Cal Neva to reopen casino next month |

Cal Neva to reopen casino next month

Matthew Renda

CRYSTAL BAY, Nev. – Clinking coins, singing slot machines and shouts of joy and dejection should soon be emitting again from the Cal Neva Resort, Spa & Casino as operators of the historic location plan to reopen its casino, officials have confirmed.

The once-prosperous property that, in its heyday, was owned by Frank Sinatra and frequented by the likes of the Rat Pack, Marilyn Monroe and members of the Kennedy family, closed its casino in April 2010 after three years of operating in the red.

“As many of you know the Cal Neva Casino has lost money since the day Luna began operating it in January of 2007,” Jim Oegema, president of Luna Entertainment, which ran the casino, wrote in a memo to employees nearly a year ago. “The only reason the casino has remained open for the last three years is because the owner of Luna provided funds to the casino to allow it to pay its operating expenses.”

In a recent telephone interview, Emily Heidt, spokeswoman for Canyon Capital Realty Advisors – which owns the resort – confirmed the casino is expected to open early this upcoming February.

Eric Dale, general manager of Baldini’s Sports Casino in Sparks, confirmed Wednesday he will oversee gaming operations at the Cal Neva.

Gaming operations are currently undergoing the licensing process with the Nevada Gaming Control Board; Dale said he hopes to obtain proper permits by the end of January.

Initially, gaming operations will be small, with video poker available at the bar, and slots placed in the lobby area, he said.

“It will be a small offering at first,” Dale said. “That is based on the time of year, as casinos rely more on the local market during the winter.”

Dale said he is well aware of the historical cache that abounds at the North Shore casino, which resides on the California/Nevada state line at North Tahoe. Its hotel sits on the California side, while the casino portion is in Nevada.

“It’s a really cool place when you think of the historical context,” he said. “Plus, it’s a beautiful spot; there’s great views of the lake, it’s a great place to hold weddings. We’re excited to be there.”

Originally built in 1926, the Cal Neva includes 219 rooms and cottages, restaurants, a spa and open space featuring panoramic views of Lake Tahoe. The property also features a 350-seat show room, 16,000 square feet of meeting space and a lounge. The rest of the resort has operated during the casino’s closure.

Namcal bought the Cal Neva from former owner Chuck Bluth in February 2005, according to Washoe County Recorder documents, and in 2007, Washoe County, Placer County and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency approved a $60-plus million renovation that would remodel the hotel by turning rooms into 1- to 3-room condominiums, as well update water and sewer facillities. Other major upgrades in the plan included improved fire protection, traffic management, reduced land coverage and scenic improvements.

Despite an original goal of construction to be finished in 2009, the property suffered a series of setbacks. In July 2007, a Crystal Bay couple filed a lawsuit against construction, alleging adding balconies for the condominiums would obstruct their view. Then in December 2008, the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District threatened to shut down the property because of a faulty fire alarm system. Then, in early January 2008, Namcal laid off employees and curtailed food service at the casino.

The resort’s bankruptcy problems also surfaced in late 2007. According to previous reports, in November 2007, Canpartners Realty Holding Company lent Namcal $25 million with the Cal Neva property as collateral. On Dec. 9, 2008, Fidelity National Title Insurance Company, on behalf of Canpartners, a Delaware limited liability company, filed a default notice with the Washoe County Recorder. That gave Namcal until Jan. 10, 2009, to settle the debt. It didn’t, and Canyon which took over operations in April 2009 after a bidder-free, two-state foreclosure auction.

Adding to the problems, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency asked the resort in May 2010 to ante up with new environmental upgrades in the form of upgraded Best Management Practices. According to previous reports, the property had been out of compliance with environmental standards for much of the past decade.

Follow-up calls to Canyon Capital Realty Advisors regarding the future of the property have gone unreturned.

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