The quiet death of Harrah’s Reno; it deserved a better departure By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports June 20, 2020 at 4:00 am Sadly, one of the Nevada gaming industry’s historic landmarks won’t have a proper send-off. To be fair, the announcement Wednesday that Harrah’s Reno is now permanently closed was not a surprise. The property had been shuttered since mid-March because of the coronavirus-related shutdown of Nevada’s casino industry. But the days became numbered for Harrah’s Reno back on January 15 – coincidentally, the day the first travel-related case of coronavirus is believed to have entered the U.S. Caesars Entertainment and VICI Properties sold the building to Las Vegas-based developer CAI Investments for $50 million. CAI plans to ultimately turn Harrah’s Reno into a mixed-use development known as Reno City Center. Caesars had planned to continue operating Harrah’s Reno into the summer. COVID-19 ended that idea. After Caesars notified the state, the city of Reno and Washoe County that it would permanently lay off the casino’s 471 employees, the name Harrah’s was effectively was on life support from its roots in the Northern Nevada city after 83 years. “Harrah’s Reno will be permanently closed and all employees will be terminated,” Caesars Regional President Brad Belhouse said in a notice about the layoffs as reported by the Reno Gazette-Journal. The death watch for Harrah’s Reno really began about a year ago, when Reno-based Eldorado Resorts announced it was merging with Caesars in a $17.3 billion deal. The transaction was fraught with federal antitrust issues and the companies spent the past 11 months clearing up those concerns by selling casinos in six states. Reno-based Eldorado already controlled three properties in the small downtown Reno gaming market – Eldorado, Silver Legacy, and Circus Circus, which are connected via pedestrian bridges and walkways and collectively referred to as “The Row.” The entrance to Harrah’s Reno on South Virginia/Photo via Shutterstock Harrah’s Reno created an overhang for the merger, in which Eldorado is the acquiring company. The property, though venerable, became expendable. Harrah’s Reno opened in 1937 and was the original casino in the Harrah’s chain founded by William F. “Bill” Harrah. Currently, there are 17 Harrah’s-branded casinos in 11 states. Harrah was one of the five original inductees of what is now the American Gaming Association’s Gaming Hall of Fame in 1989. He is considered one of the industry’s influential pioneers. The property opened as a small bingo parlor and casino. Over time, Harrah acquired other casinos and land parcels to expand his flagship resort. In 1968, he began construction on a 24-story high-rise that opened a year later. In 1981, a 100-room tower was added to Harrah’s Reno by its then-owner, the Holiday Inn Corp. Bill Harrah died in 1978, but the company eventually grew into one of the industry’s largest regional casino operators, which included its 2003 purchases of Horseshoe Gaming and the World Series of Poker. Harrah’s founder Bill Harrah. In 2005, Harrah’s acquired Caesars Entertainment in a $9 billion merger, which at the time was the casino industry’s largest acquisition. Harrah’s changed its corporate name to Caesars five years later. The corporation became immersed in its own financial issues coming out of the recession in 2010. The emergence from a 30-month bankruptcy reorganization in 2017 allowed the company to focus on renovating its core resort base. Caesars spent millions on room and casino remodels in a few markets, but primarily in its eight resorts on the Las Vegas Strip. Harrah’s Reno, with its smallish 40,000-square-foot casino and 900 hotel rooms – boutique by Nevada resort industry standards – didn’t get much attention. Reno has seen many older casinos close over the past two decades, and downtown leaders have long been attempting to revitalize the area. Gaming revenues produced by Reno casinos bounced back after years of steep declines due to the recession and competition from California Indian properties. The market grew between 2012 and 2018, including 2017’s 8.7% increase and a 4.1% jump in 2018. However, Reno gaming revenues declined 1.6% in 2019 to $626.8 million. Harrah’s Reno was more than just a gambling hall, however. Harrah’s Steak House was the first restaurant in Northern Nevada to be elected to the Fine Dining Hall of Fame, and a litany of legendary headliners – from Don Rickles to Jerry Lewis to Sammy Davis Jr. – performed in the casino’s showroom. #commentary – The quiet death of Harrah’s Reno; it deserved a better departure. –@howardstutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports. https://t.co/480Siok2Hy #CDCgaming @harrahsreno — CDC Gaming Reports (@CDCNewswire) June 20, 2020 As my colleague John L. Smith noted in a January commentary, Harrah’s Reno had fallen off the gaming industry radar by the time it was sold to CMI. Still, it deserves a proper departure. Hopefully, the new owners, in developing whatever they intend for Reno City Center, will find a way to honor the casino industry landmark. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.