From Poor to Riches: The Stories of Successful Casino Owners
Even if you’re not a regular, nearly everybody is fascinated by the glamor of casinos. Many of them are located in the United States, but some of the most successful establishments are found in Asia. This is what the stories of successful casino owners tell us as the richest people on the planet are either found in the United States or Macau.
Although the online casino industry has overtaken the land based counterpart in recent years, the richest of the richest have earned their stripes in the brick and mortar sector. This list is full of interesting characters who have made their mark on the casino industry in Vegas, Macau, and even beyond. Let’s take a closer look at some stories of successful casino owners.
Bailey Lavon (New Zealand), $1.7 Billion
Born in New Zealand to immigrants from Israel, Bailey Lavon is one of today’s biggest players in the online casino affiliate industry. One of his recent projects is aimed at his home country New Zealand where online gambling has not yet been legalized, but shows a rather favorable market situation as New Zealand citizens are allowed to gamble online as long as they do so at offshore based casino websites. As the only other requirement is that players need to be at least 18 years old to do so and they don’t pay any taxes over their profits, the search for online casinos oriented to New Zealand has turned out to be a highly interesting one. Lavon has earned its fortune in other regions as well, but New Zealand seems to be his key market for now with Kiwi Gambler being one of his websites.
Elaine Wynn (United States), $1.8 Billion
A billionaire herself, Elaine Wynn (née: Pascal) was eager to build a casino empire together with her ex-husband, Steve Wynn whom we’ll touch upon later on in this list. After working at a bingo hall owned by her father-in-law’s, New York born Wynn moved with her then-husband to the state of Nevada. In Vegas, together they established some of the most iconic casinos on the Strip: The Mirage, Treasure Island, and Bellagio. After selling these properties to MGM Grand in 2000, the Wynns founded the international enterprise Wynn Resorts which operates land based casinos in Las Vegas and Macau, amongst others. Despite their financial success, the Wynn’s personal lives have been troublesome: the couple divorced twice, first in 1986 (before remarrying in 1991) and finally in 2010.
Lorenzo Fertitta (United States), $2.9 Billion
A Nevada native, Feritta was born in Las Vegas and was also surrounded by the casino industry as his father Frank Fertitta Jr. worked at different casinos in Vegas when he was still a kid. Frank Fertitta Jr.opened his first casino ‘The Casino’ in 1976, and put his efforts into off-Strip casinos. Together with his brother, Frank, Lorenzo has continued his father’s focus on off-Strip casinos which are known to target a local audience, as opposed to tourists. This formula has turned out to be a very successful approach. Their company, Station Casinos, own several casinos in the city of Las Vegas including the Palms and Red Rock Resort. Lorenzo Fertitta was one of the first big investors in the sport of MMA as he bought Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 2001 for $2 million. This later turned out to be one of his best investments as he sold UFC in 2016 for twice the amount: $4 billion. According to Forbes, Lorenzo Fertitta holds a fortune of 2.9 billion USD in 2023.
Steve Wynn (United States), $3.2 Billion
Born in Connecticut, Steve Wynn got his start in gambling through his father’s bingo halls in the eastern part of the US where his previously mentioned ex-wife Elaine Wynn worked for a while as well. In 1967, Steve Wynn and his family moved to the city of Las Vegas where he soon bought a controlling stake in the Golden Nugget. This was just the first of his strategies to make himself a way into the casino industry. In 1989, the Wynn’s opened The Mirage, after which other casinos followed with well known casinos being Treasure Island and Bellagio. He also expanded into other casino hubs, including Billoxi, Mississippi.
Together with his wife, Steve Wynn enjoyed success with their new Wynn Resorts company which now offers casinos in Las Vegas and Macau. Steve Wynn stepped down from his position as CEO in 2018 following allegations of sexual misbehavior. Despite his stepping down, Wynn did manage to increase his value from $ 3 billion to $ 3.2 billion in recent years. The latest number is based on the 2023 report by Forbes.
Phil Ruffin (United States), $3.5 Billion
Born in Potter County, Texas, Phil Ruffin probably is known to own one of the most diverse portfolios of all the rich casino entrepreneurs on this list, but once had a very different lifestyle. Ruffin once started his empire in the convenience store business at a self-service gas station in Kansas in the 1970s. He then managed to channel the profits to the hotel business, starting with a Marriott in Wichita in 1987. This paved the way for his plans to include casino establishments with the purchase of the New Frontier casino on the Vegas Strip in 1997. This casino has been through some turmoil after a major staff strike in 1991, one of the longest industrial strikes in US history, and ended with Ruffin buying the venue. Ruffin is very well-known for his relationship with Donald Trump. Together with the Trump Organization, Ruffin owns the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas. Standing at no less than 622 ft, this golden building is one of the most striking buildings in Vegas’ skyline.
Stanley Ho † (Macau/Hong Kong), $7 Billion
Stanley Ho, Macau’s ‘King of Gambling’, passed away in 2020 but he left a permanent mark on the Asian gambling industry. Born in Hong Kong, Ho moved to Macau at the onset of World War II to escape Japanese occupation. Still under Portuguese administration, Macau had already legalized gambling, but it was Ho who managed to convert Macau into one of the world’s premier gaming destinations. Ho managed to earn a license and from 1961 to 2002 he enjoyed a monopoly until Macau opened up to foreign investment.
Shortly before his death in 2020, Ho owned 22 out of the 41 casinos in Macau including the world famous Casino Lisboa. Ho had 17 children, several of whom seem to have followed their father’s footsteps. One of his daughters, Pansy Ho, is currently the 2nd richest woman in Hong Kong and is currently in the process of consolidating control of Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau (STDM). Although he passed away in 2020, Stanley Ho has definitely left his legacy in the Special Administrative Region of China. It’s estimated that a quarter of Macau’s population today works at Ho’s businesses. In 2007, Macau surpassed Las Vegas as the biggest gambling city on earth and has never given back the number one spot.
Lui Che Woo (Hong Kong), $14.7 Billion
One of the richest men living in Hong Kong today, Lui Che Woo only entered the world of casinos later in life. Already incredibly wealthy through his career as a property developer in Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Singapore, Lui entered the Macau casino market in 2002 when he was 73 years old. In 2011, Lui’s Galaxy Entertainment opened the Galaxy Macau: one of Macau’s largest mega hotel casino resorts. Lui has become a major player in the Macau casino scene as his company Galaxy Entertainment now owns 6 casinos in Macau and has shown to be a strong competitor of the Ho family. At the age of 93 in 2023, Lui shows no signs of taking it easy: Galaxy Entertainment is currently exploring expansion into Japan, with yet another Asian country added to his already impressive portfolio.
Sheldon Adelson † (United States), $29.8 Billion
Born in Dorchester, Boston, Sheldon Adelson was a giant in the casino industry before he passed away in January 2021. During his career, Adelson built and developed more than 50 casino businesses. Adelson entered the market in Las Vegas in 1988 by buying the popular Sands casino. In 1996, Adelson demolished the Sands to create space for a new mega hotel casino resort, The Venetian. American born Adelson was also a pioneer in Macau as he brought the very first US-style casino, Sands Macao, to Macau in 2004. This was followed by the Venetian Macao, The Londoner, and The Parisian. Adelson also found its way to other places in Asia, notably Singapore, opening the Marina Bay Sands casino resort in 2011. Adelson was strongly involved in politics as the biggest financial supporter of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. He was the most wealthy casino business owner in the US and was listed as the 28th richest man in the world at the time of his death. After passing away early 2021, Adelson was buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.