If what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, the same is doubly true for Nevada’s other gambling destination, Reno, where the once-booming casino industry has been in decline for years (and there may not be anyone to witness your debauchery, anyway). With tourists instead flocking to Las Vegas or California’s Indian casinos, the northwest Nevada town has most recently tried to reinvent itself, not as the ultimate destination for slots, partying, and quick divorces, but as a bowling mecca. Its casinos, meanwhile–those that are still around, that is–are struggling.
Photographer Joe Johnson captures the eerie ghost town-like quality of the city’s gambling industry in his latest series, “The Playing Field.” Casinos, designed to be disorienting, insular places that trap you in a haze of neon lights, buzzing sounds, and the tantalizing potential to win big, look haunted by the phantoms of Reno’s heyday.
“I am most interested in the seams of the veneer, where the spectacle does not quite deliver upon its glossy promise,” Johnson writes in a statement. In the photos, taken on early weekday mornings with a long exposure, lounges remain empty, rows and rows of slot machines go unplayed, and parking lots are completely open. Save for a few lone souls, no one is betting. The tremendous infrastructure of gambling–big hotels, cavernous spaces lined with digital machines and gaudy decor, huge parking garages–sits abandoned in the blinding desert sun, a warning to any urban center that relies on a single industry. Through Johnson’s lens, Reno might as well be a ghost town.