Experts say Nevada gamblers can't fight growth of tribal casinos

RENO -- Gaming experts say Nevada and its casino operators must learn to work with Indian casino operators because the war to try stop them has already been lost.

"Your concern is understandable," said Jim Baum, who puts together cooperative agreements with tribes for Harrah's. "Fighting the growth of Indian gaming, however, is a futile battle."

Baum was one of several speakers on the subject of Indian gaming at the 19th annual Governor's Conference on Tourism. Harrah's, he said, has cooperative agreements to operate tribal casinos in California, Arizona, Kansas and North Carolina among other states.

"Your options are to continue to fight a losing battle, or embrace the tribes as partners in gaming," he said.

Frank Fahrenkopf, former Reno attorney and head of the American Gaming Association, said Northern Nevada will be hardest hit when Indian casinos open near San Francisco and between Sacramento and Reno.

"To Reno, it's very real -- it's devastating," he said. "But it's not fatal."

He said Nevada operators have to provide entertainment and other things tribal casinos either can't or don't provide. And he said they have to update their image constantly.

Anthony Miranda is secretary of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association and a member of the Pechanga Development Corp., which operates a major casino just north of San Diego. He told the tourism conference if Nevada casinos keep updating their image, they will keep and expand their businesses.

Miranda said the Pechanga band's casino has more than 500 rooms, 42,000 square feet of convention space and seven restaurants, but it's still primarily a casino for locals. He said most tribal casinos are locally oriented, and only a few have the potential to become destination resorts.

He also said tribal casinos are attracting new customers and creating gamblers who will eventually want to go to Reno, Lake Tahoe or Las Vegas.

But he also made it clear Nevada won't stop the tribal share of gaming from growing. He said there are more than 40 tribes operating casinos in California now and 18 more seeking a compact with that state. He said the number of casinos and their size will undoubtedly increase when tribes and the state renegotiate their deal this spring.

Gaming expert Bill Eadington, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, said several major tribal projects will hurt Reno and South Lake Tahoe, including a major casino under construction near Interstate 80 at Auburn and one in Shingle Springs, which is planned along Highway 50 between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe.

Fahrenkopf also told the convention that tribal gaming isn't the only competition growing outside Nevada. He said more and more states can be expected to approve expanded gaming to raise revenue during the economic recession.

Specifically, Fahrenkopf said, he expects more and more states to approve "Racinos" -- slot machine licenses that effectively create casinos at U.S. horse-racing tracks. He said those operations are proving very successful, and he expects them to spread to many more states in the next couple of years.


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