September 25, 2011 - 1:01 am
Coming up with a list of people who are considered the most influential in business and civic affairs in Las Vegas is subjective.
Ask 20 people to name the person who carries the most clout and the response could yield at least that many different suggestions.
That’s because Las Vegas is still an evolving community — and one unlike any other city.
“Because Las Vegas is so young, family prestige may be less common here,” said Shannon Monnat, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “In cities like Boston and New York, several generations have built power and prestige over time. Las Vegas seems to be on that path, and in that respect, we are not all that unique.”
We asked Monnat to give us a definition of clout.
In Las Vegas, clout or influence is oftentimes referred to as juice.
“From a sociological perspective, having influence or power means having the ability to get what you want despite opposition from a large group of people,” Monnat said. “Influence is not attached only to individuals in Las Vegas, but also to major corporations.”
Historically, casino owners, gaming companies and their executives have seemingly run the town.
When big gaming wants a change in the law or a person elected, the industry usually wins.
In the recent legislative session, gaming used its influence to help tavern owners push through several changes in the 2006 voter-enacted ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and taverns.
In 1998, political pundit Jon Ralston coined the phrase, “politics of anointment” to describe what happened when the gaming industry and the business community banded together to ensure the election of Gov. Kenny Guinn.
“Las Vegas is a typical American city,” Monnat said. “Local business owners and land developers (and the gaming industry) have a great deal of political influence.”
But have the politicians eclipsed gaming?
For example, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is the key if Nevada’s gaming industry hopes to see the legalization of Internet poker approved in Washington, D.C. Closer to home, Gov. Brian Sandoval was universally praised for his efforts in crafting a budget deal in the fractured state Legislature.
We’ve taken a stab at coming up with a list of the individuals who seemingly have the most influence on the business community. Our criteria are fairly simple: Who can pick up a telephone and make things move with a call that cannot be refused? Staff members of the Las Vegas Business Press and the Las Vegas Review-Journal nominated dozens of powerful people, with 20 names getting the most nods, and five garnering enough attention to make an honorable mention.
Many of the top vote-getters are politicians — Reid, Sandoval, and the Mayors Goodman, former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and his wife, current Mayor Carolyn Goodman.
Gaming’s big names were somewhat predictable — Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sheldon Adelson, for example. But Culinary Local 226, which represents some 60,000 hotel and restaurant workers on the Strip and downtown, in the form of its Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor, also made the list.
Monnat wasn’t surprised.
“Las Vegas can be considered unlike other major cities in that educational attainment carries very little influence here,” Monnat said. “Educated individuals may have less clout in Las Vegas than in any other city in the country. Las Vegas also has a strong Culinary union that carries a great deal of influence, and this is not the case in most major cities.”
At the top of this story, we said the list was subjective.
You might think we missed a few names. You might think some individuals are ranked too high, or too low, or shouldn’t even be on the list at all.
That’s what makes this list subjective.
Often, Monnat will ask her students — especially those who are native to Las Vegas — to name some of the city’s most powerful leaders. Former Mayor Goodman, Adelson and Wynn Resorts Ltd. Chairman Steve Wynn are often mentioned. Names associated with the past — ex-UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, downtown casino pioneer Benny Binion and the late mobster-turned community philanthropist Moe Dalitz are also mentioned.
“They suggested that there is an irreverence here, more so than other places, where individuals and groups that most cities might shun are awarded prestige,” Monnat said. “How many cities have a mob lawyer who goes on to be mayor?”
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at email@example.com or 702-477-3871.
Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.
71, Senate majority leader, D-Nev.
In the early 1980s, Harry Reid never would have been on this list, much less at the top.
Elected Nevada’s youngest-ever lieutenant governor in 1970 at age 30, Reid had seemingly come to the end of his political career by 1980, losing races for the U.S. Senate and Las Vegas mayor.
Today, Reid is the Senate majority leader, an influential post he has held for the last three sessions of Congress. Reid was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986 after serving two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Reid is considered by some to be the most powerful politician Nevada has ever had in Washington, D.C.
In his most recent re-election campaign in 2010, Reid took credit for saving the massive $8.5 billion CityCenter project. Reid called banking executives and asked them to consider backing the funds needed to complete the financially troubled Strip development.
Reid’s backing of the DesertXpress, the $4 billion high-speed train project between Las Vegas and Victorville, Calif., has made it the leading candidate for the much-discussed rail system.
