History of the Crystal Bay Casino

History of the Crystal Bay Casino

In the summer of 1937 the North Shore of Lake Tahoe was a busy place for construction and business activity. With the May 17th fire at the Cal Neva Lodge and its frantic rebuilding underway, another casino and business area was hardly making headlines. A small article in the Reno Evening Gazette noted a development being built that has lasted to this day.

The Ta-Neva-Ho began as a conglomeration of businesses that were intended to serve the rapidly developing community on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. Long before the upscale development of Incline Village, the finger of land that juts into the North Shore of Lake Taho at the state line between California and Nevada developed first. In the 1920’s developer Norman Biltz constructed a building that served as a land sales office. This building became the Cal-Neva lodge in 1929 and hosted gaming even before it became legal in Nevada in 1931.

In the early 1930’s with the Cal-Neva Lodge and the Cal-Vada Lodge opening operating on the North Shore, the growing community was in need of business services. Seven businesses other than gaming were located in the block along the Ta-Neva-Ho gaming area. These included over the years a bank, drug store, bakery,several bars, furniture store and other gaming operations.

Jim McKay and his Reno associates are reported to have been the first gaming operators at the Ta-Neva-Ho at the time of its opening. A 1937 article in the Nevada State Journal states that the building includes the Club Fortune, however Washoe County gaming records do not show any licensing under this name but does list the Ta-Neva-Ho as having been licensed for roulette, craps, 21 and 9 slot machines. Given the fact that Bill Graham and Jim McKay’s Cal-Neva Lodge had just burned to ground on May 17th, it is very possible that McKay licensed to the Ta-Neva-Ho for gaming while construction was under way at the Cal-Neva Lodge.

Tracing the gaming operations that were in the Ta-Neva-Ho block does require some speculation and investigation from several sources. Open only in the summers from June through August, Ta-Neva-Ho licensed the same gaming in the 1938 as it had in the 49er was licensed on July 1, 1940 for craps, roulette and blackjack. At the same time, the Ta-Neva-Ho was licensed for 10 slot machines and no table games. This would indicate that the lodge was operating a smaller area or that the name of the gaming operation had been changed. Photographs of the Ta-Neva-Ho block show a “The 49er” sign on the building.

The summer seasons of 1941, 1942, 1943, and 1944 give an uncertain picture of what gaming was operating in the Ta-Neva-Ho block. 1941 again has 7 slot only licenses for the Forty-Niner along with 5 slot machines in the Ta-Neva-Ho Grocery. 1942 gaming records show the Ta-Neva-Ho with 1 slot machine in the bakery, 1 slot machine in the grocery, 5 slots in the bar and 3 slots in the alley. Our best guess is that the alley was a reference to the bowling alley that was in the building. 1943 records indicate that no licenses were issued to the club. One of the better histories of the club indicates that Frank Fat and August Nyberg had purchased the club in the 1942-1943 period. This sale may have been the reason for the limited slot gaming during this period of time. In 1945, Fat and Nyberg sold their interest in the club to John Rayburn.

The summer season of 1945 indicate that only slot machines were licensed to the Ta-Neva-Ho, although an entry does exist under the name John Rayburn for craps, roulette, blackjack, and 11 slot machines. Although this entry does not specifically refer to the Ta-Neva-Ho, John Rayburn had leased the gaming from Frank Fat and August Nyberg. Wit the United States still at war with Japan, the summer season was somewhat limited.

The 1946 season of the Ta-Neva-Ho with John Rayburn and his associates began a period of expansion and development for the club. In 1946, the grand opening was announced with major advertising in the Reno papers. Featuring roulette, craps, blackjack and 37 sloth machines, Rayburn was certainly challenging the competition that was also swellingi nthe ranks. By the summer of 1947, the Crystal Bay area was alive with gaming. The 1947 season opened with not just the traditional Cal-Neva Lodge and Cal-Vada Lodge, but with a whole new batch of casinos. The Sierra Lodge, the Log Cabin, Cappy Rix, and the Crystal Bay Bar were now all in contention for players money.

