It is with great sorrow and loss that the family of Craig H. Neilsen announces his passing on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2006, in Las Vegas, Nev. He was chairman and chief executive officer of Ameristar Casinos, owner of Neilsen & Company and founder of The Craig H. Neilsen Foundation.
Craig Hart Neilsen was born in 1941 in Logan, Utah, and moved with his family to Twin Falls, Idaho, as a child.
Following graduation from Twin Falls High School, he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Utah State University, then went on to complete his master’s in business administration and law degrees at the University of Utah.
Shortly after that, he joined his father, Ray L. Neilsen, in his construction and real estate development firm in Twin Falls. Tragically, after only one year, Ray L. Neilsen passed away suddenly. At that time, Craig started Neilsen & Company, which soon became the region’s largest and most successful construction and real estate development company. Neilsen & Company was responsible for the construction of many of Twin Falls’ major buildings, as well as the renovation of the Lynwood Shopping Center and creating the Breckenridge residential subdivision. Most recently, Neilsen & Company was involved with the upscale Canyon Park lifestyle center. Future development plans at Canyon Park include a hotel and convention center.
Through his father’s estate, the family held one-third interest in Cactus Petes and The Horseshu casinos. At first, the family was a passive investor; however, in the early 1980s, Craig became more involved in casino operations, and the entrepreneur in him envisioned the two properties becoming major resorts. That vision started to become a reality shortly after Craig became president of Cactus Petes, Inc. in 1984.
In early November 1985, as Craig was driving back to Twin Falls from Jackpot, he was involved in a serious car accident that left him paralyzed. By mid-1986, he was back on the job — if possible, with even more determination than ever. In 1993, he took the Company public to help fuel its growth. Since that time, Ameristar has expanded outside of Nevada to five other properties in four additional states, and truly has established a reputation as a premier gaming entertainment company.
Another important part of Craig’s legacy was his wonderful generosity and community spirit. He established the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation in 2003, and since then has contributed millions of dollars, primarily toward spinal cord injury research at the nation’s leading institutions. In addition, he led the way for the Company’s charitable giving programs, and supported its workplace giving program generously through matches both from the Company and his Foundation.
In 2002, he was honored as ‛Best Performing CEO“ by the American Gaming Association, and in 2005, he was inducted into the American Gaming Association’s Gaming Hall of Fame. In 2006, he was named Outstanding Business Leader by the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis. Craig also served on the board of directors of the American Gaming Association.
Everyone who knew Craig respected him tremendously as a business leader with inexhaustible passion for Ameristar. He was an entrepreneur with incredible vision who took the Company public and who led its strong growth. Further, he inspired all of us with his courage, determination and dignity. He has also left a lasting impact on the lives of so many others through his generosity and community spirit.
Craig is the son of the late Ray Neilsen and Gwen Hart Neilsen Anderson. He is survived by his son, Ray (Nancy) Neilsen; and stepdaughters, Jaime Stam and Amanda (Howard) Byrd.
Visitation will be Nov. 28 from noon to 7 p.m. at Palm Mortuaries and Cemeteries, 6701 N. Jones Blvd., Las Vegas. On Nov. 29, there will be a public celebration of Craig’s life and reception at 5 p.m. in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Ballroom E. Funeral and burial services will be private.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to The Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, 550 Blue Lakes Blvd. N., Twin Falls, ID 83301-4033, Attn.: Tributes; or to the St. Alphonsus Foundation, 1070 N. Curtis Road, Suite 240, Boise, ID 83706.