Harrah's
210 North Virginia Street
1946 - Present


Paul J. Gregory
Grade 4

Vicki Cooper
Grade 3

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 3 - Spelling Error

Tom Choppin
Grade 2

Tom Choppin
Grade 2

Tom Choppin
Grade 2

David Feavel
Grade 1

David Feavel
Grade 1

David Feavel
Grade 1

David Feavel
Grade 1

David Feavel
Grade 1

Don Boyer
Grade 2

David Feavel
Grade 1

David Feavel
Grade 1

David Feavel
Grade 1

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 1

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 1

Louie Eliopoulos
Grade 2

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 1

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 3

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 3

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 3

Tom Choppin
Grade 3

Laurence Miller
Grade 3

Jim Rauzy
Grade 3

Jim Rauzy
Grade 3

Louie Eliopoulos
Grade 2

Laurence Miller
Grade 2

Jim Rauzy
Grade 2

Louie Eliopoulos
Grade 2

Laurence Miller
Grade 2

Louie Eliopoulos
Grade 2

Louie Eliopoulos
Grade 2

Michael Richter
Grade 1

Michael Richter
Grade 1

Michael Richter
Grade 1

Michael Richter
Grade 1

Michael Richter
Grade 1

William Harrah operated bingo games and the Blackout Bar in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but Harrah's Club, which started at 210 North Virginia Street and eventually spread across Virginia Street to Center Street, was his first full casino.

Harrah's Club opened on June 20, 1946. It was advertised as "Nevada's most beautiful casino, a full casino plus horse race betting, two bars and an all-male staff." The casino originally had 35 front feet on Virginia and was 140 feet deep, reaching into Lincoln Alley. It was licensed for a keno game, a faro bank, two roulette games, six 21 games, three craps games, forty slot machines, and a horse-race book.

Bob Ring's oral history states that "originally we put in rubber tile, inlaid square flooring and all our fixtures were either real fine oak or a mahogany, but since Harrah was advertising the new place as 'The Casino to See,' the rubber tiles and inlaid squares didn't quite cut it with Mr. Harrah. We had to put in Terrazzo tile and carpeting."

In July 1952 Harrah's bought the property where the club was located from Joe and Victor Saturno for a total price of $302,450. The terms were $62,450 down and $40,000 or more annually. In January 1953 Harrah's purchased the former Frisco Club at 207 North Center Street and opened it the following April as Harrah's Bingo Parlor.

In November 1956 Harrah's purchased the Frontier Club, which was located to the immediate north of Harrah's Club, for a price reported to be in excess of $500,000. The wall separating the two clubs was taken down, and Harrah's doubled its size overnight. The expansion resulted in the licensing of ten more table games and two hundred and fifteen more slots.

In June 1957 Harrah's made nationwide news when it installed the first air curtain in Nevada, making the entrance accessible and inviting in all weather. The air curtain was part of the remodeling and expansion resulting from the purchase of the Frontier Club. Another "first" resulting from the expansion was the construction of a revolving stage. Located behind a thirty-six stool bar, the stage revolved and allowed for continuous entertainment with no intermissions necessary. Whenever one act completed its set, the stage revolved to present a second act. The total elapsed "down time" between acts was perhaps forty-five to sixty seconds.

Crowds thronged to Harrah's to see the new air curtain and the revolving stage. Both innovations were firsts for the Reno area.

Two other innovations received less publicity but had an equally significant impact on the gaming industry. It was Harrah who introduced bells and lights on slot machines and thereby gave the interior of casinos their now-customary carnival atmosphere. Harrah is also credited with creating "the eye in the sky"-a crawl space beneath the upstairs offices equipped with one-way glass to allow him or his managers to observe the activity in the casino. This is the first known instance of casino surveillance, another casino device that has become commonplace.

In January 1962 Harrah's announced plans for a four-level casino restaurant on the corner of Second and Center Streets. The site was formerly occupied by the Grand Hotel and Grand Café. Owner Bill Harrah opened his personal automobile collection to the public in February 1962. The collection, which was housed in Sparks, eventually became the world's largest. It is now housed in the National Automobile Museum near downtown Reno.

