William "Si" Redd, who founded slot giant IGT and helped popularize video poker and Megabucks progressive jackpots, died Tuesday at his beach home in Solana Beach, Calif., after an extended illness. He was 91.
A member of the Gaming Hall of Fame and the Nevada Business Hall of Fame, Redd will be remembered for creating numerous innovations that helped reshape modern gaming, friends and associates said Tuesday.
"Si Redd might have had more impact on gaming than just about anybody in the last 30 years," University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor Bill Thompson said. "He was a guy who tinkered, a poor boy who had ideas and hustled, and he was the force behind the development of the video poker machine."
Redd, who former Gov. Bob Miller once described as Nevada's "most innovative gaming pioneer," was born Nov. 16, 1911, in Union, Miss. After a successful career as an amusement game and jukebox distributor based in Boston, Redd moved to Las Vegas in 1967 and founded Bally Distributing Co. There he began to develop a reputation as Nevada's "slot king."
Redd's company was bought by Bally's Manufacturing in the mid-1970s, and in 1978 Redd left to form a new venture called Sircoma, now known as International Game Technology.
"He had a monumental struggle with Bally's," Thompson said. "Si wanted to develop video poker and they didn't, which led to an amazing split."
Before breaking off from Bally's, Redd negotiated for the right to continue developing video-based slots at a time when games such as video poker were poised to take off, particularly at emerging "locals casinos" such as Sam's Town and the Bingo Palace (now Palace Station).
"Video poker drove the creation of our locals casinos," Thompson said. "It was this machine that made IGT."
IGT Chairman Charles Mathewson called Redd a "larger-than-life character" who loved machines. He also credited Redd with popularizing video poker thanks in part to his tireless efforts as both an innovator and salesman.
"He lived and loved to sell," Mathewson said. "He was charming, but at the end of the day a shrewd businessman."
Mathewson was initially an IGT investor before Redd asked him to run the company. Mathewson bought out most of Redd's interests in 1986, though Redd retained a significant number of stock options in the company that greatly enhanced his wealth in subsequent years.
IGT today ranks as the world's largest slot manufacturer. The Reno-based company has built an estimated two-thirds of all slot machines on U.S. casino floors.
"The great thing about Si is he had it his way for (nearly) 92 years. Si could sell you everything, and the thing is, it usually worked for you," said casino developer Steve Wynn, who purchased thousands of slots from Redd during Wynn's tenure as head of Mirage Resorts.
After IGT, Redd took part in a number of gaming-related ventures, including a failed luxury offshore casino called the Pride of Mississippi that cost the gaming executive nearly $20 million.
"I thought I could do a great thing, (but) I completely fell on my ass," Redd said of the ship deal in 1990.
Closer to home, he developed and later sold Si Redd's Oasis, a 1,000-room resort off Interstate 15 in Mesquite. Randy Black Sr. bought the resort for $31 million in 2001.
Redd also helped develop property that became Mesquite Vistas, the largest land development in the city.
Outside the business realm, Redd was known as a major supporter of UNLV and its athletic programs.
Former Athletic Director Brad Rothermel, whose January 1981 to December 1990 tenure largely coincided with the glory years of UNLV's men's basketball team under then-coach Jerry Tarkanian, knew Redd for nearly five decades dating back to Redd's days as a pinball machine salesman in the Midwest.
On Tuesday, Rothermel described Redd as a big sports fan who was always willing to help others in the Las Vegas community.
"Si and his wife, Marilyn, were extraordinary contributors to the university, particularly its athletic programs," Rothermel said. "It was rare when you needed some assistance that Si wouldn't step up."
Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson knew Redd for nearly 25 years. He said Redd was there for UNLV's athletic program when it needed help the most in the mid-1990s.
"He was there for athletics when it was down," said Christenson, who was director of the Thomas & Mack Center from 1992-2001. "He was a friend of the arena, and you know he was proud of what he did for the university."
In the early 1980s Redd donated $500,000 toward the initial construction cost of the Thomas & Mack, where one of the meeting rooms is still named in his honor. When the arena underwent a multimillion dollar renovation in the mid-90s, Redd again donated $500,000 to upgrade the scoreboard and other amenities. The arena's current video replay system within the scoreboard is called "Reddvision."
Redd is survived by his wife, Tamara; daughters Vinnie Copeland of Wellesley, Mass., and Sherry Green of Mesquite; seven grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
Redd's high school sweetheart and first wife, Ivy Lee, died in 1974. His second wife, Marilyn, died in 1996.
Services are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Palm Mortuaries, 7600 S. Eastern Ave. A reception will follow at the Cili Restaurant & Bar, 5160 Las Vegas Boulevard South.
Memorial donations can be made to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Foundation, P.O. Box 451006, Las Vegas, Nev., 89154-1006.
Review-Journal reporter Steve Carp and Gaming Wire reporter Jeff Simpson contributed to this report.