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Fists fly

Gaming Hall of Fame inducts legendary boxing promoters, chef, industry pioneer

Fists fly

Bob Arum and Don King have slugged it out-verbally, economically and legally-for nearly 40 years. As boxing’s two original heavyweight promoting champions, they scrapped for the spoils of a multibillion-dollar, unregulated industry. They lambasted each other, battled for network dates, jockeyed for soaring profits and sought to control the ascending boxing-gaming marriage.

Along the way, they revolutionized gaming. They brought big attractions, frenzied excitement, enormous media attention, celebrities and expensive players through casino doors. They brought revenue.

Now the industry extends its gratitude. It will induct the promotional duo into the American Gaming Association’s Hall of Fame September 16 at Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa.

Yes, the men who fought repeatedly in courtrooms, at press conferences and in the news media will be honored, together, for the first time. They also will become the first sports personalities ever admitted to gaming’s Hall of Fame.

Arum and King will be enshrined along with Bernard Goldstein, the father of riverboat gaming, and award-winning, cutting-edge celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.

“For me, this is a terrific honor and it is also nice to be placed in the Hall of Fame alongside so many gaming moguls-guys like Steve Wynn, who have made enormous contributions to gaming,” says the 76-year-old Arum, who maintains his promotional base in Las Vegas. “I also think it’s appropriate to be inducted along with Don. He was there with me when we brought great, memorable events to the casinos. He deserves the honor as well. Yes, we battled, but there comes a point where you get too old to fight.”

King, now based in Florida, adds a similar sentiment.

“I think this is a wonderful honor and I’m very happy and proud that Bob is being inducted too,” 77-year-old King says. “This was a marvelous thing we both contributed to, the expansion and the growth of gaming. He richly deserves to be inducted and I couldn’t be happier. Bob is a great guy.”

Induction into the Gaming Hall of Fame is the highest honor bestowed in the gaming-entertainment industry. Only slightly more than 60 have gained entry since its 1989 inception. The honor roll includes gaming, entertainment and political giants, ranging from Frank Sinatra to Don Rickles, Barron Hilton to Donald Trump and Steve Wynn, Siegfried & Roy to U.S. Senator Harry Reid.

“The gaming industry is one that is constantly changing and it is because of innovators like Bernie, Bob, Don and Emeril that the industry continues to rise to new heights,” says Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., president and CEO of the American Gaming Association. “Their contributions are truly outstanding.”

Satisfying Career Twilight

Arum and King relish this distinction. They are already boxing hall-of-famers. Outside of their industry battleground, they can be appreciated as visionaries, pioneers and venture catalysts. They can be honored for helping shape the gaming booms in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and many other casino markets throughout the world.

Their conflicts, once intense, barely matter to those outside boxing. It almost seems comical now that Arum often accused King of conflict-of-interest, controlling both boxers in an event by making a manager share his rights with King’s son Carl. Or that King once labeled Arum a “rat fink,” and that each was accused in the business of controlling world sanctioning bodies. They knew each other’s tricks. They were also targeted-and unscathed-by government investigations.

King and Arum, who sued one another over fighter contracts and reigned as gunslingers in boxing’s near-lawless world, have put down their weapons. They advance to this Hall-of-Fame setting, where industry leaders aren’t scorned for being sharp-edged, even ruthless. This rivalry wasn’t much different than Wynn and Donald Trump, also members of the Hall.

“When Bob was my antagonist, he was fiery and tenacious and our rivalry was intense,” King says. “I admire his never-say-die attitude and his perseverance. We were doing things nobody did before, creating hundreds of billions of dollars in the cities in which we promoted. I needed a rival. I would never know how good I am if it wasn’t for Bob Arum.”

Their fellow honorees had less-publicized battles.

Goldstein followed a successful 40-year career in scrap metal recycling, river freight transportation and affiliated business to start a second career, in gaming. He was instrumental in lobbying for the original riverboat gaming legislation in Iowa and opened the nation’s first riverboat casino, the MV Diamond Lady, April 1, 1991 in Bettendorf, Iowa.    

Lagasse is the chef-proprietor for 10 restaurants in New Orleans, Las Vegas, Orlando, Miami and Gulfport, Mississippi. His branding became increasingly significant as casinos utilized high-end cuisine to attract non-gaming revenue. Lagasse’s personality and famous “Bam” phrase, which he shouted while adding a key ingredient to a meal in his televised show, vaulted him to fame.

Selling the Fantasy

Arum and King supplied the figurative sizzle for Emeril’s steak. They provided legions of electric personalities, from Muhammad Ali to Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard to Marvelous Marvin Hagler, along with Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Oscar De La Hoya and Julio Cesar Chavez. Fighters spent their final training week at the hosting casino, generating substantial free advertising in the guise of a boxing news story.

The events dramatically impacted the casino bottom line. Some results could be measured via post-fight revenue. Much of it could not. Boxing matches created a mystique for the hosting casino, which lured future customers.

