Gaming pioneer Claudine Williams left lasting legacy

May 20, 2009 8:04 PM
by GT Staff |

Claudine Williams, a woman revered as a tremendous philanthropist and pioneer in Nevada’s gaming industry, passed away last week at the age of 88.

Mrs. Williams was the first woman to run a Strip casino, the Holiday Casino, until it was sold to Harrah’s in the 1980s.

About the same time she also served as chairwoman of the board for the American Bank of Commerce, and she was the first woman to serve as president of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.

Equally important, Mrs. Williams contributed millions of dollars over the years to charities in Las Vegas, and to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

In 1989, she contributed $500,000 toward dormitories at UNLV, after which her names was taken for one of three housing units.

Claudine Williams was a native of DeSoto Parish, Louisiana, where at the age of 15 she took a job dealing cards at a private club in Bossier Parish.

She and her mother moved to Houston, where she opened several restaurants that featured gambling. She met Shelby Williams, a Texas businessman, and they eventually wed and relocated to Las Vegas in 1965.

The Williams bought the Silver Slipper and operated it for a few years before selling it to Howard Hughes in 1969. They used the proceeds of the sale to buy land across the Strip from Caesars Palace for the Holiday Casino.

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After her husband’s passing in 1977, Mrs. Williams took the position of president and general manager of the Holiday Casino, a first for a woman in Nevada. Two years later she sold 40 percent of the casino to Harrah’s, though she retained the title of chairman of the property. She sold her remaining interest four years later.

For those who knew her, Claudine Williams was more than a casino executive who helped shape the gaming business in Nevada.

"Claudine was a genuine, gracious woman who treated everyone with dignity and respect," said GamingToday publisher Eileen DiRocco. "When we started the publication in the 1970s, we often worked with Claudine and she was a frequent subject of Chuck’s popular Heard On the Strip column.

"Indeed, Claudine was one of the city’s great ladies, and she will be greatly missed."

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