Loved or hated, Harry Reid played an important role in protecting casino-industry interests By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports January 5, 2022 at 6:52 pm Harry Reid never wore a black-and-white dealer’s uniform or supervised a swing shift, but he was a constant presence in the casino industry for nearly half a century. Reid, the former U.S. Senate Majority Leader who died last week at age 82 following a long fight with pancreatic cancer, is being remembered across the Silver State and far beyond for his impact on politics at the highest levels. Accolades have poured in, along with criticism of the Democrat’s partisanship and well-known bruising rhetoric when dealing with the Republican opposition. Reid lived just long enough to see McCarran International Airport renamed in his honor and he is widely known for playing a key role in the passage of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare legislation, the Affordable Care Act. Still, his impact on the gaming industry should not be overshadowed. With Reid and Senator Richard Bryan representing the interests of Nevada’s largest employer and tax-revenue generator, Gaming, Inc. could have had no more reliable allies. Reid used his considerable clout and powers of persuasion (“arm-twisting” is such an overused term) to help facilitate the refinancing of the behemoth CityCenter project at a time it was threatened with collapse during the Great Recession. He worked the phones and, according to many published accounts, was far more than a little insistent that the project and MGM Resorts itself pull through its storm. Approximately 10,000 construction jobs and 12,000 permanent jobs were saved, according to published reports. But it was more than a construction project. Reid knew that not only the future of the company, but of the Strip itself, depended on it. He played a major role in the creation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, authoring the legislation that expanded gaming to an increasing slate of states via casinos on reservations. There were plenty of rough patches in IGRA’s early years, but when you look at the scope and economic importance of gaming to Native American tribes today, it’s hard not to be impressed by the history that has been made. Long before Reid was in the Senate, he wielded tremendous influence as chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission during some of the most tumultuous years in state history. He was not only vilified and suspected of corruption after being described as “Cleanface” on FBI surveillance tapes during its investigation of casino skimming in Las Vegas, but stood at Ground Zero when it was decided whether other troubled Strip casinos with mob connections would remain open after a thorough house-cleaning. A book could be written on Reid’s high-wire Commission years, where he was present when Frank Sinatra was welcomed back into the Vegas fold following years in exile after his own mob friendships surfaced. Reid was also there when Paul Lowden won his gaming license during troubled times on the Strip. When Reid found himself at odds with the Stardust crowd, most specifically Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, it appeared that the future senator’s political career was in jeopardy. Rosenthal tried to dress him down after coming out on the short end of a Commission hearing. Reid managed to survive that brush with infamy and Rosenthal was unceremoniously drummed out of the casino industry. (Unless you count a car bomb that nearly killed him a ceremony.) In an era when car bombs weren’t anything to joke about, Reid also discovered a potential explosive apparatus attached to his family car. It didn’t explode, but the threat was taken seriously. He was nothing if not resilient. Born in poverty in the mining town of Searchlight, his success story is one that even his staunchest critics must respect. His tenacity was undaunted. He also managed to balance his political interests with unlikely friendships with Republican donors, especially the late Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson. Adelson spent more than $100 million to see his favorite GOP candidates succeed, but when it came to Reid there was clearly a friendship and what might be described as a non-aggression pact. Perhaps one day we’ll know more about their particular friendship. After word of Reid’s death circulated last week, casino marquees in Las Vegas shared the news and honored his name. They knew they always had a fierce defender with Reid in their corner.