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Time & Place: Navigating Reno’s Red Line

A dated postcard of the Sands Casino at night.
Steve Ellison
The Sands began as a collection of buildings clustered near the corner of Arlington Avenue and West 4th Street in Reno.

Today, some of Reno’s largest hotel casinos are located miles from the city center.  But they were once confined to a much smaller area, as Alicia Barber explains in this episode of “Time & Place.”

Unlike Las Vegas, Reno never had a strip, a part of town made up entirely of casinos. But it did have the “red line,” a virtual border that surrounded a four-block area just south of the railroad tracks. Only casinos inside the line could offer an unlimited number of slot machines and table games.

By the 1960s, the city had decided that any casino outside the line had to offer 100 hotel or motel rooms in order to operate more than 15 slot machines. Their hope was to encourage the establishment of more resort hotel casinos that could compete with those in Las Vegas.

That was a nice goal for the city, but it made things a bit tough for an aspiring casino operator. Pete Cladianos, Sr. was one of them. For years, he had been trying to assemble enough land inside the red line to open his own casino.  Finally, he moved a few blocks west, opening, first, a motel, the Sands Motor Inn, with 79 rooms. Next, he began work on a second building just next door to house a casino and 24 more rooms.

That gave him a total of 103 rooms. The two buildings were separated by a small alley that cut through the center of the block. Interviewed in 2000, Pete Cladianos, Jr. explained what happened next.

“We applied for a gaming license during the time of the construction of this building, and the City Council turned us down because they said we didn’t have 100 units contiguous to each other,” he said.

A black and white image of the sheet metal tube connecting two buildings across an alley way.
Credit Courtesy of Special Collections Department, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries
According to Pete Cladianos, Jr., the sheet metal forms used to connect the family’s two buildings became known as “Pete’s Passover.”

Driving past a school one day, Cladianos noticed a stack of 24-foot-long hollow metal tubes that they were using to construct the roof.

“I bought four of those hollow tubes, and we hung them across the alley and tied the two buildings together. And then we reapplied for a gaming license. There was a lot of question of what this thing was for, but we finally did get our license and so we opened up with 40 slot machines,” Cladianos said. 

Almost 50 years later, unrestricted gaming licenses are still hard to come by, but with hundreds of rooms in multiple hotel towers, the expanded Sands Regency Hotel Casino no longer needs to get quite so creative to qualify. 

Historian Alicia Barber is the editor of the website and smart phone app Reno Historical. Oral history clips for this segment were provided by the Special Collections Department of the University of Nevada, Reno Libraries.

Alicia Barber, PhD, is a professional historian and award-winning writer whose work focuses on the built environment and cultural history of Nevada and the American West. After earning a doctorate in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2003, she moved to Reno, where she taught at the University of Nevada, Reno for the next ten years, and directed the University of Nevada Oral History Program from 2009-2013.
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