Reno resorts brace for California tribal casino's expansion 6-17-07

RENO, Nev. (AP) - A Sacramento-area tribal casino's expansion plans will force Reno resorts to step up their games to compete for the coveted California market, local gambling industry officials said.

The Thunder Valley Casino, run by the United Auburn Indian Community, adversely affected Reno casinos after it opened four years ago off Interstate 80 east of Sacramento.

Last week, Thunder Valley officials announced plans to add a 23-story hotel, ballrooms, a performing arts center and more casino space.

Ferenc Szony, chief operating officer of Herbst Gaming Northern Nevada, said the expansion will force Reno resorts to make improvements. He oversees the Sands Regency, Rail City, Gold Ranch and Dayton casinos.

“It's going to raise the bar of what we as a group in northern Nevada have to do to continue to give our patrons a reason to drive past Thunder Valley,” Szony told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Reno gambling analyst Ken Adams said it's too early to assess what impact Thunder Valley's expansion would have.

“I expect us at some point to feel the added pressure, but by now everyone's learned to deal with it,” Adams said. “As long as we continue to respond, that's the way it works.”

Adams cited local casino expansion projects, including at Reno's Peppermill, and proposed new resorts around Reno.

Plans for outdoors-oriented retail outlets such as Cabela's will help the Reno area continue to draw visitors, Adams added.

Thunder Valley officials downplayed the impact of expansion on northern Nevada.

“Thunder Valley does not look at Reno as a competitor. We see Reno as complementary to what we do and plan to do,” spokesman Doug Elmets said. “One thing our customers have been asking since opening is: `Where is the hotel and the entertainment?”'

Thunder Valley officials said it would take a year to overcome environmental hurdles, with up to two more years needed for construction.