Former Nevada Governor and Casino Industry Reformer Paul Laxalt Dead at 96

Posted on: August 7, 2018, 10:56h. 

Last updated on: August 7, 2018, 10:57h.

Paul Laxalt, the former Nevada governor who helped clean up and stabilize the state’s gaming industry in the 1970s, has died at 96. His family said the grandfather of current GOP gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt passed away of natural causes at a healthcare facility in Virginia on Monday.

Paul Laxalt dead Adam Laxalt GOP candidate Nevada governor
Former Nevada Governor Paul Laxalt (seen here with President Ronald Reagan) paved the way for the modern casino industry by encouraging corporate investment in Nevada to edge out the Mob. Grandson Adam Laxalt (seen here with President Donald Trump) is a current Nevada GOP candidate for governor as well. (Image: Reno Gazette-Journal/Pahrump Valley Times/

Modernizing the Casino Industry

He first served a term as lieutenant governor for Nevada in 1963, and in 1967 was elected governor. The state’s casino industry at the time was controlled in large parts by the Mob.

As governor, he helped repair the damaged relationship between the state and federal government over the gaming sector and modernized the industry by allowing corporations to own casinos, while reforming their regulation through the Corporate Gaming Act of 1970.

He focused on attracting respected business people and investment to the gaming industry. He developed a telephone relationship with the famously reclusive Howard Hughes, encouraging him to build his casino empire and thus push out organized crime.

After serving his term, Laxalt joined the gaming industry himself, opening a casino-hotel in Carson City, the Ormsby House. He later sued the Sacramento Bee after it claimed the Laxalt family had skimmed the casino’s profits, allegations that were later found to be false.

He returned to politics in 1974, defeating then-Lieutenant Governor Harry Reid to win a seat in the US Senate. He served two terms, during which he came to be known by the press as “the First Friend,” due to his close relationship with President Ronald Reagan.

Laxalt headed Reagan’s winning presidential bids in 1980 and 1984, and served as his unofficial liaison to the Senate as well.

Political Legacy

Born in 1922 in Carson City, Laxalt was the son of an immigrant Basque shepherd.

After serving in the Philippines as an army medic in World War II, he obtained a law degree from the University of Denver. In 1951, he served as attorney general of Ormsby County, the now-defunct county that contained Carson City. He never lost a case.

His grandson, Adam Laxalt — Nevada’s current attorney general as well as the Republican candidate for governor — led the many tributes on Monday:

My grandfather was the rare man in the arena that never lost sight of who he was or where he came from. To those closest to me, my grandfather was both a light and a compass: a testament to what a man should be.”

His former political adversary Harry Reid said Laxalt was “the definition of what a leader should be: kind, thoughtful and eager to extend a hand in friendship, regardless of political affiliation.

“His legacy is secured as one of the finest leaders Nevada has ever known,” Reid added.