A Look Inside Reno's Street Vibrations

Sep 29, 2016

The annual Street Vibrations fall rally rode into Reno last weekend. The event brings in millions of dollars to the community, but it’s also been associated with gang-related crime.

Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick explores one of Reno’s biggest events.

Street Vibrations drew approximately 50,000 people to downtown Reno, Virginia City, Carson City and Lake Tahoe last weekend to take in the sights and sounds of motorcycles and biker culture.

While the Reno Police Department reported no major incidents during the event, there was a shooting near Truckee that officials believe to be motorcycle-gang related.

Reno resident Dennis Roberts says he’s not worried about the violence, but…

“It seems like it happens every three years," Roberts says. "I don’t know. When you get a lot of people together, too much alcohol, sometimes they turn into idiots.”

Since the 2011 shoot-out between two rival motorcyle gangs, club colors and insignias are no longer allowed in downtown casinos.
Credit Noah Glick

Last week’s homicide came on the fifth anniversary of a shoot-out between two rival motorcycle gangs in the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks that left one leader of the Hell’s Angels dead.

But Reno resident Tanya Lee says it’s unfair to connect the violence of a few with motorcycle enthusiasts as a whole.

“I’ve met a lot of motorcyclists and they’re like the best people you’ll ever meet," Lee says. "So to say that it’s one person or a certain type of person is wrong.”

But not everyone is happy with the event, which is the fourth largest of its kind in the nation.

Mike Fears lives in downtown Reno and he says the bikes are loud, the crowds are rude and…

“The locals don’t depend on them. The ones that don’t work in the casinos, we don’t want them," he says. "But the casinos have to have them.”

Fears acknowledges the event brings in a lot of money. In fact, Street Vibrations’ impact was estimated at $114 million this year. But that’s according to an economic report from the event promoter, Roadshows, Inc.—and it’s the only information available.

It’s based off of 2015 visitor profile data from the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority that says on average, a Reno visitor spends $715 a day.

“You’re talking about sold-out hotels, beginning on a Monday and going through a weekend at holiday rates, which is what you would charge at New Year’s.”

That’s Randy Burke, president of Roadshows, Inc. He says Street Vibrations brings in a huge influx of people, and not just event participants.

“I have 39 vendors that come from the Florida area, and they bring anywhere from 5-25 staff each and they stay for about 10 days," Burke says. "So we’re not talking about just a weekend, we’re talking about a convention count of people.”

Ben McDonald with the visitor’s authority says hotels provide numbers on booked rooms and length of stay in monthly increments, so there’s no way for sure to pinpoint an exact economic figure.

But it’s clear the event brings in millions of dollars—and crowds of people.

“Anytime you get a large gathering of people, you’re going to get that criminal element, whether it’s motorcycle gangs, street gangs or even people that are prostituting out juveniles.”

That’s Officer Tim Broadway of the Reno Police Department.

He says that after major incidents, like the shootings at the Nugget five years ago, law enforcement agencies get together to determine a way forward that doesn’t shut down an event.

For example, he says that casinos no longer allow motorcycle gang patches or insignias, which deters gangs from coming downtown.

“We actually work with the Hell’s Angels; we work with the Vagos. We have open dialogue with them, letting them know what we expect from them and what they can expect from our officers," Broadway says. "It has been extremely helpful and again it goes back to the events this year, and the last several years. At least for the city of Reno, we haven’t seen any major issues or problems with those motorcycle gangs.”

As for the homicide that occurred near Truckee last week, Broadway says it was tragic, but it’s not within Reno’s jurisdiction and isn’t necessarily connected to the event.

Reno resident Florence Dombroski says she never felt threatened, even when heading to the casino at 3 in the morning.

“There was plenty of security, plenty of caution taken at every moment," she says. "And I felt very safe.”

And even though Reno resident Mike Fears doesn’t particularly like the event, he says he understands its significance.

“Nothing we do is going to change it. Nothing I say is going to change it," he says. "And it’s necessary, so keep it the same.”

The Reno Police Department released final safety statistics this week, and say with 18 citations and 11 arrests, crime at Street Vibrations is on par with other special events.