I’m presently in Reno, Nevada, on a consulting assignment. Reno is an interesting city in more ways than one, but most people know about the casinos, more than anything else.

Here’s the thing about casinos. Parking is always free at almost every casino I’ve ever been to. Here in Reno, parking is free at every casino. In Las Vegas, parking is free. In Oneida, NY, where Turning Stone Casino resides, parking is free. Parking is free at the casinos in Atlantic City also. And parking is free at Foxwoods in Connecticut.

But here’s the unique thing about the first two. Parking is free in every other parking garage in the area also. In Reno, there are a few parking meters in sensitive areas, such as around hospitals, but otherwise parking can be found absolutely free. I’m not sure about the other cities, but I would bet that parking is free for the most part.

Is free parking a novel concept only in areas where there are casinos? The truth is that parking is free because the casinos want to encourage people to come to their establishments and spend money there. If people had to park, it wouldn’t necessarily dissuade large numbers of people from coming probably, but it would be a deterrent to some, and irritating to others.

The thing is that, in most cities across the United States, downtown areas are becoming like ghost towns because people don’t want to have to first try to find parking, then have to pay what sometimes amounts to exorbitant fees to park somewhere. One might think they’ve found a bargain in New York City to find a parking spot that costs less than $20 for 5 hours or so, but not every city can compare to NYC; heck, almost no cities can compare to NYC.

As more and more cities are wondering how to revitalize their downtown areas, I would suggest that they take a look at finding ways to provide not only more parking, but more free parking. I’ll take the major city where I live, Syracuse, NY, as an example. You can park on the streets or in parking lots for as “little” as $2.00 for two hours, and the city has meters everywhere. However, there are almost no shops anymore, certainly not the big mega-stores from the past. I’m thinking, though, that if they could find a way to provide free parking and encourage a few specialty shops to set up, quality stores that aren’t located in malls, that they would make more money per purchase in those stores than they will in parking fees. Not only that, but they wouldn’t need meter maids anymore or the threat of booting cars because of too many parking tickets.

It would make downtown more friendly, encourage more commerce, and help the tax base of the city, much of which isn’t taxable for one reason or another. Maybe I’m naive, but I’m seeing the concept of more parking, and free to boot, as a win-win.

Then again, maybe I’m naive; what’s your thought on this?