The boy from Searchlight, Nevada, was always a rags-to-riches story. The son of a failed gold miner, Harry Reid rose to prominence by taking lessons he learned in his difficult early life, and his time as a boxer.
Reid graduated from George Washington University Law School and then became a Capitol Police officer for several years before returning to Nevada to stage a victorious campaign for state Assembly at the age of 28. Om 1974, he ran for the U.S. Senate only to lose to Paul Laxalt by less than 700 votes.
In 1977, he entered the gaming industry for the first time when he was appointed chairman of the Gaming Commission by Governor Mike O’Callaghan, during a time when the industry was trying to shed its mobster image. According to Reid, it was “an intense, surreal time when it sometimes felt as if I’d wandered into some kind of terrible funhouse.” At one point, Reid claimed a bomb had been planted in his wife’s car, although some of the details were a little sketchy.
Four years later, he campaigned again, this time for a seat in the House of Representatives and won. After two terms in the House, he again ran against Laxalt, and won.
He credits his success for his straightforward manner.
“I speak bluntly,” Reid wrote in 2008. “Sometimes I can be impulsive. I believe something to be right, and I do it. And then I don’t worry about it. This has not necessarily served me well, but it is who I am. I can be no one else”
When he retired in 2016, he was the longest serving member of Congress in Nevada history.
While he brought many advantages to his home state, he always protected the state’s gaming industry. He was an early opponent of tribal gaming across the country, and when the National Gambling Impact Study Commission was formed in 1998 with the purpose of imposing federal taxes and controls on the industry, Reid was influential in appointing MGM Mirage then-Chairman Terry Lanni, and John Wilhelm, the leader of the largest union in the casino industry, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE). Both were able to modify the commission’s findings, which dismissed the idea of any federal involvement in the industry.
Reid suffered from pancreatic cancer, and his death brought tributes from both sides of the aisle.