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Influential former Las Vegas casino owner Mike Ensign dies at 79

Updated Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016 | 3:48 p.m.

Mike Ensign, a retired casino owner and executive whose influence and holdings grew along with the Las Vegas Strip in the 1980s, and whose stepson resigned as U.S. senator amid scandal in 2011, has died in Las Vegas.

Ensign died Wednesday in his sleep at home, said Dr. Tony Alamo Jr., Nevada Gaming Commission chairman and Ensign's personal physician and close family friend. He was 79.

Alamo confirmed Ensign's death to The Associated Press, but he declined additional comment.

Ensign was working as a craps dealer at Harrah's Reno in 1963 when he met and became friends with Alamo's father.

Both moved to Las Vegas in 1974, where Ensign became chairman and CEO Circus Circus Enterprises in 1998.

The company thrived. David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said Ensign became one of the architects of a modern Las Vegas — featuring luxury destination resorts and casinos with entertainment, shopping and dining.

Circus Circus Enterprises grew to become Mandalay Resort Group in 1999, with properties including Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur and Circus Circus.

Ensign, who rarely granted interviews, retired in 2005 after MGM Resorts International acquired Mandalay Resort Group for $7.9 billion.

His wife, Sharon Ensign, died in 2014.

Ensign's stepson, John Ensign, is a veterinarian who served in the U.S. Senate as a Republican from 2001 to 2011. He resigned before the release of a Senate Ethics Committee report about a $96,000 payment his parents made to a former campaign aide with whom he'd had an affair, and about his help finding the woman's husband a lobbying job.

“Mike was a talented and dynamic figure who played a tremendous role in shaping the development of modern Las Vegas,” said Jim Murren, MGM Resorts International’s chairman and chief executive officer.

“When he was chairman of Mandalay Resort Group, the company was the first to lure a top international hotel brand — Four Seasons — to the Strip, and to create THEhotel, a unique and unprecedented boutique hotel concept that has since been imitated in Las Vegas and elsewhere many times over,” Murren said. “He leaves a very strong legacy in the world of hospitality, and in our community.”

Services have not been announced.

Las Vegas Sun staffer Paul Szydelko contributed to this report.

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