Locals business dominates Carson City’s gaming sector
Gaming remains a significant segment of Carson City’s economy.
But unlike Las Vegas, Reno-Sparks, and Lake Tahoe, Carson City’s casinos are much more dependent on locals than on visitors. This is reflected in the decline in gaming revenues over the past few years. According to Mike Lawton, Senior Research Analyst at the Nevada Gaming Control Board, the decline showed some signs of easing last year. The table accompanying this article shows the year-to-year decline in total gaming win.
While gaming adds to the city’s overall economy, its contribution to city tax revenues is less important. Carson City Finance Manager Nick Providenti says the bulk of gaming taxes go to the state. However, the city does levy business fees on gaming establishments to the tune of around $650,000 annually. Add to that the portion of the gaming license fees on slot machines that the state remits to the city, around $145,000, and the grand total is about $800,000.
Among the many gaming establishments in Carson City, the three largest properties are the Casino Fandango, the Gold Dust West, and the Carson Nugget.
Court Cardinal is the general manager of Casino Fandango, the second largest private employer in Carson City with 350 employees.
Cardinal opened the operation 11 years ago with 17,000 square feet of floor space; it now occupies 85,000 square feet. Boasting the largest gaming floor in the city, Casino Fandango now is home to 700 slot machines, table games, and five restaurants.
“Carson is a hard market,” said Cardinal. “Our clients are mostly locals from within a 25-30 mile radius.” He noted that people still have money to spend on entertainment, and his property provides gaming, dining, movie theaters, and the Marriott hotel bolstering the gaming revenue. His customers are loyal, voting the property “Best of” in all gaming categories the past few years.
“But if the economy dips again, or the margin tax passes, all bets are off.” The proposed margins tax on the November ballot in Nevada is one of the challenges he worries most about, along with navigating the Affordable Care Act and potential increases in health costs for employee insurance.
Gold Dust West General Manager Jonathon Boulware is concerned not only about the drop in gaming win, but the fall-off in slot volume.
Boulware is a gaming veteran, in the business since graduating from Stanford in 1990. His work history includes management positions at Las Vegas properties such as the MGM Mirage, Station Casinos, and others. He took over the helm at Gold Dust West six years ago.
Boulware sees the biggest challenge to be the balance between controlling costs and maintaining the physical property, employee morale, and customer service levels.
“The customer experience is the key to this business,” he said. “Our customers want friendly staff and good customer service.”
He is chairman of the Carson City Visitors Bureau, and as a result has a broader vision than just the gaming piece.
“We are diversifying the city’s marketing approach, emphasizing sports tourism, the V&T, the historic aspect, all that Carson City has to offer,” he says.
His property’s marketing strategy is similar, reaching out to appeal to bowlers, RV enthusiasts, car show people, and other targeted groups.
The Carson Nugget is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, and simultaneously going through an ownership change. Tim Morrissey is the director of casino operations at the property, and he is excited about the changes taking place.
A graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno, Morrissey has been with the Nugget for two years after learning the business at the Sands and Gold Ranch properties in Reno. Although he is well aware of the gaming trends, he sees light at the end of the tunnel.
“We have seen indications of recovery in the local economy, and we think gaming will recover along with it,” he said. In the meantime they are investing in improvements both gaming and food products, and they recently held a job fair to hire 20-30 new employees. “Our major focus is to increase our market share by providing the best guest service, promotions, and entertainment,” said Morrissey. The Nugget is also bringing in headliner entertainment, including the Sesquicentennial Steam Punk Ball on Nevada Day.
“We are taking steps to stay relevant in a changing gaming market,” Morrissey added.
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.