As a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, Reid brought long-haul airline flights to Las Vegas. He assisted some 15 Las Vegans with getting loan modification funds through the Home Affordable Modification Program, simply by calling Bank of America. Reid also is helping a Chinese company set up a solar plant in Laughlin.
Reid had a successful law practice when he decided to try politics one more time, running and winning a House seat in 1982. He won re-election to the Senate in 1992, 1998, 2004 and 2010.
— Howard Stutz
48, governor of Nevada
First-term Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval had to go back on his “no new taxes” pledge late in the 2011 Legislative session when a Supreme Court decision left the state with a $657 million budget hole.
Yet, Sandoval came out of the session, “smelling like a rose,” as one lobbyist told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Sandoval was credited with putting together the final budget deal and praised by lawmakers from both political parties and lobbyists for becoming personally invested in reaching a budget compromise and by “showing true leadership.”
Sandoval has had a varied public career. He served two terms in the Legislature, was chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission and served as attorney general. He became a federal judge in 2005, but gave up the lifetime appointment to run for governor.
With the Legislature behind him, Sandoval has had time to concentrate on other areas.
His goal is to bring business to Nevada. The primary goal of his administration is to improve economic development and education.
He traveled to Iraq and Kuwait with governors of three other states to visit with troops deployed in the region. Sandoval has participated in summits concerning Lake Tahoe and clean energy.
Some political pundits have placed Sandoval on a list of potential Republicans who could be chosen as the vice presidential running mate for the Republican presidential nominee. Sandoval has brushed aside those suggestions.
— Howard Stutz
The Mayors Goodman:
Carolyn 72; and Oscar, 72
When it came time to vote on Oscar Goodman’s contract as a roving ambassador for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority in August, board member Carolyn Goodman received a reminder that she needed to abstain.
As if on script, she shot back, “I’ve been abstaining my whole life.”
With Oscar not opting for a quiet retirement, Carolyn may still find herself in a withholding pattern. Already, Oscar has licensed his name to the Plaza for a restaurant, in addition to this part-time job with the authority, and more ventures may be coming. While he got a lot of mileage in national and even international media as the gin-swilling mayor joined at the hip with showgirls and always at the ready with a Mafia story, it remains to be seen whether he can maintain the outsized persona as Oscar without an official title.
Carolyn is still something of a blank slate. After nearly three decades as president of the Meadows School, she is well known as an educator but not as a politician. She has said she will continue Oscar’s boosterism for downtown redevelopment, but style differences have started to emerge. Where Oscar often talked about “I” when moving things forward, Carolyn has shown an inclination toward “we.” She prefers trying to include people on the front end instead of battling them on the back end.
— Tim O’Reiley
55, CEO, R&R Partners
Nevadans profiled on the cover of The New York Times? It’s a pretty short list.
But that list includes Billy Vassiliadis, the man whose advertising agency created perhaps the best-known national marketing campaign of the 2000s. Every time you hear a sitcom writer or magazine reporter riff on “What happens here, stays here,” give Vassiliadis credit.
Vassiliadis is renowned for his resort-sector marketing, but as a lobbyist and adman, he’s represented other major interests such as homebuilders, utilities and mining companies. He’s advised some of the state’s — and the nation’s — most prominent pols, serving as a close adviser to former Nevada Gov. Bob Miller and consulting with presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Vassiliadis was born in Greece and grew up in Chicago. He moved to Southern Nevada at age 18 to attend UNLV. A fellow clout holder, Sig Rogich, hired Vassiliadis in 1982 to work at R&R Partners. As Rogich delved into national politics, Vassiliadis transformed R&R into Nevada’s most powerful ad agency. He bought the firm from Rogich in 1994.
Since then, Vassiliadis has made himself into a “huckster, deal maker and fixer extraordinaire,” as well as “the most powerful unelected person in Nevada,” the Times wrote in 2004. Or, as Vassiliadis’ bio puts it: “Billy is, simply, the man to see.”
Vassiliadis is a fixture at the Legislature, where he represents the Nevada Resort Association. He argued most recently for protecting education funding by keeping 2009 tax increases in place.
— Jennifer Robison
62, senior partner, Kaempfer Crowell
From casino expansions to master-planned communities, Las Vegas attorney Christopher Kaempfer knows how to get projects approved by city and county officials.
