Harrah's Hotel Casino Collection

Identifier: NC1335

Scope and Contents

Collection contains ephemeral materials relating to Harrah's Hotel Casinos assembled by the Special Collections Department from a variety of donors and sources including seven stage crew VHS tapes.


  • 1990s


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials must be used on-site; advance notice suggested. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.

Historical Note

William Fisk Harrah was born on September 2, 1911 to Amanda (Fisk) and John G. Harrah in South Pasadena, California. Harrah was raised and educated in southern California where his father was an attorney and politician. He attended California Christian School in 1929 and was preparing to transfer to UCLA in 1930 when the Great Depression hit. Harrah's father, John, dealt heavily in finances and real estate and suffered heavy losses during the Depression. He was forced to sell off all but two properties, the family house and a large oceanfront building in Venice, California with a walk and pier. Knowing that this was an opportunity to make money during a difficult time, John opened a room dedicated to a card game called Circle Game. In 1933, Harrah bought his father out of the business. Although successful, Harrah constantly ran into trouble with law enforcement because games of chance were illegal in Los Angeles (of which Venice was a part).

In 1937, Harrah purchased a Bingo parlor in Reno, Nevada after a visit to the city left him impressed with the unharassed status of gaming. Over the next decade, he expanded his original Bingo parlor, bought out a number of competitors, and learned a number of important lessons about the nature of the gambling business. Harrah quickly grew beyond just Reno, opening a second location in Stateline (Lake Tahoe), Nevada and adding hotel rooms to the casinos. Within a relatively short time, William Harrah became a wealthy and respected gambling entrepreneur.

Another logical feature for the casinos and hotels came with elaborate stage shows and a “star” system unmatched in Nevada. The most famous figures of the entertainment world played at Harrah’s both at Reno and Lake Tahoe. Everywhere, patrons and prospective patrons heard about flawless service in restaurants, casinos, and showrooms operated by Harrah’s. By the 1970s, when Nevada legalized corporate structure for casinos, the Harrah conglomerate was ready; trading in the company stock proved attractive from the beginning, with William Harrah retaining control of the management and operation.

Concurrent with the developments in gambling, Harrah expanded his longtime interest in automobiles into a consuming hobby that evolved into a world-famous automotive museum. Confessedly “goofy over cars,” Harrah spent increasing amounts of time and money in developing his collection and the museum, but not merely as a wealthy collector. He exercised his interest by attending sales, shows, races, and rallies all over the world. As a result, Harrah’s Automobile Collection shows the wide-ranging appreciation of its owner for nearly anything connected with his avocation.

[Most of the above information is taken from the introduction to William Harrah's Oral History Every Light Was On: Bill Harrah and His Clubs Remembered. Reno, Nevada : University of Nevada Oral History Project, 1980.]


0.25 Cubic Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials



Harrah's Hotel Casino was founded by William Harrah (1911-1978) in 1937 with the opening of a Bingo parlor in Reno, Nevada. Collection contains VHS tapes related to the Harrah's Hotel Casinos located in Reno, Nevada and Stateline (Lake Tahoe), Nevada.


Arranged as received with no series hierarchy.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

VHS tapes (7) of stage crew donated by Joan Arrizabalaga in February 2018.

Related Materials

William Harrah recorded an oral history with the University of Nevada Oral History Project in 1980. A digital copy of the transcript can be found via the Oral History Project Archive LibGuide or in physical format in the Special Collections Department (HV6710.3.H37 E84 1999).



Guide to Harrah's Hotels Casino Collection
Harrah's Hotel Casino Collection
Jessica Maddox
August 2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)