Time capsule of early Reno gambling memorabilia donated to museum - Thursday 12th of May 2005

A virtual time capsule of bygone northern Nevada gambling - from a 1950s-era roulette wheel to century-old silver dollars - was donated to the Nevada Historical Society on Thursday. Gambling memorabilia from Reno's Nevada Club and Fitzgeralds and the Nevada Lodge on Lake Tahoe's north shore were acquired two years ago by Santa Barbara, Calif., collector Ronald J. Gillio, who turned over samples of the items to the museum. "It's a big part of Nevada history," Gillio said. "Gaming is the number one business, or industry, in Nevada."

The three clubs were founded by the late Detroit gambler Lincoln Fitzgerald, who housed items in a 6,000 square foot warehouse so he could send them to casinos that needed them. The donation included a century-old hand-cranked silver dollar counting machine, casino chips and dice, chip holders, postcards, souvenir spoons and key chains. Among the silver dollars to be housed in the museum is an 1878 coin minted in Carson City that was the first to be made of silver from the Comstock Lode. Also included were original blueprints and architectural drawings for the Nevada Club, and a proposal for "The Shamrock Hotel," a property Fitzgerald envisioned for downtown Reno but never built. Gillio estimates the value of the donation at $20,000. The roulette wheel, the last of three found in the warehouse, has an estimated value of $10,000.

"This material represents very significant artifacts from Reno's rich gaming past," Nevada Historical Society Director Peter Bandurraga said. Gillio, who collects and trades Nevada and Old West coins and memorabilia, will publicly exhibit other items from the warehouse hoard at the Collecting the West trade show, Friday and Saturday at the Horizon Hotel & Casino at Lake Tahoe. He initially was interested only in the silver dollars, half dollars and dimes stored in scores of bags in the "musty, dirty old warehouse" until he found the other treasures stored in dusty boxes.

"It was my luck that I was able to buy the `Fitzgerald Hoard,'" he said. "It's important for Reno to have it because so much of this stuff was destroyed over the years." Fitzgerald opened the Nevada Club in 1947, making it one of the state's oldest casinos. He died in 1981 and the club closed in 1997. It has since been razed. The casino privately sold its 1940s era slot machines in the 1980s, but kept other gaming equipment and materials in warehouse storage for decades.

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