Under unprecedented competition, some Northern Nevada casinos doing things right By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports August 27, 2018 at 8:00 pm MINDEN — Not many years ago, casino industry analysts and pundits were predicting the worst of times for the niche casinos of Northern Nevada. They couldn’t possibly compete for California gamblers after being short-stopped by well-funded and professionally operated Native American casinos. Although Reno’s major gaming operations would feel the pinch, the smaller places would face calamity.Although it’s hard to know with certainty how business will play out in a dynamic market amid much larger competitors, I can say without equivocation that Mike Pegram and his Carano family partners and staff at the Carson Valley Inn are doing a lot of things right. (The group also owns Bodine’s and SlotWorld casinos in Carson City and Sharkey’s Casino in Gardnerville.) Carson Valley Inn in Minden, NevadaAfter spending the past month in Carson City and checking out several of the smaller casinos in the area, it’s clear that some are adjusting to the competition better than others. While some of the venerable gambling joints appear to have held fast to tradition, leading with cheap drinks and gambling over just about everything else, others are clearly seeing a different picture. I place the Carson Valley Inn and some other properties in that latter category. In a part of the country with so much to offer visitors in addition to Lake Tahoe, it might be easy to feel marginalized. That’s what I enjoyed at the Casino Valley Inn during a self-guided walk through there. Located in idyllic Minden – 21 miles from Lake Tahoe and 49 miles from Reno – the place has a lodge feel and offers 149 hotel rooms, another 74 rooms at its adjacent motor lodge, and 59 spaces at its RV park. The 600 gaming machines and table games will look familiar, but the Inn also advertises live poker. From the look of things, the race and sports book is popular. (There is also offers a variety of golf packages.) The entertainment policy includes an outdoor event arena called TJ’s Corral, where the 1980s hitmakers .38 Special was scheduled for a Sept. 21 concert. It’s obviously trying hard to play above its weight class with concerts from The Righteous Brothers and Creedence Clearwater Revisited, and country stars Travis Tritt, Trace Adkins and Clint Black. Previous concerts have included Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. It’s clear no one is resting on Nevada’s gambling legacy. The days of customers thinking smoke-filled sawdust joints are charming are about over, partner. In Northern Nevada, let’s just say not everyone got the memo. The Gardnerville-Minden area is not only scenic, but it stands in the heart of Nevada’s Basque country. Gardnerville’s J.T. Basque Bar & Dining Room is one of the state’s best and least pretentious restaurants. In this area, J.T.’s is the place most others will be compared with, and the Carson Valley Inn has its work cut out for it. With CV Steak, the casino is clearly making a true effort to make locals proud. The handsome restaurant features the classic cuts of beef as well as pasta and seafood dishes. And, for the record, it tips its hat to the community’s Basque influence with the “Nevada Grill” that enables diners to choose from a selection that includes a pair of double bone lamb chops and a seafood selection. Katie’s Country Kitchen, meanwhile, is a 24-hour coffee shop in the best sense of the term. It includes a late-night dinner/breakfast menu highlighted by chicken fried steak and eggs for $5.99. And its on-site bakery is, frankly, worth a special trip to the place. It has the kind of bake-shop display case that attracts attention all by itself. I’m not saying you should eat a whole banana cream, peach, or apple pie all by yourself. I’m just saying I was tempted to do so. The bakery sells whole pies, and customers appeared to be hauling them away with some regularity. The Carson Valley Inn offers a reminder that, despite unprecedented competition, niche casino operators devoted to affordable quality remain ahead of the game. Contact John L. Smith at email@example.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.