Gamblings Biggest Current Magnates
By the time he was 20 years-old, Terrance Watanabe was already the chief executive of the Oriental Trading Company, a business his father founded in 1932 after immigrating to the United States from Japan. A Nebraska native, Watanabe had the skills necessary to grow his father’s small-scale trinket business into a catalog enterprise that earned approximately $300 million by the time Watanabe sold the business in 2000.
Watanabe continued to give money to various charitable organizations after he sold the Oriental Trading Company, but his subsequent business ventures proved to be unsuccessful. Growing restless, Watanabe started to visit Las Vegas frequently beginning in 2005. Two years later, Watanabe lost almost $127 million over the course of a year while gambling at Caesars Palace and the Rio Las Vegas. Watanabe lost so much money during his prolonged losing streak that his losses accounted for approximately 5.6 percent of the annual Las Vegas gambling revenue earned by the parent company of both Caesars and the Rio, Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc.
By contrast, Australian-born Zeljko Ranogajec has managed to turn his gambling endeavors into a business. After reportedly winning millions playing blackjack with an initial bankroll of only a few hundred dollars, Ranogajec was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2011. Doggedly private, Ranogajec is presumed to employ more than 300 people who labor to identify information that can give Ranogajec an edge in the bets he makes on horse races and other activities. According to some reports, the wagers Ranogajec makes through TabCorp, an Australian bookmaker, equal as much as 8 percent of the company’s $10 billion in annual revenue. Ranogajec’s activity on Betfair is believed to account for approximately one-third of the money the company makes in the Australian market.
While Ranogajec’s casino game of choice was blackjack, high rollers around the world typically prefer baccarat over other games. In Macau, the most popular gambling destination for whales worldwide, bets made by VIPs playing baccarat alone account for approximately 60 percent of the location’s overall casino revenue. American casinos have recognized the popularity of baccarat among high rollers and have even introduced mini versions of the game for people who have comparatively smaller bankrolls. Even though the revenue Las Vegas casinos earn from people playing baccarat has dropped recently, presumably due to the Chinese government’s crackdown on corruption in Macau casinos, it is estimated that one out of every three dollars wagered in Vegas is bet on baccarat.
While baccarat may be a profitable table game for casinos located in Las Vegas, casinos make billions of dollars from slots each year. Penny slots alone have successfully generated more than $1.1 billion dollars in a single year for casinos located in Las Vegas.
With games designed to profit off of high rollers and people with smaller bankrolls alike and billions in annual domestic and global revenues, it is obvious why the gambling industry would attract the attention of some of the world’s savviest businessmen and women. Whether they capitalized on brick-and-mortar establishments or online casinos, the biggest magnates in the gambling world continue to provide games, promotions, and attractions that keep people coming back for more.
Gambling Magnates of Traditional Casinos
Compared to conventional casinos, online casinos are in their infancy, which is why most of today’s established gambling magnates have historically focused their efforts on physical casino locations. While a handful of states, including Delaware, New Jersey, and Nevada, currently allow traditional casinos to host real-money casino and poker games online for adult residents and tourists located within their geographic boundaries, casinos in these states still make the vast majority of their revenue from people who visit their establishments in-person.
As the laws regarding online gambling in the United States continue to evolve, so does the casino industry. Spearheading this change for decades is a group of business people who are widely recognized as the biggest magnates in the gambling world.
Here is a list of some of the most successful innovators in the gambling world:
E. Parry Thomas: While he is no longer active, E. Parry Thomas and his deceased business partner, Jerome D. Mack, are widely credited with laying the groundwork necessary for Las Vegas to grow into what it has become today. Mack began his professional career at the Bank of Las Vegas, a financial institution founded by his father and several other visionaries. The Bank of Las Vegas was the first bank willing to lend money for casino ventures, making its first loan to Milton Prell who used the funds he received to construct the Sahara Casino.
After assuming control of the Bank of Las Vegas, Mack created the Valley Bank of Nevada by merging his bank with the Valley Bank of Reno, an institution headed by Thomas. Together, the two men started investing in real estate in-and-around Las Vegas, with the duo eventually donating 400 acres of land for the expansion of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ campus and footing the bill for the construction of the school’s basketball stadium, the Thomas & Mack Center.
Thomas worked directly with Howard Hughes and represented the business tycoon in many real estate dealings in Nevada. Over the course of his lifetime, Hughes purchased more than $300 million worth of real estate in Las Vegas and the dessert surrounding the city, which made Hughes one of the most powerful and influential men in Vegas.
Hughes was far from the only entrepreneur who chose to work with Thomas. Once described as “the most influential banker in Las Vegas” by Vanity Fair magazine, Thomas acquired loans from the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund to provide money for the development of casinos. Thomas met Steve Wynn in 1967, the year the future gambling mogul moved to Sin City. At that time, Thomas and Mack’s bank was still the only one willing to extend loans to support casino projects. With little to no competition, Thomas helped provide financing for some of Wynn’s first Vegas-based real estate transactions.
