Flamingo Reno hotel-casino closes amid worker and union protests

By Tom Gardner The Associated Press
Wednesday October 24, 2001

RENO, Nev. — Another downtown hotel-casino went dark on Tuesday when the Flamingo Reno closed, leaving some 1,000 employees looking for work. 

Promptly at noon, security guards locked chains through gates leading to a rear entrance, while about 100 people carrying American flags and signs protested a few yards away. 

“The Flamingo has a logo. The logo is be a team player. We became a team player,” said Dan Colvin, a bartender for 12 years. 

“They said ‘Support our cause,’ We supported the cause. Where are they as far as being a team player? Where are they as far as supporting the cause?” 

The protest was organized by Culinary Workers union Local 86, which is urging seller Park Place Entertainment Corp. to extend workers’ pay beyond Dec. 4 and to provide benefits past the end of the year. 

The union, which represents about half of the employees, is asking for severance pay based on seniority and for health insurance through March or April, when it says jobs are typically more available. 

“What’s Park Place’s message to us? They’re just going to cut and run,” said Kevin Kline, the union’s director of organizing. “We’re just asking for something to get us through the winter.” 

Park Place spokeswoman Debbie Munch said the company felt it had gone beyond what it was required to do. 

When the property was sold to Las Vegas-based Capital One LLC, “the buyer made it clear he planned to close and seek permitting to go forward with extensive renovations.” 

“When we learned that the buyer would close the resort we took the initiative to close it ourselves. ... to cushion the transition.” 

Along with the pay and benefits required by law, Munch said Park Place was using a more generous formula than required to calculate tip income and was giving the workers preferences in hiring at its other northern properties, the Reno Hilton and Caesars Tahoe. 

In recent months as business faltered, she said Park Place had continued medical coverage for workers who fell below the required 30-hour weekly minimum needed to receive the benefit. 

“We’re sorry to lose our Flamingo Reno people but we’ve done everything we can to help them through this transition,” she said. 

Some 30 businesses are participating in a job fair the Reno Hilton is hosting Wednesday for the employees. 

Hurt by a sluggish northern Nevada tourism economy, the Flamingo is the fourth downtown Reno casino to close over the past three years, along with the Comstock, the Pioneer and the Riverboat. The previously closed Virginian reopened as part of the new Cal-Neva and the Holiday closed but reopened as part of the new Siena. 

The sale of the 604-room hotel was prompted by “economic and competitive conditions” in Reno that are forcing Park Place to concentrate on a single property there, the Reno Hilton, said Scott LaPorta, executive vice president and chief financial officer. 

“We regret the necessity of this decision, but the continued challenges in Reno, particularly the significant reduction in air service over the last 18 months, have caused our Flamingo Reno to operate at a loss,” he said. 

Capital One intends to reopen the hotel in the spring, according to Ken Merkey, chief executive officer of the real estate development company. Along with the renovations, he expects it will take that long to receive a Nevada gambling license. 

He told the Reno Gazette-Journal that Reno LLC, the Capital One subsidiary that is buying the property, might seek a licensed operator to run the casino and has talked to Bob Cashell, whose gaming experience includes running Boomtown Hotel-Casino. 

Flamingo Hilton originally opened on July 1, 1978, as the Sahara Reno, part of the Del Webb Corp. Del Webb sold it to Hilton Hotels Corp. in 1981. 

Park Place is the world’s largest gambling company and owns, manages or has an interest in 28 gambling properties operating under the Caesars, Bally’s, Paris, Flamingo, Grand Casinos and Hilton brand names. 

Terms of the sale to Capital One were not disclosed. 



On the Net: 

Park Place Entertainment Corp.: http://www.parkplace.com 

Culinary Workers union: http://culinaryunion.org