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Last time, we talked about E. Parry Thomas, the Las Vegas icon who died recently. We focused on his coming to Las Vegas in 1955 to run the Bank of Las Vegas.
To say the bank was a success would be an understatement. Eventually, it merged with Valley Bank, based in Reno. Then it became part of Bank of America. To put it another way, my downtown office is in what was originally known as Valley Bank Plaza, and now it’s Bank of America Plaza.
But often in tandem with his friend Jerome Mack, Parry Thomas was involved in a lot of other things that affect us today. They worked with businesspeople on an assortment of behind-the-scenes deals that built or expanded local shopping malls, housing tracts, and country clubs. The Bank of Las Vegas may have been famous for lending money to casinos, but it also was a bank that would loan money to others.
Thomas and Mack were extremely interested in a university for Las Vegas. They helped set up a foundation so that UNLV would have land on which to grow. They did this half a century ago, when few would have expected Las Vegas or its university to become as large as they have. In turn, when an arena was built on campus to house the basketball team and assorted events, it was called the Thomas and Mack. And their families have continued to be an active part of UNLV.
Thomas and his bank made a great deal of money from lending money to casino owners accused of being in the mob. But Thomas also wanted to shift Nevada away from that management and that image. So he took several steps to help that along.
One was to aid Howard Hughes in his business activities in Nevada. The mob certainly survived Hughes’s presence. But that presence had a significant impact on how the outside world viewed the state at the time.
Another was to support a major change in state law. Nevada used to require every investor in a casino to be licensed. This led to some front men for gangsters, yes, but it also kept out large corporations—how could a company on the big board possibly get into the casino business if every one of its thousands and thousands of stockholders had to be licensed? Thomas won a considerable amount of support in the late 1960s for passage of the Corporate Gaming Act, which made corporate ownership possible. A lot of Las Vegans claim to be nostalgic for the old days, but those around in the old days couldn’t have built today’s megaresorts.
Speaking of which, there was another step to help along those changes. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Thomas took under his wing a young entrepreneur named Steve Wynn. He helped Wynn obtain a parcel of land from Howard Hughes, who was famous for not selling whatever he had bought. Wynn then sold the land to Caesars Palace. That was the beginning. Thomas helped Wynn start out at the Golden Nugget, and the rest really is history. Wynn has said he owes a lot of his success to Thomas—whose son Roger also serves as Wynn’s designer.
It might be overstating the case to say Parry Thomas built modern Las Vegas. It wouldn’t be overstating it to say that when he wasn’t building it, he had a hand in helping the others who were doing it.