Las Vegas Sun

September 17, 2014

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Al Benedict: 1924-2014:

Gaming exec was there in city’s ‘golden era’

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Al Benedict

Al Benedict, who in a five-decade gaming career served as a key pioneering executive to some of the biggest casino owners in the business, died Saturday at the age of 90.

The cause was attributed to complications of advanced age. His family said he had been in declining health for a year but was sharp of mind to the end. Benedict died at Nathan Adelson Hospice, a facility he co-founded. He was serving as board member emeritus of the hospice at the time of his death.

Services for the Las Vegas resident of 62 years were private, per Benedict’s request.

UNLV history professor Michael Green said that billionaire gaming giant Kirk Kerkorian always gave a lot of credit to Benedict for the success of his gaming properties, including the original MGM, Flamingo and the International.

“Benedict was, as Kerkorian put it, on the front lines,” Green said. “He had a long, distinguished career in gaming and was one of several people Kerkorian turned to who helped him build a resort empire.”

Kerkorian, through an MGM Resorts International spokesman, called Benedict “one of my cherished colleagues.”

“He led the original MGM Grand with a steady hand, and I will miss him,” Kerkorian said. “I join with his many colleagues, friends and his family in mourning his passing.”

Nevada Gaming Commission member John Moran Jr., a longtime friend, said Benedict was “the consummate gaming-hotel man of the golden era of the Las Vegas Strip.”

Moran recalled the time that Benedict and his wife Jayne came to Moran’s home to see the Morans’ new baby and how concerned they were about not exposing the infant to germs.

“Both wore surgical masks and Al had his cigar underneath his mask,” Moran said. “He had a wonderful sense of humor.”

Myra Greenspun, wife of Sun Editor and Publisher Brian Greenspun, called Benedict’s death “the passing of one of the most elegant and kind men I have had the pleasure of knowing.

“Always in a good mood and with a quick sense of humor, he never had a bad day,” she said. “Perhaps it had something to do with his daily regimen of swimming that added that little extra something to brighten his day and also ours.”

An All-American swimmer at Rutgers University in 1947 and ’48, Benedict was enshrined in the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1997.

Brian Greenspun said of Benedict: “It is unfortunate that this latest generation of Southern Nevadans did not get to know Al. I met him when I was a young boy. He was our neighbor.

“All the kids spent as much time as we could at his house because he would light his barbecue with gasoline. There was an over/under on when he would burn the house down!”

Greenspun also called Benedict “a constant contributor to the community and a guiding force for an industry.”

In 1977, Benedict was appointed by then-Gov. Mike O’Callaghan to serve on Nevada’s State Gaming Policy Committee.

Benedict was part of an all-star gaming executive team that in the early 1970s built the first MGM Grand. They included Kerkorian, Alex Shoofey and Bernie Rothkopf.

Among the challenges facing Benedict as president of MGM Grand was dealing with the aftermath of the tragic November 1980 fire that killed 86 people and discovering that the resort was underinsured.

He approved the purchase of $120 million in retroactive insurance and, when settlement negotiations between the insurers and families slowed down, dispatched MGM attorneys around the world to offer fair settlements. By 1983, the MGM had paid off all claims and Benedict had guided the resort successfully through extremely troubled times.

In 1985, Kerkorian sold the Las Vegas and Reno MGMs for $594 million to Bally’s Manufacturing Company and the Las Vegas property was renamed Bally’s. The current MGM Grand opened in 1993.

Benedict, who also was a top executive of MGM Studios at the time, initially retired in 1985 but got back into the hospitality field briefly in 1990 to serve as president for the Sands for seven months before retiring permanently.

Born Oct. 15, 1923, in Philadelphia, Benedict joined the Merchant Marines during World War II and traveled the world. After the war, he enrolled at Rutgers and in 1948 earned a bachelor’s of science degree in business administration.

Benedict met and married Jayne Michael while in college, and the two remained together until her death in 1986. He remained a bachelor for the rest of his life.

Benedict came to Las Vegas in 1952 and got his first hotel job as general manager of both the Silver Slipper and Last Frontier.

At the Frontier, he developed a relationship with the resort’s then-headliner, Sammy Davis Jr. Years later, upon Davis’ death, Benedict told the Sun that he admired Davis’ efforts to fight segregation in Strip hotels in the 1950s.

Benedict left the Last Frontier in the mid-1950s to open the Stardust, then the largest casino in Nevada.

At the Stardust, Benedict, serving as the resort’s president, had the distinction of firing one of Nevada’s future governors in 1961.

Bob Miller, then a 16-year-old busboy, had come to work fatigued one day and decided to go to a secluded hallway behind the kitchen to take a nap.

Miller, who would go on to serve as the governor of Nevada from 1989 to 1999, was awakened by a booming, angry voice and looked up to see Benedict towering over him.

Benedict, a no-nonsense casino executive who took a hand’s-on approach overseeing every phase of operations of his hotels, often making unannounced inspections, was boiling mad at catching one of his workers asleep while on the clock.

Benedict did not wait for an explanation, firing Miller on the spot, despite the fact that Benedict and Miller’s father were longtime good friends and neighbors in the Desert Inn Country Club Estates.

Still, there were no hard feelings; Bob Miller and his family have sent Benedict and his family a Christmas card every year since then, Benedict’s family said.

In the 1960s, Benedict was director of Hughes resort operations in Nevada. When Hughes sold the Desert Inn and his other resorts, Benedict joined Kerkorian’s executive team.

Among his many civic deeds, Benedict was a founder and chief barker for the Variety Club International Tent No. 1039 in Las Vegas in the late 1960s and a founder of Nathan Adelson Hospice along with Merv Adelson and Irwin Molasky in 1980.

In addition to being an avid lifelong swimmer, Benedict was an animal rights activist, having long donated anonymously to numerous animal shelters and organizations, including his favorite, Heaven Can Wait.

Benedict is survived by his sons Blaine and Scott and a daughter Lynn, all of Las Vegas, and four grandchildren.

As his last request, Benedict asked that all donations be made in his memory to Nathan Adelson Hospice.

Ed Koch is a former longtime Sun reporter.

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