Filed Under Gambling

Harrah's Reno

From a small bingo parlor to one of the top gaming companies in the world, it all began with Bill Harrah in 1937 Reno.

William "Bill" Harrah started his long association with Nevada gaming in 1937 with a number of small joint bingo ventures in downtown Reno. It was just six years after the state legalized gambling, making Harrah one of the state's gaming pioneers. His first full-fledged casino, Harrah's Club, opened at 210 N. Virginia Street on June 20, 1946. Advertised as "Nevada's Most Beautiful Casino," the club offered dice, roulette, 21 games, faro, race horse betting, race horse keno, and 40 slot machines, and featured two bars.

The club was a success, allowing Harrah not just to open a gaming property on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, but also to purchase and expand into the neighboring Frontier Club just to the north of his Reno property in 1956, a move that doubled his square footage. He installed a revolving stage, which allowed for seamless transitions between performing acts, and Nevada's first "air curtain," which allowed the wide entrance area to remain open to the street year-round while protecting patrons from outdoor cold and heat. Harrah is also widely credited with adding bells and lights to slot machines and to introducing the "eye in the sky" form of casino security, a crawl space installed above the gaming floor that allowed managers to view the scene below through one-way glass.

Additional property acquisitions in the 1960s expanded the Harrah holdings all the way east to Center Street, taking over the former sites of the Grand Hotel and Grand Cafe and Golden Hotel. The Headliner Room opened in the former Golden Hotel casino and was renamed Sammy's Showroom in 1991 to honor Harrah's favorite Sammy Davis, Jr. Harrah constructed a 326-room, $6 million hotel directly behind competing Harolds Club in October 1969. Additional hotel towers followed, and Harrah's became the first gaming company to be publicly traded in 1971.

By the time of his death in 1978, Bill Harrah had built the world's largest gaming empire. In 1979, the company was purchased by Holiday Inns, Inc. and in 1980 its expansion continued with a new 12,000 square-foot addition on Center Street, where the company had already purchased and demolished the Greyhound Bus Station and the Overland Hotel-Casino. The replacement of so many of Center Street's former array of clubs and casinos by the single gaming entity changed Reno's downtown landscape forever.

In the 1990s, Harrah's Entertainment expanded into markets throughout the country. Harrah's acquired Caesars Entertainment, Inc. in 2005, a move that precipitated a series of events leading to the merger of Caesars Entertainment and Eldorado Resorts in 2019. In January 2020, the company announced an agreement to sell the Harrah's Reno property to CAI Investments, which soon announced plans to convert the entire property into a non-gaming mixed-use development including apartments, retail, and restaurants. The doors to Harrah's Reno closed with the statewide COVID-19 casino shutdown in March 2020 and never reopened.

Images

Harrah's Club in the 1950s
Harrah's Club in the 1950s Bill Harrah's first fully-fledged casino opened at 210 N. Virginia Street in 1946 between the Frontier Club and the Reno National Bank. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1950s
William "Bill" Harrah
William "Bill" Harrah Born in Pasadena, California in 1911, Bill Harrah opened his first bingo parlor in Reno in 1937. Source: Special Collections, UNLV Libraries
Harrah's Bingo, 1940s
Harrah's Bingo, 1940s Prior to the opening of Harrah's Club at 210 N. Virginia Street, which was south of Harolds Club, Bill Harrah operated Harrah's Bingo at 242 North Virginia Street, which was north of Harolds Club. That is the establishment seen in the foreground in this early 1940s photo. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1940s
Harrah's Club, 1960s
Harrah's Club, 1960s In the 1960s, Harrah's Club expanded to Center Street, opening a four-story restaurant and casino on the northwest corner of Center and East Second Streets in 1963. Source: Philip Galbraith Date: 1960s
Harrah's Club in the 1970s
Harrah's Club in the 1970s In the 1970s, the Harrah's Reno frontage on Virginia Street was still relatively modest, nestled between the Nevada Club and Reno National Bank. Source: Philip Galbraith Date: 1970s
Expansion in the 1970s
Expansion in the 1970s A bird's eye view looking northwest shows the rapidly expanding Harrah's property of the 1970s, extending from East Second Street (seen on the left) northward to Commercial Row, and from Lake Street (at the bottom of this photo) west to Virginia Street. The hotel towers are between Center and Virginia Streets. Image courtesy of Philip Galbraith Collection
Harrah's, 1996
Harrah's, 1996 By the time this postcard was created in the 1990s, the Harrah's property included the former Reno National Bank building, then occupied by Planet Hollywood. Source: Philip Galbraith Date: 1996
Farewell to Harrah's Reno
Farewell to Harrah's Reno In July 2020, the Harrah's Reno Facebook page featured this farewell to Reno, as word of its permanent closure spread. Source: Harrah's Reno Facebook page Date: 2020

Location

210 N. Virginia Street, Reno, Nevada

Metadata

Alicia Barber, “Harrah's Reno,” Reno Historical, accessed May 19, 2024, https://renohistorical.org/items/show/257.