Those familiar with the history of gambling know that gambling was never really a “man’s world”. In fact, a few pretty incredible women had each helped shape the casino industry into the corporate global giant that it is today.
These are their stories.
Born Charlotte Thompkins in Warsaw, Kentucky, in 1844, the woman who would later become known as Lottie Deno may have started out a small-time girl from the West, but this certainly did not define the astute businesswomen she would eventually grow up to become.
By now a little older, Deno ended up working on the riverboats on the Ohio- and Mississippi rivers after her family lost their entire fortune during the Civil War. Deno had in the meantime also met up with a gambler, who worked alongside her on the boats.
The pair ultimately ended up parting ways and in 1863, Deno found herself on her way in the direction of San Antonio Texas, where she settled into the position of house gambler at a local club. This was also where she would meet and fall in love with her husband, Frank Thurmond. Before eventually marrying, the two would engage in an off-again-on-again relationship for many years.
Deno would eventually move on to Fort Griffin, where she ultimately ended up operating several bordellos. Her real love, however, was and remained gambling. She eventually married Frank Thurmond in Silver City in 1880, after which the pair operated gaming venues and several eateries in Silver City as well as in Kingston.
Lottie Deno had made a life out of gambling during a time when women were regarded as capable of no more than threading a needle and raising a child.
Judy Bayley in 1956 opened the famous Hacienda Casino together with her husband. After the death of her husband, however, Bayley suddenly found herself having to manage the casino all on her own – which she duly did, and with incredible success. This ultimately earned her the now-famous nickname “First Lady of Gambling”.
Not only was Judy Bayley the first woman in the history of Nevada to become the sole-owner of a casino, but she was also the woman who would eventually go on to bring live Keno to the Strip.
Born in 1921, Claudine Williams was a gambling woman in a class of her own. Her famous Holiday Casino would ultimately lay the foundation for what we now know as Harrah’s Hotel and Casino. Unusual for the women of the day, Williams ruled the casino roost back in the 60s and 70s.
Having learnt every imaginable game of chance there was to learn from a very young age, hers was a life-long passion created by a natural education. Claudine Williams would later on become the very first woman ever to be inducted into the Nevada Gaming Hall of Fame.
Williams and her Holiday Casino made significant contributions to the development of the Las Vegas gambling industry.