Concerts, recreation, seen as tourist draw
When Keb Mo took the Harveys parking lot stage two years ago for the casino’s outdoor concert series, the blues guitarist and singer marveled over the deep beauty longtime locals and visitors have come to know about Lake Tahoe.
It was obvious. Even celebrities are in awe.
That’s why Stateline casinos and tourism officials have placed a lot of weight in the experience outside their doors, a departure from the old days.
And take heart Tahoe, Reno is a little slower to catching on to this idea, gaming consultant Steve Browne told an audience of 200 tourism professionals gathered at the 2004 SMG Lake Tahoe Tourism Conference this week. Gone are the days, he said, of visitors spending the days and nights in the casino.
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“Position gambling as an added amenity. I think Tahoe bids to be a world-class destination, and gambling is not going to be the driver. It will be just another amenity,” said Browne, who runs Reno-based Raving Consulting Co. “No matter what happens to gaming, (Tahoe) will be a place for opportunity. If it’s a desirable place to live, it will be a desirable place to visit.”
He explained the reality rings true with corporate-run casinos investing less in capital improvements.
“Probably the biggest challenge facing Northern Nevada is that all those corporations look at the numbers. They don’t see the revenue opportunities here as they do in Mississippi. If you’re looking for capital, you must position yourselves as an area of growth,” he said.
And Tahoe has a distinct advantage.
“One thing Tahoe can do is target offerings that focus on the world-class visitor. It means bringing attractions in like Cabo Wabo,” he said, citing Harveys new restaurant owned by rock star Sammy Hagar. “You don’t have to spend money on new capacity. You can focus on your existing (infrastructure).”
Browne also suggested the Stateline casinos connect with other area events, not be afraid to fail and target a younger crowd.
That’s part of the equation for the latest offerings at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe – indicated by this year’s Cabo Wabo opening and outdoor concert acts like Counting Crows playing the 5,000-seat arena.
Harrah’s scheduled half the concerts at midweek.
Beyond expanding its player base, the casino intends to fill rooms in the California motels. Harrah’s and Harveys have only 1,200 rooms between them.
Caesars Tahoe has maintained its commitment to booking big-name acts to the lake, with the likes of Los Lobos Saturday and Tony Bennett in mid-June.
The major casinos share notes to spread the wealth of entertainment throughout the summer.
“We try to complement each other. We don’t try to book two big country music acts at the same time,” said Sue Hyde, Caesars Tahoe vice president of marketing.
It’s a new world of Nevada gaming – with optimistic travel numbers behind it. The state reports a 7 percent rise in overseas visitation last year, with 2004 expected to increase even more, Nevada Commission on Tourism Executive Director Bruce Bommarito said.
He agreed with Browne that the amenity-selling job works because players will find the slot machines once they’re here.
“They need diverse reasons for coming. They know where the machines are,” Bommarito said. “That’s what’s going to distinguish us from the California casinos.”
He clarified that some Reno casinos have jumped on the amenity bandwagon. He pointed to the town’s Truckee River whitewater kayaking park downtown as a way to sell adventure outside of Tahoe.
And lack of capital dollars shouldn’t spoil plans for a hefty season for tourism.
“We need to dwell on what we have. No one’s going to build another Lake Tahoe,” he said.
– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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