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Indy Gaming: Investor says Tahoe’s historic Cal Neva will be ‘reimagined’ by its 100th birthday

Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz
EconomyGaming
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Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Gaming newsletter, a weekly look at gaming matters nationally and internationally and how the events tie back to Nevada. 

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Lake Tahoe’s Cal Neva Lodge, a piece of Nevada’s gaming history for nearly a century, is going away in name only.

Colorado-based real estate investment firm McWhinney acquired the shuttered property that straddles the California-Nevada state line for an undisclosed price Friday and announced plans to “reimagine” the site in Crystal Bay on Tahoe’s north shore into a “modern leisure travel destination.”

According to a statement, the property, which has been closed for almost a decade, will be rebranded by California-based Proper Hospitality Group and the name Cal Neva will disappear.

In response to emailed questions, the McWhinney development team said, “While we will honor the history in the design, the property will become a Proper-branded resort.” The company said gaming would be included in future development plans.

McWhinney said the redevelopment of Cal Neva, which had roughly 200 hotel rooms when it closed, is in the “early, preliminary planning stages” and the company did not provide a budget. It said the goal is to reopen the resort in 2026, which would mark 100 years since the Cal Neva debuted.

In the past, tourists flocked to Cal Neva given its unique location between the two states. The California-Nevada dividing line was painted at the bottom of the resort’s pool, inside its spacious ballroom and along the casino floor with the gambling activities located on the Nevada side.

The property has seen numerous owners come and go, including entertainer Frank Sinatra in the 1960s — with a reported hidden ownership from Chicago mobster Sam Giancana. Sinatra allowed Giancana, who was an original member of Nevada’s List of Excluded Persons, to stay at the property, which led to Sinatra’s gaming license being suspended by state gaming regulators.

During its heyday, Cal Neva was a playground for Sinatra’s “Rat Pack” colleagues, Hollywood icons and the Kennedy family.

Las Vegas developer Kirk Kerkorian briefly owned the property before it began a long string of ownership changes.

According to the Gaming Control Board, Strategic Gaming Management, which last operated the Cal Neva, received approval to temporarily close the property in September 2013 for a remodeling project. The property remained on temporary closure status until 2018, when the owners surrendered their gaming license.

United Coin Machine, which is owned by Century Gaming, was approved by regulators in April 2019 to operate gaming on the property in a trailer one day every three months to keep the gaming rights intact.

The swimming pool at the Cal Neva in Crystal Bay on the north shore of Lake Tahoe on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010. (Don Graham via Wikimedia Commons, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Courtesy)

McWhinney is buying the Cal Neva from billionaire Larry Ellison, one of the co-founders of cloud platform developer Oracle. Ellison acquired Cal Neva in 2018 for $38.5 million out of bankruptcy, but never followed through on plans to develop the resort into a luxury hotel-casino.

“Our vision is to reimagine and revitalize this iconic resort with deep historic roots into an exceptional experience for guests and the local community to enjoy for years to come,” McWhinney CEO Chad McWhinney said in a statement.

According to a statement, one of the investors in the Cal Neva project is Hayes Barnard, CEO of GoodLeap Corp., a financier of solar and sustainability projects. Barnard, who owns a home in Crystal Bay, has partnered with McWhinney on several developments, including the Proper Hotel in Austin, Texas.

“Our family has created lasting memories at Lake Tahoe for over 20 years and we are excited to play a meaningful role in restoring the Cal Neva Resort,” Barnard said. 

Cal Neva will be the first Nevada project for Proper Hospitality, which manages Proper-branded hotels in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Austin. The company also manages a half-dozen non-Proper-branded hotels in Southern California.

“We strive to create an experience that is anchored to its location and creates long-term lasting value that supports the local community,” Proper CEO Brad Korzen said in a statement.


The under-construction MSG Sphere at The Venetian, seen on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, is scheduled to open next year. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

MSG Sphere operators announce initial ‘Sphere Experiences’ entertainment presentations

New York-based Madison Square Garden (MSG) Entertainment Corp. said shows produced for the nearly $2.2 billion MSG Sphere would be dubbed “Sphere Experiences,” and produced by artists in collaboration with the company’s Burbank, California-based studios.

The initial show will launch in October with “Postcard from Earth,” a one-hour presentation that will be shown multiple times per day. 

The Sphere includes a 580,000-square-foot exosphere with an outdoor programmable LED screen that will be installed by the end of April. Inside the planned 17,500-seat venue, a 160,000-square-foot interior LED display will wrap around the audience for what MSG executives have termed an “immersive visual environment.”

The venue is expected to open in September — five years after its groundbreaking — with a performance by legendary rock band U2.

“Sphere provides a new medium for directors, artists, and brands to create experiences that cannot be seen or told anywhere else, and Sphere Experiences are just one of the ways we will use the venue’s technologies to engage the senses and transport audiences to places both real and imagined,” MSG Entertainment CEO James Dolan said in a statement.

Last week, MSG Entertainment said it would pay almost $69 million to settle lawsuits filed by company stockholders over a corporate reorganization. The company is the developer behind the MSG Sphere in Las Vegas, which has seen cost increases during the development of the entertainment venue being built behind The Venetian.

