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Howard Stutz

Casino Exec Remembered for Generosity

16 March 2006

LAS VEGAS -- Las Vegas businessman Herb Tobman was remembered Wednesday by family members, associates and friends as a throwback to old Las Vegas.

If someone was in dire straits or a community effort needed a financial boost, Tobman would anonymously help out.

"Herb Tobman knew everyone's name but he was also a very quiet and charitable man," Las Vegas attorney John Moran Jr., said of his father-in-law, who died late Tuesday after battling kidney disease for about two months.

"Herb was one of the old-timers," Moran said. "He would help out people, but he just didn't want anyone to know about it."

Tobman, 81, was a 56-year Las Vegas resident who had a varied business career as a furniture store proprietor, casino industry executive, restaurant operator and taxicab company owner.

"My father had never been hospitalized before this," said Tobman's daughter, Marilyn Moran. "That wasn't for him. He was home with my mom and he quietly went to sleep. It was a blessing but at the same time, it's going to be a terrible void for this whole group."

Tobman operated Western Cab Co. since 1965 and he was part of the Stardust's executive team in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the Strip casino's general manager for eight years. He also served briefly on the board of directors for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority in the early 1980s.

Tobman also had ties to Las Vegas' modern history; he was considered a close associate of Las Vegas developer and philanthropist Moe Dalitz, who built the Desert Inn and was profiled in the Review-Journal's The First 100. Dalitz, however, was linked by law enforcement to organized crime.

"They always said I am an associate of Moe Dalitz, which I was and I'm proud to admit," Tobman told the Review-Journal in 1990. "They ought to name 20 schools after him."

Born in the Bronx, N.Y. in 1924, Tobman came to Las Vegas from New Jersey in the early 1950s and used a $1,200 bank loan to open City Furniture Exchange, a 25-year Las Vegas landmark and the city's first used furniture store.

He started Western Cab with one vehicle. Today, the business has 134 taxicabs and 355 employees.

On Wednesday, workers at the Main Street business tearfully hugged each other and employees were subdued after the news of Tobman's passing was discussed.

"We're a family here, and this is hitting all of us really hard," said Martha Sarver, Western Cab's manager who has spent 33 years with the company. "He was here all the time. He cared about his employees and treated us like we were all part of his family."

Marilyn Moran said Tobman considered the taxicab company a family business. John Moran Jr. said Tobman never retired and refused to miss a day of work at Western Cab.

Longtime Democratic activist Harriet Trudell, who had known Tobman since the 1960s, said many Las Vegans were touched by his generosity.

"You have to understand something about Herb Tobman; he considered everyone equal in the truest sense," Trudell said. "There are many kids in this town who Herb helped with their schooling. He would always dig into his pocket to give a handout to a kid who was hurting. He's one of the best citizens this community has ever had."

Tobman helped Dalitz build the Sundance (now Fitzgeralds) in downtown Las Vegas in the 1970s; it was the city's tallest building at the time. At various times he managed the Sundance, Marina, Fremont, Aladdin and Stardust.

The Stardust was one of the few dark points in Tobman's career. In 1984, gaming regulators forced Tobman and fellow Stardust operator Al Sachs out of the gaming industry for failing to stop an alleged skimming operation at the casino. He lost his business interests, paid a $100,000 fine, but admitted no liability in the revocation process.

"Herb always said he did nothing wrong, and I know he did nothing wrong," Trudell said.

After the Stardust, Tobman continued to manage Western Cab. In addition, he spent four years in the late 1980s and early 1990s managing Mr. T's, a 65-seat Main Street diner that became a hangout for working people as well as politicians and community leaders.

"He did it as a favor and it became a fun place to be," Marilyn Moran said.

After his involvement with the Stardust, Democratic Party loyalist Tobman toyed with seeking public office.

In 1986, he made an unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination for governor, challenging then incumbent Gov. Richard Bryan in the primary. Tobman raised $90,000, limiting his campaign donations to no more than $10 per individual.

He received 14,279 votes in the primary, 15 percent of the overall total.

Tobman tossed his name out as a candidate for lieutenant governor in 1990 and Las Vegas mayor in 1991, but he never followed through with filing for office.

"He (ran for governor) as a lark and it was actually a lot of fun for all of us," Marilyn Moran said. "We set up the campaign office up across the street from the cab company and we all ran around with 'Tobman for Governor' T-shirts."

Bryan, who went on to serve two terms in the U.S. Senate, said Wednesday he was never certain why Tobman ran against him, but it didn't change his opinion of the business leader.

"Herb was a totally self-made man who was cut out of the old-school mold," said Bryan, now a Las Vegas attorney. "He's from the Las Vegas that's no longer around where everyone knew each other. He was very generous and very involved. His associations and contacts go way back and were priceless."

Moran Jr., said that Tobman quietly made financial contributions to fund community endeavors, helping to build four Jewish synagogues.

Tobman is survived by his wife of 58 years, Jean; three daughters, Marilyn, Helen, and Janie; nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild. A son, Alan, is deceased.

Services will be held Friday at 1 p.m. at Palm Mortuary Downtown on Main Street. A burial will take place immediately following the services at Woodlawn Cemetery on Las Vegas Boulevard. The family requests donations be made to WestCare Nevada, 900 Grier Drive, Las Vegas, 89119.