Deal could make casino lobbyist Whittemore a Nevada casino owner
The state Gaming Control Board voted Wednesday for a plan that would make Harvey Whittemore of Reno a part-owner of a northern Nevada casino enterprise _ and possibly change his role as a major lobbyist for the casino industry.
Under the plan recommended by the board, Whittemore and his wife Annette would be granted an option for 10 percent of the stock in Nevada Casinos Inc., whose properties include the Peppermill hotel-casino in Reno.
The corporation also has gambling interests in West Wendover, and plans to spend about $55 million on a new casino in Reno that will utilize the license for the Old Reno Casino, one of the last small clubs in downtown Reno.
Ellen Whittemore, Harvey’s sister and lawyer for Nevada Casinos Inc., told the board the option stems from his efforts to help Peppermill co-owner Bill Paganetti acquire the Old Reno Casino.
Whittemore got the purchase rights from former owner Eb Cox and sold them to Paganetti for $200,000 _ the same amount he’ll pay to exercise his option for an interest in Nevada Casinos Inc.
The board’s parent state Gaming Commission will have final say on the proposal at its Aug. 21 meeting.
Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander noted Whittemore would have to apply for a state gambling license as a part owner of Nevada Casinos Inc. Outside the meeting, Whittemore said that would change his long-standing role as a lobbyist for major Nevada resorts, and he’d have to “re-evaluate” that role.
Whittemore also said his wife has been urging him to slow down because he has so many business-related ventures. They include a planned golf course and 50,000-home community in the Coyote Springs area near Las Vegas.
The Reno deal has been complicated by litigation filed by owners of the Atlantis Casino Resort because Nevada Casinos Inc. wants to move the license for the Old Reno Casino to a new location on the corner of South Virginia Street and Longley Lane, less than a mile away from the Atlantis.
The Washoe County District Court litigation names the city of Reno, Nevada Casinos Inc., Whittemore’s Rockledge Corp., and the former corporate owner of the Old Reno Casino. It claims the deal calls for the city to illegally use its eminent domain powers by acquiring the land on which the Old Reno club is located.
Atlantis lawyers say the move can’t pass a commonsense “smell test” because there’s no public use that justifies condemnation of the property. However, proponents of the deal say the Old Reno Casino is in the path of Reno’s train trench project.
By utilizing the existing license held by the Old Reno Casino, Nevada Casinos Inc. can avoid standards otherwise required for new clubs in Reno _ such as at least 200 hotel rooms, parking, landscaping and other “resort hotel” amenities.
The Old Reno Casino is expected to remain at its current Commercial Row location, sandwiched between Fitzgerald’s hotel-casino and a closed pawnshop, for a few more months. The new casino on South Virginia Street would take a year to 18 months to complete.