Club Cal Neva
38 East Second Street
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Club Cal Neva
Photo from the Mark Englebretson Collection
Club Cal Neva
Photo from the Mark Englebretson Collection




Mark Englebretson
Grade 2

Chris Krauss
Grade 2

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 2

Mark Englebretson
Grade 2

Norm Guerero
Grade 2

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 2

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 1

Mark Englebretson
Grade 2

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 1

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 1

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 1

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 1

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 2

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 1

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 1

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 1

Don Boyer
Grade 2

Michael Richter
Grade 2

Louie Eliopoulos
Grade 2


The Club Cal-Neva was located at 38 East Second Street and licensed as a full casino since 1948.

In September 1948 the Fordonia Building on the southwest corner of East Second and Center Streets, owned by Jack Sullivan and James McKay, was sold to Sanford Adler, Louis Mayberg, Morris Brodsky, and Charles Resnick for $250,000. Adler and his associates announced that they would open a gambling casino at the former location of the Club Fortune. Clayton Rambeau was named general manager of the club.

The Cal-Neva opened on November 20, 1948. Sanford Adler had spent $500,000 to remodel and renovate the former Club Fortune. Licenses were granted for three 21 games, three craps games, two roulette games, one keno game, and 126 slot machines. The club had a decor of copper and redwood and was decorated throughout with pinecones. There were also several wall-panel color photographs of Lake Tahoe scenes (Adler also owned the Cal-Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe).

The new club featured two floors shows nightly, along with continuous music and dancing. Opening night featured comedians Moore and Lessy, the Leonard Sues Orchestra, comedian "Think-A-Drink" Hoffman, and Johnny White and His Trio.

One of the most famous entertainers to perform at the Cal-Neva was the then little-known pianist Liberace. He made his first appearance at the Cal-Neva from January 13 to January 27, 1949. He was so popular that he was brought back on April 15, 1949, for another two-week appearance.

On February 16, 1949, legal history was made when, for the first time, gaming apparatus (a keno cage, keno balls, etc.) was brought into a courtroom. Leon Pierce was suing the Cal-Neva for nonpayment of a $5,000 keno ticket, and the Cal-Neva brought in the apparatus along with witnesses Edgar Jolley, Rudy Starich, and casino manager Sam Boyd (who later founded the Las Vegas gaming empire known as the Boyd Gaming Corporation, with properties such as Sam's Town, the California Hotel, and others). After two days of hearings, the Cal-Neva was declared the winner of the suit.

On December 3, 1951, the Cal-Neva closed and announced that it would not reopen until May 1952 because the winter months were financially unprofitable. Approximately one hundred people were put out of work. However, on January 3, 1952, the Cal-Neva opened three 21 games and paid the license fees for them, but it did not pay fees on any of the slot machines. On January 29, Sanford Adler announced that the club would open on a full-time basis in mid-February and that it would license fifty slots, one keno game, one craps game, two 21 games, and one roulette game-three fewer table games and sixty-nine fewer slots than when the club closed in December. The Reno City Council was upset with the Cal-Neva for closing, and that was the only reason Adler announced a partial opening when he did. The council soon passed a law making illegal for casinos to close during the slow winter months.

In an attempt to appease the City Council, Adler replaced Morris Brodsky on the gaming license, inferring that the closing was Brodsky's decision. Adler felt that if he did not replace Brodsky, the club would not be licensed. Brodsky, who was one of the original owners, had been acting as general manager since January 1951.

In March 1952 the Cal-Neva licensed thirty more slots, and in May it licensed two more 21 games and a roulette game. The operation never closed again during the winter months.

In October 1955 Adler and his partners were ordered to show cause for relicensing. Adler was rumored to have allowed "hidden interests" to buy into the Cal-Neva.

On November 5, 1955, a group headed by James Contratto bought the Cal-Neva building and the adjacent property (but not the business) for $550,000 from Bernard Howard, Caspar Van Cittar, and Saul Freedman.

On November 12, 1955, agents from the Internal Revenue Service closed the Cal-Neva and took $30,000 in cash from the slots, table games, and cashier's cage. The owners of the Cal-Neva--Sanford Adler, Julius Wilks, Charles Resnick, and Louis Mayberg--were several months behind in their tax payments. Two hundred and thirty employees were put out of work because of the closure. The next day, the IRS revealed that it had actually confiscated more than $50,000 in cash. The Adler corporation surrendered its lease to the group headed by James Contratto, who purchased the lease for $546,000.

On November 26, 1955, the state licensed the following men as owners of the Cal-Neva: Dr. Robert Franks, 22% for $61,600; Al Rogell, 18% for $45,000; Sam Levy, 17% for $47,000; Caspar Van Cittar, 5% for $15,000; Jim Contratto, 12% for $35,000; and John Callas, 16% for $50,000. Saul Freedman was to recieve 10% as a finder's fee after the loans had been paid off. Jim Contratto was licensed as general manager. The Cal-Neva reopened on December 2, 1955. It was licensed for 150 slots, four 21 games, one craps game, one roulette game, and one keno game.

In January 1956 Leon Nightingale and Frank Harris bought 5% of the Cal-Neva for $25,000 each. In May the Cal-Neva added a craps game, a 21 game, and fifteen more slots to its license.

The Cal-Neva started a $50,000 remodeling project in October 1956 that included a new marquee, three sets of double glass doors, and a general face-lift. In January 1957 the casino installed a $15,000 wall-to-wall carpet.

