Bill Noonan can see the Las Vegas Strip from his office.
It’s a view that has changed enormously since 1990, when he was first recruited to the city.
Noonan has been a part of the entertainment destination’s past and present, and he’s helping shape its future.
Founding a fraternity, finding his style
Noonan’s natural tendencies as a leader were evident to his friends in college.
His longtime friend Joe Robles jokingly called him “Wild Bill” during our conversation. “I don’t know if he’s ever been wild, and I have known Bill since we both had hair!” Robles said.
Noonan and Robles, both 1974 alumni, met when they lived next door to each other in Fruedenberger House.
Noonan had chosen Missouri State because his sister, Jan Noonan Fax, was a recent graduate and the family really liked MSU.
“He was studious. But he had a great laugh,” Robles said.
Noonan always had a talent for bringing people together, Robles said. He used that as a founding brother of the MSU chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. Noonan helped put together a group that included friends of friends, and veterans who had served in Vietnam.
When the group had discussions, Noonan was apt to side with the older, more mature members.
“He’s pretty down to Earth,” Robles said. “He kept a semblance of order, and really thought through his decisions.”
The founding group still keeps in touch.
“I have a lot of fond memories,” Noonan said.
Becoming a city manager in Las Vegas
Noonan’s interest in the public sector was also obvious during his time at MSU.
“The economy was terrible at that time,” Noonan said. Instead of entering the job market, he explored graduate schools.
“Being a Bear gave me a great academic foundation. It helped me get into graduate school. I’m not sure I would have been selected otherwise — it was very competitive back then. My time at Missouri State was really critical.”
He was accepted to the University of Kansas, and earned a master’s degree in public administration in 1976. Soon after, he began to manage government entities.
“I started in Missouri. I spent time in Springfield as an assistant city manager. I went on to become a city manager in two cities in Florida. Then I was recruited to Las Vegas, and I was the city manager from ’90 to ’93. It was a much smaller city than it is today. We have about 2.3 million people in the metro area now. Then, we didn’t even have a million.”
He and other city officials could see a boom on the horizon. Developers were building massive planned communities to house hundreds of thousands of people.
“We built a lot of roads, and we built a lot of infrastructure. We were really getting ready to accommodate the growth.”
He was right to prepare: In 1999, the Las Vegas Sun paper reported U.S. Census Bureau numbers that showed Vegas was by far the number-one fastest growing metropolitan area in the U.S., and had been for much of the 1990s.
Moving to private-sector job
In 1993, legalized gaming was expanding around the country.
“I had several gaming companies come to me and say, ‘Hey, we don’t understand local government.’ They didn’t need to understand it, because their business had been only in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Now, it was in places like Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, Louisiana — all these locations,” Noonan said.
He had a unique skill set: He understood both government and gaming. He moved from the public to the private sector.
“I worked for companies that specialized in developing gaming facilities in states other than Nevada. Then, the company I landed with gave me a chance to actually run a casino. I ran a small casino and learned the business right here in Las Vegas for about eight years. That was with a company that, unfortunately, no longer exists. It got sold.”
Immediately after that sale, he went to work for Boyd Gaming. That corporation owns and operates 25 gaming properties in eight states. He has been there about 16 years, and is now the senior vice president of industry and governmental affairs.
“I’ve gone back to my roots: I deal with governmental officials across the country at the local, state and federal levels. I’ve had the opportunity to meet the last three U.S. presidents.”
He also oversees corporate communications and philanthropy.
Noonan is humble about all this, Robles said. “He doesn’t brag. He’ll downplay his job, ‘oh, I’m just helping,’ then I will see him in photos of groundbreakings, holding the shovel. He says, ‘I’m not a big deal. I’m just someone who is there and can get things done.’”
Holding significant leadership roles
In 2017, Noonan was given a rare recognition. He was sworn in as the chairman of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce.
It was the first time in more than 20 years that someone from the gaming industry served as chair for this group. Noonan held the title for a year.
“It was one of those things that not everyone gets to do, and it was an honor to have done it.”
That wasn’t the first distinction of his career. In 2000, he was the Casino Management Association’s Gaming Professional of the Year.
He has served on many boards related to tourism, philanthropy, economics and advancement of the Las Vegas region.
He advocates for causes, including higher education.
“One of the other things I’m passionate about is dealing with homelessness in Las Vegas, especially trying to find services for veterans who need help.”
Looking to the future
What’s next for him: supporting the city as it builds a major expansion to its convention facilities, and welcoming the Raiders NFL team as they move to Las Vegas.
Someday, he plans to retire.
“I haven’t picked that date, but I’m certainly getting in the age group.”
He’s looking forward to family time.
“I have a wife, Sylvia, and a son, and two granddaughters, ages 3 and 9. They live here in Las Vegas, so I spend a lot of time with my family. We have four generations living here: My father-in-law, and then us, and then my son and his wife, and my two granddaughters.”
He’d like to get back to MSU. He was here to accept the Alumni Association’s Outstanding Young Alumni Award in 1992, and has visited in the last decade.
“I pay close attention to all the Missouri State athletic teams.”
He’d like to plan a trip to Homecoming sooner rather than later, he said: “My Missouri State days mean a lot.”