Dear Reno: An open letter

One of what may be a few posts based on our recent short vacation (centered on my 60th birthday), as I recover from work-related events around the same time. I think this one works best as an open letter to the powers that be in Reno, Nevada–“the powers that be” mostly being the owners/operators of the downtown hotel/casinos in this case, not that the city or state couldn’t be involved…

Dear Reno,

We like the Biggest Little City, or at least we used to. We used to drive up two or three times a year, staying in one of the downtown hotels, mixing trips around northwest Nevada with time on the poker slot machines.

The last time was two years ago–and we hadn’t been back because, well, we’re Northern Californians, and we’re getting used to breathing. My wife has asthma, so for her it’s a direct health issue. For me, it’s a matter of long-term health and simply finding constant second-hand smoke unpleasant. Oh, sure, most casinos had “non-smoking sections,” usually a dozen slot machines with a little “non-smoking” sign over them, all of two feet away from the rest of the “smoking” casino, with no doors, filtration, or other help.

We came back in September 2005. We both missed the town. We hoped that some casinos would decide to cater to the vast majority of Californians and have some real non-smoking sections. For example, Harrah’s could easily make one side of its split facility nonsmoking. So could Golden Phoenix. Eldorado has a reasonable-size slot area that has only one door connecting it with the rest of the hotel and casino: Put in positive-pressure ventilation, put up a “nonsmoking” sign, and you’re good. Those are just a couple of examples.

But here’s what we found. Just walking into the Eldorado, to go up the escalators to checkin, my wife started having trouble breathing–the smoke was worse than on our previous visit. We asked about nonsmoking areas. Nope (except, probably, the live poker room: seems like serious poker players really don’t like smoke). Harrah’s? Nope. Golden Phoenix? Not even the pathetic little area it used to have in a former incarnation. Silver Legacy? Well, the air was cleaner than at some others–but only until someone sits two machines away and starts blowing that smoke. They have all the rights; as nonsmokers, our only right was to leave.

That pretty much spoiled the vacation. It didn’t help that the “deluxe” Eldorado room in 2005 didn’t measure up to our memory of a “standard” Eldorado room a few years ago, but that’s just one hotel. (We stayed at a Best Western motel in Sonora after leaving Reno; that room was significantly nicer than the Eldorado room.) It didn’t help that Harrah’s Steak House has apparently completely dropped its dress code (and somehow we remember this steak house as having a view, but it’s in the basement–at least now it is), although the food was still good. It didn’t help that downtown’s become more seedy than we remember. But mostly it didn’t help that my wife could barely breathe in some casinos and felt slightly ill through the whole three days.

I should note one small exception (and we didn’t make it to the Reno Hilton, which might have a true nonsmoking gaming area). Atlantis has a skyway that connects to a parking lot at one end and the hotel/casino at the other. That skyway has maybe three or four dozen slot machines (including a few poker slots) and, lo and behold, is truly non-smoking.

Atlantis can do it. Why can’t the rest of you?

Oh yes, about Sonora: We stopped by one of those Indian casinos that’s causing you so much trouble: Black Oak, in Tuolumne. The odds for poker slots weren’t great (5 for a flush, 8 for a full house)–as good as at Eldorado, but not the full 98%-payback odds at Silver Legacy and some other spots. But there was this big area with loads of glass and a door with a “nonsmoking” sign. 160+ slot machines. A bar. Positive-pressure ventilation. Clean air. What a concept!

We’ve heard there are other Indian casinos with true nonsmoking gaming areas.

We like Reno. Really we do. We’ll never be high rollers, but we come prepared to pay for a good hotel room and good meals, with a modest budget to enjoy poker slots.

Guess where we’re likely to take that budget?

Maybe Reno can continue to cater to the dying breed of smokers, but it seems like an odd long-term strategy.

Walt Crawford

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