06/23/2006 12:00AM

Where your blackjack losses go

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Under the "rich-get-richer" category, a recent study by the financial services firm of Merrill Lynch reveals that the ranks of the world's millionaires swelled by over a half-million people last year. There are more than 8.7 million millionaires walking the Earth. Or, most likely, flying first class around the world.

While the richest of the rich, billionaire Bill Gates, steps down in two years from the company he built to spend the rest of his life giving away his fortune, many of the newest millionaires will no doubt come to Las Vegas to blow a few ducats living the good life.

What they lose goes to finance the paychecks of some of Nevada's richest people.

According to a May 26 column in the Las Vegas Sun, casino bosses in Las Vegas are racking up the chips as some of the highest paid employees in the state. As a matter of fact, the top five earners of 2005 on a list compiled by Sun sister publication In Business are from gaming companies. It isn't until you get to No. 6 - Anthony Marlon of Sierra Health Services - that you find the first non-gaming entry.

Each compensation package varies, with such long-term rewards as restricted stock options, which cannot be immediately sold, added to the annual salaries, along with short-term perks such as memberships to fitness and country clubs and use of company vehicles and private jets. In Business took all these things into consideration when it made the list.

So who is No. 1?

The first guess might be someone from a huge megaresort conglomerate. Bobby Baldwin, chief executive and president of MGM Mirage's Mirage Resorts division is No. 2 at $38.5 million.

MGM Mirage chief executive Terry Lanni, above Baldwin in the company pecking order, jumped to fourth on the list with a compensation package of $31.5 million on the year. Sitting right behind Lanni at No. 5 is John Redmond, chief executive and president of MGM Grand Resorts, at $29.6 million. Thus, MGM Mirage company officials occupy three of the top five spots. But, not No. 1.

Boyd Gaming Corporation's chief executive Bill Boyd jumped a slot to No. 3 after his company brought Coast Casinos into the portfolio. Boyd's combined compensation in 2005 was $37.9 million.

Station Casinos' Frank Fertitta III kept his first-place spot for the second year in a row with earnings of $5.7 million and long-term compensation adding another $37.1 million to total $42.8 million. Fertitta plans more expansion in Las Vegas for Station Casinos, and the new Red Rock addition this year should have him positioned for a run at a three-peat.

Although these packages seem beyond comprehension to most of America's workforce, the rising compensation for talented operators is driven by the marketplace. Taking a risk of losing this talent is not a viable option for those who sit on the board of directors at these publicly traded gaming companies. They, after all, have to answer to stockholders.

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