Claudine Williams, Las Vegas casino legend, dies

John Smith at the Las Vegas Review Journal remembers the woman who reached for the glass ceiling, Las Vegas style:

Claudine Williams, a hard-working Louisiana girl who grew up to become a top Las Vegas casino executive and community philanthropist, has died after a lengthy illness. She was 88 years old.

Williams is recognized as the first woman in Nevada to lead a major casino, operating the Holiday Casino on the Strip for many years following the death of her husband, gambling pioneer Shelby Williams. In a rare husband and wife partnership, Shelby and Claudine operated the Silver Slipper until they sold it at a handsome profit to Howard Hughes in 1969.

After Shelby’s death in 1977, Claudine emerged as president and general manager of the Holiday, a first in Nevada for a woman.

Claudine took her first job in the casino business at 15 in an effort to support her family. She soon did that and more and left high school before graduation. Many years later she would become known as one of UNLV’s most reliable donors.

He life at times was rough and tumble. She operated an after-hours night club before coming to Las Vegas, and once told me in an interview that she’d had to hock her own jewelry on more than one occasion in order to hold a piece of real estate.

According to Nevada’s official online encyclopedia, Williams in 1981 became the first woman in Nevada history to chair a bank board of directors when she took over the helm at American Bank of Commerce. More recently her generous donations to UNLV created dormitories and provided scholarships for a generation of students who received the educational break life’s circumstances denied her in youth.