Reno's Struggling Gaming Market Casts Light on Indian Casinos' Success


Northern California's Indian casinos are devastating the market in Reno, Nevada, reported the Sacramento Bee.

The $300,000 laser-light show at one of Reno's glitziest gaming destinations, Silver Legacy Resort, attracted tourists in droves when it opened 17 years ago. But now the casino is fighting to avoid default on its $142.8 million bond, and its plight sheds light on Northern California's Indian gaming boom.

According to Ken Adams, an industry consultant in Reno, Thunder Valley Casino Resort, owned and operated by the United Auburn Indian Community (UAIC) in Lincoln, California, is the main reason for Silver Legacy's financial woes.

While the ailing economy has hurt Silver Legacy's business, "the real story is Thunder Valley--it's that simple," Adams told the Sacramento Bee. "Thunder Valley and its peers took away a significant portion of the revenue from Reno."

Thunder Valley's casino debuted in 2003, and its hotel opened in 2010, Doug Elmets, spokesperson for the casino and the tribe, told Indian Country Today Media Network. He credits the casino's allure in part to its ideal location between San Francisco and Reno, below the snow line, "where no chains are required" on car tires.

Among its other advantages include knowing how to appeal to its target demographic. "We obviously know what games they like and when they like to play," Elmets said. "We know what promotions are most appealing to them, and we know how they like to receive information—whether digitally or over the phone, by text message or direct mail or by conventional mail."

Plus the casino offers amenities not available in other regions.

"There are about 5 million people within a 100-mile radius of Thunder Valley. The competition exists, but the casino is very aggressive and creative in its advertising and marketing strategies," Elmets said, highlighting the casino's digital marketing, TV commercials, and the "enormous amount" it spends on outdoor advertising.

Elmets pointed to Thunder Valley's four diamond-rated hotel by Triple AAA, as well as the "summer concert series at its outdoor amphitheater," which debuted as a seasonal structure in its casino parking lot on July 1, 2010.

The real reason Thunder Valley has dominated the casino market is because it constantly strives to stay on top of its game, according to Elmets.

"As it relates to Reno and South Lake Tahoe, it easy for them to cast blame on Native American casinos," Elmets said. "But the reality is that they need look no further than the mirror to realize that they were not and did not modernize to meet competition."

According to David Keyser, chairman of the UAIC, Thunder Valley's business has been an economic stimulus to the tribe, supporting sovereignty and essential member services. "Thunder Valley casino is one of several business enterprises that we own, and it allows our tribe to be economically self sufficient while at the same time providing health, education, and housing opportunities for our current members and for many generations in the future," Keyser said in a statement prepared for ICTMN.