10/08/2004 12:00AM

Nevadans grace list of filthy rich


Amid the sea of election politics, Forbes magazine quietly published its annual list of the 400 richest Americans on Sept. 23, 2004. While the "Forbes 400" annual rankings are always entertaining, the bulk of the list does not change drastically from year to year, proving the old saying "money goes to money" profound if not profane.

The usual billionaires at the top, Bill Gates with $48 billion, Warren Buffett at $41 billion, and Paul Allen at a mere $20 billion, head a list of 313 American billionaires from the 400.

Of the mega-rich, a dozen with local Las Vegas links made the list.

At the top of the Nevada-resident list is Pierre M. Omidyar of Henderson, at No. 16. A 37-year-old designer of the eBay website, Omidyar moved up from last year's ranking of 29, with an estimated worth of $10.4 billion.

At No. 17 are three members of the Mars candy dynasty, which owns the local Ethel M. Chocolates: Forrest Edward Mars Jr., 72, Jacqueline Mars, 64, and John Franklyn Mars, 67, head the Mars heirs at $10 billion.

No. 20 is Sumner Redstone, 81, whose local connection stems from his appetite to gamble big in Las Vegas. Redstone, who owns Viacom, frequently plays in Las Vegas and has an estimated worth of $8.1 billion, give or take his latest trip to the tables.

No. 21 is Carl Ichan, 68, whose Nevada holdings include the Stratosphere and Arizona Charlie's casinos. Ichan moved up from No. 26 last year, with a worth of $7.6 billion this year.

No. 30 is Kirk Kerkorian, 87, who is the majority owner of MGM Mirage Inc. The casino company, which has flagship properties MGM Grand, Bellagio, and the Mirage in its Las Vegas gaming portfolio, is currently in a mega-merger purchase of the Mandalay Resort Group Inc. Kerkorian has a net worth of $5.8 billion, up from last year's $5 billion estimate.

No. 60 is Sheldon Adelson, 71, whose Las Vegas Sand Inc., owns the Venetian, Sands Expo and Convention Center, and the Sands Macau casino. Adelson nearly doubled his $1.8 billion worth of last year to $3 billion this year. With Macau now on line and the $1 billion expansion of the Venetian complex under way, look for Adelson to keep moving up on the list.

No. 74 is Donald Trump, who gains his Las Vegas connection with the announcement of The Trump timeshare condominium complex at the New Frontier Hotel Casino property. His net worth, which is always in flux, is estimated at $2.6 billion.

No. 165 is the Jackson Thomas Stephens family. JT, 81, is chairman of the Stephens Media Group, which owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Although its net worth here is $1.5 billion, the family dropped from its ranking last year of 140.

There is a three-way tie for No. 215, each with a net worth of $1.3 billion: Phil Ruffin, 68, owner of the New Frontier Hotel Casino complex; O. Bruton Smith, 77, owner of Speedway Motorsports, which has the Las Vegas Motor Speedway; and entrepreneur Steve Wynn, 63.

Wynn's latest gem is the $2 billion Wynn Las Vegas mega-resort, which will open April 2005, and he has also made an entry into the Macau gaming market. His net worth is certain to climb after Wynn Las Vegas comes on line.

It has been noted that not one horseplayer is represented on this list. Those who accommodate us, however, are plentiful.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.