You can bet on MGM Mirage CEO

"Terry's been pretty clear that family and business come first, but he's still very interested in politics," says Frank Fahrenkopf, former chairman of the Republican Party and now CEO of the American Gaming Association trade group.

Lanni lobbies for the gaming industry, and he's served on a congressionally created national committee that studied gambling. He's also co-chair of Sen. John McCain's national finance committee for the Arizona Republican's presidential campaign.

"Politics has always appealed to me, but then I see the abuse that people heap on politicians," Lanni says, chuckling. "I'd sooner run for the hills than run for office."

After Ford's campaign, Lanni was persuaded by recruiters to check out a chief financial officer job at Caesars World. The gaming industry was on the verge of dramatic growth in the late 1970s, so an intrigued Lanni accepted the offer.

Lanni was exactly what the gaming industry needed then to gain credibility on Wall Street, says former Caesars World CEO Bill McElnea. Lanni was a well-spoken, well-dressed, business-school graduate with the financial smarts to impress bankers and investors.

"We were building a company, and we needed the respect of people back East," McElnea says. "Business people had confidence in Terry. He opened things up."

After Caesars World was sold to ITT in 1995 and Lanni left, he was quickly courted by Kerkorian and Wynn. Kerkorian won, and Lanni joined the old MGM Grand as CEO.

"Steve Wynn is a brilliant visionary, but I thought Kirk would be a little more hands-off and give me more independence," Lanni says. "He's a man of few words and many big-picture ideas."

Lanni and multibillionaire investor Kerkorian make a potent duo.

Kerkorian, the son of Armenian raisin farmers from Fresno, Calif., made his fortune in airlines, Hollywood and Las Vegas. He's also notoriously media shy, while Lanni enjoys public speaking and chatting with analysts and reporters.

"They seem to have a good relationship," says analyst Sumit Desai at investment research firm Morningstar. "And they're always focused on creating new value for the market."

Vegas' next act

Every generation or so, Las Vegas leaps to its next economic stage.

In the 1940s, gangster Bugsy Siegel and the Fabulous Flamingo hotel brought fame and notoriety to the city. In the 1960s, Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack caught the public's imagination. And since the 1990s, flashy resorts and entertainment spectaculars have drawn hundreds of millions of tourists. Last year, visitor spending hit a record $39 billion,according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Now Las Vegas is evolving into an era of megaprojects. Some call the Strip the busiest development corridor in the USA with commercial real estate going for $30 million to $40 million an acre.

Baby boomers, wealthy global travelers and young consumers are flooding into fast-growing Las Vegas. That's creating demand for upscale town houses and condominiums on the Strip, even with the nationwide housing slump.

"It's the Manhattanization of Las Vegas," says Bill Eadington, an economics professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. "The older, obsolete casinos are being replaced by world-class residential centers, shopping, entertainment and restaurants."

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