By Howard Stutz
The Nevada Independent
In the week before it opened, operators of the Legends Bay Casino in Sparks had to turn potential customers away because the $120 million property wasn’t open.
Olympia Gaming Regional President Court Cardinal understood the confusion.
The construction fencing at Legends Bay has disappeared and The Outlets at Legends, an open-air shopping, dining, and entertainment destination, draws 12 million annual visitors. The main entrance to Legends Bay sits across a courtyard some 80 feet from Scheels, a popular national sporting goods chain.
David Calvert/The Nevada Independent – Legends Bay Casino in Sparks during a media preview event the day before the property’s grand opening on Aug. 29, 2022.
Cardinal said the growing interest from mall customers is one feeder group that convinces him Legends Bay – the first all-new casino built in the Reno-Sparks area in the last 20 years – will be successful.
“I talked to a couple the other night who belong to several slot clubs in town,” said Cardinal, who also oversees Casino Fandango, Olympia’s other Northern Nevada property in Carson City. “They’re super-excited about us opening. I think we’re going to get a huge contingency of locals from Sparks and Reno because it really is the buzz of Northern Nevada.”
He also credited Olympia’s recent heavy advertising and publicity campaign for fueling interest in the 80,000-square foot casino that includes 665 slot machines, 10 table games, a sportsbook operated by Las Vegas-based Circa Sports, and five dining spots, including a steakhouse and a “food truck hall” with three different options.
The casino held its grand opening Tuesday evening, which followed a media preview on Monday.
Developers originally envisioned Legends Bay as the anchor for the complex surrounding the Sparks Marina. The recession halted the casino project, but the retail component was built. Olympia developed two 100-plus-room non-gaming hotels, Hampton Inn and Residence Inn, that opened in 2018 near the casino site.
Meanwhile, Northern Nevada has seen a population boost of 15 percent between 2010 and 2020 which has exceeded the national average of 7.4 percent. An increase in technology and manufacturing jobs has led to wage growth and home prices outpacing the US average.
The timing worked in Olympia Gaming’s favor. In June, CEO Garry Goett told Nevada gaming regulators the delay left the project in a much stronger financial position with a built-in customer base that didn’t exist 15 years ago.
“Every other week, it seems, there’s a whole new apartment complex development opening,” Cardinal said. “I expect a huge local contingent will check us out.”
Also, Reno’s gaming options have dwindled in the past few years. Harrah’s Reno is now the non-gaming Reno City Center, a mixed-use development with residential units, offices and retail. The shuttered Fitzgeralds Reno reopened in 2014 as Whitney Peak Hotel, a 310-room non-gaming hotel that includes a 164-foot-tall outdoor climbing wall.
“There has been a slight shrinkage of slot machines in the market. You see more of a Dotty’s type of locations popping up,” Cardinal said of the tavern business that is primarily a slot parlor.
That’s one reason Cardinal views The Western Village and the Nugget, two of Sparks’ largest hotel-casinos, as competition. He said Northern Nevada gaming customers “like to travel around and go to the outlying casinos, such as the Peppermill, Atlantis and the Nugget, and stay away from downtown.”
Cardinal said a potential customer told him last week that it’s an “easy drive” to Sparks. He also said some Casino Fandango customers will want to visit Legends Bay because player rewards cards work at both properties.
Food trucks in, buffets out
Cardinal said the 15-year delay, coupled with operational changes that came into play following the pandemic, allowed a redesign of Legends Bay. One of the notable changes is the absence of a buffet and, in its place, three food trucks.
At Casino Fandango, food truck events take place in the parking lot and Cardinal said customers often discuss their growing popularity.
“The idea just came to us,” I said. “We thought, ‘let’s just ratchet it up a notch.'”
The trucks have custom-made facades but were actual working food trucks that have been modified and converted. The tires remain, but the transmissions and the engines were removed. Doorways behind the trucks connect to the back-of-the-house kitchen.
“We had to move them in before we finished the outside of the casino,” Cardinal said.
The food trucks have a history, but the slot machine floor includes all new games except for a handful of older and popular International Game Technology slot machines that were brought in from Casino Fandango.
The sportsbook will be operated by Las Vegas-based Circa Sports, giving the company operated by downtown Las Vegas casino owner Derek Stevens its first Northern Nevada location. The sportsbook has a capacity for 140 people with various seating options, multiple 60-inch TVs, and a 10-foot-by-15-foot Daktronics video board displaying live odds and the day’s games.
Cardinal said he received positive feedback from Casino Fandango players who were brought in to sample the food offerings from Duke’s Steakhouse and the food trucks.
“They told me they were blown away by the property,” he said.
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