He’s one of Nevada’s top lawyers when it comes to appearing before boards and commissions on planning, zoning, waivers, variances, licensing and other development matters.
Kaempfer handled the legal work for Rhodes Ranch, Southern Highlands, Mountain’s Edge and Providence. He’s represented Marnell Corrao Associates since 1977.
Kaempfer comes from a legal background — his father was a court reporter for U.S. District Court Judge Roger Foley. Kaempfer attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and got his law degree at the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in 1975. He then clerked for Foley.
Kaempfer’s expertise in real estate development is a function of doing it for 35 years. He’s said he turns down 25 percent to 50 percent of the work he’s offered because the projects don’t make sense.
“I don’t take projects that have no reasonable or rational basis for them,” he said.
Kaempfer, who was formerly with Kummer Kaempfer Bonner & Renshaw, joined longtime friend Pete Bernhard to form Kaempfer Crowell in 2009.
Kaempfer’s firm was recognized by Best Lawyers in America as Nevada’s top law firm for land use and zoning laws in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Kaempfer, a baseball fan, serves as general counsel for the Las Vegas 51s minor-league baseball team and coaches girls’ softball at Meadows School.
— Hubble Smith
58, director, Clark County Department of Aviation
Behind the bureaucratic-sounding title, Randall Walker is Las Vegas’ chief gatekeeper as the boss of McCarran International Airport.
More than 40 percent of the area’s total visitors fly into town and the resorts have long realized that those fliers spend more and stay longer than people who drive. Visitors’ first and departing impressions fall under his purview, whether those visitors arrive on a discount airline or a private jet.
Because he answers to the seven elected county commissioners in public meetings, the limits of his clout sometimes rise to the surface. When developer Bill Walters proposed changing the lease terms covering Bali Hai golf course, Walker’s objections were overriden. When union leaders wanted to take operation and maintenance of the passenger shuttle between concourses, Walker’s preference for an outside contractor lost.
However, his support for building Terminal 3 helped carry the day when airlines started to raise objections. His staff plays an influential role in picking the winners of potentially lucrative concessions.
Sometimes, patience counts. The commissioners decided a few years ago, against his recommendation, to go from allowing five limo and shuttle van companies to serve the airport to allowing six. But this year quietly went along with his plan to cut the number to four.
Walker, an accountant by training who has spent a career in city or county government and has been McCarran’s chief since 1997, has developed a political touch. He meets often with commissioners. And people with airport business, win or lose, always seek him out for a handshake and pleasantries.
— Tim O’Reiley
54, secretary-treasurer, Culinary Local 226
D. Taylor is probably the only one of our clout honorees who’s been arrested.
OK, so the cops collared Taylor for failure to clear the streets, a mere misdemeanor during a Culinary Local 226 protest outside Palace Station in February. But Taylor’s encounter with handcuffs shows how committed he is to organizing Southern Nevada’s hotel-casinos.
Taylor has been with the Culinary for 25 years. Today, he oversees one of the biggest organized-labor groups in the city, with 60,000 members.
Thanks to Taylor’s, and the Culinary’s, organizing and bargaining influence, the city’s dishwashers, food servers and hotel housekeepers have perhaps the best standard of living of service workers anywhere. That includes higher salaries than their counterparts in other cities.
Taylor, a Georgetown University grad who’s worked strike detail in cities from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco, joined the union movement after watching his single mom struggle to provide for her family. He’s waged high-pitched, high-profile battles with gaming titans, including ordering local Democrats in 2008 not to take campaign money from Las Vegas Sands Corp. owner and union opponent Sheldon Adelson
These days, Taylor has his eyes on another big prize, organizing the 13,000 workers at Station Casinos’ 18 local properties. He’s also spearheading efforts to shift the burden of proof in discrimination cases from the employee to the employer, which would make for a new standard in labor law.
— Jennifer Robison
77, chairman and chief executive officer, Las Vegas Sands Corp.
At one time, Sheldon Adelson was the third-richest person in the United States, according to Forbes magazine. He told Bloomberg News his desire was to be No. 1.
But the economy tanked and Las Vegas Sands came close to bankruptcy.
Adelson then invested $1 billion in his own company, reduced his ownership stake to 53 percent and changed management teams.
