Who ruled Las Vegas in 2015, from dominant individuals to dynamic institutions

Holly Holm, right, celebrates after defeating Ronda Rousey, left, during their UFC 193 Bantamweight title fight Sunday in Melbourne, Australia.
Photo: Andy Brownbill / Associated Press

Tick Segerblom

Nevada state senator

Medical marijuana dispensaries are finally here, thanks in large part to this resolute lawmaker, who pushed his bill through the 2013 Legislature and, when dispensaries opened this summer, ended a 15-year battle to get legal weed to cardholders. Previously, approved users were required to grow their own but couldn’t legally obtain seeds due to a legislative loophole. Next up? Recreational kush on the 2016 ballot. But we want to buy the senator a beer right now, or based on his tweets, perhaps he’d like a shot of tequila.

Celine Dion

Celine Dion

Caesars Palace resident

No wonder they call her the Queen. After 13 years and nearly 1,000 shows in the Strip’s big spotlight, Celine left it for over a year to be with her ailing husband. She returned and blew the roof off in August, and just lent her grace to a star-studded tribute to Frank Sinatra, slaying “All the Way.” That’s how she’s always done it.

Ronald Corso

11th Street Records owner

What’s better than spending all afternoon shopping for records? Opening a combo store and studio that a) ups Las Vegas’ vinyl game, b) hosts a slew of cool all-ages in-store gigs, c) becomes home base for many locals looking to lay down tracks and d) helps bring the Fremont East party eastward, to our new favorite Downtown corner.


Headlining DJ

His Jack Ü and Major Lazer albums dominated dance and pop charts. His Skrillex collabo “Where Are Ü Now” reinvigorated (saved?) Justin Bieber’s career. And his Wynn residency yielded some of the summer’s most massive parties, particularly the Mad Decent Block Party at Encore Beach Club and Surrender, which you had to see to belieb … er, believe.

Scott Seeley and Drew Cohen (and their fake birds)

Scott Seeley and Drew Cohen (and their fake birds)

Scott Seeley and Drew Cohen

The Writer's Block owners

Portland has Powell’s, San Francisco has City Lights, and thanks to this couple, Las Vegas has a literary haven to call its own. The Writer’s Block is small but superbly curated, and in its first year delivered not only brainy books, but also important speakers, free workshops and utterly charming fake-bird adoptions. (We’ll take two.)


Art gallery

Every once in a while something crazy art-friendly lands in the most unusual of places, but when the Cosmopolitan opened five years ago with an artist-residency space in a high-profile area, a lot of people were pinching themselves. This can’t be real, right? The partnership with New York’s Art Production Fund promised to bring in emerging and established contemporary artists from around the world, and P3 has delivered more and more each year. Ellen Harvey, Abby Robinson, Shantell Martin, MK Guth, Leor Grady, Shelter Serra, Eloise Fornieles and The Bumbys were among those who came to work in the public project space. Las Vegas artists were mixed in, further evolving the rotating exchange of ideas. It has been a gathering place with an international audience, and it closes in the new year while the property considers its residency program’s fate.


Ride-hailing app

This dogged San Francisco-based tech company began its battle in Nevada during CES 2014, and this year became legit in the state, allowed not only at Strip properties but now at the airport, too. It’s like the old saying goes: If at first you don’t succeed, beat the system and get your way.

Elizabeth Blau

Elizabeth Blau

Restaurant mogul

The local cuisine-culture builder had an extra special year, opening the exceptionally cozy Andiron Steak & Sea at Downtown Summerlin (see Page 50), being honored as a James Beard Award semifinalist for Outstanding Restaurateur and joining the table on CNBC’s Restaurant Startup hospitality-reality show.

Holy Holm

UFC champ

The Preacher’s Daughter might not live here, but her sport does, and she contributed its most memorable moment in years—the kick that brought down Ronda Rousey in the ladies’ November bantamweight bout. Wherever UFC’s women’s divisions go from here, Holm will be the one who infused the drama.

Piff the Magic Dragon

Flamingo headliner

He performed at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and on the U.K.’s famous Sunday Night at the Palladium. He became a flavor at Kuma Snow Cream. He made the top 10 on America’s Got Talent and got smooched by Heidi Klum. And he launched his own show at the Flamingo. Who’s laughing now?



Breakout musician

When we first met Shamir in 2014, we knew the pop star’s career was about to take off, but we couldn’t have predicted just how far he’d go. Shamir’s glittery, R&B-soaked house jams ended up on some of the most notable Best-of-2015 lists (Pitchfork, Spin, Stereogum, BBC), he made his television debut on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert—he even had a puppet made in his likeness for the “Call It Off” music video. Could 2016 be even bigger?

Mat Franco

Linq headliner

The concept of a magician as a star on the Strip is as indelible as a wand and top hat. Joining a host of magician headliners in Las Vegas in July, Mat Franco arrived as champion of America’s Got Talent in the Linq Hotel showroom. Skeptics wondered if there was room for this rising entertainer, just 27 years old, whose act was heavy on card tricks. He showed he can hold an audience, and a residency, on the big bad Boulevard.

Chris Baldizan

MGM Resorts Senior VP of Entertainment Development

In the past year, Chris Baldizan helped put the Las Vegas Festival Grounds—and Rock in Rio USA—on the Strip, increased the profile and schedule of its sister venue Las Vegas Village and oversaw the effort to land Garth Brooks and other major performers for the soon-to-open Las Vegas Arena. How will he top that in 2016? A superstar residency slate for the new venue at Monte Carlo.

