My column last month got a lot of attention when I told the story of my father’s World War II heroics and my failed attempts to discover the real story because much of his records were destroyed in a fire in a Missouri storage facility in the 1970s. Several people told me that records of their relatives they tried to access were also victims of that fire.
But my somewhat convoluted point was that we in the gaming industry should value those who came before as pioneers of the industry. We should all hear their stories to better understand how they ran the businesses back in the day—how customer service was important; how comps were passed out; how finances were handled; how regulations evolved.
While I didn’t mention names last month, there are many people still around who would be more than willing to talk about the industry’s early days—names to come. Remember, our industry is relatively young, and had a somewhat shady start since gambling was illegal in most states.
Even in the legal jurisdictions of Reno and Las Vegas, there were enough “gangsters” to challenge the skimpy regulations that were part of that industry. “Skimming” was part of the equation in almost every casino.
But there were champions like Bill Harrah, Sam Boyd, Bennie Binion and Jackie Gaughan who wouldn’t be intimidated by those elements. And that’s what we should be celebrating.
I was pleased to see the American Gaming Association reached back into the past to honor Stan Mallin at this year’s Hall of Fame ceremonies. Not many people know Mallin, but he had an important partnership with Jay Sarno, the original designer of Caesars Palace and Circus Circus, and those projects probably wouldn’t have happened without Mallin’s role. His recognition was long overdue, but there are many others waiting out there to be honored with the Hall of Fame mention.
I had broached the subject of an “old timers committee” or “legends” division of the Gaming HOF with previous AGA presidents but never got very far with that.
So let’s just go down the list to see who deserves to be honored off the top of my head. And it starts with two legends that have somehow been ignored.
Howard Hughes completely transformed the industry—not the first industry he had transformed. He was the MGM and Caesars of the Strip in the ’60s, buying up casinos left and right and putting them on a solid business foundation—injecting a corporate orderliness to the Nevada gaming business. His influence still resonates in the industry and his name is still recognized with a business park and Las Vegas’ ritziest neighborhood, Summerlin, named after his mother-in-law.
And what about Elvis Presley? Not only was he a teenage heartthrob for millions of young ladies, he conducted the first “residency” in Las Vegas when he held court at the International Hotel, today the Westgate.
The fact that neither of these major industry
pioneers is in the Hall of Fame is an oversight. Yes, there are some complications. Presley’s estate at one time demanded some sort of “honorarium” and Hughes’ corporation was at the same time ambivalent. But the time has come to induct them both.
Nevada is the cradle of the gaming industry, so there is no shortage of major players from Las Vegas and Reno who have yet to be recognized—and I don’t mean Bugsy Siegel. But I am talking about Billy Wilkerson, who was the original developer of the Flamingo. Or Martin Stern Jr., the visionary architect who planted the seed of the integrated resort.
Or how about Sarann Knight-Preddy, the first African-American woman to hold a gaming license in Nevada, who founded the Moulin Rouge casino in Las Vegas, the first interracial casino that was open only a few months in 1955?
There’s a dozen or more folks who had an impact on gaming but have faded into history.
And if you don’t want to reach back into “ancient history,” there are still very many deserving candidates from my time who should be recognized.
Like James Maida, who commercialized gaming lab testing. Or Jeff Silver, a member of the Nevada Gaming Control Board in those tumultuous years in the ’70s. Or Mike Rumbolz, who was chairman of the NGCB in the ’80s and is now CEO of the innovative supplier Everi. Or Frank Schreck, probably the most influential gaming attorney in gaming for more than a decade. Or Kenny Epstein, Jackie Gaughan’s protégé, who is keeping his memory alive at the Downton El Cortez. Or Roy Student, who envisioned player tracking as far back as the early ’70s. But you get the point.
So consider this column to be the initial “Legends” division of the Gaming Hall of Fame until we hear differently. They are all quite deserving, and I’ll continue to advocate for them and many other old- timers.