Today, Las Vegas Sands is on track for $8 billion in annual revenues, operating The Venetian and Palazzo hotel-casinos on the Strip and the Sands Expo and Convention Center. The company is the leading American casino operator in Asia, with three resorts in Macau and a hotel-casino in Singapore.
After its economic setback, Las Vegas Sands restarted development of additional hotel-casinos on Macau’s Cotai Strip and is expected to begin opening an additional 5,800 hotel rooms next year.
Adelson was the owner of the large Comdex trade show, which he brought annually to Las Vegas. In 1989, he acquired the Sands Hotel & Casino, eventually closing and demolishing the Rat Pack-era property to build The Venetian.
Adelson is active in Republican politics both nationally and locally. He is expected to play a role in next year’s presidential campaign on behalf of the Republican nominee.
With his company’s prospects stabilized, Adelson is back on top.
He is said to be the No. 5 wealthiest American and 16th wealthiest person in the world, with a net worth of $23.3 billion.
— Howard Stutz
67, president, Rogich Communications Group
American history might look a little different without Sig Rogich.
Rogich advised the campaigns of two U.S. presidents — Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush — and helped Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., fend off a re-election challenge in 2010.
Along the way, Rogich also started the state’s most influential advertising and lobbying firm in R&R Partners, served as ambassador to his native Iceland and assembled a cadre of connections and clients including Wayne Newton, John McCain, Mike Tyson, Donald Trump and Frank Sinatra. And when Reid’s campaign needed a boost last fall, Rogich pulled out his Rolodex and assembled Republicans for Reid.
When he’s not putting his weight behind political campaigns, Rogich works behind the scenes to make business deals — especially his own — happen. Reid supported a proposed high-speed train to Disneyland, but changed his tune in 2009 and put his money and clout behind DesertXpress Enterprises, a planned $4 billion high-speed train from Las Vegas to Victorville, Calif. Not surprisingly, Rogich is also a project booster.
In May, DesertXpress made headlines when its preferred station site near Mandalay Bay ended up in the cross hairs of developers looking to build a $2 billion stadium complex. Handling the stadium developers’ publicity? Rogich, through his Rogich Communications Group.
The stadium deal is dead for now, forced for tax reasons to find another site. But for Rogich, it doesn’t matter: Thanks to his ability to represent both sides, he comes out a winner either way.
— Jennifer Robison
62, vice president of communications and government affairs, Caesars Entertainment Corp.
Jan Jones is just as comfortable walking the halls at City Hall as at a Caesars Entertainment Corp. property or in Congress.
Jones refined her political skills as Sin City’s first female mayor. She served through the 1990s, as Las Vegas became known as America’s quintessential boomtown.
When her second term ended in 1998, Jones looked for another challenge. She found it a year later as vice president of communications and government affairs with Caesars Entertainment, formerly Harrah’s Entertainment.
In her position with Caesars, Jones lobbies for gaming’s and Nevada’s interests before the Legislature in Carson City and before Congress.
Jones has been influential in lobbying lawmakers in Washington to oppose a state-by-state legalization of online gaming, especially poker. Jones believes the Internet is the future of gaming but has argued that it’s an interstate activity that must be legalized federally.
She has also been proactive in supporting women in the gaming industry and is on the steering committee for the American Gaming Association’s recently formed Global Gaming Women initiative. As a key figure in the industry, Jones will receive the association’s 2011 lifetime achievement award for gaming contributions on Oct. 5.
She also serves as a director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Women’s Campaign Fund in Washington D.C. She is also a member of the Women’s Leadership Board at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
— Chris Sieroty
69, founder and CEO,
Wynn Resorts Ltd.
Steve Wynn made headlines recently by describing President Barack Obama as “the greatest wet blanket to business, progress and job creation in my lifetime.” He’s even threatened to move his gaming company, Wynn Resorts Ltd., to Macau.
But to dismiss Wynn, who identifies himself as a “Democratic businessman,” for his rants during quarterly conference calls with Wall Street analysts would be a mistake.
The 69-year-old Wynn cares deeply about politics, art and his family, but his true passion is designing, building and operating luxury resorts. He played a pivotal role in the 1990s resurgence and expansion of the Strip.
His companies refurbished or built what are now widely recognized resorts, including the Golden Nugget, The Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore.
BusinessWeek magazine described Wynn in a April 2005 article as a man who has “put everything into showing he’s the guy who makes the best resorts in the world.”
