10/24/2003 12:00AM

When you hit that jackpot, take a moment for Si Redd


When William "Si" Redd died on Oct. 14, it wasn't as if just another gaming giant left the scene. It was like Henry Ford passing from the auto industry.

Si Redd, you see, is credited as the founding father of the modern video poker machine - the most recognized, most played, and highest revenue-producing video gaming machine on the planet.

Like good old Henry, he didn't just popularize a product in his field, he made it part of the fiber of the industry.

Redd, who died in his Solana Beach, Ca., home after an extended illness at 91, was born on Nov. 16, 1911, in Union, Miss. He was a poor kid who liked to tinker, had big ideas, and hustled. He was said to be as much of a salesman as an innovator.

Although he had a successful career as an amusement game and jukebox distributor in Boston, Redd saw opportunity in Las Vegas and move here in 1967. He quickly founded Bally Distributing Company and started revolutionizing the slot-machine industry. With his tinkering talents, Redd quickly built the company that was eventually bought by Bally's Manufacturing in the mid-1970's.

Frustrated that Bally's didn't want to explore video-based slot machines, Redd formed Sircoma in 1978, which would soon become known as International Game Technology. While at IGT, Redd developed video-based slot machines and the rest is gaming history.

Video poker is now a staple at every gaming operation around the country. It was the video poker machines that really helped the locals casinos boom in Las Vegas, and they are helping the transformation of racetracks to racinos.

A member of the Gaming and Nevada Business halls of fame, Redd sold his major interests in IGT in 1986 and went on to buy and manage Si Redd's Oasis resort casino in Mesquite, Nev., before selling it in 2001 for $31 million.

Steve Wynn said of Redd, "Si could sell you everything, and the thing is, it usually worked for you."

The man who helped reshape the modern gaming terrain was also remembered as a philanthropic man, having contributed millions of dollars to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. UNLV professor Bill Thompson reflected on Redds contribution to the gaming industry when he said, "Si Redd might have had more impact on gaming than just about anybody in the last 30 years."

Remember Si Redd the next time you head to the casino to play the video poker machines.

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