cover of book

The Rise Of The Biggest Little City: An Encyclopedic History Of Reno Gaming, 1931-1981
by Dwayne Kling
foreword by Rollan Melton
University of Nevada Press, 2010
eISBN: 978-0-87417-416-8 | Cloth: 978-0-87417-340-6 | Paper: 978-0-87417-829-6
Library of Congress Classification HV6721.N45K58 2000
Dewey Decimal Classification 795.0979355


The history of Reno during the first half century is to a great degree the history of Reno’s gaming industry. Between 1931 and 1981, the economy, skyline, and lifestyle of “the Biggest Little City in the World” were strongly influenced by the city’s casinos and the people who created and operated them. In The Rise of the Biggest Little City, longtime Reno gaming executive Dwayne Kling records the fruits of his fourteen years of research into the history of Reno’s casinos, from the backroom (and often illegal) dives of the industry’s beginnings to the elegant casino-hotels of today. Arranged in encyclopedic form with historic photographs (many never before published), the book offers the stories of such famous establishments as Harolds Club, the Cal-Neva, the Sands, and Harrah’s, as well as defunct clubs like the Cedars, the Silver Spur, and the Bank Club. We also find the stories of the men and women who created Reno’s gaming industry—such as James McKay and Bill Graham, who came from the rough-and-tumble saloons of boom-town Tonopah and developed a chain of illegal gambling clubs and brothels into Reno’s first major casino, the Bank Club; the Smith family—Raymond I. “Pappy,” Harold Sr., Raymond A., and Harold Jr.—whose Harolds Club was a prime downtown attraction for over fifty years and brought Reno national fame as a destination for fun and gambling; Bill Bailey, an African-American whose Harlem Club—one of the first integrated casinos in Reno—attracted such show-business luminaries as Louis Armstrong and Pearl Bailey (his cousin) for late-night jam sessions; William Harrah, who parleyed a string of small bingo parlors into a major gaming empire; and Jack Douglass, a slot-route operator in the early days of legal gaming who became a major figure in Reno’s modern casino industry. There are more. Kling records the stories of hundreds of gaming establishments, most of them long forgotten, stretching geographically from the Mount Rose Highway to the north end of town, from Verdi to Sparks; and of dozens of men and women who shaped the industry, for better and for worse. We learn from that Reno was the true pioneer of the gambling industry. It was here that big-name entertainment was first offered in a casino setting; that elegant hotel rooms and fine dining were first offered as amenities of the casino experience; that a casino corporation first traded its stock on the New York Stock Exchange; that ethnic minorities first owned and operated casinos, and first integrated them. The Rise of the Biggest Little City will engage readers with its authoritative account of the rise of modern Reno and of the colorful history that lies beneath today’s neon and glitz.

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