Those risks have made Wynn wealthy. As of 2011, Forbes magazine ranked Wynn as the 512th richest man in the world, with a net worth of $2.3 billion. He made his debut in the Forbes 400 in September 2003, coming it at No. 377 with a net worth of $650 million.
Wynn was born Stephen Alan Weinberg in New Haven, Conn. Wynn’s father ran a string of bingo parlors in Maryland.
In 1963, his father, Michael, died from complications from heart surgery, leaving $350,000 of gaming debts. Wynn took over the family business, doing well enough to buy a stake in the Frontier in Las Vegas just four years later.
The rest is Las Vegas history.
— Chris Sieroty
68, director, Wynn Resorts Ltd.
Elaine Wynn has a successful career outside of her former marriages to casino developer Steve Wynn.
She’s served on several corporate and philanthropic boards and was co-chairwoman of the Greater Las Vegas After-School All-Stars since 1995. Wynn is also the founding chairwoman of Communities in Schools of Nevada and in 2009 was appointed national chairwoman.
She even has a Las Vegas elementary school named for her.
But her divorce from the chairman of Wynn Resorts Ltd. was very profitable for her, putting her at No. 382 on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans with a net worth of $1.05 billion.
Wynn told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that being “recognized as having wealth doesn’t mean anything, what is meaningful is that if you are successful, what is it that you intend to do with it.”
Elaine Farrell Pasca married Steve Wynn in 1963. They divorced in 1986, remarried in 1991, and filed for divorce again in 2009. She remains a director of the casino company’s board of directors.
Steve Wynn once said he bought the Desert Inn, the site of Wynn Las Vegas, as a birthday present for Elaine.
— Chris Sieroty
41, retired tennis professional
Las Vegas golden boy Andre Agassi is perhaps one of the most famous human beings to come out of Sin City.
At 16, Agassi, then sporting his famous long hair, earned himself an international fan base as a tennis professional. Throughout his 20-year career he won 60 men’s singles titles, including eight Grand Slam singles championships. Agassi is the only male player to win all four Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal.
If that weren’t enough achievements for one lifetime, Agassi created The Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation at age 24. Since its inception in 1994, the foundation has built a children’s shelter, the Andre Agassi Boys & Girls Club and formed Team Agassi, a program that nurtures professional tennis players. In 2001, the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy opened in West Las Vegas and graduated its first senior class in June 2009.
Since retiring from professional tennis in 2006, do-gooder Agassi built a lifestyle business through endorsement relationships, joint venture investments and real estate development. Through Agassi Graf Holdings, Agassi and his wife, tennis star Stefanie Graf, operate their business interests, which include partnerships with Adidas, Head and Kreiss.
— Laura Emerson
62, of counsel, Kaempfer Crowell; chairman, Nevada Gaming Commission
Peter Bernhard is the longest-serving chairman of the part-time Nevada Gaming Commission, which has the final say in gaming license matters and regulations.
He was first appointed to the commission in 2001 and Gov. Brian Sandoval reappointed him to a new four-year term in April.
Bernhard served as the chairman of the Nevada Commission on Ethics before joining the gaming commission.
In his legal career, Bernhard has represented prominent Nevada individuals, organizations and businesses since 1976.
Before joining the gaming commission, Bernhard handled real estate transactions, including gaming and nongaming properties. He has also been involved with commercial litigation and alternative dispute resolution.
Bernhard, who grew up in Las Vegas, led the commission as the gaming industry dealt with the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the economic upswing in the middle of the decade and the recent recession.
He will now lead the commission as it deals with the debate over creating regulations governing Internet poker.
— Howard Stutz
58, general manager, Southern Nevada Water Authority and Las Vegas Valley Water District
If you need water in Southern Nevada, you’ll have to go through Pat Mulroy.
Mulroy oversees the valley’s most precious resource as head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and Las Vegas Valley Water District. She built the agencies from the ground up — water policy in Southern Nevada has Mulroy’s fingerprints all over it.
Under her supervision, the agencies implemented progressive water conservation programs, among them paying homeowners to replace their lawns with desert landscaping, during the city’s population boom and concurrent drought.
Mulroy navigates the strict appropriations of the 1922 Colorado Compact to obtain water for Nevada, often negotiating with the compact’s member states for their unused shares of the Colorado River.
