When Rafael Rivera of the Antonio Armijo trading party rolled through Nevada towards LA; he could have never predicted that the place he named Las Vegas would become what it is today.
Known around the world as a gambling haven, Las Vegas certainly lives up to its nickname of Sin City. From neon lights and flashing slots to bars, clubs and everything else in between. Vegas is a town where anything goes.
Thanks to its reputation as a place where revelry and gambling are available on every corner, Vegas attracts millions of visitors. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, an average of 42 million people descend on the famous strip every year.
6 Billionaire Entrepreneurs with Las Vegas Empires
Naturally, not everyone that travels to Vegas is looking to play blackjack or down a shot. With more than 21,800 conventions taking place in the city each year, there’s a lot of business done in the shadows of the strip.
However, when it comes down to it, Las Vegas is a gambling town that was built on casinos. Without some notable figures bringing their money and ideas to the city, Vegas wouldn’t be the hive of activity we know and love. With this in mind, we’ve profiled some of the money magnates that took a gamble on Las Vegas and came out as big winners.
1. Steve Wynn
Net Worth: $3 Billion
Prior to building some of the most impressive casinos on the strip, Steve Wynn learned the art of business running his parents’ bingo parlors. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a BA in English literature, Wynn was set to attend Yale Law School.
However, after his father died and left the family to pick up debts totaling $350,000, Wynn was forced to take charge of the family business. Spurred on by a need to repay his father’s debts; Wynn expanded the chain of bingo parlors before relocating to Las Vegas in 1967, four years after his father passed away.
Thanks to the success of his bingo business, Wynn bought a stake in the Frontier Hotel and Casino; before linking up with Vegas banker, E. Parry Thomas. With someone willing to extend him a loan, Wynn was able to purchase land in Vegas. While also profiting from a wine and liquor importing business.
By 1973, Wynn was had become the youngest casino owner in Vegas at the age of 31 after he took a majority stake in the Golden Nugget. Fast-forward to 2005 and a number of casino ventures later and Wynn embarked on his biggest project: The Wynn.
Costing $2.7 billion to build, the hotel and casino complex epitomizes the ideals of opulence and luxury that Wynn has always strived for. Indeed, as well as helping to increase the number of casinos in the city, the businessman has also sought to raise the industry’s profile.
By catering to an upscale clientele, the casino magnate has improved the image of casinos, gambling and everything associated with the industry. This, in turn, has made Vegas a tourist-friendly destination for seasoned bettors and complete novices.
2. William Andrews Clark
Net Worth: $2.1 Billion (Estimated)
Rafael Rivera might be credited with naming Las Vegas, but the man who really put the area on the map was William Andrews Clark. An American politician and entrepreneur that was heavily involved in the railway industry, Clark essentially gave people a reason to stop in Vegas.
With his railway network running between San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake thriving, Clark established Vegas as a maintenance stop. Buying up and then dividing 110 acres into 1,200 lots; Clark essentially laid down the foundations on which the now famous Fremont Street was built.
Although today’s Vegas is much more than a quiet stop on a major railway line, Clark’s contribution hasn’t been forgotten. While the infrastructure may be different, Clark County was named after the businessman. So there will always be a piece of Clark in Sin City.
3. Howard Hughes
Net Worth: $3.8 Billion (Estimated)
When you have an estimated net worth of $1.5 billion in the seventies; (around $6.45 billion in today’s money), you can pretty much do what you like in Vegas. In a place where money talks, businessman Howard Hughes was the high roller of all high rollers whenever you rolled into town.
Naturally, being known as one of the world’s richest men afforded Hughes certain luxuries in Vegas, not least a penthouse suite at the Desert Inn. While it’s not correct to credit Hughes as the man who started the trend of casino comps, he certainly proved what’s possible.
Thanks to his building bankroll, Hughes was able to take control of the best suites for a month. The only time he was asked to leave was on New Year’s Eve. At which point he refused and decided to buy the hotel for $13.3 million.
After his exploits at the Inn, Hughes was responsible for building a number of casinos and hotels in Vegas. However, for those in the know, it was his ability to get something extra that will live on in Vegas.