JK Russ

JK Russ

JK Russ


Working in collage, the New Zealand transplant uses magazines, many of them vintage, to construct otherworldly beauty and mystery in rocky orange desert landscapes. From shows at Sin City Gallery and P3Studio to her cover of Vegas Magazine, Russ was spellbinding, provocative and continually evolving in 2015. Don’t miss her work in current Barrick Museum exhibit Break Ups & Tear Downs, with Erin Stellmon and Wendy Kveck.

Joshua Smith

Bardot Brasserie executive chef

When Michael Mina and MGM Resorts opened Bardot at Aria in early 2015, Joshua Smith was tasked with cultivating a classic French dining experience that could balance familiarity and comfort with fun and excitement. “It’s kind of a throwback restaurant and the inspiration behind the dishes is all very classic, but we needed to keep the attention of the millennials and create a place where they wanted to be,” he says. It sounds impossible, but Smith and company knocked it out of the park. His food is thrilling without needing trendy bells and whistles. “We put as much effort into our cheeseburger and our onion soup as we do our most expensive entrée,” the chef says. “If you cut corners on details, people notice.”

Katie O'Neill

The Modern board president

The native Las Vegan (and great-granddaughter of Benny Binion) has infused new spirit into the effort to create a Downtown contemporary art museum. O’Neill and the Modern’s board of devoted professionals have gained support from the city and the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno. Previously a Neon Museum board member, O’Neill has a background in arts and is all in.

Ed O'Bannon

Ed O'Bannon

Ed O'Bannon and Charles O'Bannon Jr.

Basketball royalty

Ed O’Bannon was the star of the 1995 UCLA championship basketball team and an NBA player who began his second career as a salesman at Findlay Toyota in Henderson. This year, his antitrust case against the NCAA, which has long profited off its student stars without sharing any of it with them, scored a huge victory in the U.S. 9th Circuit, and the NCAA appeal could take O’Bannon to the Supreme Court. His nephew, Charles Jr., is among the top 50 basketball players in the country, and is currently fielding a slew of college offers while still dominating at Bishop Gorman High School (where his father and Ed’s former UCLA teammate serves as assistant coach). Henderson has basketball royalty in its midst; the O’Bannon family, a growing and admirable legacy.

Dave Loeb

Jazz orchestra director

Success is nothing new to UNLV’s revered Jazz Studies program, but 2015 seemed an extra-special year for its director. Under Loeb’s leadership the department scored its eighth DownBeat Magazine award since 2010, competing with the top collegiate jazz ensembles from across the globe. What might be even more impressive: Loeb’s work outside the classroom. While contributing to TV shows like Family Guy and American Dad, he also took on the task of conducting the 32-piece orchestra in Steve Wynn’s ShowStoppers, providing accompaniment during CBS’ December 6 Sinatra 100: An All-Star Grammy Concert. And, to steal a line from Ol’ Blue Eyes, we’re thinking the best is yet to come.

Drai's Live

Club-concert pioneer

How do you make a new statement in the competitive local nightlife scene beyond the superstar-DJ arms race? Drai’s president/partner Michael Gruber—and Victor Drai himself—took the idea of hiring live entertainers for brief sets at dance clubs and expanded upon it, establishing more concert-like experiences for clubgoers and a performance roster—focused on hip-hop and R&B—that rivals competitors’ DJ lineups. It’s how the rooftop discotheque made its mark in 2015.

Zee Zandi (right)

Zee Zandi

Nightlife promoter

It was no surprise that booking/development whiz Zee Zandi recently founded her own nightlife company—Silent Partner, with marketing/social media master Lauren Linck. But her biggest scene contribution in 2015 might have been placing a rare Stripside welcome mat for headlining and local house DJs, at both Light’s afterhours parties and, most notably, Daylight’s fantastic Sundown weekly.

Colin Fukunaga

Fukuburger founder

The tireless food trucker took a bold risk by relocating his first Las Vegas Boulevard location from the Linq to the Hawaiian Marketplace, and ended up creating an energetic beer-and-sake-bomb stronghold. Then he opened a Fuku shop just off Spring Mountain Road. Who woulda thunk this little red truck would grow to have Strip and Chinatown restaurants?

Troy Heard

Onyx Theatre producing director

Troy Heard took over the Onyx exactly a year ago, and transformed a theater on the edge into an edgy delight. It frequently hosts two shows a night on weekends, full of comedy and ironic takes on pop culture (like the upcoming genderbent version of a Tarantino classic, Reservoir Dolls) and even heart. Heard has attracted a passionate community of fans that used to be strangers to the theater, and recruited a team to build up production values—all while navigating city bureaucracy to get an exemption on liquor licensing so he can offer alcohol with the shows, fulfilling his vision of a theater club.

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper

MLB superstar

After injuries stalled his ascension in 2013 and ’14, baseball’s Chosen One lived up to the hype—and then clobbered it over the farthest fences—in 2015. The Vegas native hit .330 with 42 homers, 99 RBI and 118 runs, earning the National League MVP award by unanimous vote. The scariest part? He’s only 23 years old.



The Henderson brewing titan’s distribution expanded considerably this year, with its Evocation Saison and Resinate IPA popping up on taps (and in cans) all across town—from Strip lounges and Downtown bars to suburban supermarkets and neighborhood watering holes. CraftHaus also put on a handful of beer-pairing dinners—one with celebrity chef Rick Moonen at his Mandalay Bay eatery Rx Boiler Room—and continued to steal the spotlight at the city’s many beer festivals. It seemed like you couldn’t escape its neon-green logo in 2015, and why would you want to?

Tags: Featured
Top of Story