Wall Street $ report ignites Reno/Southern Nevada rivalry

Jan 8, 2002 12:24 AM


Reno and Las Vegas have seen their long-standing rivalry for economic bragging rights rekindled by, of all things, a Wall Street Journal article.

The Robert Gavin-authored piece credited Reno with an economy that is coasting due to recent effort in attracting new, non-gaming business. Las Vegas, on the other hand, has been getting battered in the recession and tourism slowdown caused in large part by the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

“Over the past decade, while Las Vegas boomed with new casinos, hotels and tourist attractions, the Reno area pursued a less glitzy economic-development strategy: diversification,” Gavin wrote. “Instead of high rollers, the region sought and landed manufacturing, high tech, and financial service companies.”

Statistics printed in the Wall Street Journal article listed Reno’s unemployment rate at 4.2 percent, well below both the national average (5.7) and the current Las Vegas rate (6.5). The Las Vegas-area economy includes 818,000 workers, compared to 188,000 in the Reno area.

Chuck Alvey, president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, was pleased with the Wall Street article.

“This is a great testimony to the variety of factors that helped minimize the recession’s impact here,” Alvey said. “At the top of that list is a broadening economic base, which is the heart of our efforts in economic diversification. This is a wonderful win for the region to be featured so prominently in this prestigious publication.”

The Las Vegas reaction was quite different.

“Southern Nevada’s diversification efforts have actually exceeded those of Reno, considering the growth that’s occurred in both cities over the past decade,” said Somer Hollingsworth, president and CEO of the Nevada Development Authority. “The story is a bunch of malarkey.”

Hollingsworth said the Las Vegas community has done a phenomenal job in bringing non-gaming companies into Southern Nevada.

“If what happened Sept. 11 had happened back in 1992, you would have seen huge layoffs not only in gaming, but in what we classify as non-gaming businesses.”

N.M track expands

Sunland Park, in southern New Mexico, is finishing up a $15 million renovation and expansion project.

The improvements include $11.5 million for the construction of a two-story addition to the casino and to buy another 300 slot machines. The legislature voted in 1998 to allow the state’s four racetracks to open casinos with up to 300 slot machines at each track.

The number of slot machines has since doubled now that the Interior Department has approved new gambling compacts between the state and most of the Indian pueblos that operate casinos in New Mexico.

“We bet on the come (line),” Sunland Park general manager Harold Payne said, admitting that the horse track took a chance that the Interior Department would sign the new compacts.

Fifteen of this year’s stakes races at Sunland will have purses exceeding $100,000.

Payouts by paper

Instead of a pile of coins, gamblers at EZ Pay devices in one Indiana casino will receive a printed ticket that shows what they have won.

A Michigan City casino is testing the new pay method, with the Indiana Gaming Commission closely watching the outcome. The technology is allowing the casino to move toward coinless machines as a substitute to using coins as the method of payment.

Brian Godsey, slot operations manager for Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, first saw the technology demonstrated at a gambling conference in October of 2000 in Las Vegas.

“I wanted it as soon as I saw it,” Godsey said. “I knew what kind of dividend it could pay for us because it’s just been very difficult, an uphill struggle to service those games, particularly the nickel games.”

The EZ Pay machines credit the player on jackpots up to $599, allowing play to continue. If the player wanted to move to another slot machine, the person would punch a button, get a ticket and either use it in another machine or cash out.

Bama shuns gaming

An Associated Press survey found that a majority of legislators were opposed to allowing dog tracks to offer video gambling machines with unlimited cash prizes.

“It’s controversial and we legislators don’t want to take up anything controversial close to an election,” said Sen. George Clay, who has the Macon County dog track in his district.

Clay, a democrat, said video gambling legislation is dead until after this year’s state elections.

NY gaming challenged

A coalition of anti-casino activists plan to file a lawsuit later this month to challenge the expansion of gambling in New York State.

According to the group’s lawyers, the suit alleges that New York Gov. George Pataki would be violating the state constitution and state law by implementing the terms of a measure he signed in October.

The new law allows six more casinos equipped with slot machines, video lottery machines at eight tracks and New York’s participation in multistate lotteries.

Richard Ripkin, deputy attorney general, said he believes the bill “can be successfully defended if and when a challenge is brought.”