Billionaires, gaming go together

Jul 26, 2005 9:52 AM

Call it inflation, but it’s no longer apropos to classify the gaming industry’s top tycoons as millionaires — the fiscally correct terminology is now billionaire.

And as the $245 billion worldwide gambling industry continues to expand, a handful of top entrepreneurs controls most of the action.

Finding himself at the top of the heap — Forbe’s list of gaming’s top billionaires — is Sheldon Adelson with a net worth of about $11.9 billion.

Actually, Adelson didn’t "find himself" at the top ”¦ he pushed himself there. The man whom GT founder Chuck Di Rocco once called "the little engine that could," has driven his empire to the top of the gaming industry.

In addition to making a fortune on Comdex, Adelson built The Venetian, Sands Expo convention center and Sands Macau, and is currently building Palazzo, a new mega resort across the street from The Venetian, and a new Venetian Macau. He is also developing six new casinos along the Macau strip.

Adelson, the son of a taxi driver, really hit the jackpot with the December offering of his Las Vegas Sands. The stock rose 61% in one day but has since come back to earth.

Adelson has several rivals in Las Vegas, including Steve Wynn, Kirk Kerkorian and William Boyd.

Here’s how they and the other billionaires stack up, according to the Forbe’s list released this week.

Kirk Kerkorian (net worth: $9.5 billion): His MGM Mirage paid $7.9 billion for the Mandalay Resort Group last year, and Kerkorian now controls almost half of Las Vegas’ hotel rooms. The former World War II pilot sold an airline for $104 million in the 1960s and invested the proceeds in Las Vegas. He bought Steve Wynn’s Mirage Resorts for $6.4 billion in 2000. Three times in his career he built the world’s largest resort hotel: the International (now the Las Vegas Hilton), Bally’s and the MGM Grand. His next project: CityCenter, a 65-acre complex with casinos, hotels, shopping and condos between Bellagio and Monte Carlo on the Strip.

The Gibraltar Gang of Four: Anurag Dikshit (net worth: $3.4 billion), Ruth Parasol (net worth: $1.8 billion), Russell DeLeon (net worth: $1.8 billion) and Vikrant Bhargava (net worth: $1 billion).

The newest gaming tycoons are four Gibraltar-based residents who took their online gaming company, PartyGaming, public in London last month. The first-known online gaming billionaires are worth a combined $8 billion.

Parasol founded the precursor company in 1997 after reportedly running porn sites. She brought on Dikshit to develop proprietary software in 1998. Parasol and her husband DeLeon now consult, while Dikshit runs the group and Bhargava oversees marketing.

Kerry Packer (net worth: $4.7 billion): The major shareholder of Australian media empire Publishing & Broadcasting is also a well-known gambler. He recently upped the ante by paying $670 million to take over the Burswood International Resort Casino in Perth last August. He is also teaming with Macau gaming mogul Stanley Ho and Ho’s son, Lawrence, to build a resort casino.

Stanley Ho (net worth: $3.6 billion): The king of Macau runs casinos, greyhound racing, lotteries and horse betting, and even controls ferry and helicopter services transporting gamers from Hong Kong to Macau. U.S. gaming tycoons are entering the market but still pose no big threat. Ho controls 15 of the city’s 17 casinos, and his Lisboa casino is the highest grossing gambling joint in the world. Ho’s total casino revenue topped $3.5 billion in 2003. The mogul, 83, has 17 children.

Donald Trump (net worth: $2.6 billion): America loves The Donald but that hasn’t yet helped his casino businesses. Trump, who owns four casinos, including Atlantic City’s Trump Taj Mahal, recently "fired" himself as chief executive of Trump Entertainment Resorts. He remains chairman of the publicly traded company, which recently reorganized after nearly defaulting on its debt obligations. He is partnering with friend Phillip Ruffin on a hotel — a 64-story Trump International Hotel and Tower condo complex.

Steve Wynn (net worth: $1.9 billion): The creator of The Mirage and Bellagio resorts, Wynn opened the $2.7 billion Wynn Las Vegas, the most expensive casino in Vegas’ history, in April. The resort pulled in $140 million in sales in its first month. But Wall Street remains skeptical; Wynn Resorts shares are up 3 percent since opening but down 27 percent from February’s all-time high. Wynn plans to open a $700 million resort in the Asian gambling Mecca of Macau in the fall of 2006, and has plans to build Encore, a sister boutique hotel just north of Wynn Las Vegas.

William Boyd (net worth: $1.6 billion): Boyd kicked off industry consolidation last year when his Boyd Gaming merged with Coast Casinos for $1.3 billion. His father Sam (who died in 1993) came to Las Vegas in 1941 with $80 and ran a penny roulette wheel. Together, father and son co-founded their gambling outfit in 1974. It went public in 1993, and the stock is up 210 percent since January 2004. Boyd operates casinos in six states, including the $1.1 billion Borgata in Atlantic City.

Phil Ruffin (net worth: $1.3 billion): Ruffin owns 41 acres on the Las Vegas Strip — a stretch of real estate worth nearly $1 billion. He also has interests in various casinos, including the New Frontier and a Wichita greyhound track/casino. He is currently building the 64-story Trump International Hotel & Tower complex with Donald Trump. Ruffin recently unveiled plans to build a mega-resort that will cost in excess of $1.3 billion on the site of the Frontier. He amassed his first fortune gambling on oil and real estate.

roulette wheel. Together, father and son co-founded their gambling outfit in 1974. It went public in 1993, and the stock is up 210 percent since January 2004. Boyd operates casinos in six states, including the $1.1 billion Borgata in Atlantic City.

Phil Ruffin (net worth: $1.3 billion): Ruffin owns 41 acres on the Las Vegas Strip — a stretch of real estate worth nearly $1 billion. He also has interests in various casinos, including the New Frontier and a Wichita greyhound track/casino. He is currently building the 64-story Trump International Hotel & Tower complex with Donald Trump. Ruffin recently unveiled plans to build a mega-resort that will cost in excess of $1.3 billion on the site of the Frontier. He amassed his first fortune gambling on oil and real estate.