Ralph Engelstad (January 28, 1930 Thief River Falls, Minnesota – November 26, 2002 Las Vegas, Nevada) was the multi-millionaire owner of the Imperial Palace casino-hotels in Las Vegas and in Biloxi, Mississippi and the Klondike Hotel & Casino. He was also the donor for the construction of the $104 million Ralph Engelstad Arena for his alma mater, the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and another arena bearing his name in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. A self-made man, Engelstad was one of the very few independent casino-hotel owners in Las Vegas.
UNLV Foundation donation
The Engelstad Foundation made a contribution of $12.6 million to the University of Nevada Las Vegas to fund 100 full-time scholarships for incoming Freshmen students with a minimum GPA of 3.25.
Engelstad was a controversial figure. He raised accusations of being sympathetic to Nazism owing to his collection of Nazi memorabilia stored in a private room within the casino-hotel, including a painting of himself dressed in a Nazi uniform (captioned "To Adolf from Ralphie"), a painting of Hitler with the reverse caption, and a collection of antique cars alleged to have once belonged to German Nazi leaders.
Hitler birthday party
On April 20 in 1986 and 1988, he hosted parties to celebrate Adolf Hitler's birthday at his casino in Las Vegas that featured bartenders in T-shirts reading "Adolf Hitler — European tour 1939-45". Because of this, in 1989, the Nevada Gaming Commission fined Engelstad $1.5 million "for actions that damaged the reputation and image of Nevada's gaming industry." Engelstad apologized publicly for the parties, but the row was not to be his last controversial move.
Fighting Sioux controversy
"Tradition is the gentle fabric woven through time and experience which generates meaning, character, and identity to one and all. The Fighting Sioux logo, the Fighting Sioux uniforms, the aura of the Fighting Sioux tradition and the spirit of being a Fighting Sioux are of lasting value and immeasurable significance to our past, presence, and future." —Ralph Engelstad
Engelstad embroiled himself in the fight over the Fighting Sioux logo when he built a $104 million arena on the University of North Dakota campus for the Fighting Sioux hockey program. Midway in its construction, Engelstad threatened to withdraw funding if the long standing nickname were to be changed. The logo was placed in thousands of instances in the arena, making the prospect of removal a costly measure. Later, Engelstad placed the stadium under private (rather than University) management and stipulated that the Fighting Sioux motif be kept indefinitely. An Engelstad family trust continues to own the arena and rents it to the University.
The North Dakota Board of Higher Education ruled on April 8, 2010, to retire the Fighting Sioux nickname in response to pressure from the NCAA. On February 8, 2012 the "repeal of the repeal" took place. After 17,213 North Dakota residents signed a petition bringing the debate over the nickname to a statewide vote, UND resumed use of the nickname. On June 14, 2012, the nickname was repealed again after a vote held on June 11, 2012 on whether to keep or retire the nickname resulted in 67.35% of North Dakota voters chose to retire the "Fighting Sioux" name and American Indian head logo as a result of negative consequences resulting from impending NCAA sanctions.
- Las Vegas Sun article
- Bismarck Tribune article
- Letter from Engelstad to UND President Charles Kupchella
- USA Today article
- ESPN.com article
- "Fighting Sioux backers finish petition". ESPN. February 8, 2012. Retrieved 2012-06-13.
- "Secretary of State - Election Night Results - June 12th, 2012". North Dakota State Government. June 13, 2012. Retrieved 2012-06-13.
- Kolpack, Dave (June 13, 2012). "ND voters dump Fighting Sioux nickname". Minnesota Public Radio News. Retrieved 2012-06-13.