Gaming reporter-turned-casino-communications man Thompson stayed cool to the end By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports April 22, 2019 at 8:00 pm Gary Thompson was the cool one, that much I could tell as I began hustling as an intern at the Las Vegas Sun in the late 1970s. I knew next to nothing, but even I could tell that. Thompson was as cool as Tony Rome, and as quick as a gunslinger on deadline. That’s the way I’ll remember him. Gary Thompson and his wife, Gina (Photo via Facebook) The longtime newspaper reporter and corporate casino communications expert died April 14 after a nearly two-decade battle with prostate cancer. He was 73. Thompson’s byline seemed to live on the front page for weeks at a time. I typed agate and covered Craig Road Speedway in the sports department while Thompson and a few other journeymen broke big stories on a wide range of topics that often struck at the heart of Las Vegas at the time it was making a painful transition from its Damon Runyon roots into the corporate era. Thompson wrote about the casino crowd and the FBI’s intense scrutiny of it. He wrote about the tumultuous times of U.S. District Judge Harry Claiborne. He wrote as well as anyone ever has about the World Series of Poker. He wrote about business with the brain of an MBA. He wrote about an unfathomable treasure of gold in the far-away Philippines. He did all that while walking the high wire at a newspaper published by Hank Greenspun, who loved no man’s view of the world or opinion of the news as much as his own. Hank was a force of nature capable of creating instant tsunamis, Gary a surf rider who managed to cut the capricious waves at the newspaper for more than 20 years. He considered writing books about his experiences covering Claiborne’s legal odyssey and the Tiger’s Treasure saga, and I would have loved to read them. But like a lot of deadline artists his favorite story was the next one. Smart, with real reporting and writing chops, he was also politically savvy. So he was a natural as a corporate communications expert for Caesars Entertainment, where he spent a decade putting out fires. Alan Tobin covered the police and court beats as a young reporter at the Sun before going on to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and a career as an investigator with the Federal Public Defender’s Office. He recalled Thompson fondly as a leader on some intrepid assignments. “It was that wonderful era, the ‘80s,” Tobin said. “In those days the Las Vegas Sun gave the Review-Journal all the journalistic competition it could handle. Spearheading it all was Gary Thompson. Back then Gary was managing editor of the Sun. Gary took a personal interest in all his reporters, so much that years after I left the Sun to work for the RJ, I would still drop in at Gary’s house on occasional Saturdays to visit. He focused on your strengths. He encouraged you. He was cool. He was real. He was a hard-driving journalist and a good guy. He had a huge impact on a whole generation of reporters.” Tobin recalled Thompson following private investigator Mike Wysocki to the Philippines to search for the Tiger’s Treasure, an adventure that turned into an award-winning Sun series. “He came back with great stories,” Tobin said. “What else could a newsman ask for?” Thompson loved his family, and his recreational activities — golf and poker especially. “In my mind’s eye, I can still hear him joking with Jeff German about playing in the World Series of Poker media tournament. He joked about eating rattlesnake eggs at the special breakfast buffet Binion’s always put on for the WSOP.” And few came close to understanding the inside of the poker racket like Thompson. His impact on the World Series of Poker can’t be overstated. Thompson didn’t just cover the winners and losers. He understood the game from the inside out. He had the intellect to appreciate the quirky intellectual inner workings of the players. In that way, he ranked with A. Alvarez when it came to possessing the power of observation around the poker room. In an impassioned sendoff for his friend, writer Nolan Dalla (nolandalla.com) captured Thompson’s importance in helping to maintain the true color and character of the WSOP after it left its roots at Binion’s Horseshoe. “Poker players who revere the WSOP owe a special debt of gratitude to Gary for all the things he did that almost no one saw,” Dalla wrote. “In the face of excruciating pressure, outright opposition, and often indifference from the highest level, he (often alone) was the voice who stood up to the mega-corporation, the short-sighted bottom-liners, the managerial MBAs, and all the suited squeezers who wouldn’t know mixed games from a mixed salad and never gave a rat’s ass about the players or any of poker’s great traditions. Gary was there duking out in the back offices and boardrooms, bickering and bargaining and bantering at every meeting, every step of the way — pleading, cajoling, maneuvering — desperately trying to protect and preserve all that the WSOP represented that corporate culture wanted to milk out and pulverize the last nickel and drop. … “Among everyone I ever worked with at Binion’s-Harrah’s-Caesars over 20 long years at the WSOP, no one was more protective of the players and traditions than Gary Thompson. No one.” Thompson was loyal to his reporters as an editor, served in the U.S. Air Force, learned business reporting at the Dow Jones News Service in New York before moving West to take a job as a business editor in 1979 at the Sun. He served in several management capacities but was best known for his investigative journalism and marriage to Sun Managing Editor Sandy Thompson. The two made for a dynamic team at the newspaper with daughter Kelly Thompson in tow. Sandy Thompson died in 2002. According to an affectionate obituary by former Sun reporter Ed Koch, Thompson helped launch Show Biz Magazine, popular for many years on the Strip, and was in on other innovations at the underdog daily newspaper. Thompson also made an unsuccessful attempt to start a Las Vegas-based cable television gaming network. Thompson joined Harrah’s casino corporation (now Caesars Entertainment) in 2000 as a communications specialist. The Connecticut native is survived by wife Gina Thompson, daughter Kelly Thompson, stepson Weston Schneider, stepdaughter Kayla Schneider, and a large and loving extended family. Thompson learned to live with cancer and never let it take his sense of humor. In 2013 he told Koch, one of many reporters he’d hired, “I have cancer — so what?” Thompson said in a 2013 interview. “I still consider myself the luckiest man alive. In my lifetime, I have been truly blessed by being married to two phenomenal women, had three wonderful children and I am very happy. My motto has always been, ‘live, love and laugh.’” And he did just that. “My eyes teared up when I heard of his death,” Tobin said. “He was truly a great man. I hope to see him again in that Front Page in the sky.” Contact John L. Smith at email@example.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.