Mulroy’s job — to ensure that Southern Nevadans have water — is a powerful one, and not without controversy. She is advocating for water from rural basins in Northern Nevada to be piped down south, which has inspired fierce protests from residents and farmers up north.
— Caitlin McGarry
Frank Fertitta III, 49, chairman and CEO; Lorenzo Fertitta, 42, vice chairman, Station Casinos LLC
The Hanson brothers from the movie “Slap Shot” are just one example of famous brothers.
Sin City has the Fertittas. They don’t wear black glasses or skate like the Hansons, but they do own the professional mixed martial arts company Ultimate Fighting Championship.
The brothers bought the UFC in 2001 for $2 million, and spent $44 million to improve its operations and image. But when they tried to sell, no one would offer more than $4 million.
That was then. In 2004, they debuted the reality show “The Ultimate Fighter.” Today, the UFC employs 275 fighters and is worth more than $1 billion.
Both learned about business from their father, Frank Jr., who got his start as a dealer at the Stardust, before creating locals gaming giant Station Casinos.
The empire began in 1976, when Fertitta opened The Casino. The name was changed to Bingo Palace and ultimately to Palace Station in 1983. Station Casinos Inc. went public in 1993. Frank, Lorenzo and Thomas Barrack of Colony Capital LLC took it private for $9 billion in cash and assumed debt in 2008.
Frank Fertitta Jr. died in 2009 — the same year that a combination of debt and the recession put Station and its 18 properties in bankruptcy. Two years later, the company emerged with 17 properties and a more manageable debt level of $2 billion.
In July, Frank Fertitta III said, “Lorenzo and I believe in the future of Las Vegas, which is why we remain committed to the company and the community.”
The Fertitta family now owns 45 percent of the restructured company, having invested $200 million to raise its stake from 25 percent before the bankruptcy.
— Chris Sieroty
84, managing partner, Molasky Cos.
Real estate developer Irwin Molasky came to Las Vegas in 1951 with a couple of thousand dollars and now lives in a penthouse suite at Park Towers, the $100 million luxury condominium towers he built at Hughes Center.
Although his most recent developments include Molasky Corporate Center and the Internal Revenue Service building in downtown Las Vegas, Molasky is best known for turning Maryland Parkway into a major commercial corridor, bringing Sunrise Hospital, Nevada Southern University (now UNLV) and the Boulevard Mall to the area.
He also developed the downtown Bank of America plaza and Best of the West shopping center at Lake Mead and Rainbow boulevards.
Molasky, a close friend of casino developer Steve Wynn, said he’s never had a desire to go into the gaming business.
“I respect it, but I’m a builder,” he said.
Molasky built apartments in California in the late 1940s and started out doing room additions and garage conversions in Las Vegas. He developed seven golf course communities, including what is now called Las Vegas National Golf Club and La Costa Resort and Spa in Southern California.
Molasky, the son of an Ohio businessman, attended military school in Georgia and studied at Ohio State University and the University of California, Los Angeles. He loves horse racing and has owned several thoroughbreds over the years, including Breeder’s Cup champion Kona Gold.
He’s got a middle school and a park in Las Vegas named after him.
— Hubble Smith
50, chairman and chief executive officer, MGM Resorts International
Jim Murren spent 14 years on Wall Street, but nothing there prepared him for the challenges of the last 34 months.
Murren became chairman and chief executive officer of what was then MGM Mirage when the late Terry Lanni retired in November 2008. He was already the company’s chief operating officer and seemingly heir apparent to the CEO role.
Shortly after taking over, MGM faced economic near-catastrophe. Its $8.5 billion CityCenter development was nearly bankrupt and would have taken the company down with it. However, with the help of an executive team and a collection of financial institutions around the world, Murren helped craft a short-term solution that saved the project and the company.
Murren, who held various executive-level positions with MGM Resorts over a 10-year period, including president and chief financial officer, was considered the visionary behind CityCenter. The project opened in December 2009.
Earlier this year, Murren helped engineer a public offering on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that raised more than $3.4 billion and gave MGM Resorts 51 percent ownership in the MGM Grand Macau.
Murren and his wife, Heather, developed and opened the Nevada Cancer Institute.
— Howard Stutz
64, president and CEO, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
What happens here often begins with Rossi Ralenkotter.
