New resorts to take up Station in Reno area - Saturday 22nd of October 2005

Station Casinos has spent the past decade building a lucrative empire of locals casinos with its properties becoming as much a part of Las Vegas neighborhoods as churches and schools.

With Station setting its sights on Reno for two or more casinos, it has entered a new, less familiar arena.

Station introduced itself this week, mailing a flier to 20,000 south Reno residents and launching a Web site, www.stationcasinosreno.com, outlining the companys plans for two casinos.

The flier features photos of Green Valley Ranch Station Casino, the $300 million property that has become a symbol for the successful modern suburban casino.

The information and accompanying feedback forms were part of Stations game plan to pave the way for the Mount Rose casino project in south Reno.

They also serve a dual purpose by responding to recent criticism from Reno residents who have had help from Stations longtime foe in Las Vegas, the Culinary Union.

The Culinary helped a group called Citizens Against Casinos in Neighborhoods set up the Web site www.nosouthrenocasinos.org that claims Stations casino sites could create traffic problems, hurt downtown casinos, blemish the landscape and locate too close to schools.

The union, which has failed in attempts to unionize Stations work force, also backed up Summerlin residents who opposed the location and scope of Stations Red Rock Resort, expected to open by the end of March.

Station, which calls the Culinarys tactics "corporate harassment," says the flier is intended to start a dialogue with residents.

"All of our plans arent set in stone," Station spokeswoman Lori Nelson said. "The way we do business is to hear out all sides and take everyones thoughts and concerns into consideration."

Culinary Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor said the union is concerned that the casino proposed for the southwest corner of U.S. 395 and Mount Rose Highway, several miles from Renos downtown, could hurt casinos in the urban core.

The union represents about 2,400 workers at the Reno Hilton and Circus Circus -- Circus Circus is downtown, the Hilton near the airport just east of the city center.

Stations primary opposition is coming from local residents rather than union supporters, Taylor said.

"Stations has to deal with residents who dont want (casinos)," he said. "They can try to make us the boogeyman.

"But these are residents who are not union members and who dont have much sympathy for the union movement. These are very wealthy people who live in expensive homes."

Unlike Las Vegas, Reno has a rich history thats not centered on gaming and a large contingent of residents who simply dont like casinos, said Bill Thompson, professor of public administration at UNLV.

"Theres this elite presence that will always look down on the casinos," he said.

Station will no doubt counteract by being a "good corporate citizen" and giving to Reno charities like it does in Las Vegas, Thompson said.

Station plans restaurants, an entertainment venue, bowling and ice skating at the Mount Rose site. Its across from the Summit Sierra mall thats expected to open its first phase in March.

Station hopes to receive permits by next summer after the city completes a major planning project for the region that will include earmarking sites for gaming, commercial and residential development, Nelson said. Development could take up to 36 months, which could lead to a 2008 opening at the earliest, she said.

The company also plans a 17-story building across from the Reno-Sparks Convention Center that would include 500 rooms and a 60,000-square-foot casino. The company doesnt yet have a timetable for that project, which was recently approved by the Reno Planning Commission.

The convention center project would begin construction sometime after the Mount Rose project is under way. However, Station may begin work on the convention center site before the first casino is completed, Nelson said.

The company hasnt decided what to do with its 96 acres across the street from the Mount Rose project. The parcel, which already has been approved for gaming, was once owned by Boyd Gaming.

The projects arent dependent upon one another, Nelson said.

"When we make a commitment to a market, we generally envision more than one project," Nelson said. "We dont enter a market lightly."

Station isnt underestimating Reno-area opposition and is aware that some people dont want casinos near their homes, Nelson said.

"Thats why were opening up the lines of communication" with the flier and Web site, she said. "We want to hear everyone out."

Of the 600 or so response cards that residents mailed back to Station, more than 90 percent have been positive on the Mount Rose casino, Nelson said. About the same percentage of e-mailed responses have also been upbeat, she said.

Some respondents have said they have stayed at Station properties in Las Vegas and like what they see, Nelson said. Others say entertainment offerings are needed in the area.

Opposition to the project "centers around people who dont want casinos," she said.

The proposed Station properties pose the greatest threat to the oldest and least maintained casinos in Reno, Thompson said.

"They must know that theyre going to go in there and clean up," Thompson said. "This is great for Station and a mixed bag for Reno."

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