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Arthur Goldberg; Casino Mogul Built Empire in 10 Years


LAS VEGAS — Arthur Goldberg, a penny-pinching trucking company executive who in just 10 years shrewdly created the world's largest casino conglomerate, died Thursday at the age of 58.

Goldberg, the president and chief executive officer of Park Place Entertainment, the Las Vegas-based company that owns the Caesars, Hilton, Bally's and Grand casino chains, died at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore from complications with bone marrow failure. He lived primarily in New Jersey and maintained a home in Las Vegas.

After Goldberg's hospitalization last year, he announced that the company, which owns, manages or has an interest in 28 casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Mississippi and overseas, would begin looking for a successor.

"Out of nowhere, he appeared on the scene 10 years ago and built, from the near ruins of Bally's, one of the industry's most powerful companies," said Glenn Schaeffer, president and chief executive of Mandalay Resort Group, a competing casino company in Las Vegas. "His is as impressive a feat in the industry as any in quite a while."

Said another rival, Donald Trump: "He was able to see out into the distance, which few people are able to do. He built a great company and had fun with it. That's his ultimate legacy."

A spokesman for Park Place Entertainment said its board of directors met Thursday afternoon to begin a search for a new chief executive. The company's four senior executive vice presidents took over the company's daily operations.

The company said general oversight of Park Place Entertainment would be provided by Stephen F. Bollenbach, chairman of the board of Park Place and chief executive of Hilton Hotels Corp.--which had spun off its gaming interests in 1998, creating Park Place Entertainment with Goldberg as its leader.

"He has left behind the biggest, best and most financially healthy gaming company in the world," Bollenbach said in a statement.

While politically active on the East Coast and a major fund-raiser for President Clinton, Goldberg was not a flamboyant casino mogul. Rather, he focused on financial waste, was consumed by budgetary detail and paid meticulous attention to the bottom line--and creating profits for his shareholders.

He gathered his casinos through acquisitions and mergers and built only one from the ground up--Paris-Las Vegas. While taking pleasure in constructing a half-size replica of the Eiffel Tower in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip, he took even greater pride in delivering the hotel on time and on a tight budget--$785 million--when other new casinos in Las Vegas were costing upward of $1 billion.

His greatest coup, his closest friends said Thursday, was in acquiring Caesars World Inc. last year for $3 billion, bringing into his fold the grande dame of casinos on the Strip, Caesars Palace, along with other Caesars casinos. It was, at the time, the largest casino acquisition in the industry.

"He loved to negotiate the good deal," said Dr. Elias Ghanem, a Las Vegas physician and one of Goldberg's closest friends. "He loved to win, by identifying a project, studying it and then successfully going after it. . . . Getting Caesars was the highlight of his career."

Goldberg, a native of New Jersey, received his B.A. from Rutgers and a law degree at Villanova before taking over his father's East Coast trucking business. He launched himself into the gambling industry in 1990 when he bought a 5.6% share of Bally Entertainment, which made slot machines and operated health clubs and a sad-sack bankrupt casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Not a casino gambler himself, he was smitten by the notion of turning an unprofitable company into a cash cow.

In short order he was named Bally's chief executive, sold the slot machine and exercise equipment manufacturing operations, cut casino and hotel expenses at every turn and added a wildly colorful pedestrian walkway from the Strip to the casino's front door to make it more accessible to gamblers. In 1996, after building the company's stock price from $2 to $28, he sold Bally's to Hilton Hotels Corp. for $2 billion, and was put in charge of Hilton's casino operations.

Now operating under Hilton's larger financial wings, "he was able to do things he might not have been able to do as a stand-alone," said Shannon Bybee, executive director of the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "He was able to hold his ego in check, for sake of the bigger picture."

In 1998, Hilton separated its hotel and casino businesses, and Goldberg was now president and chief executive of the sprawling gambling spinoff, Park Place Entertainment--a name that referenced the location of its Bally's casino in Atlantic City.

Later that year, Park Place acquired Grand Casinos, with three Mississippi casinos, for $835 million. Last year it opened Paris-Las Vegas and acquired Caesars World from Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

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