Although the valley’s hotel-casinos all have their own lavish marketing budgets, Ralenkotter has about $180 million a year in room-tax money with which to set the message for the entire city. When people think of “What happens here stays here,” and see the message driven home by Hollywood, it comes back to Ralenkotter and the authority.
With a board of directors that can go for months on end without voting “no” on anything Ralenkotter puts in front of them, many of his ideas turn out to be the finished versions.
His marketing acumen will be tested again in the next few years, as the authority puts a lot more effort into bringing in international visitors and lessening dependence on a slower-growing domestic market.
The operation of the Las Vegas Convention Center also comes under his purview. Although meeting and convention attendees account for less than 20 percent of the city’s total visitors, the resorts know that conventioneers’ expense accounts mean they spend considerably more on average than the typical T-shirt-wearing tourist can.
Las Vegas Events, another part of the authority that helps stage extravaganzas, will work to fend off Jerry Jones, who hopes to fill the calendar of his Arlington, Texas-based Cowboys Stadium with more than just National Football League games, including events that have called Las Vegas home.
— Tim O’Reiley
65, senior managing partner
of Southern Wine & Spirits, founder
of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo
Center for Brain Health
Larry Ruvo’s influence on Las Vegas can be felt while sampling vintages at the annual UNLVino wine-tasting event and when driving past the Frank Gehry-designed mass of metal known as the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.
Ruvo is the son of Lou and Angelina Ruvo, proprietors of The Venetian Restaurant, a well-known (though now closed) Italian restaurant on West Sahara Avenue. Larry Ruvo’s formative years were spent in the hospitality industry, which inspired him to work at a string of casino properties on the Strip.
Ruvo went on to found a liquor distribution company with Steve Wynn in 1970, which has since grown into Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada. The UNLVino charity event is Ruvo’s way of giving back to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ hotel college.
Ruvo’s most important contribution to Las Vegas may be his philanthropic work. Ruvo’s father died from Alzheimer’s in 1994, after which Ruvo founded the Keep Memory Alive foundation to find a cure for the disease. He raised millions of dollars and decided to open a world-class health care facility for the treatment of cognitive diseases.
If Las Vegas becomes a health care destination, the city will have Larry Ruvo to thank.
— Caitlin McGarry
37, CEO of Zappos.com
When Tony Hsieh showed up at a Las Vegas community walk this past spring, star-struck residents giggled like schoolgirls to see the Zappos CEO out and about. Recently, one 30-something local businessman called his private lunch with Hsieh, “the highlight of my year.”
What Lady Gaga is to adolescent girls, Zappos’ Zeus seems to be for Las Vegas young professionals.
After graduating from Harvard University, the business whiz founded an advertising network called LinkExchange, which he sold to Microsoft Corp. for $265 million.
Loaded and ready, he then co-founded Venture Frogs, an incubator and investment firm that sank money into a number of Internet startups, including Zappos, which was then known as ShoeSite.com. Two months later, Hsieh became the online retailer’s CEO.
When he joined the company it had almost no sales. Now, it brings in more than $1 billion in gross merchandise sales annually. In November 2009, Zappos.com was acquired by Amazon.com in a deal valued at $1.2 billion.
Hsieh’s first book, “Delivering Happiness,” a chronicle of his business life, came out June 2010 and debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times’ best-seller list. It stayed on the list for 27 consecutive weeks.
Most recently, Hsieh inked a deal to move Zappos downtown into Las Vegas City Hall once its inhabitants move to their new digs next year. Since the announcement, Hsieh has become a one-man cheering squad for the area and along with three others, purchased First Friday’s operations.
— Laura Emerson
80, executive chairman, Boyd Gaming Corp.
Bill Boyd’s name might not come up in conversation about Las Vegas’ most influential casino bosses, but he’s carried on the legacy of his father, Sam Boyd, as co-founder and executive chairman of Boyd Gaming Corp.
Boyd, a former attorney, turned to gaming in 1975 and has since developed and operated casinos in Nevada, Mississippi, New Jersey, Illinois, Indiana and Louisiana.
Boyd Gaming may have made a mistake knocking down the famed Stardust hotel-casino. It wasn’t as glamorous as the megaresorts that enveloped the Strip in the 1990s, but it was debt-free and producing revenue. Plus it had an iconic neon sign and was featured in the movie “Casino.”
The company planned to build the $4 billion Echelon megaresort in its place, but that project is stalled and remains a testament to the stagnation of Strip development.
