Cladianos & casino corporate welfare


"Las Vegas is a great place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there. Reno is the reverse.
—The Ancient Tahoe Mariner

The corollary to his timeless observation appeared in last Friday's Reno Gazette-Journal sounding board: "I, for one, am happy to see the Sands going down the tubes. It makes me feel good, not because people will lose their jobs. This town doesn't need gambling. We need to diversify into other stuff," said an anonymous caller to the print equivalent of no-account talk radio.

The Sands Regency Hotel-Casino just had to account for all its years of no-account operation. Although it's not going under, the Cladianos family still managed to sell a 46 percent interest for $6.2 million on top of the bundle they made taking the company public. I thus found it humorous to hear Pete Cladianos, Jr., complain about his bad fortune and blame everyone and everything but his own lousy management.

The sounding board caller was also wrong about job loss, but shouldn't have been. The Cladianos clansmen should lose theirs after the takeover, but won't. They will stay on to run the place, in effect able to have their cake and eat it, too. Plus multiple millions in the bank to sooth their hurt feelings.

Perhaps they'll piddle a few pence in the direction of Katherine Valgardson and Lois Metzer, former Sands dealers fired in 1986 for being too old (age 58 and 52, respectively). A jury awarded them $1,055,000 in back pay and damages which our user-friendly courts promptly limited to lost wages of $194,570. The Nevada legislature moved immediately to make sure no future Nevada jury could ever again award so much to a screwed worker. As a result of the Sands case, it's nearly impossible to get a lawyer to bring a wrongful termination action. Age discrimination has been basically legal in Nevada ever since.

In 1995, Cladianos said his mother always told him "to thine ownself be true." Alas and alack, he hasn't a clue. He blames his rich guy troubles on "homeless men who scare his customers and dirty sidewalks that spoil his casino's image," according to the Reno paper.

For years, the Sands got fat off the Canadian market. While they have reputations as lousy tippers, snowbirds have one trait casino moguls adore: they stay put. Once in your store, they tend to stay there, captive audience.

Cladianos did not need to worry about competitors as long as he could fly in golden Canadians to goose. High yield, low cost, minimal marketing effort: profit paradise for an old-country, mom-and-pop store.

Other such operations changed with the times. (Some, like the Onslow, Virginian and Mapes, did not.) Pop Carano and Pop Ascuaga didn't put all their eggs in one basket. Not so Pop Cladianos. By the early 1990s, Canadians found themselves able to fly to Las Vegas cheaper than Reno. Pop goes the weasel.

Reno's answer has been corporate welfare, hundreds of millions in tax money capped off by a hyper-expensive, publicly funded bowling alley. This column broke the story of serious problems more than a year before the first of almost 100 percent ($25 million and still rising) in cost overruns became generally known.

In late 1993, the Reno Gazette-Journal interviewed a marketing expert. "He predicted that at first it'll seem as if his negative conclusions about Reno's image have been far off base. However, after a two-year jump in visitor counts and gaming totals, Truckee Meadows tourism will take a sharp downward skid starting in 1997, unless it develops a stronger image and better entertainment."

We're only halfway through the year, but the minions of the gambling-industrial complex have been bleating like stuck pigs, even with business up over last year after a harsh winter. Maybe they see the graffiti on the wall. The only stronger image is the one on dirtier sidewalks, which Cladianos was apparently too stingy to assign his low-wage workers to scrub.

Help may be on the way. On August 22, the Atlantis Hotel-Casino is hosting a seminar entitled "Partnerships in Community Action," a summit on welfare reform. Advocates for the poor worry that gamblers are licking their chops at the prospect of federal money from "welfare to work" programs giving them free employees. I'll bet they still don't clean the sidewalks Cladianos blamed on city government.

Wiseman George Carlin once said that the only reason we still have homelessness is because "some greedy son of a bitch hasn't figured out a way to steal a couple million solving it." That day may finally have arrived where the only welfare goes to corporations which continue to carp about their poor lot in life.

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a Reno-based syndicated columnist and 28-year Nevadan.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this column were originally published 8/3/97.

Reprints of the UNR financial scandal newsbreaks remain available for the cost of copying at
Nevada Instant Type in Sparks and both Office Depot Reno locations.