Probably the most upwardly mobile individual in the history of The Biggest Little City passed away when Don Carano left this mortal coil recently. Many people who knew him well thought it was portentous that his birth occurred the same year that gaming was legalized in the State of Nevada. Of his many careers, his role as a gaming magnate was easily the most significant.
Usually, when you approach the funeral site for a prominent person, you can assess the impact he or she had on the community by the number of cars in the parking lot. In Don Carano’s case, Rose de Lima’s many parking lots and surface streets were crammed to the max.
The service saw a standing-room-only crowd and Don was well-eulogized by his son, several grandchildren and professional associates. Following the service, an equally large crowd attended the Celebration of Life at the Silver Legacy.
As for me, I first became aware of Don when I would see him on numerous occasions at the premier health club of Reno in the 1960’s—the YMCA on Foster Drive.
The most memorable time I can recall interfacing with Don was at Lake Tahoe on a day when the lake was churning with heavy waves. My friend Charlie Welsh and I were guiding our boat to the safety of Zephyr Cove when we spotted a man and a couple of boys trying to keep their craft from swamping. Charlie immediately recognized the fellow as Reno High classmate, Don Carano. After securing our boat, we jumped into the water, helped him bail out his boat and dragged it to the shore.
Over the years, when I met Don on subsequent occasions, he was always a soft-spoken, affable and courteous individual. The last time I saw him alive he was hosting a luncheon in the Brew Brothers Café for a number of his cronies, which included the late Mert Baxter.
Don was famous for stating that he believed in real estate rather than the stock market, which called to mind a missive that was sent by barrister Tom Cashill to a friend in Reno while Cashill was in Europe. It went, “Rome’s just like Reno—the Italians own all the real estate.”
The Skywalks at the Carano properties were a very salubrious gift to the late Don Burke, who was the Director of Sales for the RSCVA. It occurred when the south end of Virginia Street became a little seedy and dangerous. When Burke was entertaining convention clients, he would take them through Harrah’s Club via the Center Street entrance thence the half-block walk to the El Dorado and on through the Skyways between the properties, thus avoiding the dark and threatening surface streets.
From the time he cobbled together the real estate on the west side of North Virginia Street to build his flagship El Dorado Hotel to the present coast-to-coast empire of nineteen properties, he was an exceptional visionary.
How he managed to break the infamous “red line” that was strongly supported by Harold’s and Harrah’s Clubs is still a mystery to me. That single act was possibly inspired by the fact that the main artery supplying the lifeblood of tourism to the Reno economy was switching from Fourth Street (old US Hwy. 40) to Interstate 80.
In the history of our town, there have been three major figures who have occupied the mantle of “Casino King”. The first was Harold Smith, Sr. of the raucous Smith family. The second was Bill Harrah, who sanitized gaming and the third was Don Carano, who added spice through the introduction of fine dining and exquisite libations. He even created his signature drink when he founded his Ferrari-Carano Winery, which is now a famous product nation-wide.
As former mayor Bob Cashell noted, the Reno skyline is dominated by the Carano properties and their vast parking facilities contain the lion’s share of parking in the downtown area. Those three properties: The El Dorado, Silver Legacy, and Circus Circus are like a disparate set of triplets joined by a single umbilical cord. That cord consists of the innovative Skywalks that link the edifices, one of which contains the Brew Brothers facility. In addition to being a hands-on operator of his own establishments, Don was also a prime mover in the construction of the National Bowling Stadium, the Downtown Events Center and the Railroad Trench Project.
His extensive obituary listed the numerous civic and professional awards that he received during his lifetime. His love of athletics was passed on to his four sons, who are gifted athletes in their own right. The Carano family has been a long-time supporter of all facets of the University of Nevada.
It was extremely sad that his passing occurred on the eve of one of his most beloved events—The Great Italian Festival. That event brought Italian food, drink, and entertainment to the streets of downtown Reno so that the general public could get a taste of that for which the El Dorado is most famous. As to this year’s outdoor celebration, the booking of singer/songwriter Paul Anka was most fortuitous, the reason being that Anka’s most famous musical contribution was the writing of the song, “My Way” which in many ways could be the perfect epitaph for Don Carano.