Within one week of each other, two gaming pioneers who influenced the industry in different ways died.
Claudine Williams, the first woman to own a casino in Nevada, died in May at the age of 88. Williams was one of the most honored women in Nevada gaming. Along with her late husband, Shelby Williams, Claudine Williams owned and operated the Strip’s Silver Slipper casino and later the Holiday Casino, across from Caesars Palace, which was later bought by Harrah’s, but still operated by Williams. She served as chairwoman of the property until the late 1990s.
Williams was a mentor to several generations of gaming executives, including Harrah’s Phil Satre, and has been named to several “halls of fame” include Nevada’s and the American Gaming Association’s.
Satre remembered the time he spent with her while he was president of Harrah’s.
“Claudine represented someone who was always open to new ideas and did not fear change,” he said. “She spanned an era of enormous change in the industry-and had a front-row seat-and was able to see change as a positive. She was one of the authentic forces in the industry in the 20th century.”
AGA President and CEO Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. paid tribute to Williams.
“Claudine was a dear friend of mine,” said Fahrenkopf, “and her passing is a real loss particularly for Las Vegas and the state of Nevada, but also for the entire gaming industry. She was a true pioneer who brought firsthand knowledge and common sense to the industry. Throughout her career and life, she was a pillar of integrity, and she will be sorely, sorely missed.”
And John Connelly, a riverboat gaming trailblazer, passed in his native Pittsburgh at the age of 83. Connelly started the Gateway Clipper Fleet of day-excursion boats in Pittsburgh in 1958 and expanded to St. Louis with the Admiral. In 1992, he bought the President Casino Broadwater Resort in Biloxi, Mississippi.
When riverboat gaming was approved in Missouri, Connelly converted the vessel in 1994 to a riverboat casino, one of the first in the nation, and founded President Casinos, one of the first enormously popular riverboat companies.