Special to Las Vegas Tribune
Monday morning, the fond memory of one incredibly special woman was the topic of countless phone calls, texts, emails, social media postings and on-air conversations. Sarann Knight Preddy, a gaming pioneer and civic activist, passed after a prolonged illness and hospitalization at the age of 94.
She is as solid a part of local gaming industry history as any other heralded, colorful, dazzling pioneering legend that helped elevate Las Vegas past its troubled beginnings to a global travel destination.
She was the first Black American woman in the world to hold a full gaming license, thus enabling her to own and operate a casino in a town that was a bastion of racial segregation which excluded nearly all people of color as well as women from gaining power in its burgeoning gambling empire.
In the 1970s, after owning other businesses, she began operating People’s Choice, a quaint neighborhood tavern with a restaurant and casino located in what is now called the Historic Westside area near H Street and West Owens. Her former place is still a topic of conversation amongst longtime residents who reminisce about its significance to the Black community and as a place where Strip headliners and visitors of all races and ethnicity were welcome to come and have fun.
Sarann (pronounced Sara-Ann, and she gently reminded others not to shorten it to either Sara or Ann), continued as a casino property owner and worked tirelessly and optimistically in hopes of resurrecting a renowned 1950s hot spot to its former entertainment glory. She was widely known for her dedication to the Historic Westside community’s once-iconic Moulin Rouge Hotel & Casino. She eventually became part owner of the world-famous hotel-casino from 1985 until its final closing in the ’90s.
The “Rouge” was the first racially integrated nightclub in Las Vegas.
It originally opened in 1955 and closed before its first anniversary.
Its ornate walls and seating areas were once filled with culturally diverse audiences enjoying great jazz, blues and Doo Wop legends, and Sarann, who decades later became a part owner, was a part of that heyday.
In the early 1990s, she helped a group that worked to have the property make it onto the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
To her disappointment and the dismay of many, the vacant landmark (all but its massive neon sign, the signature Moulin Rouge name in metal script) ultimately met with a tragic, fiery demise in 2009.
Perhaps publicly she was most notably associated with her efforts to revive the Moulin Rouge, but those who were lucky enough to see her life force and grace close up in action knew her best for openness, elegance, beauty, charm, wit, wisdom, and a certain way of making others feel welcome and appreciated. The civil rights fighter and social justice-seeker was evident in her peaceful, straight-talking, warrior-woman spirit.
Never one to be superficial herself, she was admired by those who frequently commented that she looked amazingly youthful through her fifties, sixties, seventies and beyond. She remained that way and wore her inner beauty more pronounced than her fine outward, unblemished appearance.
She always wore hats—elegant, decorative, expressive and stylish ones.
One of the hats that befitted her life well was the cap she wore while receiving her honorary doctorate from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The archives at UNLV, racks at PBS and shelves at libraries in Clark County hold numerous recordings, books, news articles and memorabilia chronicling her lengthy list of accomplishments and contributions, and even controversies, as she spoke out against local injustices since the time of her arrival in the 1940s. Her message was a call to all for community self-determination, economic development, fair treatment, pride and personal responsibility.
In a 2008 show of support for the Historic Westside community, she stood alongside neighbors to protest the building of a concrete wall on F Street at West Bonanza, which was designed to redirect traffic but essentially would block off the neighborhood from the main arterial and encroaching business development in nearby downtown.
She was active in her home church, Second Baptist Church, and assisted members of countless other faith-based congregations. As a community activist, she helped whomever she could. As a friend, as so many will
bear witness to, this writer included, she was, and always will be, a symbol of strength through adversity, a paragon of poise under pressure, and a person of unparalleled passion.
Her legacy is multifaceted. Her legendary, long life and milestones will remain an undeniable part of Las Vegas history.
Her funeral service will be handled by Palm Mortuary and is scheduled for 11 a.m., December 31, at Second Baptist Church, located at 500 Madison Ave.; the viewing, however, will be private, according to a family spokesperson. She is survived by a son, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews among many others.
A full-day, community event at which she was to be honored is still scheduled to take place this Saturday at the City of Las Vegas — West Las Vegas Arts Center as part of its seasonal celebrations. For information on the commemorative event,