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John L Smith: Meshulam Riklis Leaves Lasting Legacy On Las Vegas


Wikimedia Commons/Sallyfrjersey

Corporate conglomerate billionaire & legendary financial tycoon, Meshulam Riklis (left) with Riviera Vice-President, Sam Distefano (rightt) celebrating Riklis' 65th birthday, Dec 2nd, 1988 at the Riviera Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas.

One of the biggest players in Las Vegas’ casino history didn’t own the most hotels, but billionaire and former Riviera owner Meshulam Riklis made his mark on the Strip.  

Riklis died Friday in a Tel Aviv hospital. He as 95.  

State of Nevada contributor John L. Smith followed Riklis’ career for many years. 

“There were a number of things he brought to the Strip in the time that he was there,” Smith said, “Riklis brought an awful lot of energy to the north end of the Strip.” 

Smith explained that when Riklis bought the Riviera it was a down-on-its-luck kind of place that had been run into the ground by previous owners. 

“Riklis come on with investment money to expand and clean up the Riviera, and so for a time, he really brought attention to it,“ he said.

But the Riviera suffered a location problem as action along the Strip moved south. 

Smith said one of the most important contributions Riklis had to Las Vegas was his connection to junk bonds.

“Here’s where I think he plays the most important role in the Las Vegas part of a very long career," he said, “Riklis was essentially in on the ground floor of what became known as the junk bond era.” 

Junk bonds helped fund Las Vegas when the town was in transition from a mob-run gambling town to a corporation-owned metropolis. Riklis was connected to the king of junk bonds Michael Milken. 

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Riklis' most famous partnership is likely his marriage to performer Pia Zadora. Smith believes that while Riklis helped Zadora's entertainment career he also hurt it in a way.

“But having a man of Riklis’s power and wealth and influence – in terms of grabbing a Golden Globe Award for a bad movie, which is what occurred – really kind of tainted her career in that regard,” he said.

To get on the rich man's good side, giving his wife a part in a movie or a gig at a showroom, was a good idea but it's unfair to Zadora, Smith said.


“That’s the big thing about the Super Bowl is, of course, that it’s gambling ruled by public opinion,” Smith said, “People love them or hate them, but it’s where they put their money.”

And people are putting their money on the Patriots, he said. It may not be because of their love of the Pats but more a feeling of invincibility that they have, Smith said. 

Sports books that Smith has talked to believe that the Rams are a better team by a point or two on a neutral field.

"I do like the Rams,” Smith said. He believes if the Rams can keep the Pats out of the end zone early - they have a shot.

City Councilwoman Michele Fiore And Her Trips For The LVCVA 

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Fiore is traveling for the agency at the agency's expense, which is something that doesn't shock Smith.

“People who have followed the LVCVA for years have always seen it as a political perk…if you are on the board then you will be asked to travel to represent Las Vegas to basically wave the pompoms from Tokyo to Timbuktu to generate the Vegas Wow elsewhere,” he said.

Smith said whether officials should be traveling for that purpose is a good question and whether officials should travel and face the wrath of the Review-Journal is also a good question.

The Review-Journal is owned by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson's family and Adelson has been a longtime critic of the LVCVA, which Smith says will factor into people's perceptions of the story. 

However, he said if the RJ reporters are digging into the LVCVA and finding problems that need to come to light and be addressed that is a good thing 



John L. Smith, contributor

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