Piñon Plaza owner Clark Russell said Tuesday he has sold the casino he built from the ground up to a national gaming corporation for $14.5 million.
Russell, president of Capital City Entertainment Inc., described the sale as a traumatic experience because his company grew up with the Piñon Plaza.
"This is a property we built from scratch," he said. "We purchased the property in 1992 and spent a lot of time and effort in developing this property to its potential."
The announcement came as a surprise to the 320 Best Western Piñon Plaza Resort employees Tuesday afternoon because of a confidentiality agreement between Capital City Entertainment, which also owns Carson Station Hotel/Casino and the Station Grille on South Carson Street, and buyer Jacobs Entertainment Inc.
"They have expressed to me that they have no interest in changing the management structure of the Piñon Plaza," Russell said.
Sitting behind his desk in his Piñon Plaza office before a 2 p.m. announcement to managers, Russell was surrounded by mementos from his career in development and his favorite pastime: golf.
On the wall behind his desk was a mounted wood-shaft putter he won 30 years ago at a golfing tournament. Beside that was a framed $1 bill, which he said was the first dollar ever spent in the Ormsby House when it opened July 2, 1972.
Russell, the son of former Nevada Gov. Charles Russell, was general manager of the Ormsby House until 1985, when he sold his interest.
Piñon Plaza Director of Operations Sean Sever said the managers were surprised by the announcement but felt positive about it.
"I loved working for Clark (Russell), but I am excited for the change and for the new company to develop the potential of the property," he said. "Word spread like wildfire, but I think the employees understand the company wants to keep the management staff and the employees as well. They want the transition to be smooth."
While speaking, Russell fiddled with his bifocals and drew a pie graph, one piece representing the Piñon Plaza. He said the company would either leave that space on the graph empty, or diversify into another venture.
Carson City is in a ripe time for development, with the opening of the first phase of the freeway in April and other major development in north Carson City, including the opening of the Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center on Dec. 3.
Russell, who turns 66 next month, said he has no plans to sell his other two properties. The deal included only the Piñon Plaza assets. The land will be on a long-term lease agreement. His daughter, 37-year-old Jennifer Russell, will take over management of the Carson Station. She's worked at the Piñon Plaza for almost 11 years.
"I've always worked with my dad and it's always been my ambition to follow in his footsteps," she said.
Steve Roark, Jacobs' president of casino operations, will be in Carson City after Thanksgiving to meet with management and employees. Roark could not be reached for comment.
Carson City Mayor Marv Teixeira said the sale was a difficult decision for Russell.
"He's been such a great benefactor to this community and I think he will continue to be with the Carson Station," Teixeira said. "I'm anxious to meet the new owners. The amount of interest Clark (Russell) had in the facility speaks well for the community."
After the sale is final in the first or second quarter, Russell plans to retire and seek "other venues of enjoyment" such as golf at his winter home in Southern California and time with his six grandchildren.
In the last six months, three gaming companies made unsolicited offers on the Piñon Plaza, but Russell said he was most comfortable with the offer from Jacobs. The sale will be final pending Gaming Control Board approval. According to the board, that could take six months or more. A gaming company must apply for a license for each location. All company officers, directors and shareholders must have background and financial investigations.
"We're proud of the effort we've done and now I feel very comfortable to turn it over to a successful company," Russell said.
Jacobs operates properties in Colorado, Louisiana, Nevada and Virginia. It owns the Gold Dust West Casino in Reno, which was acquired by Jacobs' wholly owned subsidiary, Black Hawk Gaming & Development Co., in January 2001.
According to the company's quarterly report, filed Tuesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the lease on the Piñon Plaza land has a 10-year term, with two 10-year extension options. Rental is $250,000 a year for the first five years and increases to $300,000 a year afterward.
Carson City gaming is picking up, said Larry Osborne, chief executive officer of the Carson City Area Chamber of Commerce.
"I don't see that there is going to be a major difference," he said. "It's going to depend on what the new owners want to do. It seems gaming is a hot economic sector, which bodes well for Carson City. It will bring the tourists here."
n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at email@example.com or 881-1212.