Last time, we were talking about Kirk Kerkorian. He had built and sold the International and the first MGM Grand. He also bought the Desert Inn and Sands from the heirs of Howard Hughes, and that was ironic. Hughes became the symbol of the corporate Las Vegas during his buying spree. But Kerkorian actually owned the kinds of corporations that Nevada leaders expected to move into the state. And Hughes felt competitive with him, even finishing construction of the Landmark to try to take on the International. Kerkorian ended up selling the Desert Inn to ITT-Sheraton. He sold the Sands to Sheldon Adelson … another important linkage in our history.
Kerkorian also had other plans. In 1989, he announced construction of a new MGM Grand. Interestingly, he made the announcement two months before Steve Wynn opened The Mirage. Wynn, Kerkorian, Adelson, and several others would be at the center of the reinvention of the Strip. The new MGM Grand opened in December 1993 with a Wizard of Oz theme, a theme park in the back, and more than 5,000 rooms—again, the world’s largest hotel-casino. Eventually, the MGM Grand replaced the park with a conference center, and moved away from the yellow brick road to emphasize that it was a city of entertainment.
He also did some work across the street. MGM and Primadonna Resorts teamed to build the New York New York on the northwest corner of Tropicana and the Strip. It opened in 1997 with its Big Apple theme, including the Coney Island-style roller coaster.
No one could question Kerkorian’s historical importance up to that point. But he wasn’t done. The obituaries talked about what a nice guy he was, and I can vouch that that’s true. But when you’re an eighth grade dropout who’s made it with hard work, you have to be tough. And anyone who ever negotiated with him or was in a Wall Street deal with him could vouch for THAT.
Kerkorkian’s companies were involved in two megamergers. In 2000, Mirage Resorts became part of MGM Resorts. In 2004, MGM merged with Mandalay Resort Group. Today, MGM Resorts owns nine major Strip resorts and the City Center complex. Just as Kerkorian built big resorts, he built big companies. Nor were his investments limited to Las Vegas. He owned MGM studios, tried twice to take over Chrysler, and was a major stockholder in General Motors.
But he also could be a softie. He believed in giving back. He formed the Lincy Foundation, taking its name from his two daughters, Linda and Tracy. UNLV’s Lincy Institute began with a 14 million dollar donation. Another 18 million went to the Agassi Foundation. And the Dream Fund at UCLA was born with 200 million from Lincy.
Kirk Kerkorian made a lot of money in Las Vegas and gave a lot of money to good causes. He built great and popular hotels and made some incredible deals. He hired smart people and gave them room to do their jobs. And he did it all without asking you to notice—he didn’t seek attention or publicity. He certainly could and did take pride in what he accomplished, but perhaps the person who would have been most surprised at all the attention his death has gotten would be Kirk Kerkorian himself.
Nevada Yesterdays is written by Associate Professor Michael Green of UNLV, and narrated by former Senator Richard Bryan. Supported by Nevada Humanities
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