Sharp declines in gaming lead Tahoe to look to alternatives |

Sharp declines in gaming lead Tahoe to look to alternatives

STATELINE, Nev. – The Tahoe economy is sick, said one local business representative during a recent meeting between industry leaders and government agencies.

“If the South Lake Tahoe economy were a medical patient, the diagnosis would be a terminal disease with a chance of recovery if aggressive treatment is employed,” said Betty “B” Gorman of the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce at the Thursday, March 25, meeting of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency governing board.

The meeting was designed to facilitate discussion between TRPA and local business operatives in order to develop solutions relating to the improvement of economic conditions in the basin.

Officials and CEOs disagreed about who should lead in the establishment of the economic vision for the region moving forward, but all agreed the current status quo is not a viable option.

“The cost of doing nothing at this point is considerable,” said John Koster, Regional President of Harrah’s Northern Nevada.

While representatives from the private sector were quick to blame economic stagnation on the TRPA’s onerous regulations regarding project approval, all officials, public and private, agreed the decline of the gaming industry is a major factor in the region’s economic woes.

Bill Eddington, director of the Institute for Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno said the gaming industry as a whole declined steadily since 1990 and the Lake Tahoe area has been particularly susceptible.

“By all standard measure, gaming in Lake Tahoe has declined by more than half since 1990,” said Eddington. “Local business owners and the TRPA have to realize that revenue is not coming back, even if the national economy recovers.”

Eddington attributed the decline in part to recession, but said the profusion of Indian casinos such as Thunder Valley near Sacramento and Red Hawk on the west slope is a major factor, particularly when coupled with reduced airfare and easier access to Las Vegas.

“Lake Tahoe is just not as competitive in the gaming industry as it was in the past,” he said. “There are too many quality alternatives.”

Mike Bradford, president of Lakeside Inn and Casino in Stateline, Nev., confirmed Eddington’s comments, saying he has had to lay off 99 employees since 2006.

“Those are 99 people whose names and faces I remember,” he said. “I just couldn’t afford to pay their salaries.”

Bradford said the tourist industry in Tahoe should focus on attracting visitors interested in the aesthetic character of the region as well as the culture and heritage.

“Gaming is just another amenity, now,” he said. “It’s not the major reason that people come.”

Eddington recommended the TRPA withhold approval of new gaming oriented businesses, as banks are wary of funding such enterprises, having been burnt by such practices in the recent past.

“No business is going to commit money to a gaming-centric tourism unit in this market ever again,” he said.

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