Legends Bay Casino earns gaming commission approval, looking to hire nearly 300 workers

The approval caps a more than 15-year journey for the Legends Bay Casino, which will be the first new casino project to open in Reno-Sparks in more than 20 years.

Jason Hidalgo
Reno Gazette Journal
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Men work on the west side of the Legends Bay Casino under construction on June 13. The casino is scheduled to open in later this summer.

The Nevada Gaming Commission voted to approve the Legends Bay Casino in Sparks on Thursday, capping a long — and at times, contentious — journey for the project that started more than 15 years ago.

The commission approved the Sparks Marina casino project just east of Reno a few weeks after the Nevada Gaming Control Board recommended the approval of its license. Legends Bay Casino is eyeing a late summer opening.

“We have not committed to a specific date at this point because things can change at the last minute,” said Court Cardinal, regional president of Olympia Gaming. “Hopefully, it will open in August.”

“One thing I’ll tell you is that it’s been a long time coming,” added Cardinal, who also oversees Casino Fandango in Carson City for Olympia.

Read more:Circa Sports entering Reno-Sparks via Legends Bay Casino

Olympia Gaming first acquired the property for Legends Bay Casino in 2006, just one year after the company was formed. The acquisition kicked off several starts and stops for the project, which was stymied by politics as well as historic headwinds in the form of a major recession and a pandemic.

When the project was first announced, Olympia Gaming envisioned a multi-phase endeavor, including a $500 million first phase for a hotel-casino with up to 1,000 rooms. Other potential amenities floated included a lakefront amphitheater and even a baseball stadium.

The target for wrapping up construction? The year 2008.

“We all know what happened in 2008,” Cardinal quipped.

That would be the same year that the Great Recession would burst onto the scene following an epic collapse of the housing market. 

Since then, Olympia Gaming would readjust its plans several times with more modest goals. The project, however, would face speed bumps in the form of minimum room requirements. A law passed by the Nevada Legislature in the ’90s requires new casinos in counties with a population between 100,000 to 700,000 to have 300 hotel rooms. The number coincides with Washoe County’s population and seems designed to make it harder for new smaller casinos to enter the market while protecting the larger players in the industry, according to Cardinal.

A closed gaming establishment at downtown Victorian Square in Sparks, the Mint Casino, would ultimately hold the key to solving Legends Bay Casino’s problems, however.

“We found a grandfathered gaming license in Sparks that was actually movable from one location to another,” Cardinal said. “So we purchased that gaming license.”

A rendering of the Legends Bay Casino in The Outlets at Legends in Sparks.

Buffets are out, food trucks are in at Legends Bay Casino

Although the Legends Bay Casino isn’t quite the megaproject it was originally envisioned to be, its opening would still mark a significant occasion, not just for Sparks but Reno as well. 

Legends Bay Casino is poised to be the first new casino project to open in more than two decades in Reno-Sparks, a reflection of its own long journey as well as the challenges of building a new casino in the area.

In addition to offering gaming staples such as slot machines, table games and keno, Legends Bay will have a sportsbook operated by Circa Sports. Circa Sports runs the world’s largest sportsbook at Circa Resorts & Casino in Las Vegas.

“We have an exclusivity agreement with them so we’ll have the only Circa sportsbook in Northern Nevada,” Cardinal said. 

While Legends Bay Casino is no longer being constructed as a hotel-casino, Olympia Gaming added two new hotels near the property. The two hotels, a Marriott Residence Inn and a Hampton Inn Suites that the company owns, combine for a total of 206 rooms and have been open for nearly three years.

Olympia Gaming also recently announced several food-and-beverage options at Legends Bay Casino. These include:

  • Duke’s Steakhouse
  • LB Grill
  • Craft 55
  • Food Truck Hall

Duke’s Steakhouse is a mainstay at Olympia’s Casino Fandango in Carson City. The restaurant features 28-day, dry-aged USDA Prime steaks as well as a wine cellar.

“We have organic Prime Angus beef that we dry age ourselves,” Cardinal said. “We’re going to have the same beef in our steakhouse in Sparks.”

The Craft 55 brewpub, another existing offering at Casino Fandango, will have a location at Legends Bay Casino as well. In addition to 55 local and regional craft brews, the brewpub will also serve cocktails and signature coffee brews.

