A nutty decision pays off

The consensus nearly four decades ago when Don Carano was planning a small casino property on family-owned land north of the Union Pacific railroad tracks that would open in 1973: He's nuts.

The casino properties in Reno at that time were located south side of the train tracks: Harrah's, Harold's Club, the Primadonna, the Pioneer Inn, the Mapes, the Riverside.

"They more or less said nobody is going to walk across the railroad tracks to go to a casino," says Gregg Carano, a youngster of 13 years when his father opened the Eldorado Casino.

Decades later, the Eldorado spans two city blocks, while most of the grand casinos of Reno's past either have been torn down or shuttered.

Carano's original 260-room Eldorado Casino sat on an approximately 200- by 100-foot lot on the corner of Fourth and North Virginia streets. The $6 million property included about 20,000 square feet of casino space with a coffee shop, steakhouse and cabaret lounge.

"That's how we started out," says Gregg Carano, one of five Carano children involved with daily operations of the Eldorado or the Silver Legacy, a Carano family partnership with MGM/Mirage.

Gregg Carano was a seventh grader when the Eldorado opened. Today he's in charge of all the food and beverage offerings at the casino properties. He attended Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York in the late 1970s, and later attended a hotel/restaurant management school in Miami.

When the Eldorado opened, Carano hung drapes, installed television sets and made up beds in preparation for the property's grand opening. On the Eldorado's first night in businesses Memorial Day weekend in 1973 he ran a tiny gift shop.

"It seemed like all I sold that night was cigars and cigarettes. Everybody wanted a cigar to celebrate the opening of the Eldorado," he says.

Don Carano was a partner in Boomtown Hotel and Casino with Bob Cashell, and also was a partner in the former Pioneer Inn. The elder Carano had no prior gaming experience, but as a lawyer he'd represented Bally Gaming, a top manufacturer of casino slots and pinball machines.

"He always had a love for the service industry and for people in the hospitality business," Gregg Carano says.

The opening of the Eldorado was followed by a few years later by Circus Circus Hotel and Casino, and the Carano property benefited from tourists headed north to check out the giant clown at Circus Circus. The Caranos' joined forces with MGM/Mirage, owner of Circus Circus, to open the 38-story, 1,700-room Silver Legacy Casino between the two properties in June of 1985.

"As soon as they put that 110-foot clown up there, all of a sudden everybody started walking from the Mapes, Riverside, Primadonna, Harold's Club to go see that clown," Carano says.

Watching the steady stream of tourists heading north, Don Carano stumped on ideas to lure people into his property. His idea, Gregg Carano says, was to get people to come to the Eldorado through its food offerings. Today the property has six restaurants, including Roxy, Brew Brothers, and La Strada.

During the early years of the Eldorado's history, Don Carano leased out the casino to an independent operator. After a few years, he resumed management of the property and still works as CEO and president. The Carano family has been in Reno since the 1890s.

Today the Eldorado encompasses 807 rooms spread across three towers, and the family also owns an Eldorado property in Shreveport, La.

One of the reasons for the casino's longevity, Carano says, is the work ethic of its founder.

"Employees over the years say they have never worked for anyone they respected more or enjoyed working for than Don Carano," say Gregg Carano. "My dad started working at a young age and paid his way through college and law school, and more or less has made everything you see with the casino business.

"My dad is an owner for the people. When you have a good owner/boss, the employees are comfortable in their jobs."


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