Bomba casino

Bomba casino


Harvey's Resort Hotel bombing

1980 extortion attempt in Stateline, Nevada, United States

The Harvey's Resort Hotel bombing took place on August 26–27, 1980, when several men masquerading as photocopier deliverers planted an elaborately booby trappedbomb containing 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of dynamite at Harvey's Resort Hotel (now "Harveys") in Stateline, Nevada, United States.[2] After an attempt to disarm the bomb, it exploded, causing extensive damage to the hotel but no injuries or deaths. The total cost of the damage was estimated to be around $18 million.[3] John Birges Sr. was convicted of having made the bomb with a goal of extorting money from the casino after having lost $750,000 there. He died in prison in 1996, at the age of 74.


John Birges Sr. (born János Birgés[4]) was a Hungarian immigrant to Clovis, California. He claimed to later biographers he flew for the German Luftwaffe during World War II, during which time he provided intelligence to the United States. He was captured and sentenced to 25 years of hard labor in the Sovietgulag. Eight years into his sentence in the gulag, he was released during a period of mass repatriation of POWs held in the Soviet Union to their home countries and returned to Hungary. From there, he emigrated to the United States. Birges built a successful landscaping business, but his addiction to gambling led to him losing a large amount of money and prompted the bomb plot.[5] His gambling debt and experience with explosives were primary pieces of evidence linking him to the bombing.[6]

In June 1980, a dynamite blast in the area of north Fresno and Clovis destroyed the wooden-truss Dry Creek bridge located at the corner of Shepherd and DeWolf Avenue. Authorities later found additional hidden dynamite in an area adjacent to the creek. Federal agents believed this destruction of the bridge to be a test run of the bomb later used at the hotel.[7]


As the mastermind behind the bomb, now-former millionaire Birges was attempting to extort $3 million ($11.1 million in 2023) from the casino, claiming he had lost $750,000 ($2.8 million in 2023) gambling there.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) went to the spot that they believed to be the ransom drop, but Birges was waiting at a different location due to vague directions. No money was paid to Birges.[6]

The bomb was cleverly built and virtually tamper-proof. The ransom note stated that the bomb could not be disarmed even by the bomb builder, but if paid $3 million, he would give instructions on which combination of switches would allow the bomb to be moved and remotely detonated. The FBI determined that it would take four men to move it, and there was no way to know if the bomb was truly disarmed or safe to move. The FBI decided that the bomb would have to be disarmed in the hotel. All guests and staff were evacuated from the hotel and the gas main was shut off.[8]

After studying the bomb for more than a day through x-rays, bomb technicians decided that, although there were warnings from the bomb maker that a shock would trigger the device, the best hope of disarming it was by separating the detonators from the dynamite. The technicians thought this could be accomplished using a shaped charge of C-4. The attempt to disarm the bomb failed as the technicians did not know that dynamite had also been placed in the top box containing the detonation circuit; the shaped charge detonated the top box explosives, which caused the rest of the bomb to detonate. The bomb destroyed much of the hotel, although no one was injured. The explosion also damaged Harrah's Casino (connected to Harvey's Resort via a tunnel), breaking many of its windows.[9]

The bomb caused an estimated $18 million ($60 million in 2023) in total damages. Parts of Harvey's casino reopened within 48 hours, and the fully repaired and renovated hotel reopened in May 1981.[3]


The bomb, one of the largest the FBI had ever seen, was loaded with an estimated 1,000 lb (450 kg) of dynamite stolen from a construction site in Fresno, California. According to FBI experts, the Harvey's bomb remains the most complex improvised explosive device they have examined, and a replica of "the machine", as the extortionists called it, was still used in FBI training as of 2009[update].[2]

The bomb was delivered to the casino's second floor by two men posing as technicians; witnesses spotted a white van marked with "IBM" on the side.[10][11] Birges was investigated as a possible suspect due to his white van being identified as being in South Tahoe at the time of the bombing.[6] Birges was eventually arrested based on a tip.[1][12] One of his sons had revealed to his then-girlfriend that his father had placed a bomb in Harvey's. After the two broke up, she was on a date with another man when they heard about a reward for information, and she informed her new boyfriend about Birges. This man then called the FBI.[9]

John Birges' two sons both entered pleas of guilty in 1981 for their roles in the bombing, serving no prison time in exchange for testifying against their father.[13] Birges was convicted in 1982 and sentenced to life in prison without parole.[14]