The LB Grill, meanwhile, will fulfill the role that a 24-hour coffee shop typically plays in many casinos. Just don’t call it a coffee shop, Cardinal said. The restaurant will offer traditional fare from steak and eggs all the way to a fresh catch menu and will also have a bar that serves drinks like cosmopolitan cocktails. 

“We decided to go a little different with the grill,” Cardinal said. “It’s very upscale … so it’s more like a country club than your typical 24-hour restaurant.”

One interesting twist is the Food Truck Hall, which replaces the traditional casino buffet. The food trucks will use vintage truck bodies with the engines taken out and will be operated directly by Legends Bay Casino. 

Loco Bueno will serve Mexican fare such as street tacos and burritos on a 1969 Chevy P30 Step Van. Red 88, on the other hand, will offer Asian fare such as ramen in a 1955 Ford Vanette while Pizza Genius will serve food like pizza and Italian meatball and club sandwiches in a 1940s era farm truck.

A 1953 White Motor Co. 3000 will also serve as “The Bandwagon” and provide live entertainment and jam sessions.

The more open food trucks are Legends Bay Casino’s answer to the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic to a gaming industry staple, the buffet.

“(Buffets) had their day back in the beginning when you needed cheap eats to get people to play the tables and slot machines,” Cardinal said. “But they don’t really have a purpose anymore so we’re shifting gears.”

“We thought of doing something more urban so we decided to do some food trucks instead,” Cardinal added.

The south side of the Legends Bay Casino under construction on June 13. The casino is scheduled to open in later this summer.

Legends Bay Casino hiring now in full swing after approval

With Legends Bay Casino scheduled to open in just a couple of months, the property will need to fill nearly 300 new positions at the property.

Legends Bay Casino has already been receiving applications for management positions. Interest has been strong so far with about 400 people applying for 70 management spots, according to Cardinal.

With the approval from the Nevada Gaming Commission secured, Legends Bay Casino is launching its employment website for non-management or “line-level” positions today. In addition, the casino will launch an ad campaign and also hold several job fairs starting on July 12.

Hiring workers — and keeping existing ones — has been a challenge for many employers since the COVID-19 pandemic, a phenomenon that has since been dubbed the Great Resignation. Interest in Legends Bay Casino from prospective employees, however, has been strong as shown by the number of applicants for the management positions, Cardinal said.

“There have been a bunch of inquiries from senior-level people in various positions in the city who want to move (to Legends Bay Casino) because it’s new, it’s fresh and it’s something exciting,” Cardinal said. “There have also been a lot of people knocking on the door, even for line-level employees.”

While Cardinal admitted that Olympia’s Casino Fandango property in Carson City has not been exempt from the impact of staffing challenges, he also noted that the property has a large number of longtime employees. 

Of the Carson casino’s 300 staff members, more than a third have been with the casino for at least a decade, according to Cardinal. About 50 employees have also been with the company for nearly 15 years.

One challenge that continues to add uncertainty to the market is COVID-19. With new variants chipping away at the effectiveness of existing vaccines as well as waning immunity among vaccinated populations, the virus will continue to cast a shadow over the gaming industry, which was hit especially hard by the pandemic.

Legends Bay Casino, which expects to attract not just locals but also visitors heading to The Outlets at Legends to shop, is not immune to the impact of COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, COVID is something that will be with us for a while,” Cardinal said. 

“We’ll just do everything we can with best practices and continue to clean and do everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID. When the situation is tough, you find ways to work through it and move forward.”

In the meantime, Olympia Gaming is looking forward to finally opening Legends Bay Casino. More than 15 years since its journey started, the casino is now just a little over two months away from wrapping up after the project stepped on the accelerator last year in February. Legends Bay Casino cost more than $120 million to build, according to the company.

Cardinal compared his feelings to Owen Wilson’s character in the 1998 film "Armageddon."

“The closer it gets, the harder it gets in some ways,” Cardinal said. “It’s like Owen Wilson saying, ‘I’m 98% excited and 2% scared’ or maybe it’s the reverse.

“It hasn’t always been an easy process … but it’s exciting to bring a whole new team of people and seeing them working with the old team. I can’t wait till it opens.”

Jason Hidalgo covers business and technology for the Reno Gazette Journal, and also reviews the latest video games. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhidalgo. Like this content? Support local journalism with an RGJ digital subscription.

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