A contrarian’s view of Indian casinos
You think that Indian casino along
Interstate 80 near Sacramento will spell
the doom of Reno’s gaming business?
Meet Ferenc Szony, contrarian.
Szony, president and chief executive
officer of The Sands Regent in downtown
Reno, isn’t exactly an uninterested observer.
But this is the case he made with analysts
and investors last week as The Sands
trotted out its financial results:
The casino under construction by the
Auburn tribe will be largely a locals casino.
It won’t draw destination travelers,
not even those looking for a weekend getaway,
because it won’t have much in the
way of lodging.
Further reducing the Indian casino’s
competitive edge, he said, is the stateimposed
limit of 2,000 slots at the facility.
In the same breath, Szony acknowledged
that the Auburn facility will be overseen
by Station Casinos of Las Vegas, a firm
he praised as the nation’s premier operator
of locals casinos.
But what about all the other Indian
casinos in northern California? Szony
contended many of those properties
undertook significant upgrades in
recent months and have succeeded in
Californians back for a second look.
That means, he said, that the Reno
market already has felt most of the hit
that it will take from Indian gaming.
Indian gaming, he said, played a part in
his company’s loss of $188,628 or 4
cents a share during is fiscal year that
ended on June 30.
But bigger problems, he said, were
posed by the lack of an American Bowling
Congress event in Reno this year (the
Sands big with bowlers, especially valueconscious
women bowlers) and the weakness
of the northern California economy.
The bowlers will be back next year, and
Szony also feels good that the economic
weakness means more folks are driving for
weekend getaways than flying for weeklong
That’s good news for the Sands, to be
sure, but it’s even better news at the Gold
Ranch Casino and RV Park the company
purchased in June.
Gold Ranch, tucked against the
California border along I-80, has all the
benefits of any border facility: It sells cheap
gas to California residents headed home, it
sells California lottery tickets to Nevada
residents driving up from Reno, and it
markets a sports book to Truckee and
North Lake Tahoe residents who don’t
want to drive an additional 10 miles to bet
on NFL games.
In fact, Gold Ranch pumps 600,000 to
700,000 gallons of gas a month. That’s
about six times the amount pumped by a
typical gas station, and Gold Ranch typically
ranks as one of the best-selling
ARCO stations in the country.
And it ranks third among sellers of
California lottery tickets, said Rob
Medeiros, the former general manager of
Gold Ranch who now is chief operating
officer of The Sands Regent.
The trick, Szony said, is to get those gas
purchasers to stay long enough to play the
300 slots at Gold Ranch. A new RV park
at the facility, meanwhile, seeks to attract
visitors who want to spend time in the
casino rather than their camp units.
Because the company’s acquisition of
Gold Ranch came so near the end of its
fiscal year, Gold Ranch didn’t have much
effect on the year’s financials for the
For the fourth quarter, the company
reported a loss of $26,000, or a penny a
share, on revenues of $9.99 million. That
compares with net income of $710,000, or
16 cents a share, on revenues of $9.77 million
in the same period a year earlier.
Szony told investors the company spent
about $4 million in the past year to renovate
the 850-room Sands. He said the
company expects to reduce its capital
expenditures at the downtown facility this
year. Instead, most of its focus for capital
improvements during this year will be at
the Gold Ranch property.
“The thing that I like most about entrepreneurship is I can work toward something that I’m passionate about and be at the forefront of the change that I want to see happen,” said Priyanka Senthil, a senior at Davidson Academy in Reno and co-founder of startup company AUesome.