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Celebrity Scene News - October 16, 2007

  by Pete Allman  

Visionaries of Las Vegas

  Las Vegas is undergoing transformation through the efforts and ideas of modern-day visionaries who took to higher levels what was started by the early visionaries, like Benjamin Siegel, Jay Sarno and countless others. Present-day gaming moguls and philanthropists are changing the face and form of Las Vegas. From construction to caring for those in the community with special needs, like children with autism, visionaries shape the new way the world sees Las Vegas.

From the early days of Las Vegas to present-day, remarkable changes have been created by gaming moguls and philanthropists, Kirk Kerkorian, Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson, along with other visionaries, like J. Terrence Lanni and even a newer breed of non-gaming-based moguls, such as Leon Benzer, founder of the Benzer Autism Foundation.

Starting with J. Terrence Lanni, it seems like it was only yesterday when he was the CEO of the MGM Grand, Inc. and spoke about gaming’s future in Las Vegas.

According to Lanni, gaming would be automated to a point. Well, he was right about that; the automated decks are now in place. After 25 years in gaming, the casino executive also had another vision, one that would transform Las Vegas into a cosmopolitan city. At that time, Lanni had stepped down as the CEO and executive chairman of the Board. He was too experienced, however, and much too valuable simply to move into acquisitions of real estate. So after a few weeks, he resumed his original position with the MGM Grand.

Lanni’s vision of a cosmopolitan city is unfolding before our very eyes.

First, there is the $2.7 billion investment from Dubai World for a 50 percent stake in City Center, a $7.4 billion mixed-use project under construction on 76 acres center Strip. The investment by Dubai’s government-owned holding company also includes another $2.4 billion to acquire more than 28 million shares of MGM-Mirage stock.

Just a short time afterwards, Dubai World entered a second joint venture for a 40-acre project on the southwest corner of the Strip at Sahara Avenue. The construction for that resort is scheduled to start in early 2009, and the unnamed resort is expected to be open in 2012.

“It’s a transforming event for Las Vegas. It is going to ‘Manhattanize’ Las Vegas,” stated Lanni.
City Center will include a 400-room non-gaming boutique hotel, a 4,000-rooom hotel-casino, clubs, world-class spas, retail and 2,657 high-rise residential condominiums.

The future looks bright for Las Vegas under Lanni’s vision.

Negotiations started in June between the MGM-Mirage and Kerzner International Holdings to joint-venture to develop land at the northern end of the Strip.

Dubai will own 30 percent of Kerzner. Sultan Bin Sulayem, chairman of Dubai World, was pleased when he was given a tour of City Center.

The original discussions started around 1999 when Lanni and his wife were on vacation in Dubai and went to the horse races there. Lanni owns a dozen thoroughbreds. Sultan Bin Sulayem and majority shareholder and board member Kirk Kerkorian of the now-MGM-Mirage also took part in the initial discussion.

Sheldon Adelson, another visionary who became a developer, changed the face of the Strip with his Venetian Resort. It was the first time that a resort had been built to resemble Venice, Italy, with its glorified marble structures and replica paintings by Michelangelo.

Adelson is ranked among the six riches people in the world by Fortune 500. He has created and co-developed more than 50 companies, one of which was the international computer-industry tradeshow COMDEX. It was just a matter of time before he would develop a resort in Macau, just as his neighbor on the Strip, Steve Wynn, has done.

Meanwhile, Wynn is completing his 2,000-room hotel, the Encore is scheduled to open in 2008, and Sheldon Adelson is opening Palazzo, a mega-resort that features more than 3,000 all-suite rooms.

Another present-day visionary is adding to the Las Vegas legacy — Leon Benzer. He is a highly successful businessman and philanthropist who chooses to help people with autism by lobbying in Washington so that more monies will be used for research, not only to help the children, but also the adults with autism.

Leon Benzer, a general contractor and prolific songwriter, is a single parent of a child who has autism, and his new CD release is one on which Benzer’s son, Benny Boy, describes his love. The proceeds from that project will be used to further the Benzer Autism Foundation.

“In lieu of six military missiles that the government funds, this money could provide a miracle in research for those afflicted with autism,” stated Benzer.

“One in every 150 children born in the United States has autism,” This number does not include PDD, Aspergers and other spectrum disorders. These statistics are endorsed by the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics, and other federal organizations.

And so it is, without hesitation, that Leon Benzer’s vision addresses the needs of those with autism in their lives. He is creating Benzila, soon to be the number one tequila in the world. The visions has become a reality: Benzer’s dream of parlaying his success into building a resort named Benzila, which will provide housing and other facilities for adult care and family support for those dealing with autism.

The present resources available for adults with autism are nearly non-existent, and there is much funding needed for research for prevention and treatment.

Pete Allman is a Las Vegas-based commentator, broadcast personality and celebrity interviewer. He also produces inspirational messages for television and other media.