John L. Smith: Rural Nevada Has Much To Offer

Downtown Reno’s longtime casino district continues to evolve.

Caesars Entertainment and VICI Properties announced its selling the iconic Harrah’s Casino and Hotel to CAI Investments for a price tag of $50 million.

The buyer announced its converting Harrah’s into a nongaming resort.

The change will leave Reno without a Harrah’s property for the first time in 83 years.

“It really is an amazing end of an era," said KNPR contributor John L. Smith, "First of all for Harrah’s itself. This is an iconic brand in the gaming industry from generations past. That 83 year period goes back to when Bill Harrah took over a bingo hall in, I think, ’37, or something like that.”

Smith said that Bill Harrah was a corporate guy at a time when the state's gaming industry really needed corporate culture. The move isn't just an end of an era but an indication of where Reno is going.

“This is Reno going through its redefinition of really who it is,” Smith said.

The Biggest Little City is moving from slots and table games to other things. 

Smith said he saw that transition in three different kinds of resorts in the city. There's the Nugget, which Smith describes with admiration as the "seedy element," with its legendary Awful Awful Burger and low rolling for low rollers atmosphere.

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Next, the properties owned by El Dorado and last is the new Whitney Peak, which Smith said is catering to a younger clientele. 

“If the Nugget is the ancient, old school and Harrah’s is going out and the El Dorado crowd with the Silver Legacy and Circus Circus and those kinds of traditional casinos… then the Whitney, I think, represents a kind of future for Reno, one that is not gaming-centric,” he said.

Smith said Whitney Peak offers a nice restaurant, concert venue and an indoor-outdoor rock climbing space.

“I felt really old at the Whitney Peak,” he said.

But it could represent a new way to appeal to younger tourists that may work in Las Vegas, Smith said.

Smith didn't just hit Reno. He did a whirlwind tour of the state with stops at Carson City, Fallon, Middlegate, Gabbs, Tonopah and Beatty.

“What jumps out at me right away is in that whole region housing prices are jumping, construction in places that don’t normally have a lot of it necessarily. Fallon is growing and a lot of the communities outside of the Reno-Carson area,” he said.

The expansion of business in the Reno-Sparks area is pushing growth outside of the city limits as well, but that has made housing difficult to find.

If you were wondering where Middlegate is, Smith notes it is mostly a bar and grill in a widened area of Highway 50, aptly named the Loneliest Road in America.

“It’s been there longer than Las Vegas has been Las Vegas; however, it hasn’t grown like Las Vegas,“ he said.

While some people see The Big Empty, Smith sees a lot more.

“It’s just beautiful and peaceful,” he said.

His tour of the state outside the urban centers also took him to the seat of Nye County. 

Reno isn't the only place in Nevada seeing new life come to old properties. In Tonopah, some old hotels are getting new makeovers as well. Smith said the Cline family has spruced up the Mizpah Hotel, several restaurants and bars, and is currently working on the Belvada.

“We talk about the Nevada adventure… a lot of mining, the ranching industry is still big in the rurals, but really Nevada and tourism are synonymous and I think as the rural embrace that idea I think their money ahead as time goes on,” Smith said.


John L Smith, KNPR contributor 

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