• U.S.

Business: Nevada Slim

2 minute read

Writer Ambrose Bierce once observed that “the gambling known as business looks with austere disfavor upon the business known as gambling.” Yet in today’s skittish economic climate, most businessmen can only view with envy the profitable growth of the gaming empire headed by William Fisk Harrah, 63. It includes two glossy Nevada casinos—one in Reno, one in Lake Tahoe—along with two hotels containing 19 food-service areas and 18 cocktail bars. In the fiscal year ended in June, Harrah’s Inc. of Reno, one of two gambling operations listed on the New York Stock Exchange, raked in a profit of $9.1 million on record revenues of $111 million, and this year expects to do even better.

Harrah, a tall, slim man with a taste for clothes tailored in Beverly Hills and Rome, opened a bingo parlor in Reno in 1937, and has been a winner ever since. One key to his success is that gambling odds inevitably favor the house—a 4% to 7% advantage on slot machines, for example. Still, Harrah takes pains to make losing attractive, like hiring comely college girls as blackjack dealers. But the company’s biggest edge is sound management. Harrah’s 6,500 employees are organized into 42 departments, which are administered by carefully recruited professional managers. Experts have compiled operational manuals for every job from busboy to croupier, and even fingerprints on glass doors are quickly wiped away by ever-alert employees. Harrah is now working on plans to expand his casinos and hotels at a cost of $60 million—to be provided by his eternally optimistic patrons.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com