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Casino Owner's $2 Million Gift Surprises Las Vegas

CRISTINA SILVA

LAS VEGAS (AP) â¿¿ To LeRoy Stapleton, $500 could mean the difference between prolonged homelessness and finding a job that could get him back on his feet.

"It would be a big help," said Stapleton, who lined up with 30 other people outside a Las Vegas unemployment office Monday morning waiting for it to open. "You need money to make money. If I had some gas, I could find a job."

A Las Vegas casino owner's anonymous gift of $500 each to 4,000 southern Nevada families in recent months has had tongues wagging in a state with the highest unemployment rate in the nation. The $2 million gift to the United Way of Southern Nevada was the charitable organization's largest donation to date, and for months, guessing the identity of the donor became a popular pastime in Las Vegas.

The first round of families received $500 bank gift cards just before Christmas 2011. Another 2,000 families received the donations Saturday in Las Vegas. The families were not told how much they would receive. Casino titan Steve Wynn confessed earlier this month to a newspaper columnist that he was the not-so-secret donor, but the families were never told Wynn was behind the funds.

In some ways, the charitable gifts represent the dichotomy of Las Vegas' intertwined, but disparate economic classes. Wynn has made his money from wealthy travelers who think nothing of dropping thousands of dollars on a weekend of excess and vice. He has put a small portion of that money back into this community of struggling blue-collar workers who clean hotel rooms, pour $22 cocktails and build the shimmering casino towers along the Las Vegas Strip. Many of the families who received the $500 gift earned roughly $16,000 or less last year.

Las Vegas business leaders said the donation wasn't unusual. They pointed to this desert city's many charitable and wealthy residents. Casino owner Sheldon Adelson has opened clinics throughout Las Vegas. Crooner Wayne Newton is known for taking in pets others no longer want. Tennis great Andre Agassi opened a charter school for at-risk Las Vegas children.

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