William (Bill) Harrah, Reno legend

Tuesday, 7 December 2021

William (Bill) Harrah was a legend of Reno and a prominent figure in Las Vegas.

William Fisk Harrah was born on September 2, 1911, in South Pasadena, California. Although William’s father favoured his education, being a lawyer himself, Bill never completed his mechanical engineering studies at UCLA. Instead, he worked from an early age in most of the family’s businesses along the promenade on Venice Beach in Southern California. The hot dog business and the shooting gallery had steady revenues, but the Circle game won more than both together when it was in full operation.

William (Bill) Harrah

Innate talent in business

In Circle or Reno game, players had to roll small rubber balls onto a ramp to light a suit and four card numbers, trying to match the “winning” sequence in a group, a game similar to bingo. Unfortunately, the local sheriff’s office considered the game a gamble and it was closed every year during the election. Sounds familiar to you, doesn’t it? Because of this, John Harrah, Bill’s father, refused to invest money in modernizing the facilities, so Bill offered his father $ 500 for the business. His father agreed, and the younger Harrah invested in the establishment, bought new curtains, new chairs, increased the prizes and the business grew immediately.

The birth of the Harrah legend

He turned a $ 100-a-week business into a $ 25,000-a-year business. In October 1937 he moved his business to Reno and founded Hararra’s Club Bingo. The new club was a success, and the improvements made to the interior and the heating system necessary for the comfort of the guests were to become a hallmark of Harrah’s business philosophy.

After meeting Virgil Smith, who successfully operated Colbrandt’s and Wine House at the time, he became his friend and financial supporter who helped Harrah move to better neighbourhoods on N. Virginia Street, where the Reno Club and Harold’s Club were founded. In the early 1940s there was an abundant influx of people eager to have fun in local clubs. At that time was established the first casino on the Las Vegas Strip, El Rancho Vegas. Harrah’s expansion took place in time, as many people from the nearby town of Stead and those coming from the San Francisco Bay Area arrived in Reno and created a booming city for local casinos during World War II. Here players could find dice games, blackjack, Chuck-a-luck, Faro, roulette and lots of silver Pace slot machines with a smiling sultan on a magic carpet on the spinning reels at Harrah’s casinos.


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Development in Tahoe and Las Vegas

At Lake Tahoe, Harrah bought George’s Gateway Club in 1955 to expand her empire. Harrah’s properties included the Lake Club on the lake side of Highway 50, Harrah’s Tahoe, on the mountainside. Then Harrah expanded into Las Vegas in 1973, buying the Holiday Casino on the Las Vegas Strip from Shelby and Claudine Williams. The property was close to the successful Sands Casino and across the street from where Mirage is now.

Harrahs Las Vegas

How was William Harrah’s Man

Everyone knew he was a perfectionist. Everything had to be perfect and in its place for the guests of its properties. He set the standard at the time. All his employees knew that Harrah liked to take his employees by surprise, and they often woke up with him unannounced. For him, the casino was not just about lights and opulence but about respect, attitude and fairness towards those who crossed its threshold. He was also a pioneer in reward programs for loyal players and focused on slots while others still focused on live games at dealer tables.

Furthermore, he was known for breaking down racial barriers by hosting performers such as Sammy Davis Jr. and Bill Cosby in his locations. He was married seven times to six women and enjoyed collecting cars.

The legacy left to Nevada

But the most precious thing left behind him was the Nevada Gaming Control Board in 1955 as a result of his influence on the politics of the time, the main organization designed to regulate gambling in Nevada, an institution that still monitors the gambling activities in Silver State.

He died at the age of 66 at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, as a result of heart surgery.

Harrah’s Hotels and Casinos is now part of the giant Caesars Entertainment.


Author: Editor

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