It would be difficult to overstate the impact of Harolds Club on the city of Reno, the trajectory of Nevada gaming, and the entire U.S. casino industry. Founded in 1935 by Harold Smith, Sr. with the help of $500 borrowed from his father, Raymond I. "Pappy" Smith, Harolds Club (apostrophe intentionally omitted after the first few years) was largely responsible for changing the perception of gambling in the United States from a vice to a respectable form of recreation. The members of the Smith family were renowned not just for their showmanship and marketing savvy, but for their immense dedication to promoting the entire city of Reno, providing scholarships for local students, and treating their employees like family.
Harold Smith, Sr. together with his brother, Raymond A. Smith, first opened their family's modest casino in June of 1935 in a single storefront with only an eight-foot-high penny roulette wheel and two slot machines. Within months they were joined by their father, "Pappy" Smith, and expanded their offerings to include fan-tan and craps. They were perhaps most infamous for an early, albeit short-lived, game of mouse roulette. The club did well, and expanded into a neighboring storefront in 1941, which allowed them to add a greater variety of games, including poker, craps, and 21.
Harolds Club is widely recognized as the first casino to hire female dealers, a practice they initiated in the late 1930s with female members of the Smith family. In 1947 the club expanded north into the former site of Harrah's Bingo and opened the Covered Wagon Room, a pioneer-themed visual extravaganza that included the famous Silver Dollar Bar, featuring more than 2,000 silver dollars encased in plastic along the bar top.
In 1949 Harolds Club expanded again and opened the Roaring Camp Room, full of more western memorabilia including hundreds of historic firearms. In 1949 the Smith family hired artist Theodore McFall to design the famous mural that adorned the club's Virginia Street facade for the next fifty years. Like the club's interior decor, the mural capitalized on the popularity of stereotypical depictions of cowboys, pioneers, Indians, and the West that dominated American culture at the time. Harolds Club was also known worldwide for its groundbreaking marketing slogan, "Harolds Club or Bust," which at its height blazed across more than 2,300 billboards across the United States and selected locations worldwide.
Continued success led to more expansion in 1950s with a seven-floor addition topped by a showroom called the Fun Room. The Smiths sold the property and buildings to a New York investment firm in 1962 but leased back the casino. In 1970, the entire venture was purchased by Howard Hughes and in 1994 was set to be purchased by a New Jersey gaming company that eventually called off the sale. Harolds Club closed in 1995 and never reopened. The property was purchased by Harrah's Reno, which demolished Harolds Club in 1999, but not before the famous mural was carefully removed. It was later reinstalled at Reno's Livestock Events Center.