Standing tall on North Center Street, Harrah’s Casino has been a staple in Reno’s gaming industry. The iconic property was sold last year and will eventually become the Reno City Center, which will include apartments, dining and office spaces. KUNR’s Olivia Ali spoke to longtime Nevada gaming reporter Howard Stutz to learn about this historic change to the landscape of downtown Reno.
Olivia Ali: How long have you been covering Harrah’s and gaming in general?
Howard Stutz: I started in the late 1980s, covering the casino industry when it was really just Nevada and New Jersey, and then followed Harrah’s through all its changes, from when it bought Caesars Entertainment, then took on the name Caesars Entertainment. Harrah's is just part of, really, Caesars Entertainment's collection of casino properties throughout the U.S. in 15 states.
Ali: Take us back to the beginning in the 1930s. When did Harrah's first open and what was it like back then?
Stutz: Harrah's Reno was the start of the whole Harrah's chain. It was the original place where Bill Harrah started his bingo parlor. He expanded it to a hotel-casino there, and it became the basis of the whole Harrah's chain. There are 17 Harrah's branded casinos in 11 states. It was the start of what really became one of the flagship companies in the gaming industry.
Ali: How did the company grow to become one of the biggest gaming companies in the world?
Stutz: After Mr. Harrah passed away, Harrah’s merged for a while with the Holiday Inn Corporation. As gaming started expanding around the U.S., it became natural for Holiday Inn to utilize the Harrah’s name in different markets around the U.S., so that was kind of the fuel of their growth. Eventually, Harrah's split off again. They kind of went in separate directions. Once Harrah's bought Caesars Entertainment, which at the time was really just several Caesars properties primarily in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, that really became the growing point for the company.
Ali: What was the significance of the Harrah’s Reno location?
Stutz: Reno was really seen as the centerpiece for the Harrah's empire. It was, really, the top casino for Harrah's, and especially in Reno. It was very well known in Reno. One of the first to have a showroom. It brought celebrity acts, almost like what you normally would see in Vegas, that started happening in Reno, and Harrah's was really the center of that. For Reno itself, Harrah's was symbolic with Reno's gaming market.
Ali: When it finally closed for good last summer, you wrote a column for CDC Gaming Reports saying that Harrah’s Reno deserved more. What did you mean by that?
Stutz: The sale happened long before the pandemic, so we knew it was going to close probably toward the end of summer, but it didn't get a party or some type of send-off that you see a lot of properties get when they're going to close. Whether it's former customers or former entertainers, people that knew about the property, they would come back and kind of celebrate it, and that didn't happen.
You know, Eldorado has three resorts, The Row in Reno, with the Eldorado, the Silver Legacy and the Circus Circus properties there. So when they went ahead and sold it [Harrah's], they sold it to the company [CAI Investments] that's going to call it now Reno City Center, Caesars continued to operate it under management contract. It was supposed to be through the end of the summer last year. Well, then the pandemic shutdown all the casinos in Nevada starting in March, and even when they were about ready to reopen in June, that's when Caesars made the decision not to reopen Harrah's Reno. It just didn't make sense at the time for the company to go ahead and do that.
Ali: So, CAI Investments purchased the property and plans to make it the Reno City Center, a non-gaming [facility] and apartment complex with dining and shopping. How well do you think this is going to work in Northern Nevada?
Stutz: It seems like it will, in the sense that it's something new and different for the Northern Nevada market. For the city of Reno, it kind of falls into some of the development plans that Reno has been pushing.
Olivia Ali is a senior at the Reynolds School of Journalism.
The photo included in this story is licensed under Flickr Creative Commons.