Reno Nevada Gambling History

Reno Nevada

Reno is the other gambling city in Nevada. It’s the perfect place for those who like to gamble in the casino but like the feel of a simpler setting.
Reno isn’t as big and flashy as Las Vegas, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less a part of gambling history in the United States.
Reno is known as the “The Biggest Little City in the World” and is full of casinos where you can go and find all your favorite games. Whether you’re looking for a poker game or just want to try your luck at the slot machines, you can find it all in Reno.

Reno was founded 1868 and has been a place known for its casino games ever since. The city is the home of the highly popular Caesars Entertainment group and also has some amazing restaurants to add to its appeal for visitors.

With such a rich history in the gambling world it’s kind of surprising that Reno hasn’t become more similar to Las Vegas or Atlantic City. It hasn’t tried to change the way the city was built; instead it has embraced its small size and used it to bring in gamblers who love the games but not the craziness of the bigger cities.

Let’s go back in time and see where it all started for the city and see how it has changed over the years to accommodate the changes in the industry and the needs of its visitors.

1864 – 1919

In the early 1800’s prospectors were taking the west by storm with the hopes and dreams of making it rich by mining for gold and silver. Nevada was being overrun with these men and though they worked hard during the day, they played even harder in the evening.

These men brought with them the gambling bug and they could be found every night after the mines shut down in the many saloons found in the mining towns. They would play games and bet their hard earned money while drinking the night away. This led to many different problems with the law from fighting to even more serious crimes.

Like with many new trends, there’s always a few in high places who want to put the kibosh on anything they don’t have a hand in. Reno found this in 1860 when James Nye, who was the Governor of the Nevada Territory, took a stand against gambling.

He didn’t have to fight for very long to get what he wanted. By 1861 the government sided with Nye and banned gambling by placing penalties on anyone who was caught gambling. This included any establishment who ran games, those who played in them, or organizers of secret games.

Though his intended results were to completely erase gambling from all Nevada territories the penalties weren’t enough. By 1864 the penalties had been reduced and were only applied to those who were operating a game and not those who played the game. The penalties now weren’t harsh enough to really gain any respect.

In 1869 the law makers decided to give in a little and legalized some forms of gambling. These laws were enough for the time and remained unchanged for another 40 years. In 1909 there was a big push for all types of gambling to be legalized.

When the laws were passed it changed everything for Reno and a brand new form of gambling started popping up everywhere. Nickel slot machines immediately became very popular because of their variety of possible pay outs.

1920 – 1939

During the 1920’s card games started to gain more popularity. During these years you could find different card games all over the city. With the growing number of legal and illegal card games and the slot machines that were found everywhere it made Reno the gambling capital of Nevada.

A change in leadership in the 1930s changed the whole gambling industry in Reno and the entire state of Nevada. Governor Fred Balzar approved Assembly Bill 98 which made all gambling games legal. This meant that all of the games that were being played in backrooms or in rundown shacks could be moved into the casinos and be played on the main floor.

This bill started the requirement for any gambling establishment to hold a license. The first to receive the licenses were the card rooms, bingo parlors, and small casinos that had already been in operation. With a number of licenses left available there was a huge opportunity for new operators to come to town and open up more businesses which would start the city on an upward path.

The 1930’s change in Reno was a huge draw to businessmen all over and one of the more notable ones that came to Reno was William Fish Harrah. He said that he was drawn to Nevada and opened his first gambling establishment in 1937 in the form of a bingo hall.

He would later go on to open the Plaza Tango in Reno in 1938 as his first venture into the mainstream gambling industry. He also founded Harrah’s Entertainment, which is better known now as Caesars Entertainment, which would grow to be the headquarters for many casinos around the world.

1940 – 1959

During the 1940’s there were many changes that took place in the state of Nevada. During this time the legislature saw how successful the gambling industry was becoming and wanted in on the action. To do this they needed to have control over the licensed establishments.

At this time the counties in which the establishment was based were responsible for handling the gambling licenses but in 1945 the state decided it needed to be the one in control and took over the job. With this change in oversight came a 1% tax that was placed on the gross earnings received from gambling. This made Nevada the first in the country to tax the gambling industry. This tax took effect in 1946.

That same year two new establishments were opened; The Nevada Club Casino and Harrah’s Club. The Nevada Club Casino was established by Lincoln Fitzgerald, Danny Sullivan, Mert Wertheimer, and Ruby Mathis, who came to town to hide from some trouble they’d gotten into in Michigan. They joined forces with Harry and Ed Robbins who had already been in business in Reno since 1941.

Together the group changed the name of Robbins Nevada Club and shortened it to just The Nevada Club and reopened the doors in 1946. The club flourished and became quite popular in Reno, which led to a split with Mathis and Wertheimer who wanted to branch out. So in 1949 the pair left the partnership and took over the Riverside Hotel and casino.

In 1947 the Nevada State Legislature saw the amazing return from the 1% tax that they had imposed on the gambling industry the previous year. The total in taxes received just from the gambling establishments was an incredible $670,000 so they decided to increase the tax by another percent.

In 1947 along with the increase to 2% on the tax of gambling income came the addition of The Mapes Hotel. This hotel was the first high rise to be built in the city. It was a 12 story building that covered 147,500 square feet of real estate.

The hotel had 300 rooms along with 40 luxury suites. These suites had everything you could need while away from home including a kitchen, a bedroom, and dining and living rooms as well. The hotel also had a cosmopolitan club that could be found on the top floor where you go to dance the night away or get some amazing food.

Most hotels found in Reno at this time didn’t have anywhere close to what The Mapes had to offer so it was just a matter of time before they started making changes to their establishments to try and keep up with the success of this new hotel.

