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Influential Former Vegas Casino Owner Mike Ensign Dead at 79

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Mike Ensign, a retired casino owner and executive whose influence and holdings grew along with the Las Vegas Strip in the 1980s, and whose son resigned as U.S. senator amid scandal in 2011, has died in Las Vegas.

Ensign died Wednesday in his sleep at home, said Dr. Tony Alamo Jr., Nevada Gaming Commission chairman and Ensign’s personal physician and close family friend. He was 79.

“He went through the whole industry from bottom up,” Alamo told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “He wasn’t about the limelight. He was about getting the job done.”

Alamo confirmed Ensign’s death to The Associated Press, but he declined additional comment.

He told the Review-Journal that Ensign was working as a craps dealer at Harrah’s Reno in 1963 when he met and became friends with Alamo’s father.

Both moved to Las Vegas in 1974, where Ensign became chairman and CEO Circus Circus Enterprises in 1998.

The company thrived. David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said Ensign became one of the architects of a modern Las Vegas — featuring luxury destination resorts and casinos with entertainment, shopping and dining.

Circus Circus Enterprises grew to become Mandalay Resort Group in 1999, with properties including Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur and Circus Circus.

Ensign, who rarely granted interviews, retired in 2005 after MGM Resorts International acquired Mandalay Resort Group for $7.9 billion.

His wife, Sharon Ensign, died in 2014.

Ensign’s son, John Ensign, is a veterinarian who served in the U.S. Senate as a Republican from 2001 to 2011. He resigned before the release of a Senate Ethics Committee report about a $96,000 payment his parents made to a former campaign aide with whom he’d had an affair, and about his help finding the woman’s husband a lobbying job.

The family is grieving privately, and services for Mike Ensign probably won’t be held until next year, Alamo said.

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