Bill’s in Tahoe goes smokeless |

Bill’s in Tahoe goes smokeless

Susan Wood
Nevada Appeal News Service
Dan Thrift/Appeal News Service The sign says it all: Bill's in Stateline converted to a completely smokeless facility in December.

Harrah’s Lake Tahoe drew from Bill’s 20th year to evolve into a new era for Nevada casinos – going smoke-free.

Casinos throughout the Silver State including Stateline have recently dabbled at designating smokeless areas. Poker rooms have gone smoke-free in both Horizon and Harveys. Then, the casino company started looking at the racebook and added the sportsbook in 2003. Plus, a few Las Vegas casinos have experimented in a partial policy that might have been sacrilege to gaming two decades ago. And, Nevada law requires restaurants to go non-smoking as a result of the Indoor Clean Air Act passed by voters last November.

But no other casino here has been so aggressive in its marketing efforts to create an identity for the smaller casino dwarfed by its larger sister resorts – Harrah’s and Harveys. All three are owned by Las Vegas-based Harrah’s Entertainment, the largest gaming company in the world.

Casino Manager Steve Schorr, who has logged 32 years with the company in mainly table games and ended up running Bill’s in November, had developed a business plan with the idea of cultivating a baby-boomer crowd.

The nonsmoking component was a big part of the transformation of the little-casino-that-could on Highway 50 next to Harrah’s. About a year ago, a remodel from the floor to the ceiling changed the look of the place. It went smokeless in December and hasn’t looked back since.

Two Reno buddies stopped by at lunch for the casino’s signature $2.50 dog and a draft beer and provided mixed reactions to the casino’s smoke-free environment.

Chad Hoeksema said he smokes but not while he’s eating.

Nonsmoker Greg Martinez comes for the food specials and likes to take the family out.

“I would look for a casino that doesn’t have smoking. My daughter has asthma,” Martinez said.

Schorr’s goal at Bill’s is to expand the gaming experience to a larger crowd and keep them there longer. Being a non-smoker annoyed Schorr when he sat at smoking tables.

“I can smell the bread now,” Schorr said of the Subway opening on his property. Another restaurant is on the way. “More and more people have quit smoking. We wanted to have a niche.”

Schorr said he remembers the old days at Bill’s as it rode the wave of practices of other casinos. But Bill’s is different – small, slightly bare bones and with no hotel.

It has struggled with an identity over the years, flipping back and forth between deciding to attract an older to younger to baby boomer market.

Pool tables were recently replaced with slot machines. Five more flat-screen televisions were installed and new furniture adds to the ambiance. The price-value strategy was enhanced with more deals as in $2 well drinks all the time. The single deck of cards is used, thus improving the pay odds.

“As we got more and more ‘revenue diligent,’ we took more and more away,” Schorr said in a frank tone.

Entertainment areas once reserved for blues and whatever experiment now will make way for a local singer and piano player. Michael Matromatteo, aka Guido, who represented one of two comedians in the “Dueling Pianos” act at Harrah’s, is due to dominate the lounge scene on Fridays and Saturdays from 8 p.m. to midnight. The first weekend gig started last week.

He likes the idea of a no smoking casino appealing to baby boomers.

“There’s nothing for that demographic in Tahoe,” the singer said, applauding the maneuver as creative.

Apparently, there’s a limited offering in the casino “capital” as well.

“In casinos by and large here, there’s not a whole lot of smoke-free acreage here,” said Erika Pope, spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Pope mentioned some poker rooms and fewer slot areas have prohibited smoking, but she couldn’t recall any casinos outside the major hotels that have eliminated the practice.