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Kirk Kerkorian, Las Vegas Casino Mogul, Dies At 98

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Kirk Kerkorian changed the way Vegas did business. The founder of MGM Resorts International died yesterday at his home in California. NPR's Sam Sanders reports.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Kerkorian was worth $4 billion. He hobnobbed with The Rat Pack. His business projects broke world records. But a lot of you probably don't know his name.

MICHAEL GREEN: Kirk Kerkorian had an exciting life, and yet he tried very hard to live it out of the public eye.

SANDERS: That's Michael Green. He's a history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He says in spite of avoiding the spotlight, Kerkorian pretty much owned the Las Vegas Strip.

GREEN: MGM Resorts has the MGM Grand, New York-New York, Circus Circus, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, Monte Carlo, and you can continue - about 10 major hotel casinos.

SANDERS: Kirk Kerkorian was born in 1917, the child of Armenian immigrants. He grew up poor in California. His sister said they were hungry and they moved a lot because they couldn't make rent. Kerkorian dropped out of school when he was 16. He became an amateur boxer, then he flew warplanes across the Atlantic during World War II. Kerkorian started buying property in Las Vegas in 1962. And just a few years later, things took off.

GREEN: Three times, he built the largest hotel casino.

SANDERS: The International in 1969, the original MGM Grand in 1973 and the MGM Grand Las Vegas in 1993. Michael Green says by doing business legally in Vegas, Kerkorian helped get rid of the mob.

GREEN: When he bought the Flamingo, it had been tied to organized crime interests. And people were amazed at the profits he reported because he wasn't skimming anything. He was returning money to investors and telling the IRS exactly what he was making.

SANDERS: Kerkorian also invested in the movie and auto industries and owned some airlines, but those ventures never did as well as his work in Vegas. Of course doing as well as he did in Vegas is more than enough. Kerkorian was 98 years old. Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.