Then and now: Stateline casino ownership


No. 1 — Photo/

In the 1930s, Bill Harrah operated a poker parlor in Venice, Calif., prior to moving his business to Reno. In January 1955, he purchased George’s Gateway Club on the Lake Tahoe border of Stateline Avenue and Highway 50 (photo No. 1) which he opened as Harrah’s Club (No. 2) that summer.


No. 2 –Photo/

Photo/Lake Tahoe Historical Museum

No. 3 — Photo/Lake Tahoe Historical Museum

Until about 1960, Carson Valley landowners were still using the green meadows of summertime Tahoe for grazing cattle (No. 3).

“The Wildest Show at Tahoe” album (Capitol Records No. T-908, regarded as a classic) was recorded there in 1957 (No. 4) with Louis Prima, Keely Smith, and Sam Butera and The Witnesses in the original small South Shore Room.

Photo/Capitol Records

No. 4 — Photo/Capitol Records

A decade and more later, Bill Cosby would record several of his comedy albums live in the new 750-seat South Shore Room across the street.

No. 5 -- Photo/Lake Tahoe Historical Museum

No. 5 — Photo/Lake Tahoe Historical Museum

In the late 1950s, Harrah’s expanded across the street with the purchase of Sahati’s Stateline Country Club and the Nevada Club (No. 5) which became Tahoe Harrah’s. A hotel was built in 1977 and today the name is Harrah’s Lake Tahoe (No. 6).

About mid-1960s, the original Harrah’s Club on the corner next to Harveys was rebranded as Harrah’s Thrifty Gambler. Harrah’s ultimately sold that corner property to Harveys.

No. 6 -- Photo/Bill Kingman

No. 6 — Photo/Bill Kingman

No. 7 -- Photo/Bill Kingman

No. 7 — Photo/Bill Kingman

As destiny has determined, it was Harrah’s in 2001 that purchased all of Harveys which includes the original 1955 Harrah’s Club corner location (No. 7).

— Bill Kingman


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Comments (16)
  1. Old Long Skiis says - Posted: January 26, 2014

    Excellent article and photos Bill! I have lots of memories as a kid going there with the family. Morning breakfasts and sneaking in a few numbers on a keno ticket. The real treat was going to the South Shore room for dinner and a show. Sammy Davis jr, Donald O’Conner, Red Skelton , Sheri Lewis, a very young Wayne Newton and so many others. There was a small arcade for kids with pinball machines and skee roll, downstairs(?). Thanks again Bill. Old Long Skiis

  2. BitterClinger says - Posted: January 26, 2014

    Great history to look at there. I remember going with my grandparents to dinners at the old Harrah’s club and at the Sahara Tahoe (not pictured). Great times back then.

  3. BijouBill says - Posted: January 26, 2014

    Picture #6 was what I remember the casino core looking like when I first moved here in the 70s. Anybody that wanted to make our town their permanent residence had a good chance at landing a full-time job with decent pay + an excellent benefits package after a few months of employment at the casinos. Bill Harrah and his management team were proud of the way they treated their workers and it was reflected in the 5 star service each and every guest(including locals) received. Sadly, Mr. Harrah passed away a couple years after this and things were never the same. The corps took over the gaming business here and like so many other industries nationwide, the great middle class sell-out that was the 80s had begun.
    Thanks to people like Bill K. and Old Long Skis these memories of better times are still alive and younger people should know that there is a chance for a better future by learning from the past.

