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Best of Star Brooks

Gaming Guru

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Reno Memories

7 January 2006

It's a wet one, nobody can argue about the weather in Reno lately. Every other day has yielded rain, wind, or snow. It's above average temperatures, which is fine with me… I don't seem to miss the additional opportunities snow gives me to injure myself. The weather service seems to be about 20 mph wrong on the winds today… it is blowing my little RV back and forth like some sort of mad rocking chair and seems awfully high.

I'm looking forward to the end of 2005, a demented kind of looking forward… I know that January 1, 2006 will be just another day as days go. But I'm happy that I have been able to see the gaming world go forward at a monumental pace since the day I set foot in the Northern Nevada casinos and decided it was a world I wanted to have an active part in.

I first came to Reno as a teenager on a road trip with my parents for summer vacation. I was fascinated with Virginia Street and the casinos that had no doors or walls to the front of the street… there were "air" curtains to separate the indoor and outdoor weather, and you could see rows and rows of slot machines being played, neon signage was in its heyday… you had a virtual art gallery of neon.

I remember Harold's Club… and the intense aura that had me wanting to go put nickels in and pull handles and take nickels out. I had just enough time on my hands to escape briefly, pile the makeup on, grab some motel coupons and set my two teenage feet into the casino. I figured if I could get past the bar and get a free drink that no one would question my age… and I did and they didn't. I got some sort of martini thing that to me was absolutely horrible, but as long as I carried it around, no one and I mean no one… questioned my age. I remember wearing a light jacket with large pockets and putting hundreds of nickels in those pockets… and I remember that since I wasn't supposed to be on the casino floor that I had to spend the rest of the vacation spending nickel after nickel after nickel. Heck I was still spending nickels when we got to San Francisco… and even still spending nickels in Yosemite. That was the first introduction to the Reno casinos.

It would be quite a few years until I returned… and when I did I was happy to be able to walk in legally, order a drink that I could like and drink, and play the slots without worrying about age. I was also happy because Harold's Club was still there and would remain there for several more years. I looked for landmarks that I remembered… and was a little saddened to see that one, the Waldorf Club, had moved off the "strip" area. That was another place I went into as a "child" and though it was the same trip that had me playing nickel slots… they recognized my age and I remember ordering a plain coke to save the embarrassment of the proverbial "Shirley Temple" concoction. I know now where the Waldorf had been and point it out to friends when we are looking at Reno historical photos. For those of you wondering, it moved out past UNR on North Virginia and as far as I know is still there... it is part of the family that includes Sparky's Pizza.

One thing I will always miss is the food specials that used to keep the gambling floors full. I don't care what anyone says now… it did keep the floor full of people gambling. Now when you go somewhere the food is a "for profit" item and if you divide up your gambling bankroll to cover the high cost of food plus entertainment plus hotel rooms you are lucky if you have enough to gamble with like the old days. I personally think that it was a horrible mistake to end the dinner shows, the 99-cent buffets, the graveyard specials, the hotel rooms weren't as essential to the mix… several of us would get one and it would serve as a closet for coats and clothes changes and a nap or a shower… but sleep? In Reno? You had to be kidding! When the food stuff got to be a for profit item, then so did the rooms… the graveyard specials seemed lackluster… there used to be tour busses running from every little town in California at least twice a week from some, and many times a day from Sacramento. You knew what day your friends from Auburn or Grass Valley would be there… tickets were cheap and the bulk was returned upon arrival in Reno in the form of cash and food vouchers. The streets weren't dull or devoid of people, and there was always activity in the coffee shops. I often feel sorry for the people new to the casino scene… they won't have the memories to share with their grandchildren… they won't be more than a bar code on a casino coupon, and they probably will fit in though with the new attitudes and outlooks the casinos would like to have… simply because they have no memories of anything else to draw on.

Remember, though, there is an old saying… "You'll never get where you are going if you forgot where you came from…" and in some areas they have already forgotten. I have only to look at the South Shore of Lake Tahoe to remind me… it will never regain the status it had in the past. The residents have left it in multitudes… a new kind of evacuee, fleeing the 80% secondary homes, a work force depleted, and an economy that cannot support itself or the services needed to support a community with closed schools, businesses closed or dying… a community left to the ski slopes and the casinos… where the survivors are still trying to survive. I wish those people well, but hope that they ultimately move from the area and re-discover life.

I'm just now re-discovering life in Reno. There was a time that I would not have considered Reno as a lifestyle or life source. Things have changed. While I do not find the downtown as exciting as it used to be, I have found a whole new world where people can live and work in harmony, neighborhoods still have schools and children… graveyard specials can be found, the Awful-Awful Burger still rocks at the little Nugget downtown just like it has for over 50 years… where Boomtown Reno still has some of the friendliest employees and good honest Blackjack… some things will always be a "constant" and those make a real solid foundation for what I like about casinos and Reno.

So if you are looking for that special place for special memories, come share the gaming turf in Reno with me… I think you will be glad that you did. And this winter, throw an umbrella and some galoshes in the trunk along with the chains, shovels and cat sand for traction. And if today is an indication, you might include those water wings.