Bourbon Square solidifies Sparks gaming |

Bourbon Square solidifies Sparks gaming

Rob Sabo

The early August opening of Bourbon Square Casino at the site of the former Silver Club on Victorian Avenue won’t exactly set the gaming market in Sparks on fire, but turning the lights back on at a long dark property benefits the entire community, gaming experts say.

Nevada Casino Holdings LLC, which owns and operates small casino properties in Winnemucca, Hawthorne and Elko, has worked the past several months to open Bourbon Square in time to capitalize on Hot August Nights events held at Victorian Square. Nevada Casino Holdings rebranded the old Silver Club, which closed in 2009, and filled more than 100 positions to ready Bourbon Square for re-entry into the Sparks gaming market.

Bourbon Square is well-positioned to capitalize on special events in Sparks, but it remains to be seen if the property has any luck siphoning off local gamblers from competing properties.

The twin towers of John Ascuaga’s Nugget have dominated the Sparks gaming landscape for decades. The Nugget relies heavily on a full slate of special events such as Hot August Nights, Street Vibrations and the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cookoff to boost gaming revenue — events that also provide a significant windfall to smaller properties such as Rail City and Western Village. However, those properties not only survived the recession but have thrived thanks to a strong local following.

Western Village and Rail City are profitable “locals” casinos. Rail City owner Affinity Gaming clearly signaled the viability of the property at the west end of Victorian Avenue when it kept Rail City in its portfolio but divested several other northern Nevada properties, including the Sands Regency and Gold Ranch in February 2013. Rail City first opened as the Plantation in 1967.

Bill Hughes, director of marketing operations for the Peppermill, which owns Western Village, says the longevity of the property at the east end of Sparks — it opened in 1987 as an extension of Sierra Sids truck stop — is due largely to management’s push to attract and keep local gamblers.

“We have a very strong local customer base, and they have been coming to Western Village for years,” Hughes says. “That is the majority of our business there.”

Hughes says Spark’s gamblers favor Western Village because of its strong customer service and gaming rewards programs and the value in its food offerings. The steakhouse was rated best in Sparks on Yelp, Hughes says, and the property also recently returned its Mexican offering to the popular Poncho and Willies theme it had in place for years.

“We consistently provide a great value for our guests in our restaurants and on the casino floor,” Hughes says. “We continue to upgrade the property — we invested in an air filtration system and remodeled Pancho and Willies and the café. All of those things not only are attractors but things that also help retain business.”

Though Bourbon Square sits adjacent to the Nugget, its re-opening should prove beneficial to all the gaming properties in Sparks, says Stephen Ascauga, chief operating officer of the Nugget. The community benefits by having yet another business open its doors on Victorian Avenue.

“It hasn’t felt right having the Silver Club closed for more than four years, and seeing it open back up as Bourbon Square Casino is a step in the right direction for our area,” Ascauaga says. “It has positive implications for the future of gaming here in northern Nevada.”

Gaming revenues in Sparks have suffered with the rest of northern Nevada and the state. The gaming win from April to May increased a hair to $10.4 million, but the gaming win in Sparks for the 12 months ended May 31 was down 2.82 percent to $119 million, the Nevada State Gaming Control Board reports. By way of comparison, the gaming win for the 12 months ended May 31, 2006 was $170 million.

A dark property is always a negative for any area, Western Village’s Hughes says, and Bourbon Square’s reopening helps re-establish the brand of Sparks and adds another destination for tourists. Nevada Casino Holdings spruced up the property with new paint and have eliminated much of the property’s former aesthetics. The new owner hasn’t yet announced plans to open the hotel behind Bourbon Square, however.

“We need to continue to polish the image of Sparks and Reno as a place to visit and keep making sure we continue to maintain our properties so people see them as a nice destination and good place to come to,” Hughes says.

Mark Nichols, professor of economics at University of Nevada, Reno and the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, says Bourbon Square’s reopening does show positive momentum for gaming in Sparks. The property eliminates a void in the Sparks market, and larger clusters of gaming properties tend to draw bigger crowds, Nichols says.

The key to Bourbon Square’s success, he adds, will be its ability to create a large and loyal local following. Bourbon Square also is well positioned to capitalize on any overflow from conventions at John Ascuaga’s Nugget.

“It is good news; it shows that somebody has confidence that this market can support another casino,” Nichols says.