  4. Old Long Skiis says - Posted: January 26, 2014

    Well said BijouBill,
    Bill Harrah was a fine man as was Harvey Gross. Both men ran their places in a way not seen much anymore. Treating their empoloyees with respect and decent pay as well as giving their customers the very best service possible. Great food and entertainment, clean property inside and out with a friendly staff that was happy and proud to work there.
    Yes BijouBill, todays casinos might post better numbers if they looked at how things were run in the past. First priorities? Customer service, Fixing and upgrading worn out buildings and better treatment of employees.
    ALOT changed wihen Bill Harrah died and not for the better. Old Long Skiis

  5. Robert Fleischer says - Posted: January 26, 2014

    I have a lot of very fond memories from ‘the old days’, and Old Long Skiis and Bijou Bill are exactly correct. My first trip here was in early January of 1952, I was 14, and came to visit my cousins, who had a small business here. As we all remember (?) that was THE BIG WINTER, as snow started to fall and kept falling. We had MANY FEET of snow in January, and the town got shut down. My cousins got us around town (everyone gathered at Mr. Gross’s joint in the early evening…) via an old Model A Ford, that they had installed REBAR instead of tires, on the wheel rims.
    The town had run out of food, folks were shooting deer for the table. Then… “They” started bringing in food by airplane to the old airport off of Kayle drive…I have photos from back then. Harvey Gross had his Wagon Wheel gathering spot, and it was he who suggested I bribe the pilot…so he sold me a bottle of whiskey to bribe the pilot, to get me out of town as a stow-away…as there was no other way to leave town unless one was on skiis!
    …interestingly enough (??), I never came back until I moved here permanently in 1972.

  6. Linda says - Posted: January 26, 2014

    Thanks Bill!

  7. Dan Stroehler says - Posted: January 26, 2014

    OLS- that Harrah’s arcade you mention was in the building where the CVS/Lucky Beaver now reside. We kids entered through those double doors that face the driveway between the CVS building and the parking structure. Lots of classic pinball games (even for then) inside, there was even a small movie theater playing kids movies continually.

    And, after telling people about the existence of “Thrifty Gambler” all these years, finally some proof!

    Thanks Bill..keep ’em coming!!

  8. DougM says - Posted: January 26, 2014

    Great stuff. Hope can indeed be found sometimes, by just looking in the rear view!

  9. sunriser2 says - Posted: January 26, 2014

    I can remember my father buying me a candy bar at Shelley’s drug store.

  10. Garry Bowen says - Posted: January 27, 2014

    Thanks, Bill for taking the time to find the extra scenes. . .I’m used to the one showing ‘Anna Maria Alberghetti’ on the marquee of the ‘Lake Club’ (as that one on the corner was known as all through the ’60’s) – I started working at the Lake Club as a bus boy in 1959 in the Coffee shop, directly across the street from the Cal-Va-Rado coffee shop (the Kamp family), and never heard the term “Thrifty Gambler” ’til now) – was there 10 years, leaving as Public Relations Rep.

    True, the original South Shore Room was there (you’d go through the entrance on the corner, veer to the right, and inside maybe 30 yards in were a few steps down into where it was) – until the larger one opened in 1959.

    OLS mentions Wayne Newton – “The Newton Brothers” played on the famous stage right behind the bar, adjacent to the only remaining section of any of the old building, the Sage Room (still there!). . .Wayne was about 15 or 16 at that time; he used to visit the high school (now middle school) when he was here.

    It was in the new South Shore Room that his identity started to change: 1st, the “Newton Brothers” then “Wayne Newton” w/Frank Newton, Accompanist”, then just Wayne Newton, before becoming “Mr. Las Vegas”.

    As to the ‘CVS building’ – true the double doors faced the parking lot, but it was then known as the “Children’s Center”, down the long driveway next to a fence, as there was no parking structure – just a small Attendant’s booth where cars came & went (either side) from a valet parking lot next to an old motel, across that sidewalk (inside the fence).

    When Sammy Davis, Jr. was in town, he used to “hold court” in the Children’s Center after the SSR cocktail show with a buffet and the showing of silent pictures – he was a fanatic for them. . .why go to the bar ? – there was too much fun going on in the CC most of the night!!

    Still looking for a “full-on” photo of the ‘pylon’ sign at the CA entrance to explain Harrah’s prominence…(?)

    ‘George’s Gateway Club’ was owned by George Cannon, NV senator. . .

