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Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Editor of Las Vegas Review Journal Gaming Wire dies

15 December 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Rod Smith, the Review-Journal's Gaming Wire editor whose varied 30-year career took him into the fields of economics, politics and business journalism, died Thursday after a two-year battle with cancer.

Smith, 60, had been the newspaper's award-winning lead reporter on the gaming industry since August 2002 and wrote a weekly column in the Business section's Sunday edition.

Smith was a trained economist who took an interest in politics while living in Washington, D.C. He was the administrative assistant to two U.S. congressmen from 1972 to 1981 before embarking on a 10-year career as a freelance journalist for several newspapers and various trade publications.

It was reporting on business matters and seeing his work in print, however, that gave him the most fulfillment, said Fran Smith, his wife of 36 years.

"Rod really had two basic careers. One was politics and the other was business journalism," Fran Smith said. "He was most proud of having his work published. He always enjoyed that more than anything else."

Review-Journal Business Editor Michael Hiesiger said Smith's familiarity and interest in a number of fields gave readers an uncommon insight and a diverse outlook into the gaming industry.

"Rod brought a unique level of experience and background to the paper that the Business section never had before, and it will be very hard to ever duplicate that," Hiesiger said. "His real value as the gaming editor for the R-J wasn't that he knew about the gaming industry. He also knew about all the other industries and business leaders in town, and that meant he often got more details and different perspectives on casino issues than anyone else."

Review-Journal Editor Thomas Mitchell said all reporters could learn from Smith.

"Rod's death has stunned us all," Mitchell said. "He was a highly respected journalist who had all the traits of a great newsman: far-ranging curiosity, tenacity, a healthy level of skepticism, a thick skin and a dry sense of humor. Even as he struggled with his illness he was plugging away at his beat and keeping our readers abreast of news from the gaming industry. He will be sorely missed."

Smith's career took him to Hawaii in 1987, initially to work on a statewide campaign for a gubernatorial candidate. After the election, he spent seven years as the editor of Pacific Business News in Honolulu; a year as the communications director for the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism; and a year as the communications director for the University of Hawaii.

In 1997, Smith became the editor and publisher of Las Vegas Press, which distributed several publications, including the Las Vegas Business Press and Las Vegas CityLife, which are now owned by Stephens Media, parent company of the Review-Journal.

After joining the Review-Journal, Smith quickly developed a network of gaming industry sources. He won several awards for his articles from the Nevada Press Association, including first place in 2005 for best business story for an article that chronicled the continuing influence MGM Mirage majority shareholder Kirk Kerkorian had on Las Vegas.

Smith covered some of the recent events that changed the face of the gaming industry. He provided readers of the Review-Journal in-depth analysis on the early stages of the mergers between MGM Mirage and the Mandalay Resort Group and Harrah's Entertainment and Caesars Entertainment in 2004.

Deutsche Bank Managing Director Andrew Zarnett said Wall Street financial analysts respected Smith's background and insights.

"I had a great fondness for Rod as a reporter and a friend," Zarnett said. "His thirst for knowledge and his relentless pursuit of the story made him a great reporter. His trust and reliability and his impressive intellect made him a good friend."

Spokesmen from some of the gaming industry's leading companies Thursday said Smith's battle with cancer never took away his desire to cover the industry.

"His insight and depth of knowledge gave him an ability to write about our company and our business in a manner that will be difficult to replace," MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said. "Throughout his illness, despite repeated surgeries, procedures and treatments, Rod was always back on his beat and writing as soon as he was able."

Boyd Gaming Corp. spokesman Rob Stillwell said he had spoken with Smith a few weeks ago about a column item.

"I am very grateful for having known him and worked with him over the past decade and learned a great deal from him during that time," Stillwell said. "I thought he had a real love for his work and our destination and it really showed in his reporting."

Las Vegas Sands Corp. spokesman Ron Reese, who like Smith used to work in Washington, D.C., said they enjoyed discussing a mutual interest in politics.

"His dry wit and sense of humor always kept me guessing, and I think he knew it and secretly enjoyed it," Reese said. "I couldn't tell if he was giving me a hard time or probing for a big story, but at the end of the day he wanted to get the story and get it right."

University of Nevada Las Vegas professor Bill Thompson, who was a frequent source in Smith's articles, said he appreciated the times they spoke about gaming and other matters.

"He didn't have to listen to my chatter, he just wanted to listen to me and he let me ramble on and on about all ideas on gaming," Thompson said. "He honored me and he made me feel valuable. Today I am very sad for I have lost a wonderful friend."

Smith is survived by his wife, Fran, and his mother, Mary, who lives in Vermont. Funeral arrangements are pending, but Fran Smith asked that in lieu of tributes, donations be made to the Volunteer Center of Southern Nevada.