In April 1962 the Golden Hotel was destroyed by fire, and as a result, Harrah's Bingo Parlor was closed. It reopened on May 29, 1962, at a new location, 136 North Center Street, on a limited basis, and opened full time on July 27, 1962. The new operation included bingo, a restaurant, a $25,000-limit keno game, and slot machines.

On June 14, 1963, after a full year of construction, Harrah's opened its new casino-restaurant on the northwest corner of Second and Center Streets. The building contained 9,520 square feet of casino space with 430 slot machines, three craps games, twelve 21 games, one roulette game, one pari-mutuel wheel, and an eight-station keno game. A 165-seat restaurant called the Terrace Room opened on the second floor. Five hundred and forty new employees were hired to staff the facility.

On June 27, 1965, Harrah's Club opened its Grand Buffet on Second Street at the former site of the Grand Café, which had been owned and operated by the Petronovich family for more than fifty years. The buffet was located in the basement and seated 264 people. The décor was red brick and oak and included several ornate chandeliers. Buffet prices were $1.50 for lunch, $2.95 for dinner, and $2.00 for Sunday brunch.

On March 29, 1966, Harrah's Club leased the partially rebuilt Golden Hotel for five years, with an option to renew. After a hurried and extensive remodeling of the property, Harrah's opened a four-hundred-seat theater-restaurant on June 20, 1966. The showroom, later called the Headliner Room, was located in the former Golden Hotel casino. Eddie Fisher was the first entertainer to appear there. The opening coincided with the twentieth anniversary of Harrah's original downtown opening.

Other facilities that opened on June 20 included a 250-seat theater-lounge, the Blackout Bar, a coffee shop, a steak house, and two other bars. Gaming devices added included 450 slot machines and twenty-four table games. More than four hundred new employees were hired for the facility.

In January 1968 Harrah's announced plans to build a twenty-four-story hotel, and in April the casino announced that William Callahan would be the hotel's first general manager. Work on the hotel started the first week of May, and the hotel was topped out in November 1968. A Christmas tree and a U.S. flag were attached to the final beam of the hotel on the penthouse roof. This was actually the twenty-eighth level of the full Harrah's structure. The 326-room, $6 million hotel was scheduled to open in the fall of 1969.

The hotel opened as scheduled on October 11, 1969. Officiating at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, along with William Harrah, were entertainers Pat Paulsen, Mitzi Gaynor, and Flip Wilson. Lou LaBonte of Auburn, California, was the first person to register as a guest at the hotel. When the hotel opened, it was only 60-percent complete, but it was totally completed by November. The hotel added 150 more people to Harrah's payroll.

At the official grand opening and dedication in November, among the several invited dignitaries attending were Danny Thomas, Jim Nabors, Rock Hudson, Danny Kaye, and Carol Burnett.

Also in 1969, Bob Ring, who had been with Harrah's for over thirty years and had been president since 1966, was promoted to vice-chairman of Harrah's. Maurice Sheppard, first employed by Harrah's in 1946 as an accountant, was named president.

In May 1970, Bob Martin, vice-president of planning, announced the opening of Harrah's 30,000-square-foot convention center. Also in 1970 the one-millionth customer visited Harrah's Automobile Collection.

In September 1971 Harrah's made financial history when it became the first casino operation to become a publicly traded company. The Nevada Gaming Control Board approved the transaction that allowed Harrah to sell 13 percent of its 3,460,000 shares of stock. William Harrah retained 87 percent of the company. Harrah's stock was first offered as an over-the-counter stock, and then it was listed on the American Stock Exchange in 1972. In 1973 it became the first business listed on the New York Stock Exchange to derive most of its revenue from gaming.

Money from the sale of stock was used to begin construction of the Harrah's Hotel on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe. The hotel was completed in 1973.

In June 1973 Linda Woods was hired by Harrah's as a security guard. She is believed to be the first female security guard in Northern Nevada's gaming industry.

In September 1973 Harrah's announced that it would take over the Greyhound Bus Station property on North Center Street. Harrah's then purchased property for the Greyhound Corporation on Stevenson Street between West First and West Second Streets, and a new bus station was built there.

On June 11, 1975, Maurice Sheppard resigned as president of Harrah's and was replaced by longtime Harrah's employee Lloyd Dyer, who served as president until the company was sold to Holiday Inns, Inc., in 1980. Dyer, who was hired by Harrah's in 1957, had served as vice-president under Sheppard and was instrumental in many of Harrah's real-estate transactions over the years.

