Claudine Williams Remembered as Gaming Pioneer

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Claudine Williams, a leading figure in the Nevada gambling industry and the first woman to manage a major Las Vegas Strip casino, has died. She was 88.

Harrah's Entertainment officials said Thursday that Williams died Wednesday in Las Vegas after a long illness.

"Claudine was a remarkable woman whose grace, tenacity, intellect, integrity, work ethic and community involvement propelled her to the chairmanship of Harrah's Las Vegas and to service on a wide range of business, charitable and community service organizations," Harrah's chief executive Gary Loveman said in a letter to company employees.

"Despite having only a ninth-grade education and competing in what was at the time an almost exclusively male-dominated industry, Claudine's achievements were remarkable," Loveman said.

Williams was the first woman inducted into the American Gaming Association Gaming Hall of Fame in 1992.

Williams was born in Mansfield, La., and moved as a teenager to Texas, where she met her husband, Shelby Williams. They bought the Silver Slipper casino on the Las Vegas Strip in the early 1960s and sold it several years later to billionaire Howard Hughes.

The couple bought property across from Caesars Palace and opened the Holiday Casino adjacent to the Holiday Inn. After Shelby Williams died in 1977, Claudine Williams emerged as president and general manager of the Holiday.

She sold 40 percent of the casino in 1979 to Holiday Inns Inc., then the parent company of Harrah's Entertainment, which - by then spun off - bought her remaining interest in 1983.

Williams retained the title of chairman of the renamed Harrah's Las Vegas, the company's first casino in town. Harrah's, then based in Reno, Nev., and now in Las Vegas and privately held, now owns or operates more than 50 casinos including eight in Las Vegas. Its revenue in 2008 was $9.4 billion.

Williams served on more than two dozen boards and commissions over the years, including the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and contributed millions of dollars to charities and to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. A new campus dormitory was named for her in 1989.

Williams is survived by her son, Michael Shelby Williams of New York, and stepson Scott Noe and stepdaughter Susan Noe of Houston. Memorial services are pending.

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