Stan Fulton, a pioneer in gaming who helped bring the video slot machine to the world, died Thursday in Las Vegas at age 86. Known as a gruff but generous man, Fulton used his fortune to help build the International Gaming Institute at UNLV, and fund many other philanthropic endeavors.
Born in Maryland in 1931, Fulton attended the University of Maryland briefly before dropping out to serve in the US Air Force. After being discharged in the 1950s, he moved to Las Vegas and become a businessman whose career started in building cable TV systems.
One company he founded was Fortune Coin, creators of the first video slot machine in 1975. Few in gaming thought the idea would catch on, but eventually the industry took note, and gaming equipment giant IGT bought Fortune, with Fulton profiting handsomely from the sale.
In the late 1980s, he started Anchor Coin, which became Anchor Gaming. Anchor served casinos in Nevada and Colorado, and developed new types of slot machines, including “Wheel of Gold,” a predecessor to “Wheel of Fortune,” the most successful slot of all time.
Fulton’s commitment to gaming innovation and the Las Vegas community was apparent when he provided the bulk of the funds to launch the International Gaming Institute, headquartered in the Stan Fulton Building on the campus of UNLV.
The building opened in 2000 to much fanfare, boasting about its innovative gaming technology and hospitality laboratories that merge the casino and classroom experience. However, it also caused a rift between school and benefactor, with Fulton cantankerously battling Nevada regents and then-University President Carol Harter over delays and cost overruns.
At the time, Fulton had pledged 10 percent of his $500 million estate to go to UNLV upon his death. But a year later, he resigned from his position as a trustee of the UNLV Foundation and declared he was cutting the school out of his will when the university rebuffed his demands to fire Harter.
Fulton’s triumphs in gaming allowed him to pursue another passion in horse racing. He acquired a 25 percent interest in Sunland Park, a horse racing and casino property in New Mexico, just across the state border near El Paso, Texas. Through his work with the track he also got in the business of owning thoroughbreds, and built a stable several winning steeds.
“Stan was very direct and tough, but also very fair,” horse breeder Tim McMurry told Bloodhorse.com. “We had our disagreements and he never held that against you. And while he was very wealthy, he was also very generous to organizations he really believed in.”
Officials from New Mexico State University, near the Sunland Park track in Las Cruces, said Fulton was the school’s single biggest donor, having given more than $17 million. He built the Stan Fulton Center at Aggie Memorial Stadium, which houses NMSU’s Athletic Department offices.
In addition to the building, Fulton endowed various professorships, bought the school a small plane, and gave $1 million in 2015 to renovate stadium skyboxes and build a bar and restaurant overlooking the field.
In his retirement, Fulton was an avid poker player in Las Vegas. Since 2005, he finished “in the money” in 39 tournaments, amassing more than $595,000 in winnings.