Piñon Plaza changes hands; to become Gold Dust West

After an ownership change that went smoother than some expected, the Piñon Plaza opened Monday morning as one part of a national conglomerate of entertainment properties.

Soon commuters will look skyward and see the name Gold Dust West above the Highway 50 East casino and resort. The new owners plan to invest about $5 million into the casino, opened 11 years ago by prominent businessman Clark Russell, president of Capital City Entertainment Inc.

Escrow closed Monday on Capital City Entertainment's $14.5 million sale of the Piñon Plaza to Jacobs Entertainment, based in Golden, Colo.

The private corporation also operates two limited-stakes casinos in Black Hawk, Colo., and the Gold Dust West in downtown Reno. The general manager there has taken over both the Reno and Carson City casinos until a replacement is found for her in Reno. Lynne Keller said she'll spend four days of the week at the Piñon Plaza.

"We're in the getting-acquainted stage, and then we'll come out with the new name," Keller said Monday.

Permits under the name Gold Dust West-Carson City are secured. She said the signs will be changed in about six months.

Keller has worked through casino transitions a few times. Working on only an hour and a half of sleep, she said the 10 p.m. Sunday closure of the casino was followed by a cash and inventory count. Keller, who lives in South Reno, observed and verified the counts before re-opening at 8 a.m.

Jennifer Russell, vice-president of Capital City Entertainment, said the Carson Station looks forward to competing with its former sister property. Clark Russell still owns the Carson Station and the Station Grille on South Carson Street.

"The transition went smoothly," she said. "We were all really nervous because we had a finite amount of time to make it work and you never really know if everything is going to go OK or not."

No problems were reported, so the new general manager is looking forward to renovations.

"Our remodeling effort will start this week with work on the dishwashing room," Keller said. "We'll have minor changes to the floor. More than 200 ticket-in ticket-out slot machines will be added (which accounts for $3 million). We'll also upgrade software in the hotel and bowling center."

Keller started as a receptionist for former Gold Dust West owner John Cavanaugh. She worked her way up in the company, becoming general manager in 1995, before Jacobs acquired the Gold Dust West in 2001.

"They've given us the opportunity to grow the property here," she said. "They have a philosophy for local casino ownership."

Jacobs Entertainment likes to acquire locally grown casinos or transform existing properties. The company, which had a successful first quarter, purchased a former Safeway building in Elko and will develop it into Gold Dust West Elko.

At 60, Keller is taking on an impressive project. She laughed when asked if she has any retirement plans. Her schedule has her working six days a week.

"I'm a workaholic," she said. "I find it makes you younger. You stay alive."

Managing the Piñon Plaza also means getting to know about 278 new names. Keller admitted that she's only met about half the staff so far - one of those is Shelly Solem, who works in the slot cage.

"I think it went pretty smoothly. We managed to take care of all the customers and not tick everyone off, and we got all our department banks in," said Solem, referring to the money drops for each casino operation.

Mike Dermo, a shift supervisor in the bowling center, said they were half full Sunday night, a night they run discounts.

"The only difficult thing was getting the bowlers out earlier than normal," he said.

David Elwick, a security officer, said he looks forward to the day when the casino will be packed with new customers.

Jacobs will drop the Best Western franchise from the Piñon Plaza because of a marketing decision.

• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at bbosshart@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.

About Jacobs Entertainment

What it owns:

The Piñon Plaza in Carson City, Gold Dust West in Reno, The Lodge Casino and Gilpin Hotel Casino in Black Hawk, Colo., 15 truck stop gaming facilities in Louisiana and the Colonial Downs horse track in New Kent, Virginia.

Who owns the company:

Jeffrey Jacobs and Richard Jacobs, father and son

First quarter company financial results:

Net revenues were $69.1 million compared to $51.1 million in the previous year. Net income for Q1 2006 was $5.1 million, compared to $1.1 million the previous year.

Casino revenues increased approximately $2 million, or 7 percent, from $27.4 million for Q1 2006 over 2005.

- Sources: Hoovers.com and the Securities and Exchange Commission


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