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If you made a list of the people who made modern Las Vegas possible, who would you put on it? Many who know this area’s history would say that if Edward Parry Thomas doesn’t top the list, he’s certainly near the top. He died late in August at age ninety-five.

Parry Thomas was born and raised in Ogden, Utah, where his father had a plumbing company. Thomas’s first job was when he was not yet a teenager: he collected defaulted loans for a bank. Through his father, he also got to know the Eccles brothers, who owned a major bank and construction company. He decided, then or soon after, that banking would be his career of choice. Thomas served in World War II, among other things as an intelligence agent. He earned a bachelor’s degree in banking and finance from the University of Utah and joined Continental Bank, based in Salt Lake City and part of a banking empire headed by Walter Cosgriff.

On January 18, 1954, Cosgriff’s company opened the Bank of Las Vegas with a capitalization of a quarter of a million dollars. The directors included a longtime local businessman, Nate Mack. More than a year later, Thomas arrived as vice president and cashier. Nate’s son Jerry, a UCLA graduate, had returned to Las Vegas to work at the bank. Parry Thomas and Jerry Mack were pretty much the Bank of Las Vegas—in terms of the name of the business and, in a lot of ways, literally. There were other successful financial institutions here. But they became THE bank of Las Vegas. And they certainly banked on Las Vegas.

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Where Thomas was important was in a question he asked: How are you going to do banking in a state by ignoring its main industry? By the mid-1950s, gaming and tourism had become crucial to Nevada’s prosperity. But few banks would lend money to casino operators for building or expansion. Why? Reputation. Mobsters were involved in a lot of the casinos. Now, in Las Vegas, they may have been legal, legitimate businessmen. But their past was certainly an issue. So were their connections, past and present.    

But Thomas reasoned that if they were treated with respect, they would respond in kind. They did. They also didn’t like to fill out paperwork. If you’re familiar with organized crime, you know that writing things down wasn’t conducive to success and survival. In the mob, a contract meant something totally different than it does to the rest of us. Thomas understood their quirks, and worked with them.

Soon after arriving in town, Thomas loaned money to the Sahara Hotel for an expansion. Before long, many of the hotels on the Strip had received loans from the Bank of Las Vegas. Chances are that if a Strip or downtown hotel operator didn’t get a loan from the bank that Thomas and Mack ran, he got it from another institution that was in business because the Bank of Las Vegas made lending money to casinos acceptable.

Now, if that was all Parry Thomas had done, he would have been important. But he did a lot more. We’ll have a lot more, next time.

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