Billy Walters Contributes $1M to Rename McCarran Int’l Airport for Harry Reid

Posted on: August 19, 2021, 09:52h. 

Last updated on: August 20, 2021, 09:20h.

The quest to rename McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas after former US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid picked up steam – and some serious cash – on Thursday. That’s when retired gambler Billy Walters and his wife, Susan, made a $1 million contribution to the cause.

Harry Reid
Former Nevada US Sen. Harry Reid, shown in an official photo taken in 2009. On Thursday, retired professional gambler Billy Walters and his wife, Susan, announced a $1 million contribution toward the cost of renaming McCarran International Airport after the former Senate Majority Leader. (Image: US Senate)

In a statement, Walters said Reid was a “personal friend,” and said the man who served Nevada for nearly 50 years in various political and government offices deserved the honor.

“Harry has been a warrior for the people of Nevada, especially working people and people in need,” Walters said. “He is a man of integrity, and I am proud to call him a personal friend.’’

Six months ago, the Clark County Commission voted unanimously to rename the airport in honor of the 81-year-old Reid, who retired as Nevada’s longest-serving US senator in 2017 after 30 years.

The airport is currently named for another former Democratic senator. Pat McCarran served Nevada from 1933 to his death on Sept. 28, 1954. During his tenure in office, McCarran helped pass several key aviation-related bills, including legislation that led to the Air Force becoming a separate branch of the military from the Army.

However, McCarran was also a vocal anti-Semite and anti-immigrationist during his political career, and in recent years, more Nevada leaders have called on renaming the airport.

Renaming McCarran Requires Private Contributions

When Clark County leaders voted to rename the airport for Reid, they did so with the requirement that no public funds be used to cover the expenses associated with it.

McCarran’s Public Information Administrator Joe Rajchel told Thursday that the current estimate is around $7 million to cover those costs. But the keyword was estimate.

“The projects will have to be put out to bid, which is when hard costs can start to be associated with it,” Rajchel added.

Shortly after the Commission acted, Stephen J. Cloobeck, who founded Diamond Resorts International, announced his intention to start a fund to cover the costs and pledged $1 million toward the costs.

Walters: Reid Used “Grit and Determination”

in a statement, Susan Walters noted that Reid has been a longtime supporter of Opportunity Village. That’s a Las Vegas nonprofit that offers individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities employment, vocational training, and recreational opportunities. It’s an important issue for the Walters, whose adult son, Scott, suffered brain damage after surgery for a brain tumor when he was 7. That has resulted in him having limited ability to care for himself.

“We didn’t hesitate to show our gratitude when we learned of the privately funded rebranding effort,” she said.

Billy Walters added that he respected Reid for what he accomplished in life. Born in rural Nevada to a miner and a high school dropout, Reid became a standout amateur boxer before going to college, becoming a lawyer, and serving the public.

As someone who also grew up in less-than-ideal conditions, I can appreciate the grit and determination it took for Harry Reid to accomplish all that he did,” he said. “Harry appreciated and empathized with people from all walks of life. It will be a fitting tribute that visitors to our great city and state will be reminded of that legacy when they travel here.”

Walters was born in rural central Kentucky. His father died shortly after he was born and he was cared for by his grandmother after his mother left. He started working as a child, doing various jobs before becoming a car salesman in Louisville after graduating high school.

Walters made a name for himself in the 1980s after he moved to Las Vegas and used computer technology to make millions in sports betting. He then invested in real estate, golf courses, and automotive dealerships.

Reid Supported Clemency Effort

In recent years, though, he made headlines for a federal insider trading investigation that led to his conviction in April 2017. He was eventually sentenced to serve five years in prison.

Walters fiercely denied the allegations and has claimed federal agents and prosecutors leaked grand jury information to reporters in hopes of receiving more tips for their investigation. Last October, he filed a federal civil suit against them and seeks a finding that his constitutional rights were violated.

After being released to home incarceration last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Walters had the final year of his sentence commuted in January by President Trump in his final hours in office.

Reid was among a long list of Nevada politicians who supported Walters’ appeal for clemency, joining Oscar and Carolyn Goodman, former Gov. Jim Gibbons, and former US Rep. Shelley Berkley.