Birges' two accomplices who delivered the bomb to Harvey's were subsequently sentenced: Terry Lee Hall, in 1982, of conspiracy and interstate transport of explosives;[14] and Hall's father-in-law Willis Brown, who entered a plea of guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence.[15]

In 1983, the final defendant, Ella Joan Williams, named by prosecutors as the typist of the extortion letter,[1] was convicted of attempted extortion, conspiracy, and interstate travel in aid of extortion.[16] In 1984, Williams' initial conviction was overturned on appeal.[17] In May 1985, Williams pleaded guilty to being an accessory in the extortion-bombing and got a recommendation for parole from prosecutors.[18]

In 1996, at the age of 74, Birges died of liver cancer at the Southern Nevada Correctional Center, 16 years and a day after the bombing.[19]


  1. ^ abcdeKing, Wayne (August 18, 1981). "F.B.I. Says Casino Bombing Figure Considered Coast Bank Extortion". The New York Times. Vol. 130, no. 45044. Archived from the original on 8 June 2023.
  2. ^ ab"A Byte Out of History: The Case of the Harvey's Casino Bomb FBI". U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. August 26, 2009. Archived from the original on August 9, 2016. Retrieved July 27, 2016.
  3. ^ abHoffman, Ryan (August 21, 2020). "40 years ago, Tahoe casino bombing was biggest in U.S. history". The Record Courier. Gardnerville, Nevada. Tahoe Daily Tribune. Archived from the original on 16 January 2021. Retrieved 27 October 2021.
  4. ^"A magyar, aki kifogott az FBI bombaszakértőin, és felrobbantott egy kaszinót". telex. January 27, 2024.
  5. ^"Federal Grand Jury Indicts 6 in Bombing of Casino at Tahoe". The New York Times. Vol. 130, no. 45045. Associated Press. August 19, 1981.
  6. ^ abcHigginbotham, Adam (2014). "A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite". The Atavist Magazine.
  7. ^McCarthy, Charles (5 April 1994). "Arson Suspected at Dry Creek Bridge Believed to Be Test Site for August 1980 Bomb at Harvey's in Lake Tahoe". The Fresno Bee. p. B1.
  8. ^Lindsey, Robert (28 August 1980). "Bomb Set by Extortionists Goes Off After Nevada Casino Is Evacuated". The New York Times. Vol. 129, no. 44689. p. A1.
  9. ^ abVogel, Ed (August 27, 2005). "Casino explosion nearly forgotten". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Archived from the original on October 28, 2012. Retrieved August 25, 2011.
  10. ^"Clues Checked in Nevada Blast, Including Fingerprints on Bomb; Reward at $175,000". The New York Times. Vol. 129, no. 44691. 30 August 1980. p. 10.
  11. ^Lindsey, Robert (29 August 1980). "F.B.I. Says Fingerprints Were Left on Bomb That Wrecked Casino-Hotel". The New York Times. Vol. 129, no. 44690.
  12. ^"Arrests Reported in Casino Bombing". The New York Times. Vol. 130, no. 45043. 17 August 1981.
  13. ^"Two in Casino Bombing Plead Guilty in Bargain". The New York Times. Vol. 130, no. 45066. 9 September 1981.
  14. ^ ab"Conviction in Casino Bombing". The New York Times. Vol. 132, no. 45475. October 23, 1982.
  15. ^Sublett, Phillip L. (28 August 2010). "30 Years Later: Trail of Clues Led Authorities to Harvey's Casino Bombers". Tahoe Daily Tribune.
  16. ^"Defendant Guilty in Bombing". The New York Times. Vol. 132, no. 45608. Associated Press. 5 March 1983. p. 9.
  17. ^Ap (1984-01-29). "Conviction Overturned". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2024-01-20.
  18. ^"What happened to suspects in 1980 extortion-bombing at Harvey's casino?".
  19. ^Locke, Cathy (22 September 2017). "What happened to suspects in 1980 extortion-bombing at Harvey's casino?". The Sacramento Bee.

Further reading[edit]

  • Birges, John Jr.; Arnold, Nina J. (2010). Bombing Harvey. New York: Vantage Press. ISBN . OCLC 671700422.
  • Sloan, Jim (2011). Render Safe: The Untold Story of the Harvey's Bombing.