Sparks in August while Colorado-based regional operator Century Casinos is buying the Sparks Nugget for $195 million.

Meanwhile, Atlantis plans to renovate the hotel rooms in one of its two hotel towers after completing similar upgrades of the rooms in its oldest hotel tower last spring.In citing Northern Nevada’s economic development activities, which attracted high-tech and non-gaming businesses to the region such as Apple, an Amazon fulfillment center, the Tesla Gigafactory and Apple, Stone said the road has been paved a road for additional gaming and entertainment options.

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