Although Thomas and Mack sold their bank to Bank of America in 1992 for an estimated $380.5 million, Thomas’ family continues to influence the Las Vegas landscape. Two of the revolutionary’s sons run the Thomas & Mack real estate development company in Las Vegas. A third son, Roger Thomas, is an interior designer who has designed casinos in both the United States and the People’s Republic of China for Steve Wynn.
Steve Wynn: Born Stephen Alan Weinberg in New Haven Connecticut in 1942, Wynn grew up in Utica, New York. Wynn was introduced to gambling early as his father ran a chain of bingo parlors in the eastern part of the United States. Shortly before Wynn graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, his father died, leaving his family with $350,000 worth of gambling debts. Wynn assumed responsibility for the family business and began working in the bingo parlors his father had established. It took less than one year for Wynn to successfully grow his father’s enterprise.
The proceeds from the bingo business he inherited enabled Wynn to buy a stake in the Frontier Hotel and Casino after he and his family moved to Las Vegas in the mid-1960s. In 1971, Wynn acquired a controlling interest in one of the oldest casinos in Vegas, the Golden Nugget Las Vegas. Wynn completely overhauled the establishment and transformed it into a resort hotel and casino. As a result, more upscale visitors began to frequent Vegas and Wynn became the youngest casino owner in Sin City. As majority shareholder, Wynn opened the Golden Nugget’s first hotel tower in 1977.
Four years after Atlantic City legalized gambling in 1976, Wynn began construction on what would become the city’s sixth casino, Golden Nugget Atlantic City. While Golden Nugget Atlantic City was the city’s second smallest casino, it became the area’s top grossing gambling establishment by 1983. Four years later, Wynn sold this property for $440 million.
When he opened The Mirage on the Las Vegas Strip in 1989, Wynn’s latest project kicked off a wave of construction in the city, which had a total cost of approximately $12 billion. With an erupting volcano near its entrance, The Mirage was built to provide a high-end, luxury experience for its visitors. The Mirage quickly became known for its shows and the property became the home of the enduring Siegfried & Roy show in 1990. The Mirage also hosted Nouvelle Expérience, the fourth touring circus show produced by Cirque du Soleil, in 1993.
Wynn opened the family-friendly Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in what was once an old parking lot belonging to The Mirage in 1993. With pools in front of the casino and people on full-sized pirate ships enacting the Battle of Buccaneer Bay, Treasure Island became the permanent home of a Cirque du Soleil production. Treasure Island Hotel and Casino has appeared in several popular movies, television programs, and video games, including Miss Congeniality 2, Knocked Up, Las Vegas, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The iconic property is currently owned by one of the world’s most successful gambling magnates, Phil Ruffin.
In 1998, Wynn opened what was then the most expensive hotel in the world, the Bellagio. More extravagant than his previous projects, the Bellagio cost around $1.6 billion to construct and it served as the inspiration for additional developments in Las Vegas, including The Venetian, Mandalay Bay, and Paris Las Vegas. Wynn’s company, Mirage Resorts, oversaw the construction of the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Mississippi the following year. At that time, the Beau Rivage was the largest hotel and casino development located outside of Las Vegas.
After selling Mirage Resorts to MGM Grand, Inc. for $6.6 billion in 2000, Wynn’s company, Wynn Resorts Limited went public two years later. By 2004, Wynn was a billionaire. In 2005, Wynn finished what was the nation’s largest privately funded development and most expensive resort, the Wynn Las Vegas. The Wynn Las Vegas is the home of the Las Vegas Strip’s only golf course and each of the property’s 296 suits has its own private driveway. Wynn went on to open Encore Las Vegas, which shares property with Wynn Las Vegas, in 2008.
In 2006, Wynn opened his first oversees casino, Wynn Macau, in Macau, the world’s largest gaming market. Wynn expanded this development in 2010 with Encore at Wynn Macau. Wynn gained approval to open another property on the Cotai Strip in the People’s Republic of China in 2012. The project has an estimated price tag of $2.6 billion.
In 2014, Wynn secured the license to construct Wynn Everett near Boston, in Everett, Massachusetts. The casino is supposed to create approximately 3,300 full-time jobs once it is completed.
Sheldon Gary Adelson: Identified by Forbes as the 18th wealthiest person in the world in June, 2015, Adelson was born in Boston, Massachusetts on August 4, 1933. With a net worth estimated to be around $28 billion, Adelson is the current chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. The Las Vegas Sands Corporation owns the Marina Bay Sands, which is located in Singapore. It is also the parent company of Venetian Macao Limited, a business entity which runs the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino as well as the Sands Expo and Convention Center.
Having already established what became America’s top trade show in the computer industry throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Adelson and his business partners bought the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1988. In 1989, Adelson’s group built what was then the country’s only privately owned convention center, the Sands Expo and Convention Center.
