08/19/2005 12:00AM

For a value play in Nevada, bet on real estate in Reno


All the recent growth and development in Nevada has focused on Las Vegas and for good reason. Everything here is booming, 38 million visitors predicted for this year, a strong economy, exploding real estate prices, new casinos and expansions constantly going up.

But this spring, when Inc. Magazine released its list of "Best Places to Do Business in America", Las Vegas ranked 14th among the 274 cities mentioned. The number one city in America was an upset as big as Giacomo winning the Kentucky Derby at 50-1 odds. It was Reno.

The major reasons for Reno winning are a regulation-friendly business environment plus the low cost and high quality of living in the northern Nevada region.

There has been little new investment in gaming in Reno over the past 10 years. That has accounted for stagnant gaming development locally and an eroding of market share taken away by California Indian casinos. But all that is changing.

Smart entrepreneurs stay ahead of the curve. So when Station Casinos, one of the top gaming operators in the world, confirmed recently that it has purchased three large parcels of land in Reno, I consider that the starting point for a land rush.

Station Casinos has held its northern Nevada plans close to the vest. But industry insiders expect a high-end development similar to Green Valley Ranch or the new Red Rock Station, which would appeal to Reno locals and a northern California clientele.

A comparison has been made between Reno and northern California today with Las Vegas and Southern California of 30 years ago. Las Vegas growth was buoyed by the influx of Southern Californians looking to escape the social and economic ills they faced there. Economists feel the same type of thing will occur between northern Californians looking to escape to a lifestyle that the Reno and Lake Tahoe areas can offer.

One advantage Reno holds over Las Vegas is that since gaming growth was flat for the past decade, city leaders, out of necessity, have been more resourceful in recruiting other types of business to move in. That diversification of business bodes well as a solid economic base and is already in place without so strong a reliance upon gaming.

So if you're looking to make a real estate investment in Nevada, you might be better off looking north rather than south. Remember the idea is to buy low and sell high, not buy high and hope to sell even higher.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up radio show.