Claudine Williams of Las Vegas was a trailblazer for women when men controlled Nevada's business world. She was the first woman in the state to head a major casino and the first to chair a financial institution. In later life, she became a leading community philanthropist with education and child welfare at the top of her list.
Born in Louisiana in 1921, Williams grew up around Shreveport with her mother, sister, and grandmother. She began working at the age of twelve and took her first job in a club with gambling at age fifteen. Williams became her family's breadwinner, leaving high school before receiving her diploma. She moved the family to Houston where she worked in clubs, learned everything she could about the gambling business, and then started her own after-hours club with another young woman, all before she was twenty years old. She met and worked with Shelby Williams for several years before they married in 1950.
In 1964, the Williamses came to Las Vegas and bought the Silver Slipper casino. They operated and developed the Silver Slipper until 1969, when they sold it to Howard Hughes. The couple then focused their efforts on a new business, opening the Holiday Casino (a.k.a. the Riverboat Casino) across from Caesars Palace in 1973. Williams credited her husband's desire for a true partner with her ability to rise within the male-dominated casino world. They shared all aspects of the business together. Consequently, during Shelby's long illness and after his death in 1977, Claudine stepped into the office of president and general manager. She was the first woman to do so in the history of the Nevada gaming industry. After two expansions of the Holiday Casino, Williams eventually sold all of her interest to the Holiday Inn Corporation (later Harrah's) and assumed the chairmanship of the board of directors for the hotel-casino. She continues to hold that position today.
In 1981, Williams took on a new venture, working with others to create the American Bank of Commerce–the first woman in Nevada history to chair a bank's board of directors. She also gave back to the community by serving on numerous government, business, and charity boards. One of the principal recipients of her generosity has been the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she long has been active in its Foundation. Her gifts have helped the university to build dormitories and provide scholarships and numerous other necessities.
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