Harrah's opened its Sports Casino at the former site of the Greyhound Bus Station on June 20, 1975. The casino had 11,000 square feet of gaming area and was licensed for fourteen table games, a $25,000-limit keno game, and 150 slot machines.

On March 31, 1977, Harrah's leased the Overland Hotel-Casino, and that longtime gaming property at the corner of North Center Street and Commercial Row was closed down. In June the property was demolished and construction of a 450-space parking garage began. In July 1977 the Reno City Council approved Harrah's plan to build a three-story skyway over Center Street, connecting Harrah's existing hotel-casino with its planned facility on Center Street (final completion was not expected until early 1980). A year later, in March 1978, Harrah's purchased the Riverside Hotel so it could trade it to Pick Hobson for the Overland site. Hobson was licensed at the Riverside in April 1978. With the sale of the Riverside, Jessie Beck retired from the gaming business.

On June 30, 1978, Bill Harrah died. In a period of a little over forty years (1937-1978), Harrah had built the largest gaming empire in the world. But he had not done it alone, as he would be the first to admit. Bill Harrah was a firm believer in delegating responsibility, and he was fortunate and perceptive enough to surround himself with an organization of loyal, devoted, hardworking, talented, and creative executives and managers. Many were tested and fell by the wayside, but those who survived helped to create the Harrah Empire. First and foremost was his alter ego, Bob Ring. Ring came to Reno in 1938 to manage Harrah's first bingo parlor and was with Harrah for more than forty years. Ring was Bill Harrah's best man in every sense of the word. Not only was he Harrah's general manager for years, he was also Harrah's best man at his wedding to Scherry and was one of his best friends.

Without a doubt, the second most valuable man in Harrah's organization during the 1950s and 1960s was Rome Andreotti. He had an eye for detail and was largely responsible for procedures used in all areas of Harrah's operation, including the near perfection of the gaming operation. He was directly responsible for all pit procedures, and it was through his direction that Harrah's pit became one of the most efficient in Nevada. Every aspect of the Harrah's operation was dictated by carefully spelled-out procedures, and there were more than fifty operations manuals written by company executives covering everything from window-washing policy to business decorum. Andreotti was so loyal to Bill Harrah and so devoted to him that Harrah once said, "If I say, 'Rome, go that way,' he'll keep right on going that way, even if he walks straight through a wall."

Some of the other very early associates of Bill Harrah included William "Bill" Goupil, William "Bull" Demarco, Eldon Campbell, Ed Crume, Vance Beatty, Bill Ames, Fred Brady, and Bill Jackson.

Athletes also played a large role in the early days of Harrah's, and there were many athletes who came to Reno-most of them to attend the University of Nevada-who were hired by Harrah. Many of them stayed to help create the Harrah's empire, including several who became part of Harrah's management team-Andy Marcinko, Pat France, Joe Sheeketski, Lee DeLauer, Bob Martin, and Carmel Caruso.

Another contributor to the early success of Harrah's was Bill Harrah's friend Virgil Smith. Bill Harrah and Virgil Smith spent many hours together in the 1930s and 1940s. Smith, along with helping Bill Harrah financially on occasion, introduced him to two of his early-day club managers-who just happened to be from Virgil Smith's hometown, Lovelock, Nevada-Wayne Martin and Al Fontana.

Yet another important contributor was Maurice Sheppard, who first went to work for Bill Harrah in 1946 and served him faithfully for over thirty years, including six years as president of the company.

Lloyd Dyer, who replaced Sheppard as president, was the leader in the many complicated real-estate transactions that Harrah was continually involved in, as well as in helping to take Harrah's public. Dyer's personality and management style, along with his ability to work with everyone in the organization, made him an integral part of Harrah's successful operation.

Another individual who contributed immensely to the success of Harrah's was Mark Curtis Sr. His efforts in advertising and public relations kept the name and the image of Harrah's in the public eye for decades.

