In 1971, the Vegas press had a field day with Governor Mike O’Callaghan’s gamble. A one-time high school history teacher, he’d appointed his former student and protégé, Frank Schreck—age 27—to the Nevada Gaming Commission. A typical headline: “Neophyte to Regulate Casinos.”
The press consistently underestimated O’Callaghan’s skill and luck. He’d already staged a come-from-behind win for office and launched the career of his other favorite student, Harry Reid.
And depending on how you cut it, it was Schreck who had the most to lose or gain from the appointment. Barely out of Boalt, he’d returned to his hometown high on confidence, low on experience. His first public comment? “I think I’m well suited for the job.” A much older commissioner quickly deflected one reporter’s counterpunch: “Together, we’ve got almost 50 years’ experience,” he said.
Today, the papers tell a different story. Schreck went on to serve two impressive terms—with on-the-job training that included a stare-down with the notorious Lefty Rosenthal, aka Robert DeNiro’s character in Casino. He resigned from the commission in 1975 to bring a fellow commissioner into his private practice. Their firm grew exponentially alongside the city and its gaming industry, as casinos—once the exclusive property of mobsters and millionaires—became investment opportunities.
Credit Schreck with that. “I’m about to see my proudest achievement come full circle,” he says. He’s referring to a new gaming regulation he drafted, one that simplifies private-equity investor ownership for the industry. It builds on one of Schreck’s previous innovations: issuing different share classes to casino shareholders—a move that allowed private equity firms such as Blackstone and Apollo Management, and large financial institutions like Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs, to own subsidiaries with gaming licenses.
One touch of irony is not lost on Schreck when he passes the mini-skyline of the New York-New York hotel and casino: There’s no mini-Stock Exchange, despite the $50 billion of investments for which his ideas paved the way.
A self-proclaimed “gentleman C scholar” at Berkeley Law, Schreck devoted much of his third year to fighting “suspicion arrests” in West Oakland. He also evolved from his father’s “Archie Bunker” archetype to an ardent anti-war demonstrator. Schreck has no plans to retire, but would like to devote more time to Las Vegas’ innovative Nathan Adelson Hospice, where he’s a trustee. The facility has a stress-management program named in his late wife’s honor.
Does he gamble? “Seldom,” he says. “People who bet against me win 70 percent of the time.” Unless they’re reporters, that is.