Did Arum realize his events impacted the bottom line?

“Only when I was negating,” he laughed.

“I remember a story Henry Gluck, then the chairman at Caesars World, told me. When he and his wife Arline were traveling in Europe, the guy carrying his bags found out he was the head of Caesars. When he mentioned Caesars to Henry, he made a motion like he was a fighter. It was amazing. Caesars was identified throughout the world because of the sport of boxing.”

King and Arum, boxing’s original power brokers, were joined in the early 1980s by Main Events. The trio became boxing’s version of American automotive giants Ford, Chrysler and GM. A promoter, manager, network, casino or boxer who did not proceed through them rarely did meaningful business.

It was a lucrative era. The spread of gaming beyond Nevada made boxing a precious commodity. The Arum-King influence spans many eras-closed circuit in the 1970s, the revolution of gaming and site fees in the 1980s, pay-per-view in the 1990s and internet revenue today. They have always managed to be at the forefront of significant change.

Both men also remain active. They each promoted significant boxing cards shortly before this induction.

This tandem has been at the pulse of boxing history.

King has presented more than 500 world championship fights, including those with Ali, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Leonard, Evander Holyfield and Duran. He promoted or co-promoted 11 of the top 15 grossing live gates in Nevada history, including bouts at Caesars Palace, the MGM Grand Garden and Mandalay Bay. He also promoted more than 20 championship bouts in Atlantic City, and has a street named after him there. He was the first promoter ever inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York.

King, educated on the streets of Cleveland, Ohio, ruefully acknowledges gambling’s affect on his career.

“I would have to say, humbly, that gaming has been a way of life for me for a long time,” he says, eyes twinkling. “Before ever going to Las Vegas, we had these after-hours joints; you could call it Las Vegas in the neighborhood. We had the players, the hustlers, the blackjack, and all types of gamblers. I ran those types of operations. We had gambling, just like Caesars Palace.

“Back then, it was an outlaw industry. It was looked on with disdain, almost like robbing from the poor. Now it’s an in-law industry. There is a community involving boxing and the gaming institutions, a marriage made in heaven.

“You surround players who want to be wined and dined with celebrities and the slogans, and they will attend your fight. You ask a celebrity like Michael Douglas if he will come, and then you surround him with his friends, so more people want to come.”

Different Routes, Same Destiny

The entrepreneurial heavyweights prospered via different roads. King supplied his celebrity status to drive event revenue. He has appeared in movies like When We Were Kings, a documentary of the 1974 Ali-Foreman battle in Zaire. King was the only promoter named to Sports Illustrated’s “40 Most Influential Sports Figures of the Last 40 Years” in 1994.

Arum has been a technical pioneer. Beyond his contract knowledge, he mastered the six-month promotional tour for major events, the dynamics of closed-circuit theater revenue and the pay-per-view universe. He prefers the low-key, effective administration role. It befits his background, first as a graduate cum laude at Harvard Law School and then as a Justice Department lawyer for U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Arum helped the government win major verdicts against ConEd, CitiBank and Standard Oil. He became enthralled with boxing when asked to secure the proceeds of a 1962 heavyweight championship fight between Sonny Liston and Floyd Paterson.

He would later display savvy gambling instincts.

In 1983, Arum signed a cast-off Roberto Duran and took a major financial risk by putting the Panamanian legend against champion Davey Moore in Madison Square Garden.

The event sold out, which only brought Arum to even. But then Duran won the bout, setting up a lucrative meeting later that year with Hagler in Las Vegas. Had Arum not rolled the dice, placing months of work into a promotion that could have lost substantial money, he would not have landed the big score.

While conceding the high-profile stage to King, Arum is good for blunt quips.

He routinely referred to the World Boxing Association ratings committee, based in Central America, as “the Noriegas of Panama,” to great laughter. Arum also grasped and serviced the burgeoning Hispanic market before anyone else. Like King, he has promoted many of boxing’s all-time highest-grossing bouts, including the 1985 Hagler-Hearns blockbuster at Caesars Palace.
 

Memories?

“As I look back, it was that outdoor arena at Caesars,” Arum says. “All those great fights, Hagler-Hearns, Leonard-Hearns, George Foreman knocking out Michael Moorer (to become the oldest heavyweight champion ever, 45). It was magic. Nothing will ever, ever supplant that. We staged an event and the world came.”

King retains fondness for the Rumble in the Jungle, his break-out role as a promoter in 1974, the night Ali upset Foreman in Zaire.

“Ali had always been running his mouth, but Foreman wasn’t going to fight him because people would think he was picking on an old man,” King says. “Finally, one day George says, ?Man, I should shut his mouth,’ and that’s how we got him in the ring. Then, Foreman got hurt and the fight was delayed, but we kept it together.”

King and Arum dealt with corresponding gaming heavyweights. They sold fights to Trump, