The special collections department at UNLV (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) houses the most extensive collection of gaming artifacts and research materials in the country.
The collection grew exponentially when Harrah’s Entertainment recently donated millions of dollars worth of photos, promotional materials, blueprints, renderings, press clippings and other documents that were accumulated from the 1930s to William F. Harrah’s death in 1978.
The donation represents the single largest gift of historical material ever made to the university from a commercial gaming company.
Special collection officials hope Harrah’s donation will inspire other gaming operators to be equally generous with their historical materials.
Such may be the case. MGM Mirage and Trump Hotels are in discussions with UNLV over possibly donating company documents from their respective archives.
In the meantime, several of the Harrah’s donated materials will be on display in UNLV’s Lied Library for public viewing.
Ordinarily, special collection materials are kept in closed stacks and do not circulate. Instead, they are customarily confined to the special collections reading room.
Among the interesting items on display are dozens of photos that chronicle the transformation of a relatively seedy downtown Reno and Harrah’s original Heart Tango bingo parlor to the sky-scraping Harrah’s Reno.
There are also hundreds of brochures and advertisements that reflect the curious marketing techniques of the 1950s, including an ad for the "Sensational Air Curtain" designed to keep air conditioning inside while doors were open.
Among the novel items is a collection of antique playing cards and dozens of rare hood ornaments that came from Bill Harrah’s famous antique car collection.
In addition to the Harrah’s exhibit, the special collections house rare manuscripts, including personal papers, institutional documents, historical materials and much more.
Of special interest are the Nevada’s Women Archives, which document the lives and times of significant Nevada women, and the Gaming Studies Collection, the world’s greats collection of material on gambling and related issues.