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Hometown U.S.A.: Henderson, Nev.

Pharmacy in a casino: What's the deal?

The drugstore, complete with white-suited technicians, draws double-takes from patrons of the M Resort casino. It's part of a larger plan to make the gaming center more of a community center.

July 26, 2009|Ashley Powers

Surprising Nevadans is a near-impossible task: Their casinos cage lions. Their gas stations house slot machines. That fellow shopper with the well-trimmed sideburns? Odds are his stage name is Elvis.

Yet on a recent Tuesday, as Rhonda Hurt strolled past penny slots at the M Resort, a pair of gold signs left her agape. One said "Vice Shop" and marked a gift store shilling $46 hoodies and bottles of Miller Lite. The other said "Pharmacy" -- and it really was a pharmacy.

"How weird," Hurt told the drugstore's white-coated technicians, her face perplexed, her hand gripping a Leinenkugel beer. Hurt, 40, returned to the casino floor and told her husband, Jack, about it. "I was thinking it was more a bar," he said, over change clanging from slot ticket-redemption kiosks.

Other gamblers have mistaken the drugstore's marble counters and dark-wood paneling for an upscale mailroom. And sometimes a drunk stumbles in, mockingly begging for Viagra. Forgive their mistaken assumptions: Just off the Strip, the Hard Rock Hotel's bacchanal in a pool, Rehab, has co-opted the sign "Rx."

The American Gaming Assn. knows of nothing quite like the M Resort pharmacy, where about 8,000 slot club points will cover your $25 co-pay.

The suburban resort's chief executive, Anthony Marnell III, dreamed up the pharmacy to lure locals -- in particular, Henderson's substantial population of retirees.

A quick drive from the casino is Sun City Anthem, a retirement haven of about 7,000 homes. Indeed, the casino's afternoon crowd is overwhelmingly white-haired.

But the pharmacy also fits into the Main Street role that casinos play in Clark County's insta-cities, which expanded wildly before the recession but created few gathering spaces. The neighborhood gambling halls boast movie theaters, bowling alleys and child-care centers. They host high school graduations. One features an equestrian center.

Marnell, whose casino opened in March, has a grandiose -- and recession-stalled -- vision for his 100 acres, including 1.1 million square feet of retail space where shoppers could catch movies and buy groceries. M Resort already operates a gas station, which, like the pharmacy, accepts casino reward points as payment, but not poker chips.

In fact, the drugstore is wedged near the planned link between penny slots and the envisioned expansion. "It would be a major town center," Marnell said. (Of course, this partly relies on taupe communities rising from the surrounding sand. Now, there are merely remnants of the housing boom: developer signs, immobile bulldozers.)

For now, the pharmacy serves 25 to 50 customers a day -- many of them M Resort poker dealers and cocktail waitresses who drop off prescriptions at a back entrance. (At least one other casino company runs a pharmacy, solely for its staff.) Otherwise, said pharmacist Evan Dostert, the setup is similar to chain drugstores, with common prescription pills, such as the antibiotic amoxicillin, and over-the-counter necessities, including Banana Boat sunscreen and Trojan Ultra Thin condoms.

The M Resort pharmacy, however, has a view of a sports book and a spinning "Wheel of Fortune" sign. The soundtrack includes "Surf City," "Sea Cruise" and slot-machine bleeps reminiscent of a Nintendo game. Hotel guests can fill prescriptions in a manner similar to ordering room service.

Pharmacy staffers have even run off site to obtain items not on hand, such as an IV line needed to flush out a catheter and a mask for a breathing machine.

When Religiosa Capunitan, 58, first saw the pharmacy, she initially thought the whole thing was a joke. She now picks up her husband's cholesterol medication here monthly, but as she talked about the pharmacy, she giggled. On a recent afternoon, she was waiting at a Game King slot machine; she usually bides her time at the Studio B Buffet.

"It's unbelievable," she said of the pharmacy. (Giggle.) "But it's cool." (Giggle.) And come September, she can chuckle at another oddity: Down by the Spa Mio, offering salt scrubs and massages, M Resort has plans for a doctor's office.

--

ashley.powers@latimes.com

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