Growing Competition Forces Major Reno-Tahoe Resorts To Upgrade

Major Reno-Tahoe resorts are pumping millions of dollars into expansion and improvement projects as competition in the gambling industry heats up.

Local hotel-casinos plan to spend nearly $800 million in upgrades and expansions in the next year, according to the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority.

Resort owners said they must improve their properties because of the growing threat of tribal gambling in California and plans for new local hotel-casinos.

"It is imperative (to reinvest) if you want to stay competitive with other regions," said John Farahi, chief executive officer of the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno.

Farahi's resort is investing $50 million in an expansion that will include renovation of rooms, new restaurants and a larger casino area.

Bill Eadington, director of the Institute to Study Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno, agreed casinos
must improve or perish.

He noted Reno has lost about a third of its gambling market since the rise of tribal casinos in 2000.

"We are in a situation where competition is bringing about contraction in the market," Eadington told officials.

"For the future of tourism in Reno, it is going to have to transition, become more attractive."

The Peppermill Hotel Casino has embarked on Reno's largest expansion, a $400 million venture that includes construction of a 600-room, all-suite hotel tower, a sports book, and new pools, shops, restaurants and convention space.

Boomtown Reno will invest more than $80 million in upgrades, while John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks will pursue a $12 million overhaul of all rooms and suites in its East Tower.

The Cal Neva Resort Spa and Casino at north Lake Tahoe, once owned by Frank Sinatra, is preparing for a $60 million to $70 million renovation.

Not to be outdone, the Grand Sierra Resort - Reno's largest gambling property - plans to build the nation's largest indoor water park and a 48-story condo tower.

The Grand Sierra already has undergone about $90 million in upgrades, according to the convention authority.

"I think we are going to have a race to see who is the best," said Tom Schrade, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Sierra.

"We came here looking to build a world-class destination resort. This property is in lockstep with city fathers who have talked about re-inventing Reno as America's adventure place," he added.