Any list of the most important people in Las Vegas history should include Bill Bennett. He built a huge name for himself in the 1970s and 1980s by transforming Circus Circus from a struggling casino into the then-most profitable property on the Strip.
He was also the driving force behind the construction and initial financial success of the Excalibur and Luxor.
But as author Jack Sheehan explores in his new Bennett biography, Steve Wynn, Perry Thomas and Kirk Kerkorian still garner most of the attention for the changes the Strip has experienced over the last 40 years.
In his book, "Forgotten Man: How Circus Circus' Bill Bennett Brought Middle America to Las Vegas," Sheehan surmises that Bennett has not gotten his due up to now because the last chapter of his life was so bleak.
During the last decade of his life, Bennett's failing health caused rifts between him and a number of close associates who were either fired or left the company.
Sheehan said Bennett didn't suffer from diabetes, but he suffered multiple amputations because of blood poisoning from years of inhaling glues and paints used while constructing model airplanes.
Health problems also led Bennett to be forced out of the company he had built in 1995. Bennett died in 2002.
"He left the stage on a bad note," Sheehan said. "His personality changed from a person with confidence to being paranoid. He burned a lot of bridges."
Yet, in interview after interview former company executives would say "how they learned everything from him," he said.
His skill as a business executive was also key to Circus Circus being the first major gaming company to go public. Michael Milken, whose firm Drexel Burnham Lambert supported the company's IPO, described Bennett as "the Sam Walton of Las Vegas."
Sheehan agreed with Milken's description. "While Steve Wynn was developing the upscale market, Bennett did a masterful job of attracting blue-collar, middle-class tourists to his property," he said.
Sheehan credited Bennett with being the best in the business of marketing Las Vegas to people earning less than $100,000 annually.
"About half the population of Las Vegas wasn't here when Bennett was doing his thing. He was extremely important to this city."
Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at email@example.com or 702-477-3893.