Las Vegas Sun

April 22, 2019

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Where I Stand:

Kerkorian elevated stature, economy of Las Vegas

Editor's note: Billionaire philanthropist Kirk Kerkorian died last week at the age of 98. His life was full. His life was respectable. His life was well-lived.

Las Vegas benefited greatly because Kirk loved this city, its people and its attitude that allowed dreamers to build what they imagined and, then, to imagine so much more.

In short, our city was the beneficiary of all he imagined.

My father, Hank Greenspun, and Kirk were good friends, especially during the early days when the builders of this city took incredible chances, not only with their net worths as they pursued their dreams, but with their most important asset — their reputations — which, not unlike today, were fodder for anyone wishing to advance their own agendas at the expense of others.

Rather than write in glowing terms — as the life of Kirk Kerkorian certainly deserves from all who write about his passing — the Las Vegas Sun can provide a unique insight into Kirk’s life that will give everyone a glimpse into what it was really like in the earlier days when Kirk was taking the risks that made both him and this city that he loved so successful.

I am republishing three columns my father wrote in 1970 and 1971 that reflect a bit of the everyday travails Las Vegans had to endure. These involve Kirk Kerkorian’s efforts to build where and what no man had ever built before to the dismay and determined opposition of no less than Howard Hughes, and to endure the efforts of some bad actors to denigrate a man who, by nature, cherished his privacy to the point that others felt compelled to do battle for him. My dad never shrunk from such an opportunity.

The first two columns talk about the building of the MGM Hotel (now Bally’s) and the third discusses allegations of mob association that existed only in the small minds of some hoodlums and on the pages of the other newspaper in Las Vegas.

Where I Stand, Oct. 15, 1971

The luck of Las Vegas.

It is a law of economics that when business goes up it has a ceiling, and when it goes down it has difficulty finding the bottom.

Las Vegas has often followed the national economic trend, but not with the same steepness as other areas. Our peaks are lofty with no apparent top and the valleys are slight leveling-off stages, which keeps us among the fastest-growing areas in the nation.

Howard Hughes took us out of a period of doldrums with multipurchases and high hopes. Many hotels soon came under his control, but somehow the grand hopes were never realized.

There have been moans recently in some quarters about the overall economy, and certainly unemployment is at a disturbing level.

But, as the saying goes, it’s always darkest just before the dawn.

The sun again shines brightly with an announcement by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios that they are building a 2,000-room luxury hotel, the largest resort hotel in the world — which certainly uplifts the image of the state.

When Kirk Kerkorian, now MGM’s largest stockholder, got the idea for the International, he and I had many discussions about it, just as was the situation with the new resort.

There is much study and planning that has to precede any resolve to undertake a $50 million venture, as was the case with the International Hotel, and now the new $75 million one.

Is the town big enough to warrant such an undertaking and where will the people come from to fill its rooms and casinos are not the only problems.

Labor and unions play an important part because failure to cooperate can sink any venture in which labor plays an integral part.

The new dealers’ union supposedly forming at the Tropicana was a major item of discussion because it appears the operators will accept unionism in any area except in the casinos, which happens to be the bread and butter of the project.

If the culinary workers get a raise, there is room to pass it off to the consumer by raising meals a few cents. A slight hike in the room rental can take care of the maids and porters, but excessive demands in the casinos cannot be passed off to the consumer.

The odds on the games cannot be changed, so a wagered buck of 10 years ago is no different than the same buck today except that it has less value because of inflation.

The GMG officials who met with me had to be assured that no work stoppage and excessive demands, which had not been present when plans were first formulated, would not suddenly become an insurmountable obstacle.

There can be no such guarantees, but we did assure the officials of MGM that the heads of our unions are reasonable men and are interested in the growth of the community and steady employment for their people, as we all are.

Kirk Kerkorian, with his participation in the building of Caesars Palace and later the International Hotel, now the Las Vegas Hilton, has probably done more than most men to elevate the stature and economy of Las Vegas.

To now bring a major film firm into the industry with the possibility down the line of film studios in Las Vegas is indeed a bright promise with unequaled hope of fulfillment.

These are the matters that have been discussed and knowing Kirk, Fred Benninger and Jim Aubrey, we can assure all the citizens of the community that a new economic plateau will be established for Southern Nevada.

Considering the efforts to block Kerkorian when plans for the International were announced, we have to admire his determination and foresight in carrying on.

I believe the people have to be aware of the forces attempting to keep the town small, and it’s time the story is told.

We might continue this tomorrow.

Brian Greenspun is owner, publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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