What is a ‘nonprofit’ casino? | NevadaAppeal.com

What is a ‘nonprofit’ casino?

Guy W. Farmer
For the Nevada Appeal

I’m sure many of my readers understand business terminology much better than I do, so perhaps one or more of you can explain what is meant by the term “nonprofit” casino. Because, according to published reports, that’s what the venerable Carson Nugget will become if a proposed sale goes through.

According to a recent story by Nevada Appeal business reporter Dave Frank, an unidentified buyer wants to turn the Nugget into a “nonprofit” enterprise designed to benefit local charities. Huh? After more than 45 years in Nevada, including three years with the State Gaming Control Board, this is the first time I’ve heard of a casino that wasn’t in business to make a profit. Of course the Nugget and other local casinos contribute to charities, but profit is the name of their game, and always has been.

A possible sale to an unnamed buyer raises many questions for the incoming mayor, attorney Bob Crowell, and the reconstituted Board of Supervisors, who should examine the proposal closely to ensure that it’s in our best interests. What taxes, if any, does a nonprofit casino pay? And if the new and improved (?) Nugget pays less taxes ” especially property and sales taxes, which support city government – how would we make up the deficit? And what are the gambling control implications of this unprecedented proposal? Does a nonprofit casino play by the same rules as a for-profit casino? Or is it more like an Indian casino, which plays by its own rules?

I put a question mark on “improved” in the previous paragraph because, everything considered, the Nugget has been a popular meeting place ever since Idaho gambler Dick Graves opened a small downtown casino and coffee shop in 1954. Graves sold out to brothers Howard and “Hop” Adams, also from Idaho, in the late 1950s, and the Adams family has owned and operated the Nugget since then. The 80,000-square-foot casino is now owned by Howard’s son, Alan, and Hop’s widow, Mae.

Steve Neighbors of Idaho-based Strategic & Operational Solutions, which is brokering the deal, told the Appeal that “the point of the project is to do what’s best for Carson City by transforming it into a major destination for visitors.” He said the project would include a convention center, hotel and other amenities to enhance the appeal of downtown Carson. “We believe that bringing in more casinos isn’t the answer,” Neighbors added, and I agree because we already have enough gambling in this town.

“If the Nugget is successful, our entire downtown will be successful,” said City Supervisor Robin Williamson. Yes, if Ms. Williamson and her fellow supervisors make sure the deal is done the right way to assure that the city will remain solvent. As a cynical old journalist, however, I’m always skeptical of out-of-towners who announce plans to “save” our historic state capital. Max Baer Jr. comes to mind. Enough said.

My friend, State Archivist Guy Rocha, last week asked whether the Nugget is “a 21st-century casino.”

“It may not be,” he said, answering his own question. But I’m not sure the Nugget needs to emulate newer, flashier 21st-century casinos. It has a loyal customer base and is known for serving good food at reasonable prices. I could live on the Nugget’s chili and lemon meringue pie ” two of my favorite food groups.

The most recent example of how the Nugget is changing with the times is the replacement of its popular Oyster Bar with a Mexican restaurant. Some customers must prefer tacos to fried oysters, but don’t ask me why. When Thanksgiving rolls around on Thursday, the Nugget will continue a praiseworthy 50-year-old charitable tradition by serving hundreds of free turkey and ham dinners to needy families.

Happy Thanksgiving!

– Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, has been eating at the Carson Nugget since 1962.