Gregg Carano sits at his favorite table in Bar Centro inside the Eldorado with a cup of nitro cold-brew Starbucks coffee with cream in tow.
Carano was supposed to sell a big rebranding effort that transforms the company’s three downtown properties into a unified mega-resort. Before that, however, the Culinary Institute of America alumnus couldn’t help but talk excitedly about the process behind the caffeinated drink in his hand.
“Have you tried this stuff?” Carano said. “They actually infuse nitrogen into the coffee!”
Previously the senior vice president of food and beverage for the Eldorado, Carano’s plate is a lot fuller these days. This January, Carano was promoted to oversee the company’s three downtown hotel-casinos: the Eldorado, Silver Legacy and Circus Circus. Although Carano jokes about being on the lower end of the totem pole in relation to his brothers, who include chairman and CEO Gary Carano, his fingerprints are everywhere in the company’s Reno properties, particularly when it comes to food.
And as Eldorado Resorts Inc. continues to embark on a massive national expansion that includes acquiring billionaire Carl Icahn’s Tropicana Entertainment, Gregg Carano is tasked with ensuring that the properties that comprise Eldorado’s hometown base do not get left behind in its ever-expanding wake.
Part of the job is fully leveraging Eldorado’s acquisition of the Silver Legacy and Circus Circus in 2015 from its former partner, MGM Resorts International. Together with the Eldorado, the trio of hotel-casinos is often called the “Tri-Properties,” an inside term used within the companies that ended up sticking with some in the public as well.
Despite all three properties literally being connected by sky bridges and Eldorado owning a 50 percent stake of the Silver Legacy prior to the acquisition, each building felt like its own separate entity. And while some of his brothers worked at the Silver Legacy, Carano viewed the hotel-casino as competition when he was in charge of food and beverage for the Eldorado.
“Before I got promoted to general manager of these three properties, I never crossed the bridge to go past Brew Brothers,” Carano said. “Guess what? My gamblers didn’t either.”
After Silver Legacy and Circus Circus came under the Eldorado umbrella, however, the situation changed. Once seen as the competition, the two casinos suddenly became part of a bigger, unified picture. They also presented an interesting conundrum.
“How do you brand one property that’s actually three properties that are being treated as one?” Carano said.
The answer to the question can now be seen on a giant sign on the southeast corner of the Eldorado that touts all three as “a city within a city.” It’s the first in an advertising blitz that will start popping up this week touting a unified front for the downtown properties.
“We’ll be calling it The Row,” Carano said.
For the Caranos, the concept for The Row has been several years in the making.
“It was my father’s dream to put them all together at one time,” Carano said of the three connected buildings.
It's a dream that gained even more meaning recently. Last October, family patriarch and Eldorado founder Don Carano died at age 85. When Carano started the Eldorado hotel-casino in 1973, the 282-room property was considered a big gamble, even in a town built on risky bets. Today, the Eldorado gaming empire that sprang from the foundation that Carano laid spans 20 properties in 10 states.
People often make the mistake of thinking that the Caranos are the family behind the Eldorado, Gregg Carano said. One thing that he learned from his father, however, is that the real family behind the company’s success is a much bigger one.
“Dad was the most humble man and he would talk to every housekeeper, every waitress and every manager,” Carano said. “He always said that the members of the team took care of us because they took care of our gamers and our guests. We had the best boss in the casino industry.”
These days, the younger Carano extended family has grown even bigger at 4,100 total employees for the Eldorado, Silver Legacy and Circus Circus. Although it entails more responsibility for Carano, it also shows the extra muscle that comes with The Row’s larger footprint — one that Eldorado Resorts is eager to flex against the competition.
In addition to local stalwarts such as the Atlantis and the Peppermill, which have undergone their share of big renovations as well, Eldorado is eager to see how it stacks up against other properties in the southern part of the state and outside of Nevada as well. With the company’s recent expansion into other territories, Eldorado Resorts has a clearer picture of what it’s up against, Carano said.
“When you put the Eldorado, Silver Legacy and Circus Circus together, you have a mega-resort that’s just like what you would find in Las Vegas with 25 restaurants, 22 bars, 11 night spots, four entertainment venues and 4,100 rooms all in the heart of downtown Reno,” Carano said. “It’s a mega-resort that competes with any casino around the country and believe me, we know the casinos around the country now.”
To further build on the mega-resort concept, the company is unifying its comps and rewards across all three properties through one club card program. This means that customers can play at Circus Circus, catch a show at the Silver Legacy and then get a comped meal at the Eldorado, Carano said.