The summer of 1948 brought out the one of the first attributable gaming checks from the Ta-Neva-Ho. The large crown issues of the club were made for the Washoe Investment Company by T.R. King of Los Angeles. These hot stamped checks with values of $5, From 1949 through the summer of 1955, the Ta-Neva-Ho continued to operate. Although we cannot make an attribution from the original records, we can presume with some safety that the later Ta-Neva-Ho issues that appear on the zig-zag mold of Noll and Co, are later than the crown issues.

John Rayburn and his associates undertook a major renovation of the Ta-Neva-Ho block in the winter of 1955-56 and on May 1, 1956 re-opened the club under the name of The Crystal Bay Club. Not only would the new club now challenge the competition, it would extend its seasonal operation. Starting with the 1958 season, Crystal Bay Club opened in April and closed in October. In 1960 John Rayburn sold his interest in the Crystal Bay Club to his partners Mac McCloskey and Hjalmer “Slim” La Borde. Eventually La Borde sold his interest to Mac Mcloskey and retired. McCloskey’s ownership lasted until 1968 when he sold the club to the Ohio Investment Company of Cincinnati. Operations of the club by the Cincinnati group lasted until 1979 when the club was sold to a group of investors headed by Conrad Priess. This group of investors operated the casino until May 25, 2002 when the club entered a chapter 13 and closed.


It had rained all day on July 31, 2003 and the owners of the newly renovated Crystal Bay Club had been hoping to have a quiet “soft” opening. Word of mouth had been the only advertising the casino had for the opening, mostly spread from the workers on the renovation. At midnight a small crowd of 40 or so people had assembled outside the casino and were waiting. Across the street, people were watching out the windows of the Tahoe Biltmore. At 12:01am the doors were opened as the small crowd surged in. To a chorus of whoops and hollering the crowd descended on the slots and gazed at the casino renovation. It was not as quiet as the owners had expected it to be.

Such a simple opening belies the effort that Elise and Roger Norman have put into an almost entirely re-made Crystal Bay Club. Tons of junk, asbestos, old mechanical equipment and a whole attic of accumulated items had to be removed and a gutted building had to be renovated. After purchasing the casino out of bankruptcy, the Normans passed the rigorous Nevada State Gaming Control Board licensing in record time. Then they plunged into a renovation that has been spectacular. Elise Norman’s exquisite taste and decorating skills are reflected in everything from the antique chandeliers to the Grohe bathroom fixtures to even the gaming check design.

An environment of very comfortable elegance is what customers find in the remodeled Crystal Bay Club. Tan to the brown colors and accents of rock blend with Tahoe’s majestic north shore pines. The state of the art electronics that drive this casino are as unobtrusive as I have ever seen in the gaming industry. A small fortune in flat screen TV monitors (30 HD TVs) are found throughout the casino. But they seem natural to the comfortable environment. At all times, if there is a special event to be viewed including all sporting events, volume control and audio video sources can be changed by a touch of a button on the micro cash registers.

The total renovation went from the basement to the attic. A glittering new count room hides behind a deceptively modern casino cage. What is behind the scenes is as impressive as the public areas. The totally renovated kitchens are staffed with employees trained in hygiene as well as their normal duties, just another extra protection for customers.

The players Club cards are totally integrated with the machines as well as the bar and restaurants, a feature that gives the management an advantage in customer care. Player tracking includes your preferances at the bar for extra service. Perhaps the most spectacular renovation is the restaurant that was once a bowling alley in the original Ta-Neva-Ho. By blending the original ambiance of the Tahoe classic Ta-Neva-Ho mountain lodge beam ceiling with natural rock pillars and wrought iron fixtures, the crystal forest of trees covering the supporting pillars in the pit area. State of the art table games feature MP21 technology security play protection. All of the casino action is dutifully covered by video that unobtrusively records every turn of a card. A Cal-Neva sports book and a very comfortable lounge round out the present amenities.

The club’s traditional steak and lobster has also been renovated to offer five star dining. A convention area and a convert venue are in the plans. And just how totally can they tweek the casino environment or the customers? The music videos on the flat screen TV’s can start out with mellow music in the morning and graduate to more stimulating afternoon sounds. They can even cater to a special players choice of sounds on the flat screen near his or her gaming table. In this comfortable casino., the only necessity for any player to bring on his own, is his luck and some cash. We are looking forward to watching this high tech operation bring new life to one of Tahoe’s classic gaming houses.

Written by Howard W. Herz Casino Chip and Token News Oct Nov Dec – 2003