Raymond Smith - A Founder of the Most Famous Casino in Reno

Raymond Smith - A Founder of the Most Famous Casino in Reno

Nobody would ever have predicted that Raymond Smith would build the most famous casino in Reno, NV. But he did.

Raymond, whose nickname was Pappy, was a small time farmer in Vermont. He eked out a sparse living tilling the soil and raising two sons. One day he decided he didn't want to farm any more.

He moved his family to California where he used his outgoing personality to put on sideshows at carnivals. Pappy discovered you could make as much money giving the public an honest game as cheating them and it left his conscience unburdened.

When business slowed, Pappy took a trip to the small town of Reno and decided to open a small gambling casino on Virginia Street. He called the place Harold's Club.

Pappy Smith started out small, but he had innovative ideas to bring the public into his casino. He started with a roulette wheel that used a mouse to determine the winning numbers. Whatever slot the mouse stopped in was the winner. The public loved it.


As his casino business grew, he became known for his generosity. No customer ever left Harold's Club broke. Pappy would make sure his customers had enough money to get back home on. First, he made a practice of returning 10 percent of a person's losses in his casino. He increased that amount depending on the gambler's action and the word spread.

Other casino owners were incensed when they learned of Smith's policy. They would fire a dealer who tried to help a player. Not Pappy. He instructed his dealers to help gamblers play better by telling them when they were making wrong plays in blackjack or 21. His dealers were friendly and socialized with the customers.

Pappy's sons Raymond and Harold Jr. grew up in the business. They learned to deal, count money and even carried pistols to keep their casino from being taken over by a rival casino. When the rivals entered the casino and saw all of Harold's Club employees were packing guns, they left quietly without causing a disturbance.

Both Pappy and his sons had women troubles. Pappy married five times and Harold's wife left him because of his heavy drinking and gambling. Harold's drinking and gambling would plague him all of his life.

It was Pappy's idea to erect signs in many parts of the world stating HAROLD'S CLUB OR BUST. He borrowed the idea from the old PIKE'S PEAK OR BUST slogan that early pioneers used when traveling out West.

Pappy loved hiring big-named singers like Kay Starr or Peggy Lee to perform in his Fun Room. Before and after their shows, he would have the vocalists deal blackjack or some other table game. To add to the excitement, Pappy would often have the singers reveal their hole card to give the player an extra chance to win.

Raymond Smith ended up marrying Kay Starr, an attractive Cherokee Indian whose hit recording 'Wheel of Fortune' stayed at the top of the charts for a long time. Haroldl's wife left him for an Airman stationed at a nearby U.S. Air Force Base and Harold sunk even deeper into alcoholism.

Eventually Harold's gambling and drinking caused financial problems and the family decided to sell Harold's Club. The buyer: Howard Hughes.

Before he died, Harold Smith Jr. wrote an autobiography, 'I Want To Quit Winners.' The book is remarkably candid pointing out his good points as well as his bad ones. It became a best-seller and added to the reputation of Harold's Club and Reno, 'The Biggest Little Town in the World.'

“he made a practice of returning 10 percent of a person's losses in his casino”

  • The story of Raymond Smith sounds like a movie story, hahaha. A life from a farmer to casino owner, the tensions with rival casinos, personal life problems in marriage etc., just form out of him a likely character in a movie :) Very interesting story.
  • I meant Lake Tahoe, which is just about an hour away. I think Mammoth is more like 2 1/2 hours south. :)
  • Very interesting, Geno! I haven't been to Reno in many years & would love to take a trip there before the end of the month, I hear the snow in Mammoth is incredible this year! :) Must be El Nino! :)

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