Ely mayor dreams of gambling train to Utah

ELY, Nev. -- Determined to boost tourism in a small eastern Nevada town hit hard by mining layoffs, Ely Mayor Bob Miller wants to launch a gambling train to Utah.

Miller thinks tourists would pay good money to board a train in Salt Lake City, then settle into a scene from the Old West riding the rails and playing blackjack on the way to his town in eastern Nevada.

''It would be kind of a gambling train, party train,'' Miller said. ''We are trying to broaden our economy.''

The law may be a problem.

''You can't be a moving gambling establishment,'' Miller said of state casino regulations. ''From that standpoint, it would take a legislative change to do that.''

Steve DuCharme, chairman of the Gaming Control Board, could not be immediately reached for comment. To Miller, it's fairly simple.

If necessary, you get the law changed. After that, you fill a train with gamblers in Salt Lake City and let the games begin when they cross the Utah-Nevada border. Everyone's having a great time. They arrive in Ely, spend another day or two gambling, then return home on the train.

Robert Stockton, owner of the Steptoe Valley Inn near the historic railroad depot in East Ely, laughs when he's asked about the gambling train.

''I really havent figured out if Bob is kidding or not,'' Stockton said. ''I think hes not.''

Miller envisions the train coming from Salt Lake City to Shafter in northeastern Nevada on Union Pacific's main line, then heading south to Ely using the old Nevada Northern Railway tracks.

Cars on the train would be sponsored by Ely casinos. Ely has a lot of railroad history.

The Nevada Northern Railway hauled copper ore out of the Ely area during much of the 20th century. But the mining boom came to an end when Kennecott Minerals closed its big copper operation in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Since then, mining has been up and down. Digging stopped again when Australia-based Broken Hill Proprietary closed its Robinson Mine on June 25, 1999, with 443 workers losing their jobs.

''We are sitting over here with a railroad and a struggling economy,'' Miller said.

Ely has a railroad museum and an authentic steam train that operates on summer weekends.

''This is the only place in the state where you could make it happen,'' Ely city attorney Richard Sears said of the gambling train. ''We have an active railroad and we have tracks.''

But the 128 miles of track between Ely and Shafter used by the Nevada Northern Railway is owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The company bought the tracks about 25 years ago when it and Ely planned to build a coal-fired power plant north of town.

The facility was never constructed.

''Were hoping they'll give them to us,'' Sears said of obtaining the tracks from Los Angeles.

If not, Ely has $213,000 from a lease settlement with Broken Hill that could be used to buy the tracks. Along with gambling, city officials and civic leaders joke about adding a bordello car to the train.

''Theyre kidding about that one,'' Sears said. ''I dont think Nevada is ready for that.''


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