    Thanks again, Bill. . .

  11. Old Long Skiis says - Posted: January 27, 2014

    Dan Stroelher and Garry Bowen,
    Dan, thanks for reminding me of the small movie theater at Harrah’s, once you wrote that, it all came back to me. For me this was over 50 years ago so some of the details are a bit fuzzy.
    Garry Bowen thank you so much for adding your memories of the old stateline area. The “Childrens Center” was where I met Emmet Kelly, a popular clown in those days…funny but also scary to me at the same time! I’ve never liked clowns since then!
    Mr. Bowen do you or any other readers of LTN have memorabilia or ANY old Tahoe stuff to help Bill with his excellent “Then and Now “series?
    “Then and Now” is a place at LTN where you won’t get criticized about the smallest of things. Let’s keep it goin’. Keep up the good work Bill. OLS

  12. Know Bears says - Posted: January 28, 2014

    Between the articles and the comments, youngsters (?) like me learn a lot about local history from this weekly feature.

    A few things I’d like to know more about include Angora Lakes Resort, Baldwin Beach, Kiva Beach, Fallen Leaf Lake, Vikingsholm, the USFS cabin program, the indoor movie theater at the Y, and the funky children’s carnival rides that used to be next to the mini golf course on Lake Tahoe Blvd/US 50.

  13. Dan Stroehler says - Posted: January 29, 2014

    More on Thrifty Gambler casino: I recall it being mostly a slot joint, no table games. I vaguely recall a Keno game always going. There was a bar, but don’t remember them having food..the “Big Harvey” sandwich (with pickle) next door was the biggie for us.

  14. Mama Bear says - Posted: January 29, 2014

    My family came through Tahoe in 1964 (I was 15) and us kids went to the Arcade at Harrah’s which was in the basement. You came in the eastern entrance from the parking lot and made a right and went down the stairs.
    We also went to the Harrah’s Arcade in Reno. Being 15 at the time I was a bit put out at having to spend time with all the little kids.
    Good times and good memories.

  15. Old Long Skiis says - Posted: January 29, 2014

    Mama Bear and Know Bears, Hi bear buddys!
    Know Bears there’s LOTS of history out at Kiva, Baldwin, Camp Richardson and Fallen Leaf. Too much for me to tell here.
    The movie theater at the “y” was called Lakeside Theater. I saw the James Bond movie “Goldfinger” there in 1964 or 5, (I still love that movie). I worked at that theater chain while in high school. The drive in on Glenwood, Lakeside and the small one up at stateline across from Raleys and next to the Greyhound bus station.The owner of the theater’s in the late 60’s early 70’s was a guy named Bob Retzer. Lot’s of fun!
    Know Bears, thanks for remembering that the arcade was in the basement at the old Harrah’s. I recall the stairs and holding my little brothers hand and then being greeted by a scary clown.
    Funny how these things stay with you after all these years.
    I don’t live in the past, the past lives in me!
    Take care and pray for snow, Old Long Skiis

  16. Linda (Williams) Snow says - Posted: February 9, 2014

    I grew up spending all of my vacations and summers at Bijou Pines, South Lake Tahoe. My grandmother worked for Jack Shelley at Shelley’s Stateline Drugs. It was my job to wake my grandfather to pick up my grandmother at work at midnight. When I was 17 I worked at the drug store one summer. I met many entertainers and most were very nice. Don Knotts was particularly nice and insisted on me putting on the pancake makeup he had just purchased. We went to the shows at the South Shore Room regularly and I remember Jack Benny introducing Wayne Newton at one show. My grandmother enrolled me in swimming lessons with the Red Cross. Since she couldn’t swim she was determined that I know how. My best friend Ronnie Ray Rice and I swam at Pope Beach and Baldwin Beach first thing in the morning. The water was glassy and felt warmer than the air. The boys in the class tried to scare us with water snakes they caught in the marshes but I pretended to like the snakes so they left me alone. It was a wonderful place to grow up.