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Monday, October 20, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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'Si' Redd, gaming legend, dies

Los Angeles Times

William "Si" Redd, son of a Mississippi sharecropper who became a multimillionaire Nevada gaming legend known as "The King of Video Poker," has died. He was 91.

Mr. Redd, founder of Reno, Nev.-based gaming-machine manufacturing giant International Game Technology, died Tuesday at his home in Solana Beach, Calif., after an extended illness.

Former Nevada Gov. Bob Miller once described Mr. Redd as the state's "most innovative gaming pioneer" — the man who transformed traditional spinning-reel slot machines into video-screen gambling beginning in the late 1970s.

"He was the primary force behind the development and distribution of the video-poker machine," said Bill Thompson, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and author of "Gambling in America."

"He made the link between the children's Atari (video) games and gambling. It's all around this notion that the slot machine is going to look like the kiddie arcade."

Mr. Redd had had a successful, nearly four-decade career distributing arcade games and Wurlitzer jukeboxes when he arrived in Reno in 1967 to distribute slot machines for Bally Manufacturing, then the dominant gambling and recreational slot-machine company.

Mr. Redd set up an affiliate, Bally Distribution, to serve the casino market and kept 70 percent of the stock himself. He soon became known as "The Slot Machine King." At the time, however, there was nothing new about slot machines.

"The machines were basically a piece of iron with a lemon in the front," Mr. Redd once said, and casinos viewed slots as "just a convenience for the wives and girlfriends while the men played craps."

But when Mr. Redd looked at the machines, he said, "I saw the opportunity."

Inspired by the new Pong video game in the 1970s, Mr. Redd and a Bally engineer used the new technology to develop video keno, blackjack and poker games.

Bally, however, didn't share Mr. Redd's enthusiasm for the potential of video-gaming machines. When he decided to sell the distribution company to Bally Manufacturing in the mid-1970s, he negotiated the right to continue developing video-based slot machines.

He founded International Game Technology in 1980. It went public a year later.

Coinciding with Mr. Redd's introduction of video-poker machines was the growth of so-called neighborhood casinos, and, Thompson said, "his machine became the most important device (in attracting players)."

Before the video-poker machine, traditional slot machines accounted for about 40 percent of casino revenues; today, according to Thompson, the various machines account for about 60 percent of casino revenues in Las Vegas and about 75 percent in casinos nationwide.

The company Mr. Redd founded became the world's leading designer and manufacturer of slot machines and video-gaming machines and controls approximately two-thirds of the U.S. market.

A member of the Gaming Hall of Fame and the Nevada Business Hall of Fame, Mr. Redd sold his controlling share in IGT in 1986 and resigned from the board of directors in 1991.

But he remained active as a gaming entrepreneur. He reportedly lost nearly $20 million with a failed offshore luxury casino, the Pride of Mississippi, in his native state. But he also developed Si Redd's Oasis, a 1,000-room resort hotel and casino off Interstate 15 in Mesquite, Nev., which he sold for a reported $31 million in 2001.

He was born Nov. 16, 1911, in Union, Miss. His sharecropper family was so poor that a nickel ice-cream cone once a week was considered a luxury.

Mr. Redd began his life as an entrepreneur at 7, selling Grit magazine for a nickel and Cloverine Salve for a dime to local farmers. He thought nothing of walking 10 miles to make a sale.

At 13, he was earning money drumming up business for a dry cleaner and laundry.

While attending East Mississippi Junior College in Decatur, he took a coin-operated penny pinball machine as repayment for a $16 loan he had made. Ever the hustler, he placed the machine in a local hamburger joint and offered to split the revenue with the owner.

When he checked the machine a month later, he found $32 in pennies — and saw the future.

Mr. Redd was a major contributor to UNLV, particularly its athletic programs. His first wife, Ivy Lee, died in 1974; his second wife, Marilyn, died in 1996.

He is survived by his third wife, Tamara; daughters Vinnie Copeland of Wellesley, Mass., and Sherry Green of Mesquite; seven grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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