In 1949 the State legislature passed another bill that gave the State Tax Commission the right and the ability to start requiring background checks on anyone who wanted to obtain a gambling license. This was done in the hopes of keeping the bad seeds out of the state, but with little effect.

The 1950s didn’t bring a whole lot of change to the city other than increases in the tax percentages charged. Instead of a set rate the state government changed it to a sliding scale that would base what the license holders had to pay based on their earnings. The scale ran from 3% to 5.5% and the state was making a killing.

In 1959 Nevada started what is known as the Black Book. This book was started to keep record of unsavory characters with the intent of keeping them out of the casinos and the state. Any person whose name is / was listed in the book would be committing a crime just by walking into a casino.

The state could put anyone in this book if they had a felony conviction or a bad reputation. A casino could also face criminal charges if they allowed a person who was in the Black Book to gamble in their establishment.

Although the intent of the book was to keep out organized crime, and it was relatively successful, there were still those who were able to get in under the radar.

1960 – 1979

The gambling industry in Nevada was booming by 1960. The total for the year in gambling revenue for the state was over $200 million dollars. With this booming industry it had brought in a bunch of new people to the state. The previous year the state has started the Black Book and in 1960 started enforcing the list to keep the state free of criminal activity.

In 1962 Reno saw the construction of a new hotel begin. Bill Harrah started construction on a new 400 room hotel and casino. This hotel was to be even bigger than The Mapes and more luxurious as well.

As the years went on Reno saw many other changes take place. In 1965 the Gaming Industry Association was formed and located in Reno. This association was formed to help those in the industry grow, help with new innovations for the industry, and protect the industry and its workers against harmful law and policy changes.

Also during 1966 Howard Hughes decided to make Nevada his new home and started buying up all kinds of land and casinos in the state. He doesn’t venture to Reno until 1967, but when he arrives he doesn’t hesitate in buying the Harold casino. By this time he has bought up many of the casinos in the neighboring Las Vegas and most of the land in the Las Vegas Valley. With this last purchase he is sued by the national government for monopoly law violations.

During the 1970’s Reno saw a huge growth in the number of casinos opening starting with the Sands. The trend continued with the Peppermill which was a designed with Tuscany theme. It had 1,621 rooms, a spa, health club, and indoor pool.

The Atlantis Casino Resort Spa was opened in 1972. This resort covers 64,000 square feet and has a total of 824 rooms with a 30,000 square foot spa. The next year the Eldorado opened and had 78,000 square feet of the resort set aside for gaming space, plus a 580 seat theater.

By 1975 the states’ gambling revenue had topped the 1 billion mark and was covering most of the cost of the state’s budget. Also during 75 the legislature lowered the sports betting tax which allowed for sports betting becoming a part of the casino gaming floor. Reno also saw the opening of another Hotel, the Sundowner Hotel and Casino.

This trend continued throughout the 1970’s with other hotels like the Fitzgerald Hotel & Casino in 1976. Also during this time frame the IRS decided to jump in on the booming industry and started to require all hotel / casinos to report winnings for players to them to allow them to track who wasn’t filing accurate tax forms.

1978 brought the opening of Circus Circus Reno which was based off the successful hotel and resort that originated in Las Vegas. The resort has a total of 1,620 rooms, 66,000 square feet of gaming space, 33 carnival games, and has circus acts throughout the day for free. That same year the Grand Sierra Resort opened with 2,001 rooms and 63,000 square feet of gaming space.

1980 – 2000

For Reno the 1980’s were not as successful as the years before, mostly because it was a smaller town and the newly legalized gambling laws in Atlantic City took away some of the visitors from the east coast that no longer needed to travel all the way to Nevada to legally gamble.

The state had undergone a huge growth in population and revenue in the prior years but Reno didn’t have any new hotels being constructed or scheduled to open and were worried about not being able to draw in more visitors.

In 1992 the Reno based Harrah Entertainment purchased the Holiday Casino in Las Vegas which was the first appearance that the company had made on the strip. Reno doesn’t see much action until 1995 when the new Silver Legacy hotel and casino opens on Virginia Street.

As the 21st century approached many other states had gambling available in one form or another so it wasn’t necessary to come to Nevada any longer to gamble. Reno was in need of a change.

In the 2000’s Reno started to rebrand itself as not only a gambling destination but also an outdoor adventure. The area that surrounds Reno has the natural resources to be used to draw in the outdoor enthusiasts.

This gave them something to do during the day time that let them get back to nature and when they returned from their adventures at night they could relax and play their favorite games in the comfortable classy casinos found in downtown Reno. This did the trick and Reno was put right back on the map.

Another notable moment for the city was when native Reno resident Jennifer C. Harman Traniello won her first WSOP bracelet. In 2002 she became one of the first women in the industry to have won two WSOP bracelets. She was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2015 and still remains the most well known player from Reno.


Reno has a rich history and really is a cornerstone city in the gambling history of the United States. It has been thriving since it was established. Brought to life by the mining boom of the 1800’s, it became one of the United State’s leading gambling cities from the very start.

It isn’t as big as Las Vegas or as popular as Atlantic City, which makes it a perfect destination for those who love to gamble but aren’t really into the flashy craziness that can be found in Las Vegas. The city is known as “The Biggest Little City in the World” and it still lives up to this name today.

It has plenty of things for you to choose from while staying in the city. You can choose from the multitude of outdoor activities that take you into the desert for some of the amazing nature experiences. You can eat at some of the best restaurants in the world while in the city and go to see some great shows at the many theaters that are in town.

Reno is basically a smaller more relaxed version of Las Vegas, so if you don’t like the thought of being in such a crazy place give Reno a try. I’m sure you’ll find it to be exactly what you’re looking for.

Petko Stoyanov
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About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.