The question now is whether the new branding will stick. Recognition is always a big challenge for any new rebranding effort, especially when it involves properties that have been around for a long time. Despite the unified approach with The Row, for example, the company is still keeping the individual names for each property. A big factor in the decision is to preserve the name recognition and cachet that has been built by each property through the years. Circus Circus’ Midway, for example, is familiar to generations of gamers who experienced the property over the decades, Carano said. Eldorado, meanwhile, built a reputation with its food and beverage options while the Silver Legacy has the strongest name recognition over the hill, Carano added.
At the same time, Eldorado Resorts has been trying to blur the lines between the three properties by pumping in $90 million in improvements. For Circus Circus, this includes more restaurants such as The Habit Burger Grill as well as renovating every room in the property after they fell into disrepair prior to the acquisition. The company also continues to refurbish or replace the Midway’s 1970s era equipment, recently spending $130,000 on a new replacement for the Midway’s balloon-popping water gun machine.
Silver Legacy, meanwhile, got a Canter’s Delicatessen in 2017 and will welcome a Ruth’s Chris Steak House later this year. It is also eyeing a late summer opening for its new spa.
So far, the investments have encouraged more visits between the three properties, according to the company’s in-house data.
“The number of guests crossing the bridges (among the three properties) last year has gone up by four times,” Carano said. “Our customers are getting three times the experience and I think we can compete with anyone on the West Coast and Las Vegas.”
Carano’s confidence is a far cry from the doldrums of Reno’s gaming downturn.
After seeing decades of growth leading into the 1990s, the advent of Indian gaming plus the worst recession in Nevada history threw a one-two punch that the region’s gaming industry continues to feel to this day.
The first decade of the new millennium was especially tough on Reno’s casinos, many of which ended up shuttering. The lessons from his father about treating people right proved especially valuable during the tough times, Carano said.
“The (Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority) used to have an advertising campaign that Reno was twice as friendly and we had to be because we’re going up against these big Native American casinos and Las Vegas,” Carano said. “When you have people fighting to get across Interstate 80 through 3 to 5 inches of snow to get here, we have to be twice as friendly because our buildings weren’t as nice and they weren’t as big and they weren’t as new.”
Since then, several major Reno hotel-casinos such as the Atlantis, Peppermill, Grand Sierra Resort and Eldorado’s downtown properties have made big infrastructure investments to refresh their properties. These include spending major dollars on spas, restaurants and the kind of amenities that today’s customers expect. Those customers are not limited to gamblers and out-of state visitors but Reno’s growing community as well, which has seen an influx of newcomers as companies such as Apple, Tesla and Google invest in big projects in the region, Carano said.
One big area of focus for businesses such as the Eldorado is to let those newcomers know that today’s hotel-casinos are not just about gambling anymore. Further expanding on the concept of The Row, Carano says the company’s plan is to ultimately have not just a casino row but a restaurant row, a nightclub row and a hotel row, within the properties.
“So many out-of-towners and newbies are moving to Reno and they are looking for something fun to do,” Carano said. “We want them to know that The Row has it all."
The Bay Area also continues to be a prime market for Eldorado’s market, which continues to get the bulk of its customers within a 150- to 300-mile radius, according to Carano. It’s hugely important to have offerings that interest that population, whether it be concerts or the one attraction he’s especially intimate with — food. Carano’s father was known to say that “food is our Frank Sinatra” when talking about the Eldorado, an approach that the company is further extending at the Silver Legacy and Eldorado.
It’s one thing that comes natural to the family, who originally came to Reno in the 1890s, Carano said.
“Right here where the Eldorado now sits on was an old bakery in the 1920s started by a Carano called Silver State Bakery,” Carano said. “We’ve known food all the way back in the ’20s when we were making awesome bread.”
Carano says food and service were impressed upon him at an early age when he started busing tables for his dad at age 10 and learned how to make meat ravioli from his Uncle Willie when he was 13. As a young man, he still remembers hosting gamblers who would come into their hotel-casino, many of whom continue to be loyal customers. Just recently, he met a man who says he was introduced as a kid by his dad to Carano during New Year’s in 1993 and he remembers Carano personally taking him to Circus Circus to play the Midway.
Carano hopes a new generation of people get the same experience at the Eldorado’s downtown properties as the company continues to add more to its downtown offerings.
“When people ask, ‘Where are you going?’ we want them to say, ‘We’re going to The Row’ or ‘Meet you at The Row,'” Carano said. “We just want people to know that something fresh and new is happening in the heart of downtown Reno.”