Harold’s Club casino has been gone for 15 years now, but in its heyday, the casino easily outpaced every other casino in Nevada. There isn’t much left to commemorate it in Reno, but there are still plenty of players who made Harold’s Cub a regular stop when they came to Reno.
Since its beginning on a cold winter evening in 1935, the casino grew every year in size and/or revenue for over 25-years. That alone sets it apart from most casinos in the world.
The doors to the small 25-foot wide gaming parlor opened at seven o’clock on February 23rd and Harold looked anxiously up and down Virginia Street, hoping to capture a few players for the new club. The casino didn’t have much to offer, just two slot machines, one nickel and one dime, and a large roulette wheel called a “flasher.”
The wheel was suspended from the ceiling with a huge mirror so players could see the action and make bets on their own layouts. With space for up to 43 players, the casino was ready for action – it just needed some players.
Eventually, a few gamblers dropped in out of the windy evening and started making penny bets. By 9:00 several dozen players who had given the new joint a toss, and while revenues were not great, they did exist.
Within a year, Harold S. Smith, Sr. and his father, Raymond I. “Pappy” Smith were in the black, and had added a 21 table and a craps game. Increasing revenues allowed the club to do a little advertising, and they began distributing ashtrays and matches to diners and gas stations up and down the coast of Oregon and California.
After five years in Reno, the casino expanded, and needed 140 employees to handle the 24-hour gaming action. Even Harold’s wife, Dorothy, and his mother, Dora Mae, came to work for him.
Dealing wasn’t the best job in the world, but those at Harold’s Club typically earned $10-15 dollars a day. New employees for other jobs could expect an income of as little as $3 a day.
World War II had a dramatic impact on Harold’s Club and the other casinos in Reno. With local servicemen working at the nearby town of Stead, and the San Francisco Bay Area flooded with even more servicemen, the town experience an influx of players and income it had never seen, and it was only to get better.
Harold’s Club began several advertising campaigns, and the slogan “Harold’s Club or Bust” was a favorite for billboards all over the world. At one time there were over 2300 of these billboards to remind players that Harold’s was a fun and exciting place to go.
Busted gamblers could also expect Harold’s Club to front them a few dollars or a bus ticket to get back home – something other clubs in town didn’t offer.
Please see Part Two and Part Three of this series!