The New Guard: Next-generation pioneers making their mark on Las Vegas

Every place has its founders, those movers and shakers whose names are enmeshed in a city’s history.

Las Vegas is no different. Today, the children and grandchildren of some of Las Vegas’ founding families are creating their own legacies, some in their families’ businesses, others in altogether different pursuits.

Here are a few next-generation pioneers who are making their mark on Las Vegas.

Dustin Drai: Keeping the nightlife scene fresh

Photo by Tony Tran
Photo by Tony Tran

Dustin Drai grew up — literally — in the hospitality business. He recalls answering the front-desk phones in his dad’s Las Vegas restaurant when he was a kid.

Now 25, Drai still works in the nightlife and hospitality company created by his father, Victor Drai. The younger Drai brings to the company’s clubs in Las Vegas and Dubai a keen eye in discerning what’s new and what’s next in the fast-changing industry.

During his teens, Dustin watched his dad’s pioneering of Las Vegas’ nightclub scene and realized “this is pretty awesome, this is something I’d like to get into.”

He sees part of his role as offering “a different way of looking at things” and watching for new trends, such as offering patrons 45-minute concert sets by performers, which Drai’s pioneered here.

It’s about “looking for the edge,” he says, and continuing to “stay ahead of the curve and continue to grow the brand.”

That’s particularly true in a competitive market like Las Vegas. “Today, everything is over so quickly. If you don’t catch it right, you can miss it.”




Kelley Nemiro and Victoria Fertitta: Setting style with a Vegas twist

Photo by Baylee Jo Turner
Photo by Baylee Jo Turner

They grew up bearing a notable name in the hospitality and gaming industry, and they work in that industry even now. But Kelley Nemiro, 28, and Victoria Fertitta, 25, are carving out a different path by showcasing Las Vegas’ style to the rest of the world.

Kelley and Victoria, the daughters of Station Casinos CEO Frank Fertitta III, are the creators of Wilson Gabrielle, a fashion, travel and lifestyle blog that has attracted about 46,000 Instagram followers interested in exploring fashion with a uniquely desert Southwest bent.

Wilson Gabrielle takes a Vegas-centric approach to style that’s evident in its creators’ distinctive point of view and in fashion shoots set against local backdrops such as
Red Rock Canyon and the Strip.

“Las Vegas is our home and it’s where we’ve grown up,” Victoria says. “We’ve always wanted to show that off. Really, it’s just part of our everyday lives, too.”

Kelley is vice president of marketing and guest experience at Station Casinos while Victoria, who has worked summers during college in a variety of roles with the company, plans to return next year after completing her MBA. But Kelley says neither she nor her sister ever felt pressure to work in the family business.

“From our parents’ perspective, they’ve always encouraged us to go after what we loved to do,” she says.

Alex Epstein Gudai and Katie Epstein: Making what’s old cool again

Photo by David Becker
Photo by David Becker

How do you transform a more than seven-decades-old downtown Las Vegas hotel into a destination that’s appealing to both millennials (catch its star turn in Ellie Goulding’s “On My Mind” music video) and patrons who’ve been stopping by for decades?

It’s the riddle and the reality Alex Epstein Gudai, 33, and Katie Epstein, 30, face every day as, respectively, the El Cortez hotel’s executive manager and director
of guest services.

Alexandra and Katie are the daughters of El Cortez Hotel CEO and chairman Kenny Epstein, who purchased the hotel in 2008, and has credited his daughters with keeping the 77-year-old downtown landmark not just vital but hip. Their involvement has rippled beyond the family’s property through their promotion of downtown Las Vegas and renovations that help the El Cortez reflect downtown’s past while ensuring it a 21st-century future.


Katie O’Neill: Bringing art to a desert city

Katie O’Neill is the great-granddaughter of gaming legend Benny Binion. And while his artistry lay in games of chance and helping create modern-day Las Vegas, her artistry is of a more literal sort.

O’Neill has spent much of her life advocating on behalf of art and artists. As chair of the Las Vegas committee of the Nevada Museum of Art, she’s working to create an art museum for Las Vegas.

O’Neill, 40, studied art history in college and moved to New York City, where she founded an organization that provides arts outreach to underserved kids.

Photo by Richard Brian
Photo by Richard Brian

After returning to Las Vegas, O’Neill got involved in the local effort to bring Seven Magic Mountains to Southern Nevada, and with the local group working to create an art museum here. That group merged this year with the Reno-based NMA and continues to pursue its work.

O’Neill’s goal is for the museum to act as “a gathering space, a place for the community to engage in the sharing of ideas, and where “differences are embraced and celebrated. I feel like this is the time for it to take off in Las Vegas.”

“This could never happen in New York. Las Vegas is still a little Wild West. If you want something to happen and you want to roll up your sleeves and get out there and work at it, you can make it happen.”