A decade later, Adelson opened The Venetian after spending approximately $1.5 billion on the hotel and casino’s construction. In 2003, the Venezia Tower was added to the property, giving The Venetian a total of 4,049 suites, 18 eating establishments, and a shopping mall.As one of the biggest magnates in the gambling world, Adelson opened Sands Macao in 2004. Sands Macau was the first Vegas-like casino to open in the People’s Republic of China. Since this property opened its doors, Adelson’s wealth has increased fourteen times over. Adelson opened the Venetian Macao Resort Hotel on the Cotai Strip in 2007. This development cost about $2.4 billion to complete. Three years later, Adelson’s company, Las Vegas Sands, opened Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. With a convention center, retail establishments in The Shoppes, night clubs, and 2,500 high-end rooms, the Marina Bay Sands cost an estimated $5.5 billion to build.
Philip Gene Ruffin: One of gambling’s biggest magnates, Ruffin was born in Texas in 1935. A proponent of making self-serve gasoline available in Kansas, Ruffin established a string of 60 convenience stores throughout the Midwest of the United States in the early 1970s. In 1987, Ruffin built his first hotel, a Marriott, in Wichita, Kansas. Ruffin further diversified his business interests to include oil distribution and the manufacturing of hand trucks over the years.
In 1994, Ruffin used the money he got from leasing his convenience stores to the French oil and gas company, Total, to acquire additional hotel properties. The following year, the business mogul purchased the Crystal Palace casino and resort in the Bahamas. Ruffin then took out a mortgage on his newly acquired property and bought the New Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1998.
After Ruffin successfully negotiated the end of a protracted labor strike with the Culinary Workers Union soon after he purchased the Frontier Hotel and Casino, the property was referred to as “New Frontier.” Ruffin sold the 36-acre New Frontier in 2007 for $1.2 billion. Ruffin received the highest per-acre price ever paid for a property on the Las Vegas Strip at that time.
Ruffin assumed ownership of Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in March, 2009, after negotiating a purchase price of $600 million in cash and an additional $175 million in secured notes. Expanding in Las Vegas, Ruffin entered into a joint project with Donald Trump to build the Trump International Hotel and Tower right next to the Fashion Show Mall in 2005. Having provided the land for the project, Ruffin holds a 50 percent interest in the development. The property’s tower opened to the public in March, 2008.
Stephen Garret Siegel: Born in 1971, Siegel is the CEO of Siegel Group Nevada, Inc. When he was just 21 years-old, Siegel bought his first piece of property and founded Prestige Motors, an automobile repair business. Siegel rebranded Prestige Motors as a collision center and the business generated more than $2 million in yearly sales. Siegel sold Prestige Motors six years after purchasing it and used his profits to buy a majority stake of Uncle Howie Products. Siegel restructured the children’s furniture manufacturer and managed to expand the number of retailers the company sold its goods through to include national giants such as Sears, Target, and Toys “R” Us.
Siegel founded Siegel Group Nevada, Inc. in 2001. In 2009, Siegel was recognized as Las Vegas’ “Citizen of the Month” by the city’s mayor because of his redevelopment projects in-and-around Las Vegas. Siegel’s revitalization efforts have created safer neighborhoods and jobs for Las Vegas residents. Inc. magazine identified Siegel Group as one of the country’s fastest growing, privately owned businesses for two consecutive years beginning in 2007.
Through companies associated with the Siegel Group, Siegel owns various other businesses, including restaurants, office buildings, bars, and hotel casinos. While arguably not one of the world’s biggest magnates in the gambling world just yet, Siegel already owns four hotels located in Las Vegas, The Resort on Mt. Charleston, Siegel Slots and Suits, the Artisan Boutique Hotel, and Rumor Boutique Resort.
Gambling’s Biggest Online Magnates
Even though online casinos and poker rooms have only been around for the past decade or so, the global online gaming market’s annual revenues grew to $35.5 billion in 2013. While casino games and sports betting generate the largest part of online gaming revenues, Internet-based gaming also includes poker, bingo, scratch tickets, and lotteries. With yearly revenues expected to exceed $56 billion by 2018, the online casino industry is producing its own breed of gambling moguls.
The list of the biggest magnates in the online gambling world and the websites they have been, or currently are involved with, include the following:
- Victor Chandler & Michael Tabor, Betvictor
- John, Denise, & Peter Coates, Bet365
- Calvin Ayre, Bodog
- Avi, Aaron, Shay, & Ron Ben-Yitzhak Shaked, 888
With an online casino of its own that adults physically located in the state of Delaware can visit 24-hours per day, Dover Downs Hotel & Casino was founded in 1995. Offering a world-class casino experience to everyone who walks through our doors, Dover Downs Hotel & Casino has been Delaware’s premiere hotel and casino destination for more than two decades.
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In addition to our more than 2,300 slot machines, 41 table games, and 18-table poker room, we have virtual gaming and a high limits area. As Delaware’s largest, most luxurious hotel and casino property, we also offer the area’s biggest selection of entertainment options, including seasonal harness racing, exquisite dining establishments, an in-house spa, and boutique shopping outlets.
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For an unforgettable hotel and casino experience that would make any one of gambling’s biggest magnates proud, visit Dover Downs Hotel & Casino today. Once you visit with us, it will be hard for you to imagine staying, gambling, or hosting a function anywhere else.