Las Vegas Sun

December 17, 2014

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THE B.S.:

A chat with the owner of the Las Vegas Wranglers

Bruce Spotleson

Bruce Spotleson

At first, Gary Jacobs seems like the sort of person you’d be likely to meet at a think tank event, the kind held in Lake Tahoe or Sun Valley that’s focused on deep global topics. Looking at his resume, I’d guess he has been to a few.

As managing director of Jacobs Investment Co. LLC, he oversees real estate development and private and public equity and venture funds.

He is chairman of a separate company developing a painless and non-invasive technology using genomic data to improve the practice of medicine. One of its early projects has been genetic-based detection of melanoma.

He’s also chairman of a biopharmaceutical company that repositions existing drugs for second-use applications. It is developing products for lung cancer and age-related macular degeneration.

Oh, and he’s chair of a biotech company that is developing health-promoting supplements for infant formulas, with the goal of making commercial formula more similar to natural mother’s milk.

He is a director for companies with names like Next Generation Technologies, GEO2 Technologies Inc., Viryd Technologies, Bio2 Technologies and Fallbrook Technologies.

In his spare time, Jacobs is active in education and philanthropy, serving as chairman of the board of High Tech High in San Diego and chair of a dean’s advisory council at the University of California, San Diego. He and his wife, Jerri-Ann, are active leaders and serious philanthropists in the southern California Jewish community, as are his mother, Joan, and father, Irwin, who founded Qualcomm, a global leader in mobile technology.

The list goes on, but by now you’ve probably figured out that Jacobs is a pretty smart guy. But we weren’t introduced at a think tank. We met at a minor league hockey game in Las Vegas.

Jacobs is the owner of our very own Las Vegas Wranglers, who made it to the finals of the ECHL playoffs before falling to the Florida Everblades.

How did this tech whiz come to own a ockey team in the desert? He said he likes the intensity of minor league sports.

“The players are into it,” Jacobs told me during a game. “I like to watch them on the way up to the big leagues, whether it’s baseball or hockey.”

When Jacobs talks baseball, it’s also from an educated perspective since he owns the Lake Elsinore (Calif.) Storm, a Class A affiliate of the San Diego Padres.

But back to hockey. Although a crazy playoff schedule didn’t help, attendance at Wranglers games was up this year, thanks in part to increasingly clever promotions by team president Billy Johnson and his gang.

“Billy has been around here quite a while now. We have a group of guys who understand Las Vegas,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs is clearly one of them.

“You have to create a great family environment,” he continued. “That’s what the local population is looking for. And the community has responded by coming out to support the team.”

And while the Wranglers find it relatively easy to attract players to Las Vegas, they try to seek athletes who come here for hockey rather than the city’s other night games.

“You’ve got these young kids, and you’ve got to keep them focused on hockey,” he said.

The fact that the team made it to the finals is an indication that its players are focused, Jacobs said.

I asked about differences between the athletes in the two sports.

“I think hockey players seem to be missing a few more teeth,” Jacobs said. “And you look at hockey players and it’s pretty amazing what they are able to do on skates. I was a baseball man, but it has been fun to get into the nuances of hockey.”

As we spoke, a Florida player started a fight on the ice. It looked like any other hockey fight to me. But Jacobs, a strategic-minded owner, recognized it as a maneuver.

“They’re setting us up for the third period,” he explained as the fighters skated to the penalty boxes.

He was right, and Florida went on a tear to win the game. They swept the next three to claim the Kelly Cup.

Jacobs will be back in Las Vegas on June 18-19 for league meetings. With him on board, they’re likely to resemble think tank sessions.

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