Bill Hornbuckle’s cross-country trek to UNLV in the 1970s was anything but glamorous.
“I paid $100 for a station wagon that was going to take us to Las Vegas, and it died before we even got out of Connecticut,” he said.
A loaned van ended up taking him and his two friends the rest of the way west.
Only a few weeks earlier, Hornbuckle’s future had been up in the air. A good bartending job and community college classes were keeping the 19-year-old busy. But his infatuation with the hospitality business along with UNLV’s growing national prominence led him to ask one of his professors about the Hotel School.
“He said he could get me a meeting with the dean,” Hornbuckle, president of MGM Resorts International, said. “Two weeks later, my friends and I were on a plane to meet with Dean [Jerry] Vallen. He was the most warm, hospitable guy,” he said. “The dean said, ‘I would love to have you guys at the school.’ The fact that he was willing to take a shot on us was simply amazing.”
The son of a military intelligence officer, Hornbuckle traveled extensively with his family before settling in Connecticut. His fascination with the world, he explains, would have almost certainly taken him out of Las Vegas after graduation had it not been for the Flamingo Hilton. “I worked as an assistant hotel manager. There was such an appeal to the overall environment, I wanted to stay.”
Some 35 years later, Hornbuckle sits at the pinnacle of the hotel business, grateful he made that decision to stick around. “Think of the amazing things that have been accomplished in this city. And UNLV is a founding staple,” he says. “I feel blessed. I mean, my story is pretty incredible. UNLV got me here.”