Gaming Hall of Fame

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Established in 1989 by the American Gaming Association (AGA), the Gaming Hall of Fame was created to honor those individuals “who have distinguished themselves through significant contributions to the industry.” To date, more than 70 persons have been accorded induction to the Hall of Fame, which is widely considered to be the highest honor of the gaming-entertainment industry.

The very first class of inductees included a quintet of gaming industry legends: Warren Nelson (1913-1994) was one of the pioneers of gaming in Reno; visionary Jay Sarno (1922-1984) launched two of the most successful Las Vegas casinos, Caesars Palace and Circus Circus; and entrepreneur William Harrah (1911-1978) became one of the most influential figures in gaming history. Former Nevada Governor Grant Sawyer (1918-1996) was instrumental in creating the state’s system of gaming regulation and E. Parry Thomas helped the gaming industry grow as its chief banker in Las Vegas during the 1950s and 60s.

In the years that followed, other luminaries joined the original five. They include many founders of casinos, such as 1990 inductees Benny Binion and Jackie Gaughan as well as 1991 classmates Sam Boyd, Kirk Kerkorian of MGM fame and the man responsible for the growth of gaming on the banks of the Colorado River, Don Laughlin.

Lest the Gaming Hall of Fame be criticized as “Nevadacentric,” some of its early inductees were major figures from far outside the state. In 1991, James Crosby (1927-1986) was inducted for his pioneering efforts in the Bahamas and Atlantic City. In 1992, South Africa’s Sol Kerzner joined the elite group for his Sun City, Lost City, Atlantis and Mohegan Sun developments.

Also in 1992, philanthropist and Holiday Casino owner Claudine Williams become the first female inductee, lauded for “ground-breaking that helped pave the way for many women in the gaming industry.” She was followed in 1993 by Llewellyn Gross and her husband Harvey, who were among the foremost boosters of gaming at Lake Tahoe in the middle of the 20th century.

By 1999, the names of many inductees were well known far outside the closed circles of the gaming industry. Who hadn’t heard of Barron Hilton (class of 1990) or Donald Trump (1995)? What’s more, the close affinity shared by gaming and other forms of entertainment had always been recognized by the AGA, as demonstrated by the inclusion of Frank Sinatra (1997), Siegfried & Roy (1998) and Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme (1999).

The induction of entertainers continued into the new millennium, represented by Wayne Newton (2000), Paul Anka (2001), Merv Griffin (2002), Tom Jones (2003) and Debbie Reynolds (2005). The breadth of recognised accomplishment also widened to include politician Harry Reid (2001), comedian Don Rickles, magician David Copperfield (2007). Chefs Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse were inducted, too, in 2005 and 2008, respectively. And boxing promoters Bob Arum and Don King were received into the Gaming Hall of Fame in 2008 as well.

The most recent class of four inductees, 2011, covers the entire spectrum of contributions to the gaming-entertainment industry. Sheldon Adelson is the billionaire owner of the Venetian in Las Vegas and one of the driving forces behind the growth of gaming in Macau. Economic professor William R. Eadington chairs Gaming Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. Charlie Palmer is a recognised master chef, and the Blue Man Group has provided entertainment on the Las Vegas Strip for more than a decade.

Induction into the Gaming Hall of Fame occurs at the AGA’s Charity Gala and Induction Ceremony each October. Nominations are solicited from AGA members, and then AGA staff and members of the Board of Directors confer to make the final selections. Proceeds from the event benefit the National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG), which is the AGA’s affiliated charity.

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