Las Vegas has helped make many dreams come true, but the biggest winners are the billionaires who prove the old saying, "The house always wins." The visionaries who helped turn a patch of dusty desert into one of the world's most luxurious tourist destinations are still the richest people in town.
The self-made billionaire Sheldon Adelson is the wealthiest man in Nevada, with an estimated net worth of over $25 billion. After a modest career in real estate, Adelson created the Computer Dealers Expo (COMDEX) trade show at the MGM Grand Hotel in 1979. His timing proved to be impeccable, as the technology and personal computer industries were taking off. His trade show became the highest-profile platform for companies such as IBM, Apple, and Microsoft to present and launch their latest products.
He purchased the Sands Casino in 1988 and turned it into the largest casino company in the United States. After selling COMDEX for $862 million, his $1.5 billion Venetian Resort Casino and the Sands Expo and Convention Center opened in 1999. In 2010, he opened the $5.5 billion Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino on the Chinese island of Macau. A drastic slowdown in the Chinese gambling industry cost Adelson $10 billion in 2014 as he saw his company’s stock fall more than 30%.
Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta
While Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta do owe much of their success to the gambling industry, bringing the most violent sport into the mainstream has turned them both into billionaires with a combined net worth of $3.1 billion. The pair inherited their father’s relatively small casino company; since its emergence from bankruptcy in 2009, Station Casinos has been a profit machine.
Their risky purchase of the fledgling mixed martial arts organization Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 2001 with high school friend Dana White proved to be their best move. The brothers have turned the violent sport on the fringes of acceptance into one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative draws in the entertainment industry. They helped negotiate one of the top TV sports deals in 2011 by signing a $100 million per year TV deal with FOX Sports.
UFC live events generate the world's largest pay-per-view audiences and revenue, and they are broadcast to more than 1 billion homes. The Fertittas have reportedly turned down numerous offers of over $1 billion from private equity and media firms to sell UFC—not a bad return on investment (ROI), considering they purchased it for just $2 million.
Nancy Walton Laurie
No list of billionaires is complete without the heir to the Walmart fortune. Nancy Walton Laurie is the daughter of James "Bud" Walton. Upon his death in 1995, she became a 1.5% stakeholder in the company. As of 2015, her net worth is approximately $3.8 billion. She is also the owner of Missouri-based Providence Bank, with $733 million in assets and is often seen jet-setting around the world on her $200-million yacht. She purchased the NHL's St. Louis Blues franchise with her husband Bill Laurie in 1999 for $100 million and sold it after losing over $60 million due to the cancellation of the 2004-2005 season.
With a deep-rooted history in Las Vegas dating back to the 1960s, gambling magnate Steve Wynn is credited with reinventing the Las Vegas Strip. He owns four luxury resorts in Las Vegas and Macau. He first renovated the Golden Nugget before building two of the most iconic casinos on the Las Vegas Strip: the Mirage and the Bellagio. These two resorts led the resurgence of Las Vegas as a destination for wealthy travelers, and the money began pouring in. After selling Mirage Resorts to MGM Grand Inc. in 2000, Wynn opened his two most expensive resorts yet: Wynn Las Vegas, in 2005, and Wynn Macau a year later.