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Founding Fathers: The Founders of Las Vegas

Howard

Hughes

Howard Hughes was born on December 24, 1905 in Humble, Texas, and grew up to become an American business magnate, film director, pilot, investor and more. After a long career, Hughes made his way to Las Vegas in 1966 and soon established himself as one of the first founders of Las Vegas. Hughes arrived in the city by railroad car and immediately moved into the penthouse of Desert Inn. He loved it so much that he decided to buy the whole property the following year. Shortly after, Hughes bought several other casino hotels in the area, including Castaways, New Frontier, The Landmark Hotel and The Sands, as well as several local TV stations such as KLAS – TV. In addition to hotels, Hughes also formed the Hughes Aircraft Company, which hired aircraft engineers and designers. He went on to set multiple air speed records and built multiple aircrafts including the largest flying boat in history.

Founders of Las Vegas: Howard Hughes

Barron

Hilton

Barron Hilton was born on October 23, 1927 in Dallas, Texas and is known for his work in hotels, sports and philanthropy. Hilton helped form the National Football League (NFL), was a founder of the American Football League and was the original owner of the Chargers. He also was a prominent leader in the hotel business and was CEO and President of the Hilton Hotels Corporation. Eventually, Hilton moved the brand to Las Vegas in 1970 after convincing the Hilton Board to expand. They purchased the Flamingo (Flamingo Hilton) and International (Las Vegas Hilton) from Kirk Kerkorian and Hilton Hotels, becoming the first company on the New York Stock Exchange to go into the gaming market. Hilton helped bring in new income to the company through gambling, and saw that Las Vegas was a premier convention destination. In addition to conventions, he helped Las Vegas become the “Entertainment Capital of the World” and Elvis Presley performed at the property for many years.

Founders of Las Vegas: Barron Hilton

Benny

Binion

Born on November 20, 1904 in Pilot Grove, Texas, Benny Binion arrived in Las Vegas in 1969 after becoming a partner of the Las Vegas Club. Shortly after, Binion purchased the Eldorado Club and the Apache Hotel, reopening them as Binion’s Horseshoe Casino, which immediately became a fan favorite because of its high betting limits. Binion initially set the craps table limit to $500, which was ten times higher than any competitor at that time. Eventually, the Horseshoe started allowing bets of any size as long as it wasn’t larger than their initial bet. Binion was a pioneer who made poker an important casino game. As a vanguard in the casino industry, he was the first to transport guests via limousine and offer free drinks to gamblers. Although high rollers comps were standard, Binion decided to give them to all players inside his casinos. For years, the casino had a famous $2 steak special with meat coming from the cattle on one of Binion’s ranches. He also was known for its large tourist attraction – a horseshoe with $1 million dollars inside.

Founders of Las Vegas: Benny Binion

Kirk

Kerkorian

Armenian-American businessman, philanthropist and investor Kirk Kerkorian was born on June 16, 1907 in Fresno, California and made his way to Las Vegas in 1969. As one of the most prominent figures in shaping the city, Kerkorian purchased the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and founded MGM Resorts International as a result. He later built the “world’s largest hotel” three separate times and opened the original MGM Grand Hotel (now Bally’s), MGM Grand Las Vegas and The International (now Westgate). Over the years, the hospitality and entertainment company went global and now operates 13 iconic properties on the Las Vegas Strip, including Bellagio, The Mirage, Mandalay Bay, and ARIA as well as has destination resorts in Detroit, Maryland, China and more.

Founders of Las Vegas: Kirk Kerkorian

Bob

Stupak

Bob Stupak was born on April 6, 1942 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At age 29, he bought the Vault Casino in Downtown Las Vegas, which he renamed Glitter Gulch. Stupak was involved in the creation of the iconic Vegas Vickie neon sign (which is now located on Circa’s casino floor!) to match her on-and-off husband Vegas Vic that was next door at the Pioneer Club. In 1979, Stupak opened Vegas World Hotel and Casino, which was known for having the world’s largest sign and the first million and quarter million jackpots. Stupak also was famous for his “Vegas Vacation Club” promotion, offering guests free rooms and meals at Vegas World in return for casino play. In addition, Stupak helped develop the Stratosphere Las Vegas, which was the most expensive casino development in history at the time.

