WASHINGTON—A second-generation industry executive and developer, a groundbreaking hospitality and distribution executive, a legendary stage and screen actress, and a celebrity chef who transformed the Las Vegas culinary scene will be inducted this year into the Gaming Hall of Fame.
Craig H. Neilsen, president and CEO of Ameristar Casinos, Inc.; Larry Ruvo, senior managing director of Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada; renowned actress and nightclub entertainer Debbie Reynolds; and celebrity chef and entrepreneur Wolfgang Puck will be honored for their achievements at the 17th annual Gaming Hall Fame Charity Dinner and Induction Ceremony, set for Thursday, Sept. 15, 2005. The event, which benefits the National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG), will be held at the Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
“Each of the individuals being inducted this year have been significant in shaping the image and culture of the gaming-entertainment industry through their diverse and remarkable talents, and we are proud to honor their contributions,” said Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., president and CEO of the American Gaming Association (AGA). Fahrenkopf will serve as honorary co-chairman of the dinner along with J. Terrence Lanni, chairman and CEO of MGM MIRAGE and the current AGA chairman.
An executive in gaming, real-estate development and construction for more than 25 years, Craig H. Neilsen is known throughout the gaming industry for his vision and commitment to providing customers with the highest quality gaming entertainment experience. Neilsen has served as the principal officer of Ameristar Casinos, Inc., since the company’s public inception in 1993. Prior to that time, Neilsen led the privately held casino hotel organization, consisting of Cactus Petes Resort Casino and the Horseshu Hotel and Casino, which comprise the foundation of the current Ameristar business.
In 2000, Neilsen orchestrated the purchase of properties in Kansas City and St. Charles, Mo., from Station Casinos, Inc., which doubled Ameristar’s annual revenues, making it the largest transaction in the company’s history. Under Neilsen’s guidance, Ameristar has grown to include seven properties in Nevada, Mississippi, Iowa, Missouri and Colorado, and the company continually is recognized for its high quality products and diverse range of gaming, dining and entertainment options. In addition to this praise, Neilsen received the honor of “Top Performing CEO” from HVS Executive Search at the 2002 AGA Communications Awards.
Raised in Las Vegas, Larry Ruvo is a senior distribution executive with a unique perspective on the complexities and demands of the hospitality and gaming business in Nevada. After working at both the Sahara Hotel and Caesars Palace Hotel during his early years in the industry, Ruvo opened the Frontier Hotel as a night manager, becoming the youngest manager at the time to oversee all hotel operations. His focus on the wine business began in 1970 when Ruvo partnered with Steve Wynn to open a Las Vegas wine and spirits distribution company. In 1976, he joined forces with Harvey Chaplin, who bought his company, forming Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada.
Serving as senior managing director of the organization since 1969, Ruvo has guided Southern Wine and Spirits to become Nevada’s largest wholesale liquor, wine and beer importer and distributor. A board memberof the AGA, Ruvo also is well known in the Las Vegas community for his longtime support of numerous charitable organizations, many of which deal with education and children. He also is heavily involved in the Alzheimer’s Association, both locally and nationally, serving as fundraising chairman for Alzheimer’s research and as a board member of the Las Vegas Alzheimer’s Association. Ruvo’s community service has led to several accolades, including the Governor’s Philanthropist of the Year Award and the UNLV President’s Medal. In 2004, Ruvo’s professional leadership earned him the title of one of the Most Influential Businessmen of Southern Nevada, and this year, he joined the Vegas Dozen.
“Craig and Larry are examples of how truly superior customer service can really make an impact,” Fahrenkopf said. “They both have earned the utmost respect and admiration of their employees and colleagues, which has translated not only into tremendous success for each of their companies, but to growth, development and innovation within the overall gaming industry.”
The entertainers being inducted into the Gaming Hall of Fame this year also have made a significant impact on casino entertainment. Oscar-nominated actress Debbie Reynolds has starred in more than 30 motion pictures, two Broadway productions and two television series, and has been entertaining audiences at casinos in the United States and abroad for more than 55 years. Reynolds shot to stardom as the female lead in the legendary “Singin’ in the Rain” and received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her famously feisty depiction of the title character in the “Unsinkable Molly Brown.”
In the mid-1960’s, Reynolds put together her first nightclub act, which debuted at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. In the nearly 40 years since, she has been headlining on the casino-entertainment circuit from Reno, Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas to Atlantic City to the London Palladium, pausing only to star in Broadway musicals like the revival of “Irene” in 1973, which broke box office records for a Broadway musical. Additionally, Reynolds has appeared in concert in every major American city and continues to tour an average of 44 weeks per year.
Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck – the first chef to be inducted into the Gaming Hall of Fame – is known for his dynamic personality and culinary inventiveness, which have propelled his culinary empire of fine dining restaurants, catering, express food lines, cooking shows and cookbooks to widespread fame. In 1982, Puck opened his first restaurant, Spago, in Los Angeles, which quickly became a magnet for the rich and famous. Ten years later, Puck brought the Spago phenomenon to Las Vegas, opening in the Forum Shops at Caesars, becoming the first true “celebrity” chef to create a contemporary fine dining restaurant in the city.
Spago Las Vegas led the way for other celebrated chefs to open signature restaurants in Las Vegas, initiating the city’s metamorphosis into a culinary destination. The Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining group maintains a dominant position in the Las Vegas market with five restaurants and currently is developing a new American restaurant scheduled to open in 2006 at Borgata Casino Resort & Spa in Atlantic City, N.J. Over a 20-year span, the empire of Wolfgang Puck food establishments has grown to 12 fine dining restaurants, and 51 casual dining and quick service restaurants located in urban centers, airports and supermarkets nationwide.
Induction into the Gaming Hall of Fame is the highest honor accorded by the gaming-entertainment industry. Each year, two or more individuals who have distinguished themselves through significant contributions to the industry receive this honor. More than 50 people have been inducted into the Gaming Hall of Fame since its inception in 1989.
The American Gaming Association (AGA) is the national trade association for the commercial casino industry. In addition to representing the interests of its members on federal legislative and regulatory issues, the AGA serves as a clearinghouse for information, develops educational and advocacy programs, and provides leadership on industry-related issues of public concern.
The National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG), the only national organization devoted exclusively to public education about and funding of peer-reviewed research on disordered gambling, was established in 1996. The NCRG supports the finest peer-reviewed basic and applied research on gambling disorders; encourages the application of new research findings to improve prevention, diagnostic intervention and treatment strategies; and enhances public awareness of pathological and youth gambling. To date, the casino industry and related businesses have committed nearly $15 million to this effort, and the NCRG has issued more than $11 million in support of groundbreaking research on gambling disorders. In 2000, the NCRG established the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders at Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addictions. For more information, visit www.ncrg.org.
The Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders is a program of the Division on Addictions at the Cambridge Health Alliance, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. In accordance with the Harvard University name policy, the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders should not be referred to as the “Harvard Institute…” or the “Harvard Medical School Institute…” Get more information about the use of the Harvard name.