Today, anyone with a little bit of cash and knowledge can wring some extra value out of a Las Vegas Casino. In fact, the culture of comps (free gifts or perks) has been the subject of countless articles and books. Even playing online as a casual gambler, you can still receive a comp or two.
For example, if you wager $5,000 at an off-the-strip casino, you’re likely to be given much more attention than if you staked the same amount at the Bellagio. Similarly, if you put your whole bankroll on deposit (so if you ask the hotel to look after the cash for you), there’s a chance you’ll be seen as a valuable customer and, therefore, given some freebies.
Naturally, getting the same level of treatment as Hughes is tough and if you want to make your roulette skills sharper try practicing online at a site like 888casino first. If you’re smart about it you can thank the man who lived in a Vegas hotel room.
4. Sheldon Adelson
Net Worth: $38.9 Billion
If you scroll through a list of the richest people on the planet, Sheldon Adelson’s name will be there in black and white. Born in 1933 and having a similar impact on Vegas as Steve Wynn, Adelson is most famous for his company, Las Vegas Sands Corporation.
The businessman’s interests in Vegas started back in 1988 when he and his partners bought the Sands Hotel and Casino. The former hangout of the Rat Pack, Sands soon became the hottest ticket in town and that propelled Adelson to even bigger and better things.
By far the biggest and best thing Adelson gave to Sin City was The Venetian.
Built in 1999 and known as a mega-resort, the complex not only featured hotel suites and a gaming floor but shops, restaurants, bars and more. By 2003, Adelson added another tower to his already burgeoning property to take the number of suites to 4,049, create space for an entire shopping mall and install a gondola ride.
Today, The Venetian and its sister property, The Palazzo, are regarded as two of the best places to stay in Las Vegas. By offering much more than gambling, the venue has redefined Vegas in much the same way as Wynn’s properties. Instead of focusing solely on hardcore gamblers, Adelson has worked to attract people from all walks of life. This is why Vegas is what it is today.
5. Thomas Hull
Net Worth: N/A
In 2018 and beyond, Wynn and Adelson might own two of the largest hotels in Las Vegas, but Thomas Hull was the man back in 1941. When Hull’s company built the El Rancho on the southwest corner of Las Vegas Boulevard back in 1941, it not only became the largest hotel in the city, but it paved the way for today’s behemoths.
In comparison to a modern Vegas hotel, 110 rooms is a small amount. However, when Hull’s $500,000 project was complete, it broke the mold. As well as a large hotel and gaming floor, El Rancho offered horseback rides, a swimming pool and an opera theatre.
This diversification away from pure gambling was virtually unique at the time and it started a trend that would later define the city. Although someone venues away from the strip offer nothing more than a place to sleep and a few slots, the raison d’être for every major development is now “entertainment, entertainment, entertainment.”
For this reason, El Rancho will always have a place in the history of Las Vegas.
6. J. Walter Thompson
Net Worth: N/A
The final figure worth noting in the history of Las Vegas is J. Walter Thompson. Much like any new business, a solid product will only win you half the battle. If nobody knows about your goods or services, then you won’t make any money.
The casino owners of Las Vegas knew this and that’s why they enlisted the services of Thompson. Through his ad agency, Thompson was able to show the general public that Vegas was more than a gambling resort.
By highlighting the wealth of shows, dining experiences and more; the marketing guru was able to persuade millions of people to visit a remote spot in the middle of the Nevada desert.
Unsurprisingly, this is an angle that many Vegas companies still push today. If you visit the Las Vegas Tourism site, the first thing you’ll see is a list of big-name performers. From Celine Dion to the Blue Man Group, the site is focused predominately on entertainment.
From this, gambling slots nicely into the genre as another form of entertainment rather than a high stakes endeavor. Although casinos love to see big money players come into town, it’s the casuals that keep the money rolling in.
By showing that gambling is something that’s about fun too; rather than just financial gain, Las Vegas has become a billionaire dollar economy. That, in a nutshell, is the main contribution of the men profiled in this piece.
Even though they’ve brought wealth and infrastructure to the city, all of it has been for one goal: to make gambling entertaining. This, in turn, has helped to make Las Vegas one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
Know any other billionaires that have built Las Vegas empires? Leave a comment below.
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