MGM Resorts founder and Las Vegas pioneer Kirk Kerkorian dies at age 98

kirk-kerkorian-mgmMGM Resorts founder Kerkor ‘Kirk’ Kerkorian died on Monday, prompting a wave of tributes to a man credited with helping to shape the modern Las Vegas.

Kerkorian became one of the world’s richest men despite having left school in the eighth grade. During World War II, Kerkorian got a job flying Mosquito fighter-bombers from factories in Canada to England, for which he was paid the then astronomical sum of $1k per flight.

Following the war, Kerkorian launched a charter air service to ferry gamblers from California to Las Vegas. That company ultimately became Trans International Airlines, which Kerkorian sold in 1968 for $104m, giving him the capital to develop land he’d purchased in Vegas.

Renowned for his shrewd business sense, one of Kerkorian’s most profitable early deals was his 1962 purchase of 80 acres on the Las Vegas Strip for $960k. In 1966, the land became the site of Caesars Palace, which paid Kerkorian $2m in annual rent before buying the land for $5m in 1968.

Kerkorian was credited with having built the world’s largest hotel on no less than three separate occasions, including the International Hotel and the MGM Grand, the latter property named after the film studio that Kerkorian had acquired in 1969. In 2000, Kerkorian acquired Mirage Resorts from Steve Wynn for $6.4b. In 2004, Kerkorian paid $4.8b for the Mandalay Resort Group.

The consolidated MGM Resorts became Vegas’ biggest operator and Kerkorian’s Tracinda Corp maintained a 19% stake in MGM at the time of his passing. In 2011, the then-93-year-old Kerkorian stepped down from MGM’s board after realizing he “just didn’t care to keep going back to meetings,” preferring to seek out “new challenges.”

MGM CEO Jim Murren issued a statement saying the company would honor the memory of “a great man, a great business leader, a great community leader, an innovator and one of our country’s greatest generation.” On a personal level, Murren said Kerkorian was “a friend and a coach, who taught me the importance in looking forward, and to look back only to understand how things could be done better.”

Steve Wynn released a statement saying he was proud to have been friends with Kerkorian since 1968 and the pair “did deals together and enjoyed life” over the years. Wynn said Kerkorian was “a man who lived every day to its fullest and although we will miss him, we know that Kirk in his time didn’t miss a thing.”