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Gaming pioneer, civil rights icon Knight Preddy dies

Sarann Knight Preddy, who broke barriers in the gaming culture of Nevada and became a civil rights icon, a prime businesswoman and a key player in the attempted revitalization of the historic Moulin Rouge, died Monday. She was 94.

Knight Preddy was just 30 years old when she made history in Nevada by becoming the first African-American woman to receive a state gaming license for the Tonga Club in Hawthorne in 1950. She ran the club in Mineral County for seven years before venturing back to Las Vegas and working as a dealer at Jerry’s Nugget.

But her legacy didn’t stop there.

Knight Preddy was well-known for the time and effort she and her family put into the rebirth of the Moulin Rouge, the city’s first integrated hotel-casino in 1955. The Preddys worked from 1985 to 1997 to reopen the property on Bonanza Road, but they were forced to put their revitalization plans to rest when they couldn’t get enough financial backing.

Las Vegas City Councilman Ricki Barlow still praised Knight Preddy’s work, calling her a pillar of Las Vegas history. “She will go down as a true Nevadan,” he said.

Knight Preddy was born in Eufaula, Okla., in 1920 and moved with her family to Las Vegas in 1942. They resided on the “Westside” of town on Jackson Street, an area known as the black business district.

She soon took an interest in gaming and made it her business to get involved, first becoming a Keno writer at the Cotton Club before moving north to make history at the Tonga Club.

The woman who believed her successes were built on good timing also involved herself in the community as one of the founders of the Las Vegas Black Historical Society and an executive board member of the local NAACP.

Her personal life was equally eventful, though tinged with tragedy. Knight Preddy was married five times and had four children, three of whom preceded her in death.

“I feel proud. Sometimes I think, ‘How did I do all of those things?’ Then I think, ‘I’m 90 years old. I had to do something,’” she told the Review-Journal in a 2011 interview. “I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I wasn’t busy.”

Knight Preddy will also be remembered for her style and beauty.

“You couldn’t get around that she was such an elaborate dresser,” Barlow said.

He recalled the elegant way in which she spoke and handled situations, amazed at how she carried herself, a beautiful person inside and out.

In her own quiet but unique way, Knight Preddy wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, even on the things she didn’t agree with Barlow about, he said.

State Assemblyman Harvey Munford has close with Knight Preddy and her family. He said he would deliver her a turkey every Thanksgiving and could always count on her support during his campaigns.

Even in her 90s, she drove everyday until she grew ill, Munford said. “She had her heart and soul in the community.”

She had been in and out of the hospital in recent months, Barlow said. In their last conversation, she told him she was feeling better and would be taking things easy as she prepared for the holidays.

“My life has been really great,” she said in 2011. “I never worry about the past. I’m always looking toward the next thing.”

Funeral arrangements for Knight Preddy had not been finalized Monday.

Contact reporter Cassandra Taloma at ctaloma@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381.

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