But Boyd Gaming owns some of the best-performing downtown casinos, including Main Street Station, the Fremont and California Hotel. Boyd marketed the hotels to the underserved niche of Hawaiian tourists who fondly call Las Vegas their “ninth island.” He also ignited a consolidation frenzy within the gaming industry in 2004, when Boyd Gaming acquired Coast Casinos for $1.3 billion.
The Boyd legacy started with Sam Boyd, who came to Las Vegas in 1941 and worked his way through the ranks of the gaming industry, eventually purchasing ownership in the Sahara, Mint and Eldorado casinos. Bill Boyd earned his first interest in the Eldorado in 1962 by doing all of its legal work.
In 1979, Boyd Gaming opened Sam’s Town on Boulder Highway. The company also donated land and money for construction of Sam Boyd Stadium, home of the UNLV Rebels football team.
— Hubble Smith
74, shareholder, Lionel
Sawyer and Collins
Richard Bryan is one of the most powerful shareholders in the state’s most powerful law firm, but that’s just the most recent in a string of influential career stops. His quick rise to the political top began in 1966, when he became Clark County’s first public defender. He was elected to the Assembly in 1968, and the state Senate in 1972. In the early 1980s, as Nevada’s attorney general, Bryan successfully defended Nevada’s gaming regulations in federal court. From 1983 to 1989, he was governor; from 1989 to 2001, he was a U.S. senator.
In the Senate, Bryan served on the finance, banking and commerce committees. In what probably ranked as heresy to at least a few Nevadans, Bryan killed funding for a NASA search for extraterrestrial life, drawing the ire of scientist Carl Sagan and a few Nobel Prize winners.
Today, Bryan focuses on government relations at the federal and local levels. His practice emphasizes public land use issues — an important topic in a state that’s 87 percent federal land. His clients have ranged from Harrah’s Entertainment to the University of Nevada. He’s also on Lionel Sawyer & Collins’ executive committee, which shapes the firm’s policies and directs its business.
— Jennifer Robison
68, owner, South Point
Few living people embody the Las Vegas experience more than casino owner Michael Gaughan.
Of course, when his contemporaries think “old school,” they remember Las Vegas pioneers Sam Boyd, Benny Binion and Jackie Gaughan. Well, the “new” old boys are sons of the old old boys — Bill Boyd, Jack Binion and Michael Gaughan among them.
All have maintained a major Las Vegas presence.
After many roles in casinos, including some in ownership, Gaughan opened the Barbary Coast hotel-casino in March 1979 for $11.5 million. That casino became the foundation for Coast Casinos.
In 2004, Gaughan sold Coast Casinos for $1.3 billion to Boyd Gaming Corp. Two years later, he acquired the South Coast from Boyd for $576 million. The South Coast was required to be renamed as part of the purchase and was renamed to the South Point.
Gaughan also owns the rights to operate more than 1,300 slot machines in the terminals at McCarran International Airport.
He is a board member of Las Vegas Events, the National Finals Rodeo Committee, Valley Hospital of Las Vegas and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.
Gaughan also sits on the Foundation Board of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and has taught in the school’s College of Hotel Administration. He is also a former chairman of the Nevada Resort Association, and has held a number of positions with many nonprofit organizations in Southern Nevada.
Gaughan was elected to the Gaming Hall of Fame in 2009.
— Chris Sieroty
92, founder of Lionel
Sawyer & Collins
High-profile attorney Samuel Lionel is in his early 90s, but he doesn’t let a little thing like that stop him.
No, Las Vegas Lionel still is practicing law. The founder of the all-star Lionel Sawyer & Collins still serves as firm president, as a member of its executive committee and as chairman of the litigation department.
And, he’s still earning his share of distinctions. In 2010, Lionel received an honorary doctorate from St. John’s University and was named “Las Vegas Best Lawyers Corporate Lawyer of the Year” for 2010 by Best Lawyers.
Since 1967, when he co-founded the firm with former Nevada Gov. Grant Sawyer, the Bronx-born Lionel has represented Del Webb, Howard Hughes and Kirk Kerkorian.
Lionel is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. He is admitted to the New York State Bar, the State Bar of Nevada, the U.S. Supreme Court, the Nevada and U.S. District Court, District of Nevada and the U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit.
— Laura Emerson