Rough ride for casinos in Reno

If you think Las Vegas has it rough, try operating a casino in Reno.

Gaming revenue has declined 11 of the past 15 months in the “Biggest Little City in the World.” In the first four months of 2008, Reno’s gaming win is $224 million, down 6.5 percent from 2007. By comparison, Strip gaming revenue during the same time period is $2.195 billion, down 2.4 percent for the year.

Things aren’t getting better.

The U.S. Bowling Congress took away an annual four-month event for a year. Coupled with the challenged national and local economies, prospects are not looking up for Reno.

Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Bill Lerner said Reno resorts still derive the majority of their revenue from gaming, roughly 56 percent. He said growth plans could give Reno residents and visitors different choices.

“We would expect a shift in the revenue mix toward the nongaming side as some existing facilities are expanding with a greater focus on nongaming amenities,” Lerner said.

The Atlantis may renovate its casino and hotel while the Peppermill may add a tower. The key to Reno’s rebirth might be Station Casinos, which owns sites near the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in southern Reno, across from The Summit shopping mall.

Lerner said the Las Vegas-based company could build projects similar to the Green Valley Ranch Resort or Aliante Station.

Station Casinos spokeswoman Lori Nelson said no specific timeline has been set for a move to Reno.

“We’re very bullish on the Reno market and look forward to entering it when the time is right,” Nelson said.

***

Boyd Gaming Corp. brought out celebrities for the opening of the Water Club in Atlantic City. The $400 million, 800-room hotel, is adjacent to the Borgata, which is a joint venture with MGM Mirage.

The new hotel was lauded by Wall Street as Atlantic City’s first true boutique hotel.

“The significance to Boyd is that the Water Club will help make a successful property, the Borgata, even more successful,” Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Andrew Zarnett told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Comedian Jimmy Fallon of “Saturday Night Live” and actress Molly Sims and actor Kyle McLaughlin from the television shows “Twin Peaks” and “Sex and the City,” attended the opening.

The Water Club brought the Borgata’s total investment to $1.7 billion.

***

A minimerger of sorts has shaken up the Strip restaurant realm. Celebrity chef Todd English, who operates Olives at the Bellagio, brought aboard fellow celebrity chef Sam Hazen, who established Tao inside The Venetian.

Hazen will run new concept development and work on select projects for English.

Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Sundays. E-mail him at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or call 702-477-3871.

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