The Cal-Neva closed on September 18, 1961, following a dispute over lease arrangements with the Nev-Cal Corporation, which owned the Cal-Neva building. Cal-Neva president James Contratto closed the club despite the fact that the rent had already been paid until the lease expiration date of March 1, 1962. The closing put two hundred employees out of work. Two days later, the City Council ruled that the closed Cal-Neva would stay closed forever unless Contratto reopened the club by October 1. Contratto did not reopen.

However, on April 1, 1962, the Cal-Neva did reopen after the Sierra Development Corporation, doing business as the Club Cal-Neva, was licensed for six 21 games, two craps games, one roulette game, one keno game, and 175 slot machines. The group had purchased the club and the gaming equipment for over $1 million and spent over $100,000 refurbishing the building. The casino kept the same floor layout as the old Cal-Neva.

Prior to the reopening, the Gaming Commission recommended that the new group buy the building on Second and Center Streets from its owners, Franks, Rogell, and Levy. The Gaming Commission indicated it did not want the former landlords connected in any way with the new operation.

The following are the owners who opened the Cal-Neva on April 1, 1962; Ad Tolen (a former roulette dealer at the Club Fortune and a former co-owner of the Tahoe Plaza), 5.71%; Jack Douglass (a former co-owner of the Riverside Hotel and other casinos and a slot-route operator for over twenty-five years), 20%; John Cavanaugh (a native of Tonopah, making his first investment in a Reno gambling club), 20%; Leon Nightingale (an associate of Jim Contratto in the Cal-Neva from 1955 to 1958 and a co-owner of the Tahoe Plaza), 25.71%; and Howard Farris and Warren Nelson(both of whom formerly held interests in the Tahoe Plaza and in the Waldorf Club), 14.29% each. On June 19, 1962, Doug Busey, a local attorney, was licensed for 2.7% of the Club Cal-Neva.

On March 21, 1969, the state allowed the operators of Reno's Cal-Neva to purchase the Cal-Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe. The purchase price was $1.4 million. In June 1969 it was announced that the Denny's restaurant chain had purchased both Cal-Neva clubs; however between then and March 1970 Denny's gaming application was delayed, deferred, and finally withdrawn. Eventually, in August 1970, the Cal-Neva group sold the Cal-Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe to a group of investors from Ohio.

The Cal-Neva in downtown Reno began expanding in August 1969 with a multimillion-dollar construction project, adding a larger restaurant, a bar, an enlarged casino, and a snack bar. It also installed an air curtain, which enabled the club to function without doors and allowed easier access to property. Air curtains are now commonplace in Nevada casinos. The expansion was completed in October 1969. One hundred more employees were added to the payroll, giving the Cal-Neva a staff of over four hundred.

In February 1972 the Cal-Neva purchased a 3,200-square-foot space on Center Street, just south of the casino, formerly occupied by the Western Union office. The 23-by-138-foot building was used in a three-leve expansion that opened in June 1972. The Cal-Neva added 8,000 square feet to the gaming area and to the Copper Ledge Restaurant.

In October 1973 one of the original owners, John Cavanaugh Sr., was killed in an automobile accident on the Mount Rose Highway. As a result of Cavanaugh's death, his daughter, Barbara Cavanaugh Thornton, and his widow, Margery, were licensed at the Cal-Neva.

In the following years, many members of the original owners' families were licensed, including Greg and Gail Nelson, Gene Tolen, Bill Thornton, Steve Nightingale, and others.

The Cal-Neva's ongoing expansion program continued in July 1979, when it purchased the Waldorf Restaurant and adjoining businesses. On July 31, 1980, the Cal-Neva unveiled its $10-million expansion at the corner of Second and Virginia Streets, which offered cabaret entertainment, a sports and race book, and a cabaret restaurant. The main floor was devoted to gambling but also included the "longest bar in Reno". The mezzanine level housed the Hof Brau restaurant and additional gambling. The third level, or top deck, featured a 220-seat cabaret (which was soon discountinued) and a sports and race book. The casino had thirty-four table games and more than 600 slots. An additional six hundred new employees were added, bringing the Cal-Neva's total work force to more than fourteen hundred people. The opening ceremony was attended by approximately six thousand people. Governor Bob List and Casino president Leon Nightingale officiated at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Also completed in 1966 on Center Street, between First and Second Streets, was a parking garage, known as the "parking stadium", with 743 spaces. A skywalk over Center Street connects the garage to the casino. The skywalk has 150 slots, a small pit, a keno game, and a snack bar.

As of 1999 the Club Cal-Neva had more than 1,300 slot machines, over sixty table games, more than fourteen hundred employees, eight bars, six dining facilities, two keno games, and covered 29,001 square feet. The Cal-Neva has the enviable reputation of being the most popular downtown local casino and largest northern Nevada casino without hotel rooms.

On April 13, 1999, the Club Cal-Neva announced that it would reopen the Virginian Hotel-Casino and lease it with an option to buy. On April 20, 1999, the Cal-Neva announced that it would reopen the Riverboat Hotel-Casino. It had purchased the east hotel tower and retail space connected to the property and had a lease with an option to buy the west tower and the rest of the property.

On May 27, 1999, the Virginian opened for gaming with 126 hotel rooms. The Riverboat opened on June 18 with 126 rooms, giving the Cal-Neva a total of 422 hotel rooms. Both properties are known as the Club Cal-Neva's Virginian. The casino area of the Riverboat had not been reopened.

According to Dwayne Kling