Lanni’s Innovations Make Him Worthy Sarno Winner

The American Gaming Association today announced that Terry Lanni, who passed away in 2011, will be receiving the Sarno Award for Lifetime Achievement in Casino Design at this year’s Global Gaming Expo.

Lanni posthumously receiving the Sarno Award is of interest, since the honor has been bestowed primarily on architects and designers. But Lanni isn’t the first non-designer to be recognized; in fact, Jay Sarno, 2003 recipient and the one who the award is named after, had no official design background, save an art history class in his sophomore year at the University of Missouri, in which he escaped with a gentleman’s C. Despite his lack of credentials, however, Sarno had a surplus of design smarts. He’s the creator of both Caesars Palace and Circus Circus, the two casinos that epitomized the high and low end of the Strip for a generation, and, if his Grandissimo casino had gotten the funding it need to get off the ground in the late 1970s, he would have sparked the Mirage generation a decade early.

So does Lanni merit inclusion? He certainly has one of the most impressive resumes in gaming. He started working for Caesars World, the parent company of Caesars Palace, in 1977; in 1981, he became its president and chief operating officer. He served in that capacity until early 1995, overseeing first the creation of what is now Caesars Atlantic City and, in Las Vegas, green-lighting the Forum
Shops at the Palace.

Today, there are many casinos with malls attached, but when Lanni pressed for the Forum Shops he was moving into new territory; many “experts” predicted it would fail. So he has at least two innovations to his credit: leading the first Las Vegas-based operator into another state, and helping to merge malls and casinos.

After leaving Caesars in 1995, Lanni went to work for Kirk Kerkorian at MGM Grand, a company which then owned a single casino in Las Vegas. He shepherded it through a wave of acquisitions and expansions that saw it grow into a national powerhouse by his 2008 retirement. Under his watch the company expanded into Detroit, and had a 50 percent ownership in Atlantic City’s Borgata, a casino that today dominates the market.  He also green-lit CityCenter, which represented a profound break from reigning ideas about casino design.

For all those reasons, Lanni is a good addition to the list of Sarno Award winners, and a reminder that the creativity we see in casino design and construction does not take place in a vacuum: it relies on top-level leaders having the insight into realizing when push boundaries.