Though never a gaming executive or regulator, E. Parry Thomas pioneered in lending money to the fledgling Las Vegas casino business, thus paving the way for the modern industry.
Thomas, who served in the armed forces during World War II, joined the Bank of Las Vegas in 1954, and he quickly established himself as a smart lender and good businessman. The following year, he made his first loan to a casino--750,000 to allow an expansion of the Sahara--and never looked back. In the 1950s, banks were hesitant to lend money to casinos for several reasons, including allegations of organized crime involvement and trepidation over the risks of investing in a business based on chance.
Thomas led the way into what proved to be a lucrative market, selectively loaning money to new and existing casinos. As a result, the industry was able to grow quickly in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1961, Thomas became president of the Bank of Las Vegas, which merged with Reno's Valley Bank in 1968. The bank continued to prosper until its 1992 acquisition by the Bank of America, which continued to lend capital to the gaming industry.
Thomas also facilitated casinos' receiving loans from the Teamsters Central States Pension fund, an important source of funds in the 1960s, and championed the passage of the Corporate Gaming Acts in 1967 and 1969. These laws permitted publicly-traded companies to directly own and manage casinos and led to an increased acceptance of gaming companies among institutional lenders. Along with Jerry Mack, Thomas was instrumental in acquiring land for what became the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
The Thomas and Mack Center, home to the university's Running Rebels and one of the nation's busiest arenas, is named in honor of these two luminaries.