Reporting from Las Vegas -- J. Terrence Lanni, a casino executive who helped Las Vegas shed its mob-run image and earn Wall Street's respect, died late Thursday at his home in Pasadena. He was 68 and had cancer.
Lanni served as an executive with Caesars World before joining Kirk Kerkorian's MGM Grand Inc. in 1995. Under his stewardship, the one-casino company grew into a 17-resort conglomerate, with a slew of casinos on the Las Vegas Strip and a venture in booming Macao. The company is now named MGM Resorts International.
"His thoughtful leadership on important issues, from expanding the gaming industry's reach internationally to establishing the industry's first formal diversity and inclusion program, will forever mark his place in history," MGM Resorts Chief Executive Jim Murren said Friday in an email to employees.
The corporate world trusted Lanni, whose staid personality reassured investors that Las Vegas was no longer the province of such characters as Moe Dalitz and Benny Binion. Lanni wasn't even much of a casino gambler, telling MarketWatch in 2006 that he "never put a nickel in a slot machine" and hadn't played blackjack for years.
"Terry gave the gaming industry a public face at a time when it needed someone who could show integrity and professionalism," Gary Loveman, chief executive of what's now Caesars Entertainment, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2009.
Lanni also became a political player, with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Friday calling him a "close friend."
Amid an extended swell in Las Vegas tourism, Lanni helped orchestrate mergers with Mirage Resorts and the Mandalay Resort Group, making his company Nevada's largest employer. When he retired in 2008, the boom was starting to sputter. Las Vegas — and the company he long helmed — has yet to completely recover.
Born in Los Angeles in 1943, Lanni graduated from USC with a bachelor's degree in business in 1965.
One of his passions was thoroughbred racing. Silic, a horse he co-owned, won the 1999 Breeders' Cup Mile. And in 2006, another horse he co-owned, Sinister Minister, ran in the Kentucky Derby.
Lanni is survived by his wife, Debbie; sons Sean and Patrick, and three siblings.