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Pioneering casino manager Laura Thornton dies at age 90

Updated October 30, 2020 - 11:04 am

Laura Thornton worked in Southern Nevada’s casino industry for 54 years, starting out as a change girl and working her way up to executive hostess at then-Primadonna Casino Resorts during an era when female gaming executives weren’t as common as today.

Rick Scheer, who worked with Thornton from 1988 until 1996 and knew her since the late ’70s, said the word “pioneer” fits Thornton well. So does “legend,” he said, recalling the times that gaming magazines would run stories about “amazing women that have done amazing things in gaming and definitely are legends.”

“To us,” Scheer said, “Laura was our legend.”

Thornton, 90, died Oct. 19 at her home in Minersville, Utah.

She was born in Las Vegas on Oct. 3, 1930, to William George Sansom and Rosetta Fay May. Her grandson, William King, said his grandmother’s family has lived in Las Vegas for several generations and includes among its members Ernest May, who in 1933 became the first Las Vegas police officer to die in the line of duty, and Rose Warren, a pioneer Las Vegas midwife. (Both have Clark County schools named after them.)

Thornton’s mother also worked in the casino industry. During the ’50s, Thornton, then married with children, began working in the gift shop of the Fortune Club on Fremont Street, then became a change girl there.

Her career in gaming continued at a number of area casinos, including the Aladdin and Silver City, where she was a slot manager. In 1982, she became assistant slot supervisor at Whiskey Pete’s in Primm. Eventually, Thornton created host programs at Whiskey Pete’s, as well as the then-Primadonna Resort and Casino and Buffalo Bill’s.

“Laura just had a knack,” said Scheer, now general manager of Ute Mountain Casino Hotel in Towaoc, Colorado. “Probably one of her best characteristics was she loved people and people loved her.

“She was just a hell of a human being. Just a beautiful person.”

Slot hostesses were something new back then, Scheer said. “And she was just amazing at how well she knew her customers.

“She knew them, she knew their husbands, she knew their wives, she knew their kids and everything about them,” Scheer said. “Laura was the kind of lady you’d find out there on the floor of the slot operation, mingling and mixing with our customers.

“Our nickname (for her) was L.T., and if L.T says it, it was so.”

Thornton retired in May 1996. “She was a pioneer, absolutely,” Scheer said. “She was someone very special.”

Thornton was preceded in death by her parents; siblings Clarence Ward, Lois (Ward) Bishop and Georgetta (Sansom) Keele; and two daughters, Grace Elizabeth “Liz” Thornton and Melissa Wilhelm.

She is survived by her children George Vandenbroek, Brand Thornton, Susan Roufus, Peter Thornton, John Wilhelm and Marc Sanson, 24 grandchildren, 40 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.

Services were held Oct. 24 in Cedar City, Utah.

Contact John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

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