Founders of Las Vegas: Bob Stupak

Jay

Sarno

Born on July 2, 1922 in St. Joseph, Missouri, Jay Sarno came to Las Vegas in 1962, where he quickly made a name for himself as an innovator in hospitality and gaming. In 1966, Sarno and his team built and opened the world-famous Caesars Palace, introducing a revolutionary and expansive property that broke the mold for Las Vegas entertainment. Just two years later, Sarno and Stanley Mallin debuted Circus Circus, a big-top-themed property and the first family-oriented casino in Las Vegas. Through his deep devotion to the city, Sarno’s ingenuity created the template for Las Vegas today, helping The Strip reach new levels of opulence and indulgence while bringing all-ages entertainment to Las Vegas.

Founders of Las Vegas: Jay Sarno

Sam

Boyd

Born on April 23, 1910 in Enid, Oklahoma, Sam Boyd began his career in the gambling industry in 1928 when he ran bingo games on a gambling ship off the coast of California. After moving to Las Vegas in 1941, he rose through the ranks of the gambling industry before eventually investing $10,000 to become an owner-partner at the Sahara in 1952. Later, he became general manager and partner at The Mint in Downtown Las Vegas, where he began introducing the innovative marketing campaigns that made him famous. Broadening his influence throughout the valley, Boyd began developing and purchasing casinos throughout the Las Vegas area, including the California Hotel in 1975. That same year, he and his son co-founded Boyd Gaming, which would grow into one of the largest gambling and casino management corporations in the world. Several hotel-casinos – including Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall and UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium – are named in his honor, ensuring his legacy will live on for generations to come.

Founders of Las Vegas: Sam Boyd

Steve

Wynn

Few casino builders or operators have had a greater impact on their industry – and especially on contemporary Las Vegas – than Steve Wynn. Born on January 27, 1942 in New Haven, Connecticut, Wynn came to Vegas in 1967, where he promptly invested in the Frontier Hotel & Casino. A few years later, he became the youngest casino owner and the largest stakeholder of Golden Nugget, an iconic downtown property. Known as one of the most impactful Las Vegas founders and single-handedly reviving the city by creating high-end resorts including The Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio and Wynn Las Vegas, Wynn sold a majority of his empire to MGM Resorts International in 2000. After reshaping The Strip in the 1990s, Wynn set his sights on international acclaim with the opening of Wynn Macau in 2006, Encore at Wynn Macau in 2010 and Wynn Palace in 2016.

Founders of Las Vegas: Steve Wynn

William

Bennett

Gaming pioneer William G. Bennett was born on November 16, 1924 in Glendale, Arizona. After arriving in Las Vegas in 1974, Bennett and casino mogul William Pennington leased Circus Circus from owners Jay Sarno and Stanley Mallin, marking the debut of their hotel and casino operations venture Circus Circus Enterprises. In 1983, the pair purchased the property from Sarno and Mallin, bringing about sweeping changes including the construction of the casino’s first 395-room hotel tower. Bennett opened his first all-new property in 1990, with the revolutionary 4000-room Excalibur Hotel and Casino. In 1993, Bennett made history again with the opening of the $375 million Luxor Hotel and Casino, just south of Excalibur. With the opening of the two properties, Circus Circus Enterprises became Nevada’s largest employer, with 18,000 employees. Following his departure from the company in 1995, Bennett purchased the Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, which he proudly operated for the remainder of his life.

Founders of Las Vegas: William Bennett

Jackie

Gaughan

Born on October 25, 1920 in Hastings, Nebraska, Jackie Gaughan began his gaming career in Omaha before relocating to Vegas in 1950. After investing in the Flamingo Las Vegas, he continued his takeover with the purchase of the Las Vegas Club in 1961 and the opening of The Western in 1970. Along with partners Sam Boyd and Howard Cannon, Gaughan opened the Union Plaza in 1971 before purchasing the Gold Spike in 1983. Gaughan went on to invest in several properties including the Golden Nugget, the Royal Inn and the Showboat before buying the El Cortez in 1963, which became a registered Historical Landmark in 2013.

Founders of Las Vegas: Jackie Gaughan

Frank

Fertitta

Frank Fertitta Jr. was born on October 30, 1938 in Beaumont, Texas. Fertitta Jr. moved to Las Vegas in 1960 and quickly began his career in the gaming industry shortly after working as a bellman, dealer, pit boss, baccarat manager and more. After learning the ropes, he founded Station Casinos, a locals-minded casino hotel business, in 1976. The company started when Bingo Palace opened, which was later renamed to be Palace Station. Now, The Station Casinos collection includes the famed Palms Casino Resort, Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa, Palace Station, Green Valley Ranch Hotel & Casino and many other properties across the valley. His sons, Frank and Lorenzo, now manage the day-to-day operations of Station Casinos.

Founders of Las Vegas: Frank Fertitta