Guy W. Farmer: It’s a shame Harrah’s isn’t Harrah’s anymore
For the Nevada Appeal
I was saddened earlier this month when Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc. became Caesar’s Entertainment Corp. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t pay much attention to a name change in the gambling business, but because of my association with Nevada gaming control in the 1960s I feel that the name change does a disservice to Northern Nevada gaming pioneer Bill Harrah, who established the Harrah’s brand.
Although I realize that the 1960s are long past and that the gambling business has gone corporate, I have fond memories of the gaming pioneers who put Reno/Tahoe on national and international tourism maps. Those visionary entrepreneurs include Harrah, the Smith family of Harolds Club, Lincoln Fitzgerald, Warren Nelson of the Cal-Neva and Dick Graves, who built the Carson City and Sparks Nuggets. The only major family-owned casinos left in our area are the Caranos’ Eldorado and Silver Legacy in Reno, and the venerable Nugget in Sparks, now named for owner John Ascuaga, who bought out Graves many years ago. I congratulate the indefatigable Ascuaga, a Carson Valley resident, for keeping his popular casino in the family.
A recent Harrah’s corporate announcement said “the change (from Harrah’s to Caesar’s) reflects our evolution as the industry’s leading provider of branded casino entertainment. While our name is changing, our dedication to who we are as a company will remain the same.”
Baloney! Bill Harrah must be rolling over in his grave to see his elegant Reno and Lake Tahoe casinos become bland copies of other faceless corporate gambling emporiums.
“When Bill Harrah died in 1978, the MGM came into Reno in the same year,” said Reno gaming historian Dwayne Kling. “That was the beginning of the corporate transformation of gaming. One by one, nearly all the family-owned places sold out,” and that was a shame because it transformed the character of local casinos. Frankly, I liked it better when we licensed individuals and made them choose between Nevada and out-of-state gambling interests.
In “Every Light Was On,” his well-researched 1999 oral history of Bill Harrah and his casinos, Kling stressed Harrah’s high customer service standards and attention to detail. As I wrote in a review of Kling’s book, “Harrah set new standards for cleanliness and honesty, creating a shiny new image for Nevada gambling,” which we greatly appreciated at the state gaming control agencies.
Former Harrah’s vice president for entertainment Holmes Hendricksen told Kling that “people used to make fun of the fact that he (Harrah) wanted all the lights to be on, but it was just another part of the whole picture. If one light is out, there’s something wrong – it isn’t perfect!”
That’s the way Bill Harrah ran his casinos, and his way was good for Nevada. I miss him.
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, was a state gaming control official in the mid-1960s.