Little Bits of History

Up In Smoke

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 26, 2014
Harvey’s Resort bombing

Harvey’s Resort bombing

August 26, 1980: Three men plant a bomb at Harvey’s Resort. The leading bomber was John Birges who was a Hungarian immigrant living in California. Birges had flown for the German Luftwaffe during World War II. He was captured by the Russians and sentences to 25 years of hard labor. He was held for eight years after which he escaped by blowing the gulag up. He made his way to the US and California where he operated a successful landscaping business. He wasn’t just interested in plants, however, and developed a gambling addiction. He claimed he had lost $750,000 gambling at Harvey’s Resort and he planted the bomb in an attempt to extort $3 million from the casino.

The bomb contained 1,000 pounds of dynamite and was tamper-proof. Bomb technicians from the FBI studied the bomb via x-rays. Although they were warned by the bomb maker that a shock would trigger the device, they thought a shaped charge of C-4 (a plastic explosive) could separate the detonators from the dynamite. They cleared the area and attempted to disarm the bomb. As advertised, the shock triggered the bomb and it exploded, destroying much of the casino as well as breaking windows in Harrah’s, a casino connected via a tunnel to Harvey’s.

Birges’ son mentioned to a girlfriend that he father had placed the bomb at Harvey’s. After they broke up, the woman began dating another man and they learned about a reward for information given to the FBI. They informed the feds and Birges was arrested. He was found guilty and given a life sentence. He died of liver cancer in prison at the age of 74 in 1996 exactly 16 years and one day after the bombing. The dynamite had been stolen in Fresno to create one of the largest bombs the FBI had ever seen. It remains the most complex improvised explosive device ever created and the FBI continues to use a replica in training.

Harvey’s opened in 1944 and was operated by Sacramento meat wholesaler Harvey Gross and his wife. They opened their first high-rise tower in 1961. There was a three story crater in the building after the FBI detonated the bomb but it was rebuilt. Harvey died in 1983 but the family continued to run the business and expand and improve upon it. It stayed in the family until 2001 when Harrah’s Entertainment acquired it. Today, Harveys Lake Tahoe has 740 rooms and suites, six restaurants, and 87,500 square feet of space for their casino. Caesars Entertainment (Harrah’s changed their name) owns and operates the business.

Heck, what’s a little extortion among friends? – Bill Watterson

There are many harsh lessons to be learned from the gambling experience, but the harshest one of all is the difference between having Fun and being Smart. – Hunter S. Thompson

I love blackjack. But I’m not addicted to gambling. I’m addicted to sitting in a semi circle. – Mitch Hedberg

Gambling: The sure way of getting nothing for something. – Wilson Mizner

Also on this day: The Terminal Man – In 1988, Merhan Karrimi Nasseri hit the airport.
Explosive – in 1883, Krakatau began to erupt.
Negligence – In 1928, the first negligence case was started.
Big Chuck – In 1966, Charles de Gaulle entered Paris.

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