Kerkorian negotiated blockbuster deals but shunned limelight

Kirk Kerkorian was never comfortable in the spotlight.

Despite his status as one of America’s most successful billionaires, having owned a Hollywood movie studio and some of the Strip’s glitziest resorts, Kerkorian was reserved, unpretentious and media-shy.

That seems almost foreign today. Twitter, Instagram, Periscope and all other social media vehicles can transform the average nobody into a pseudo-celebrity.

Kerkorian, who died Monday at age 98, rarely granted media interviews. He gave away hundreds of millions of dollars through his philanthropic foundation, but never wanted his name attached to the gifts.

“He was a very private guy who shunned the limelight, both in a business way and from a charitable standpoint,” Patty Glaser, his attorney of four decades told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

In 1990, Kerkorian’s upstart MGM Grand Corp. announced plans to build the $700 million MGM Grand Las Vegas. Kerkorian attended a news conference at the former Marina Hotel, which he was folding into the lavish new resort. His management team did the talking.

Following the briefing, Kerkorian was surrounded by media. He looked frightened, attempting to exit through a locked door rather than answer inane questions such as, “Are you really going to build the largest hotel-casino in the world?”

UPI Las Vegas bureau chief Myram Borders, the dean of the gaming press, having covered the Strip since the 1960s, turned to me and said, “He’ll never do one of these press events again.”

Borders was right.

Over the years, Kerkorian remained out of the limelight.

He orchestrated business deals — buying Mirage Resorts and Mandalay Resort Group — and let CEOs Terry Lanni and Jim Murren handle the public side.

Las Vegas News Bureau photos from the 1960s show a smiling Kerkorian, blueprints in hand, at casino construction sites. In those days, he negotiated the terms and Fred Benninger and Burton Cohen oversaw the operations.

“He was a very private man,” U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “He rarely gave interviews. Even though he is one of the richest men in Los Angeles, he was probably the most private. He simply did not do things in public.”

Kerkorian was profiled by the Los Angeles Times in 2005. He sat for a lengthy discussion with the late K.J. Evans in 1999 for the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s “The First 100,” which chronicled 100 people who had major impacts on Las Vegas over the city’s first century.

His last interview in April 2011 was with Bloomberg News reporters Beth Jinks and Brett Pulley.

“He was most animated when the half-hour conversation touched on boxing, flying and his Lincy Foundation charity,” Jinks said Tuesday.

In February 2005, Kerkorian attended a Gaming Control Board hearing for then-MGM Mirage’s $7.9 million buyout of Mandalay. On a break, I approached him and he was gracious and answered a few questions.

He said concerns about Las Vegas being overbuilt had been aired since the 1960s, but the city always prospered.

“I always felt, going way back, that the future of Vegas was unlimited,” Kerkorian told me. “In the last four years, Nevada has grown rapidly and there has been more interest worldwide. I have to believe the same thing will happen again.”

Bloomberg’s 2011 interview broke the news that Kerkorian was stepping away from the board of MGM Resorts International and taking on a new title: director emeritus.

But he always loomed large in the background.

Unassuming was the way Kerkorian wanted his life.

Once I spotted him at the MGM Grand walking alone into the old Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant for dinner. Dressed casually in a white sport coat, he wasn’t flanked by security or aides. Customers had no idea he was the resort’s owner.

In Hollywood, it was well-known that Kerkorian would drive himself to events in a Mercury station wagon, shunning a stretch limousine.

Reid recalled meeting Kerkorian for lunch in Los Angeles three years ago with the billionaire arriving at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel “in a little Jeep” with the top partially down.

“He pulls out of his pocket his watch,” Reid said. “I said Kirk, what is that? He says my watch. It was a Timex with no band on it. He said it keeps perfect time.”

The gaming industry weighed in Tuesday on Kerkorian’s legacy. He was a 1991 inductee into the Gaming Hall of Fame.

American Gaming Association CEO Geoff Freeman said Kerkorian was “a pioneer who set a higher standard for gaming and elevated Las Vegas’ stature with each move he made.”

Ironically on Tuesday, billionaire sideshow act Donald Trump — the antithesis of Kerkorian — announced he was running for president an hour after news of Kerkorian’s passing hit the financial wires.

Somewhere, Kerkorian was either horrified or laughing. I want to believe it was the latter.

Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at or 702-477-3871. Find him on Twitter: @howardstutz

