Stan Fulton: A gaming industry pioneer who brought ‘Wheel of Fortune’ to lifeBy Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming ReportsJanuary 10, 2018 at 11:05 pmStan Fulton’s name adorns the building on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus that houses the school’s International Gaming Institute.Focusing on research and innovation, while also operating a state-of-the-art casino laboratory and developing educational programs, the Institute offers a slew of benefits and insights to the global gaming industry.The building was appropriately named.Fulton played a key role in a slot machine innovation that changed casino floors worldwide in the late 1990s, helping to bring the Wheel of Fortune game to life.Wheel of Fortune – which offered the first secondary bonus modeled after a spinning roulette reel – changed the slot machine business forever.“Anytime you play a Wheel of Fortune slot machine, you are paying tribute to Stan Fulton,” gaming industry pundit Alan Woinski said earlier this week.Fulton, who died on Jan. 4 at age 86, was a gaming industry original. He was rough around the edges, and he did things his way. More often than not, they turned out to be correct. He was, for example, an early backer of casino expansion in Colorado when others shied away.I oversaw corporate communications at Anchor Gaming for 18 months until the company was sold to International Game Technology in 2001. Fulton had divested his holdings in early 2000, but still maintained an office at Anchor’s Las Vegas headquarters on Pilot Road. The building was designated as smoke-free, except for Stan’s work space – and, frankly, anywhere else he desired.He did things his way.Fulton entered the gaming industry in the 1970s with a slot machine company called Fortune Coin. His career prior to that was also entrepreneurial and included owning an auto parts store, building cable television systems, and producing electronic components.In the 1980s he created Anchor Coin, which later became Anchor Gaming. Anchor went public in 1994. Fulton and his family were majority shareholders. In 1995, the company – led by game designer Randy Adams – gained several intellectual property patents, including one that covered the secondary bonus wheel. The device was placed on top of a slot machine and dubbed the “Wheel of Gold.”A year later, gaming equipment giant International Game Technology secured the rights to use the popular television game show Wheel of Fortune as a slot machine theme.Anchor’s then-chief financial officer Geoff Sage recalled that it was Fulton’s idea to get together with IGT executives and hammer out a joint development and marketing agreement, rather than get into prolonged litigation for the rights to the game.Backed by IGT’s vast distribution network, Wheel of Fortune became an unprecedented slot machine success story. The revenues earned by Anchor allowed the company to grow into a multi-faceted gaming business. It also turned Fulton into a millionaire several times over.At the time it was sold to IGT, Anchor had built casinos in Colorado, expanded its Nevada-based slot machine route operations, and acquired technology components for equipment used in the lottery and horse racing industries. Anchor also purchased the Sunland Park racetrack in Las Cruces, N.M. and was in the process of developing an Indian casino in California.A year after the 1996 IGT agreement, Fulton reduced his stake to 37 percent, making millions on the stock transaction. Anchor expanded further by buying Powerhouse Technologies in 1999; a year later, Fulton decided to move on.The company paid its founder almost $300 million for his stock and gave him ownership of Sunland Park. But he didn’t gallop off into the sunset. Fulton instead greatly expanded the racetrack, adding a casino and other entertainment attractions. He also vehemently fought any competitive intrusion on his gaming domain, including new casinos in southern New Mexico and across the border in Texas.Fulton also became the largest single benefactor to New Mexico State University, ultimately giving the Las Cruces school more than $17 million for projects ranging from enhancing the football stadium and endowing professorships to purchasing aircraft for the university. Fulton also contributed money to the city of Sunland Park and the area’s school district.Which brings us back to UNLV.In 2001, Fulton had a falling out with the university and was involved in a public spat with then-school president Carol Harter. According to a September 2001 Las Vegas Sun article, Fulton was upset with a UNLV professor’s communist views and with Harter’s refusal to fire the professor. Moreover, after seeding almost $7 million in start-up money for the gaming institute, Fulton was upset at the building’s cost overruns. He was also angered that a palm tree obscured his name on the building’s front.As a result, he subsequently publicly announced that he was disinheriting UNLV, which stood to collect 10 percent his net worth, and resigned from the UNLV Foundation.Still, in the end, Fulton’s name remains on the UNLV building, his largess continues to benefit New Mexico State University, the gaming institute continues to be an integral part of the industry, Wheel of Fortune slot machines still own important space on the casino floor, and Fulton’s gaming legacy is intact.The gaming industry, and others, owe much to Stan Fulton.Howard Stutz oversees corporate communications for Golden Entertainment Inc. He occasionally writes for CDC. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.