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Kirk Kerkorian: The King of Las Vegas

Kirk Kerkorian: The King of Las Vegas

Kirk Kerkorian was a billionaire with Armenian roots who managed to realize the American dream, having started his way to success as an immigrant from a family with only eight years of schooling. As a result, the entrepreneur became one of the wealthiest men in the USA, whose fortune by 2008 was about $18 billion. His entrepreneurial genius was so bright and impressive that Donald Trump called Kerkorian nothing less than “the king of business”.

In addition to major companies in the aviation, automobile, and movie business, the billionaire owned 40 percent of the hotels and casinos in Reno and Las Vegas. For his love of building the world’s largest hotels and casinos, he was even nicknamed “The Father of Mega Resorts”.

NameKirk Kerkorian
Birth NameKrikor Kerkorian
Birth DateJune 6, 1917
Place of BirthFresno, California, USA
Date of DeathJune 15, 2015
Place of DeathLos Angeles, California, USA

Kirk Kerkorian’s First Million

Kirk Kerkorian was born in Fresno, California, in a family of Armenian immigrants who had escaped persecution in the Ottoman Empire. At first, his father’s business, selling fruit, prospered, and he could afford a private car, a Stutz Bearcat convertible. However, the economic recession of 1921-1922 drove him into bankruptcy, forcing the family into poverty. So Kirk, like many of his peers, contributed to the family budget by selling newspapers on the street when he was only 9. Never finishing school, he left it after Grade 8 in order to devote all his energies and time to providing for himself and his family. Having traveled practically all over America in the 1920s searching for stable earnings, Kirk Kerkorian’s family eventually settled down in Los Angeles, where the future billionaire got a chance to become a professional boxer.

The young man even won the amateur championship, but in 1939 he gave up his sporting career to pursue his new dream of becoming a pilot.

For the sake of its realization, he was even ready to clean the stables of the owner of the Happy Bottom Riding Club for free during the training period. The World War II period allowed the young man to earn start-up capital for his own business. Kirk was hired to fly planes from Canada to the United Kingdom, earning about $1,000 per flight. Despite all the difficulties and dangers to his life, Kerkorian managed to ferry 40 bombers to Foggy Albion over the next three years. With that, the future billionaire began his business career by buying the humble Los Angeles Air Service, which cost him $60,000.

Kirk Kerkorian at the plane
Kirk Kerkorian during World War II

A few years later, Kerkorian earned his first million. Stock trading brought him almost $40 million more in the following years. The entrepreneur invested the profits in expanding his business empire, and by the 1990s, he was one of the hundred wealthiest Americans.

Kirk Kerkorian’s Path to Billions

Kerkorian’s first successes in the gambling business date back to the 1960s. The main achievements of the billionaire since then:

  • In 1962, the businessman became the owner of 80 hectares of land in Las Vegas for nearly $1 million. Thanks to this deal, which Kerkorian himself called the most successful in his career, the entrepreneur was able to earn $9 million in total: $4 million by leasing this land and another $5 million by selling it for the famous Caesars Palace casino.
  • In 1967, Kirk purchased 33 hectares of land in Las Vegas to build his own Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino for $5 million. The gambling venue became famous, not least because of the celebrities who regularly performed in its concert hall. Among them were stars of the first magnitude: Elvis Presley and Barbra Streisand.
  • Later, Kirk Kerkorian’s International Leisure bought the Flamingo Casino Hotel and sold it a few years later to Hilton.
  • After gaining control of the famous MGM movie company, Kerkorian used the famous brand in the name of his largest hotel-casino, the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, which proved to be taller than even the Empire State Building. In 1980, a large fire killed dozens of people in it, and the building itself, according to many, was becoming unrepairable. A few months later, however, the developer brought it back into operation.
  • In 1986, Kirk parted with the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino for a whopping $594 million.
  • In the following period, the developer was busy with building, selling, and buying real estate, eventually making him one of the largest casino owners in Las Vegas.

At the time of 2008, his fortune was estimated by Forbes magazine at $18 billion. Although a few years later, the global economic crisis reduced the figure to $3 billion, Kirk, unlike his father, safely survived it, remaining fabulously rich.

Kirk Kerkorian’s business career spanned a full 65 years, during which he was able not only to earn billions of dollars but also to create a vast empire on its scale.

Kirk Kerkorian Charity

Throughout his life, the tycoon has allocated substantial funds for charitable purposes. In 1988, with his money, hundreds of roads and houses damaged by the Spitak earthquake were repaired and restored in Armenia. In gratitude, in 2004, the local authorities awarded Kirk Kerkorian the title of “National Hero of Armenia”.

Order of Kirk Kerkorian
Armenian national hero Kirk Kerkorian

If during his lifetime, the tycoon spent hundreds of millions on charity, after his death this amount has increased significantly, exceeding $2 billion. In accordance with the billionaire’s will, most of his fortune was sent to help those in need.

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Publication author
Donald Peterson
Author of articles
Donald Peterson is an avid gambler from Edmonton, Alberta, who also writes about his experience with casinos. He’s been in the business for over 10 years, following the ever-changing industry landscape. His articles are aimed at helping beginners with choosing casinos, suitable games, and strategies.
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