Nevada's venture capital money doesn't stay in state
Zach Miles, associate vice president for economic development for UNLV, said there’s venture money in Southern Nevada, “but trying to find the right groups to tap into for that money is different.” According to a 2017 report from the Kauffman Foundation, Las Vegas ranked number 34 out of 40 metropolitan areas for growth entrepreneurship, a metric of how much startups grow. With a lack of growing startups in Las Vegas, investment money is being sent outside of state borders. The southwest region of the U.S. received $386 million in funding in the second quarter, with about $25.2 million in Nevada. The San Francisco area alone received about $5.6 billion. (source: CB Insights)
Neon wraps can light up the night for advertising
Vinyl wrap company 5150 Wraps talks about neon wraps, a new technology that the company believes can boost advertising at night. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Nevada on the forefront of drone safety
Dr. Chris Walach, senior director of Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, talks to a reporter at NIAS's new Nevada Drone Center for Excellence of Public Safety, located inside the Switch Innevation Center in Las Vegas. K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @KMCannonPhoto
Motel 8 on south Strip will become site of hotel-casino
Israeli hoteliers Asher Gabay and Benny Zerah bought Motel 8 on the south Strip for $7.4 million, records show. They plan to bulldoze the property and build a hotel-casino. Motel 8 was built in the 1960s and used to be one of several roadside inns on what's now the south Strip. But it looks out of place today, dwarfed by the towering Mandalay Bay right across the street.
Project billed as one of the world's largest marijuana dispensaries plans to open Nov. 1
Planet 13 co-CEO Larry Scheffler talks about what to expect from the new marijuana dispensary, Thursday, July 19, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Oasis Biotech opens in Las Vegas
Brock Leach, chief operating officer of Oasis Biotech, discusses the new plant factory at its grand opening on July 18. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
UNLV Tech Park innovation building breaks ground
Construction on the first innovation building at the UNLV Tech Park is underway. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caesars Forum Meeting Center
Caesars broke ground Monday on its $375 million Caesars Forum Meeting Center (convention center) just east of the High Roller observation wheel. (Caesars Entertainment)
Technology reshapes the pawn shop industry
Devin Battersby attaches a black-colored device to the back of her iPhone and snaps several of the inside and outside of a Louis Vuitton wallet. The device, installed with artificial intelligence capabilities, analyzes the images using a patented microscopic technology. Within a few minutes, Battersby receives an answer on her app. The designer item is authentic.
Recreational marijuana has been legal in Nevada for one year
Exhale Nevada CEO Pete Findley talks about the one year anniversary of the legalization of recreational marijuana in Nevada. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Young adults aren't saving for retirement
Financial advisors talk about saving trends among young adults. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
President Trump’s tariffs could raise costs for real estate developers, analysts say
President Donald Trump made his fortune in real estate, but by slapping tariffs on imports from close allies, developers in Las Vegas and other cities could get hit hard.
Las Vegas business and tariffs
Barry Yost, co-owner of Precision Tube Laser, LLC, places a metal pipe into the TruLaser Tube 5000 laser cutting machine on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Las Vegas. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Nevada Film Office Connects Businesses To Producers
The director of the Nevada Film Office discusses its revamped locations database and how it will affect local businesses. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Opendoor isn't the typical house flipping company
Unlike most house flippers, the company aims to make money from transaction costs rather than from selling homes for more than their purchase price.
The Venetian gondoliers sing Italian songs
Gondolier Marciano sings a the classic Italian song "Volare" as he leads guests through the canals of The Venetian in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Building In Logandale
Texas homebuilder D.R. Horton bought 43 lots in rural Logandale. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Indoor farming in Southern Nevada
Experts discuss Nevada's indoor farming industry. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Fontainebleau could have become a Waldorf Astoria
Months after developer Steve Witkoff bought the Fontainebleau last summer, he unveiled plans to turn the mothballed hotel into a Marriott-managed resort called The Drew. But if Richard “Boz” Bosworth’s plans didn’t fall through, the north Las Vegas Strip tower could have become a Waldorf Astoria with several floors of timeshare units. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
LVCVA CEO Rossi Ralenkotter announces plans to retire
Rossi Ralenkotter, CEO of the LVCVA, on Tuesday confirmed a Las Vegas Review-Journal report that he is preparing to retire. Richard N. Velotta/ Las Vegas Review-Journal
Cousins Maine Lobster to open inside 2 Las Vegas Smith’s stores
Cousins Maine Lobster food truck company will open inside Las Vegas’ two newest Smith’s at Skye Canyon Park Drive and U.S. Highway 95, and at Warm Springs Road and Durango Drive. Cousins currently sells outside some Las Vegas Smith’s stores and at Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas home prices to continue to rise, expert says
Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, gives homebuyers a pulse on the Las Vegas housing market. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NV Energy announces clean energy investment
The company is planning to add six solar projects in Nevada, along with the state's first major battery energy storage capacity. Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal
3 Mario Batali restaurants on Las Vegas Strip to close
Days after new sexual misconduct allegations were made against celebrity chef Mario Batali, his company announced Friday that it will close its three Las Vegas restaurants July 27. Employees of Carnevino Italian Steakhouse, B&B Ristorante and Otto Enoteca e Pizzeria, all located in The Venetian and Palazzo resorts, were informed of the decision Friday morning. Bastianich is scheduled to visit the restaurants Friday to speak to employees about the next two months of operation as well as how the company plans to help them transition to new positions.
Nevada has its first cybersecurity apprenticeship program
The Learning Center education company in Las Vegas has launched the first apprenticeship program for cybersecurity in Nevada. It was approved by the State Apprenticeship Council on May 15. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas union members voting to authorize the right to strike
Thousands of Las Vegas union members voting Tuesday morning to authorize the right to strike. A “yes” vote would give the union negotiating committee the power to call a strike anytime after June 1 at the resorts that fail to reach an agreement. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like