Sunday, November 20, 2016

Bill Harrah at Lake Tahoe

Harrah's Lake Tahoe - Opened in 1955

Harrah's Tahoe - Opened in 1957

 Bill Harrah was already a successful casino operator in Reno when he expanded to Lake Tahoe. The expansion is a little confusing, because, over the years, the Harrah's name graced both sides of Highway 50 at Stateline.

Hopping from spot to spot was a pattern Harrah had used in Reno, where he first set up shop at 124 N. Center Street, opening his first Nevada business on October 29, 1937, at the Owl Club. It wasn't successful, but that didn't stop him from opening another club the following summer. Over the next six years, Harrah had a half-dozen clubs, finally settling on Harrah's Reno Club in 1945.

At Lake Tahoe, Harrah first purchased George Cannon's Gateway Club, which was housed in an old Quonset Hut. It was located on the lakeside of the highway. It was upgraded to Harrah's high standards and reopened for the 1955 summer crowd. The club included the original South Shore Room plus keno, roulette, craps and 21 and a pari-mutual wheel (Big 8) and of course, plenty of slot machines.

Players had a choice of two bars, a snack bar, a 24-hour restaurant and a premium booth, where slot players could redeem their premium points for gifts. Business was very good, and just two years later, Harrah purchased Sahati's Stateline Country Club across the highway, on the mountain side, which dated back to the 1930's. It opened as Harrah's Tahoe in 1957. 

A new and vastly expanded South Shore Room theatre-restaurant opened in late 1959. The new club had everything the club across the street had, plus a bingo room and a banquet hall called the Edgewood Room. An underground walkway was added in the 1960's, so players and employees could get across the highway without fighting the crowds of summer, or the snow and bitter cold of winter.

Harrah's Club on the lake side was eventually sold to Harvey Gross, builder of Harvey's casino. Forty years later in a strange twist, Harrah's purchased Harvey's club and now the parent company owns both, once again.

A much more detailed history of Harrah's clubs in Reno and Lake Tahoe is found in the book, Nevada's Golden Age of Gambling. Just $3.99 for 180 pages of stories and photos from the good old days!


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