As everyday Nevadans struggle, state’s ultra-rich get richer

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Red Rock Resorts co-founder Frank Fertitta (left) and his brother Lorenzo (not pictured) have seen their wealth increase during the pandemic. At Station Casinos, a Red Rock Resorts company, 39 percent of employees have been laid off. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Six Nevada billionaires saw their collective net worth grow more than $10.7 billion during a pandemic that has brought unemployment, housing and educational instability to the masses.

The 11 billionaires residing in Nevada are now worth a collective $67.2 billion.

These numbers come from a new report by Americans for Tax Fairness, Battle Born Progress and Health Care for America Now that analyzes changes in the reported net worth of billionaires over the course of the pandemic so far. The report uses data from Forbes on March 18, which was around the time mandatory statewide business shutdowns began, and Oct. 18.

Six of the 11 billionaires living in Nevada saw their net worth increase during this period. Five saw their net worth decrease. All are still billionaires.

Their excessive wealth, and its growth even during an ongoing pandemic, sits in stark contrast to recent data highlighting the financial devastation being felt by the working class and public institutions.

Nevada reported the highest unemployment ever recorded by any state in April. More than 670,000 lost their jobs between March 21 and Sept. 26, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. While some of that has recovered, employment numbers are still far below the lowest point reached during the Great Recession a decade ago. One in seven Nevada renters reported being behind on September rent payments, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 

The $10.7 billion in wealth growth of six billionaires in Nevada is equal to 51 percent of the $20.8 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds received by Nevada. It is significantly more than the $4.4 billion in Paycheck Protection Program funds, which analysts say is currently covering one-third of jobs in Nevada. It’s also notably more than the $6.8 billion given directly to Nevadans by the federal government through one-time stimulus checks and expanded unemployment assistance.

The State of Nevada slashed its Fiscal Year 2020 budget by $812 million and its Fiscal Year 2021 budget by $1.2 billion due to revenue shortfalls. Millions were cut from already chronically underfunded programs like Medicaid and K-12 education. The $10.7 billion in wealth growth over seven months is five times higher than the amount of public budget cuts spanned across more than a year.

Nevada’s billionaires

Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson saw his net worth increase from $26.8 billion to $30.3 billion between mid-March to mid-October. That is a 13.1 percent growth rate.

Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta saw their net worth rise to $1.9 billion each — up from $1.5 billion each. The Fertitta brothers are stakeholders in Red Rock Resorts.

Elaine Wynn saw her net worth rise by $284 million — from $1.4 billion to $1.7 billion. She is the largest shareholder of Wynn Resorts.

Their wealth growth may not be solely because of the resort businesses they are associated with, but the difference between their financial position and those of the frontline casino workers is stark. Station Casinos, part of Red Rock Resorts, laid off 39 percent of its full-time workers. Wynn furloughed thousands. Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. has said it’s paying salaries and benefits for all its employees until at least Oct. 31. (Bloomberg reported Monday that Adelson is exploring a $6 billion sale of his Vegas properties.)

Meanwhile, billionaires in industries that could capitalize on the pandemic saw even bigger increases in their net worth.

David Duffield, who made his billions in software companies, saw 80.6 percent growth over the first seven months of the pandemic. His net worth rose $6 billion — from $7.5 billion to $13.5 billion. Duffield resides in Incline Village.

Nancy Walton Laurie of the Walmart empire saw her net worth grow more than $1 billion — from $7.1 billion to $8.2 billion. Laurie lives in Henderson.

While half of the state’s billionaires saw their net worth fall, they are all still billionaires.

The disgraced Steve Wynn, who resigned from his namesake casino company in 2018 after dozens of women accused him of sexual misconduct, saw his net worth drop $63 million during the pandemic. He is still worth $3 billion.

Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin’s net worth dropped $187 million in seven months. He is still worth $2.3 billion.

Andrew and Peggy Cherng, who founded the fast food chain Panda Express, saw their net worth drop $243 million. They are still worth $2 billion together.

Eren and Fatih Ozmen, who own the aerospace and defense contractor Sierra Nevada Corporation, saw their nets worth drop a combined $550 million over the past seven months. Eren is still worth $1.2 billion and Fatih is still worth $1.15 billion.

Billionaires elsewhere

Nevada billionaires aren’t the only ones seeing their net worth rise during the pandemic.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest man in the world, saw an 80 percent increase in growth. He’s now worth $203 billion. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth grew 85 percent to $101 billion. Tesla co-founder (and tunnels-under-Vegas enthusiast) Elon Musk saw his wealth skyrocket from $24.6 billion to $92.8 billion.

According to the Tax Fairness report, the collective wealth of the approximately 680 U.S. billionaires is two-and-a-half times the total wealth held by the 165 million people who make up the bottom half of the population.

April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. April currently serves on the board of the Society of Professional Journalists Las Vegas pro chapter. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and three mutts.