End of an era: Downtown Reno without a Harrah's

Published: Jan. 15, 2020 at 6:35 PM PST
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It's hard to imagine downtown Reno without Harrah's, but that's what's in store. The landmark gaming property has been sold and will be reborn, under another name, as a non-gaming hotel.

It's a big change in several ways.

Harrah's today is a prominent national brand on 17 casinos in 11 states, but it all began with a Virginia Street bingo parlor and a canny businessman named Bill Harrah. From this unremarkable start Harrah built a gaming empire and changed the industry itself.

"I think to some extent he invented modern casino gaming as we know it today," says University of Nevada Reno economics professor and veteran observer of the gaming industry Mark Nichols, "elevating it from the simple slot machine, smokey, dingy environment to the more resort experience. That all started with him."

He died in 1978--leaving projects including a huge all inclusive resort west of town unbuilt, the business and most of his huge car collection were sold. The personal stamp he set on his operation changed under corporate ownership. The gaming business changed as well expanding to other states.

Harrah's eventually merged with Caesars=Entertainment. Caesars is now merging with another Reno-based company Eldorado Resorts which already operates three other hotel casinos here.

The sale of Harrah's Reno to CAI Investments will remove one more major casino in the downtown as it will be reopened as a non-gaming property joining the Whitney Peak and the Renaissance in that business niche.

"i think it reflects the changing economy, the changing competitive environment Reno faces and the changing experience that's .taking place in casinos," says Nichols.

The switch will happen in the second half of the year.

Caesars issued a statement late today saying it would work with displaced employees giving them priority consideration for openings at other properties in Nevada.

The Harrah's name a fixture in downtown Reno for 83 years will be gone.

"The significant change is not necessarily only economically," says Nichols. "but culturally and historically. that's a big part of Reno's history that's going away and that's always sad."

Copyright KOLO-TV 2020

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