In later years, young men such as Holmes Hendricksen, George Drews, Doyle Mathia, Dennis Small, and Mert Smith took on positions of importance in the organization and helped to make it grow. Hendricksen was particularly important. He was named vice-president of entertainment in 1971, and it was under his direction that Harrah's became synonymous with top entertainment. He also helped to make Harrah's the number-one venue where most entertainers wanted to appear. Because entertainment was one of the major reasons for Harrah's success, it follows that Hendricksen's role in the development of the entertainment department was a highly significant one in the overall picture of Harrah's growth and success.

Of equal importance to the success of Harrah's was the addiction in 1971 of financial expert George Drews, who helped make Harrah's a public company and who, along with Lloyd Dyer and Maurice Sheppard, was instrumental in the listing of Harrah's on the New York Stock Exchange.

Also joining the Harrah's management team in 1971 was Joe Fanelli. He had been employed for many years by the Kahler Corporation, a hotel complex associated with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He became acquainted with Bill Harrah and some of Harrah's top executives while they were at the Mayo Clinic undergoing physical exams. Fanelli's contributions to the food and beverage department were an important part of helping Harrah's achieve the reputation of having the finest cuisine in Northern Nevada casinos.

There were so many middle-management and front-line employees who gave years of loyal service to Harrah's that it would be impossible to list them all. However, the following is a short list: Bud Garaventa, Tom Yturbide, Major Inch, John Gianotti, Bill Jones, Ed Posey, Bob Contois, Ed Wessel, Gene Diullo, Harley Green, Dean Gloster, Mando Rueda, Lee Jellison, Clyde Wade, Bob Hudgens, Bessie Peterson (one of the first female pit supervisors), Winnie Connor (who dealt 21 for more than twenty-five years), George Haskell (a pit supervisor for over thirty years), and maitre d's Cliff Kehl, Leon Harbert, and John Maniscalco.

Although Bill Harrah died in 1978, Harrah's Club continued to live and grow. Largely because of the tireless efforts of Mead Dixon, Harrah's Club and Holiday Inns reached an agreement on a merger in September 1979. Also in September it was announced that after many months of negotiations, Harrah's had purchased the Palace Club, located at the northwest corner of Center Street and Commercial Row.

On December 17, 1979, Phillip Satre became vice-president, general counsel, and secretary of Harrah's. The joint-venture merger agreement between Harrah's and Holiday Inns, Inc., was given final approval by the Gaming Commission on December 17, but it wasn't until March 1, 1980, that the transaction was actually completed. On that date, Harrah's was officially purchased by Holiday Inns, Inc., for $300 million.

Shortly after the sale, on March 4, 1980, Lloyd Dyer was replaced as president of Harrah's by Richard Goeglein, and at the same time George Drews, Harrah's chief financial officer, was asked to resign.

In August 1980 Harrah's opened a 12,000-square-foot expansion on Center Street. The expansion included a 250-seat cabaret, an expanded race and sports book, an eighty-seat lounge, and a pedestrian skyway linking the Virginia Street and Center Street casinos. Licenses were granted for an additional seven hundred slot machines, twenty-seven 21 games, four craps games, two roulette games, five poker games, a keno game, and a baccarat game. With the new expansion, Harrah's employees numbered over 3,700.

In September 1980 a second-floor restaurant offering buffet dining was opened, and an 870-space parking garage was completed.

Through the 1980s and the 1990s, as legalized gambling spread beyond the boundaries of Nevada, Harrah's continued to expand its operations throughout the United States. It is still growing in every part of the gaming world. From its humble beginnings in 1937, Harrah's became one of the largest and most respected gaming organizations in the world.

According to Dwayne Kling

William Fisk "Bill" Harrah

Bill Harrah was born on September 2, 1911, in Pasadena, California. He came to Reno to open his first bingo parlor in October 1937. Although it stayed open only two weeks, from that humble beginning Harrah went on to build the largest gaming empire in the world. William Eadington, an important authority on gambling in Nevada, in the prologue to Leon Mandel's book William Fisk Harrah states: "William Fisk Harrah…had greater impact upon the development of the casino gaming industry in northern Nevada, and indeed, in Nevada, than any other single individual."

After Harrah's initial venture failed, he tried again with a bingo parlor on Commercial Row. Soon after, he moved to Virginia Street, where he took over the Heart Tango Club. In 1942 he leased the Reno Club, and in 1943 he opened the Blackout Bar, which contained slot machines, a craps table, and a 21 game.

