‘The Gambler’ reminds us Kerkorian was a one-of-a-kind casino kingBy John L. Smith, CDC Gaming ReportsApril 23, 2018 at 8:49 pmA few pages into William C. Rempel’s informative and entertaining new biography of the late casino king Kirk Kerkorian, you might find yourself wondering if such a success story would even be possible in today’s gaming industry.In a business with its share of billionaires, characters and super-heated egos, Kerkorian exuded an understated cool that set him apart from the pack. As Rempel’s “The Gambler: How Penniless Dropout Kirk Kerkorian Became the Greatest Deal Maker in Capitalist History” illustrates time and again, it wasn’t necessarily his great success that made him special. It was his discipline and dogged determination to succeed.Born the son of an illiterate fruit peddler in Fresno, Calif., Kerkorian was a knockaround guy from an early age. He fought under the nifty moniker “Rifle Right Kerkorian,” hustled produce, sold newspapers, learned to fly, loved to gamble. He came from an Armenian family that had its pride and, often, very little else.In time, he’d learn to channel his risk-taking away from the green felt and into business, where the odds of long-term success are better. He traded airline stock, then took over the company, turned his affection for Las Vegas into the construction of the world’s largest hotel-casino – three times. He was the real lion of MGM Grand Resorts.He didn’t mind the competition making headlines. Nor did he begrudge another operator’s success. He was secure enough to keep a civil tongue, at least in public, when insulted by another gaming license holder or potential business adversary. Unlike Hughes, who allowed alter-ego Robert Maheu to do his fighting for him in the public arena, Kerkorian was rarely distracted by the endless sparring that seemed to obsess others.Kerkorian was no choirboy or shrinking violet. He had a temper, could be impatient, was sometimes too quick to make a decision, and his personal life occasionally spilled into the public eye and the tabloids. His tumultuous relationship with former tennis pro Lisa Bonder was costly and embarrassing, and the attempts of his inner circle to solve the problems it created only made a bad beat worse.True to his tenacious character, Kerkorian outlived a generation of casino titans and outshined most of the crowd raised in the corporate gaming culture. He worked out regularly, kept his eye open for the next deal, and lived an amazing 98 years.Not bad for a public school dropout who had once hawked newspapers and hustled a truckload of watermelons to build early bankrolls.Rempel managed to get many members of Kerkorian’s tight-lipped inner circle to sit for interviews. Unfortunately, not all the people in the billionaire’s personal life chose to cooperate with a skilled interviewer and long-form journalist. Those who did added to a biography that should be read by Vegas denizens, gaming industry historians, and aspiring empire builders alike.What emerges from this portrait is a man who enjoyed his life even more because he was comfortable with himself and didn’t grind an ax. Rempel writes, “One of Kirk’s most enduring – and friends found most endearing – traits was his limited capacity for grudges. He didn’t collect them. ‘It’s business,’ he would say, and move on.”It also can be speculated that Kerkorian, while at times an enigma, wasn’t such a mystery after all. He was a hard-working man among men who didn’t rest on victories or wallow in defeat. His Lincy Foundation gave millions to charity in Nevada and Armenia, but you won’t find his face in many check-passing publicity photos. It wasn’t his style.And that style has always been rare in Las Vegas, the place he played a large role in creating. If hard to quote and elusive to capture on paper, old “Rifle Right” was a one-of-a-kind character. Rempel’s “The Gambler” does justice to Kerkorian’s life and legacy.Contact John L. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.