According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company will pay $48.5 million to settle one lawsuit and $20.5 million to settle another case, both of which were filed in the Court of Chancery in Delaware.

MSG Entertainment is in the process of a spin-off that would create two distinct companies for shareholders: MSG Entertainment, a live entertainment company, and MSG Sphere Corp., which would be comprised of the company’s MSG Sphere, MSG Networks and Tao Group Hospitality businesses.


Attendees gather near an IGT PlaySports sports betting kiosk at the IGT booth during G2E on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

IGT expands sports betting to New Mexico, extends operations in Rhode Island

Gaming equipment provider International Game Technology (IGT) landed its first sports betting technology contract in New Mexico at the Santa Ana Star Casino.

IGT said last week it installed its sports wagering platform and betting kiosks and is now providing odds-making services to the Pueblo of Santa Ana tribe, which previously used another sports betting company’s technology.

The tribe was the first entity to launch sports betting in New Mexico in 2018, five months after a Supreme Court ruling opened the U.S. to legal and regulated sports betting.

"Santa Ana Star Casino Hotel knew that adding sports betting would enhance the gaming experiences available to its patrons when it opened its sportsbook several years ago,” IGT President of Sports Betting Joe Asher said in a statement.

The Santa Ana Star, which has 204 hotel rooms and 1,600 slot machines, is roughly 26 miles north of Albuquerque, the state’s largest metropolitan area.

IGT, which has offices in Las Vegas and a manufacturing center in Reno, provides sports betting technology to more than 80 casinos in the U.S. and Canada.

On Monday, IGT signed a three-year contract extension with the Rhode Island Lottery to continue providing sports betting technology to Bally's Twin River Lincoln Casino Resort and Bally's Tiverton Casino & Hotel. The technology also powers the Sportsbook Rhode Island mobile app.

Rhode Island was one of the first U.S. lotteries to launch sports betting. Lottery Director Mark Furcolo said IGT has “invested significant resources” to upgrade the platform. He said the upgrades allow Rhode Island to “remain competitive” in a regional sports betting market where neighboring Massachusetts recently launched the activity.


Action at a live game at The Pass Casino in Henderson on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Gaming workforce is 61 percent minority, almost 20 percent higher than the U.S. average

A study conducted by the American Gaming Association (AGA) found the industry’s workforce is more racially diverse than the broader hospitality industry and the total U.S. workforce.

The study, conducted as part of the Washington, D.C.-based trade organization’s Environmental, Social, and Governance initiative, found that 61 percent of gaming industry employees are minorities. More than two dozen of the AGA’s membership organizations participated in the study, which included information from manufacturers, commercial casino companies and tribal gaming operators.

The 61 percent minority workforce figure is higher than the 52 percent rate for the hospitality industry as a whole and 42 percent of the total U.S. workforce. Hispanic employees made up 23 percent of the gaming workforce while 19 percent of the gaming workforce was Black.

In a statement, the AGA said the minority workforce figures also flowed into gaming’s leadership pipeline, where minorities made up 45 percent of first or mid-level managers and 43 percent of professionals.

According to the study, the gaming industry workforce is 48 percent female, in line with the national workforce figure. However, female representation drops off at more senior-level job classifications.

AGA CEO Bill Miller said in a statement the report showed the strides gaming has made in workforce diversity, but there are areas in need of improvement.

“The AGA will use this research to engage our membership on how we can collectively advance [diversity, equity and inclusion] in gaming in the months and years to come,” Miller said.


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

Quotable:

Via press release from Downtown Reno Partnership

In a nod to the monthly “First Friday” celebrations in downtown Las Vegas, Reno is launching “Downtown Tuesdays” starting May 9. The monthly events at Partnership Plaza, 40 E. 4th St., will feature live music, food trucks and yard games. The Downtown Reno Partnership views the monthly event as a way to bring residents to the area to experience the city’s core and culture.

"We hope that Downtown Tuesdays will become a staple of the Reno community and that residents and visitors alike will come together to celebrate the unique culture and energy of our downtown area.”

-          Neoma Jardon, executive director, Downtown Reno Partnership

Via research report from Eilers & Krejcik Gaming

Social gaming developer Savvy Games Group, which is wholly owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, acquired Los Angeles-based mobile gaming publisher and developer Scopely for $4.9 billion, making it one of the largest deals in the history of the social gaming industry. According to Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, the Saudi Arabian company has spent more than $1 billion investing in some of the world’s largest noncasino social gaming businesses.

“Savvy aims to bring the gaming industry to the Middle East and has publicly stated goals of establishing 250 game companies and creating 39,000 jobs. These efforts have been supported by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Politically, this and similar moves have faced criticism due to accusations that Saudi Arabia is in part attempting to distract from its human rights record.”

-          Adam Krejcik and Matt Kaufmann, Eilers & Krejcik Gaming

Via Spirit Airlines press release

Spirit Airlines announced a new nonstop service between Harry Reid International Airport and Charleston, South Carolina. The flights will begin in September. The route is part of an expansion by Florida-based Spirit from Charleston International Airport to three other East Coast destinations — Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Newark, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

"It's also exciting to announce new service to Las Vegas, which is unserved from Charleston today and in addition to being a popular destination provides a gateway to many other Western destinations in our Network."

-          John Kirby, vice president, Spirit Airlines

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