After a nine-year series of moves, Harrah finally opened his first full casino. In June 1946 he opened Harrah's Club at the former location of the Mint Club, at 210-214 North Virginia Street.

Nine years later, he bought George's Gateway Club on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe, and in 1958 he purchased the property across the highway (Sahati's Stateline Country Club) and began an extensive remodeling and refurbishing program. In December 1959 Harrah opened the new South Shore Room in the Stateline Club, with Red Skelton appearing as the first headliner.

Meanwhile, he was continuing to expand in Reno as he took over the locations of the Bonanza Club, the Frontier Club, the Golden Hotel, the Overland Hotel, the Palace Club, and the Greyhound bus depot.

In 1962 Harrah opened his automobile museum, and by 1970 one million visitors had been through the museum. Harrah's automobile collection, which included as many as fourteen hundred cars at one point, was the largest such collection in the world. Motor Trend magazine said, "Henry Ford built the car; Bill Harrah built its monument."

Harrah began construction of his Reno hotel in 1968 and opened the 24-story, 365-room hotel in 1969.

In 1971 Harrah's went public with an over-the-counter stock offering. In 1972 Harrah's was listed on the American Stock Exchange, and in 1973 Harrah's was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It was the first business that derived most of its revenues from gaming to appear on the New York Stock Exchange.

In 1972 the ground floor of Harrah's Tahoe Hotel opened. This addition, adjoining the existing casino, made Harrah's Tahoe the largest single casino in the state of Nevada. In November 1973 Bill Harrah officially opened 250 rooms in his Tahoe hotel.

Bill Harrah's success was not a chance happening. He was meticulous in every detail. He was a quiet person who delegated authority and sought the advice of others. He demanded perfection, and two of his philosophies in life were: "Treat people like you would like to be treated yourself," and "Do the impossible, please everyone." His development of the best-run, and possibly the most profitable, casino of his era was the result of careful planning and attention to detail.

Harrah feared federal intervention in the gaming industry and was a consistent supporter of tight state legislative controls on gambling. To this end, he put all his influence behind the 1955 measure to create a state Gaming Control Board and the 1959 successor establishing the Nevada Gaming Commission.

Harrah was married to six women during his lifetime (to one of them, Scherry, twice). His first marriage in the late 1930s was to Thelma Batchelor, from his hometown of Venice, California. His longest marriage was to Scherry Teague. Harrah met her when she was dealing in Harolds Club, and their marriage lasted (off and on) for twenty years. They adopted two sons, John and Tony. Harrah later had three short marriages-one to Bobbie Gentry, then Mary Burger, and later Roxanna Carlson. In 1974 he married Verna Frank Harrison and remained married to her until his death.

Harrah's treatment of the stars who appeared at his casinos was legendary. As one entertainer put it, "There's places to work and then there is Harrah's." Harrah was a shrewd judge of entertainment, and he had a knack for picking a performer at just the right time (or the ability to listen to the advice of his entertainment executive). Just when a new entertainer would be "busting on the scene," he or she would be appearing at Harrah's Club. Harrah formed many lifelong friendships with people who appeared in his club. Stars such as John Denver, Bill Cosby, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Jim Nabors, and a host of others were more than just stars appearing at Harrahs's-they were true friends.

In June 1978 Bill Harrah went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to have surgery for an aortal aneurysm (a weakening of the heart's main artery). It was his second operation for the same problem, the first having been performed in 1972. Two days after undergoing surgery-on June 30, 1978-Bill Harrah died. He was two months short of his sixty-seventh birthday when he passed away.

Harrah's funeral was held on July 5, 1978, at St. John's Presbyterian Church on Plumb Lane. The church was filled to overflowing with hundreds of people from all walks of life. John Denver sang "Singing Skies and Dancing Waters," and George Vargas, one of Harrah's attorneys, delivered the eulogy. Seventy-six people were named as honorary pallbearers.

William Fisk Harrah, who in 1972 had been designated a Distinguished Nevadan by the Board of Regents of the University of Nevada for his "outstanding social, cultural and economic contributions to Nevada," was buried in Hailey, Idaho, on July 19, 1978.

According to Dwayne Kling