Reno’s favorite, the Gold ‘N Silver, is at the center of a debate By Ken Adams, CDC Gaming Reports February 21, 2022 at 4:34 pm Punxsutawney Phil had just seen his shadow and retreated when the news broke: The Gold ‘N Silver Inn sold to Jacobs Entertainment for $6.3 million. The owner of the restaurant, Jeffry Paine, said he leased the business back; the lease allows Paine to operate the restaurant for two years. Jacobs bought the land as part of his master plan for the area. Jacobs Entertainment now owns about 20 city blocks between his Gold Dust West Casino and the Sands Regency Casino. The company has been acquiring the land since its purchase of the Sands in 2017. The end game is said to be a billion-dollar district of housing, retail, and art bookended by the two casinos. Jeffrey Jacobs is not new to Reno. His company bought the Gold Dust West from the founder, John Cavanaugh, 20 years ago. According to public statements, the buildout of Jacobs’s Neon Line development will take another 20 years or more. Jacobs is enthusiastic about Reno and his district. Reno has not been quite as enthusiastic about Jacobs and his plans. Thus far, there is little actual construction by which to judge the plans; the company has spent most of its time and effort in tearing down existing buildings. That has led to criticism, as many of the buildings were motels that housed low-income and at-risk populations. Reno is in a housing crisis and badly needs all levels of housing, but the most critical need is for low-income housing. The motels were old, from the days before large hotel-resorts. In that era, motels housed the visiting tourists. When those people moved into the big hotels, the motels converted to weekly rentals. Jacobs is planning on building residential properties, but not low-income. Finding a place for those people is a top priority of city government. Reno may even buy two or three former hotel-casinos and convert them into housing. Further criticisms of Jacobs center around the loss of other long-time pieces of Reno’s history, namely, houses that while not exactly historical are very much a part of Reno’s history. Each house that is torn down is seen as a loss of a piece of Reno, its history and soul. That is the sentiment that met the announcement of the sale of the Gold ‘N Silver. Oh no, not the Gold ‘N Silver. The debate is common is small downs. Developers want a fresh start and a new business model. Conservative-minded local citizens want to keep historic buildings, but usually lack a viable commercial plan. In defense of those who want to keep a treasure piece of Reno’s past, the Gold ‘N Silver does occupy a unique position in Reno culture. It has long been the home of the city’s political leaders. They meet there regulatory to have breakfast and discuss the city’s destiny. It is a regular place for business lunches, easy to access with simple straightforward meals, reasonable prices, and a relaxed atmosphere. It is also a place for a traditional last meal with friends and family before they leave town. For 60 plus years, it has been a place to go after graduations and sporting events and for holiday dinners. When the sale was announced, friends and customers protested loudly. Jeff Paine was pleased at the demonstrations of support and loyalty. But he was clear in his intent. The time had come to retire. Paine is nearing 70 years old and ready to enjoy the rest of his life. On his Facebook page, he posted: “In my 33 years of owning the Gold ‘N Silver (and my father’s ownership with the Floyd Nye family for almost 30 years before my arrival), not one single person has ever come to me and said, ‘I love the Gold ‘N Silver. I want to buy it and I won’t change a thing. And I’ll pay you your asking price!’ It has never happened!” That is true, but only partially. The property has an unlimited gaming license associated with it. That license allows the operator to add as many slot machines as he wishes without having to build a hotel. In the 1980s and 1990s and even into the 21st century, that license was viewed as being a very valuable asset. Paine put a $14 million to $15 million price tag on it. There were offers, but none of the potential buyers was willing to pay his price. With the spread of gaming and the subsequent decline of Reno tourism, that license has lost most of its value. The $6 million sale price was based on the property, not the gaming license. Jacobs has said he could possibly put a non-smoking casino on the site. Actually, he said he would keep the building and use it for that purpose. It is right across the street from his Gold Dust West, which permits smoking. He could offer both smoking and non-smoking gaming adjacent to each other. It could work. The press is saying it would be the first non-smoking casino in the area, but that is not true; the Ponderosa Hotel-Casino, which opened in 1967, was non-smoking for a short time. It was not successful and quickly switched to allowing smoking. That did not work either. Possibly, it was too far from the other casinos, or its name was attached to the 1960s’ television series “Bonanza,” or it might even have been due to the non-smoking history. Whatever the cause, it closed, and today the building houses a strip club. The attitude toward smoking has changed a great deal since the days of “Bonanza” and the Ponderosa. Approximately 40 percent of Americans smoked in the 1970s. Today, it is 14 percent and dropping. The timing might be right this time. That will not save Jacobs from criticism; only completed and successful projects can do that. In the meantime, converting the Gold ‘N Silver into a non-smoking casino could create some positive vibes. Tearing it down will not, but there is no housing associated with the property, so at least he will not be accused of throwing low-income people into homelessness. Jacobs faces a problem common to developers: A sizable number of citizens want to keep the old things and resist the new ones. If his plans are viable, he will build things that will take their place in the city’s history.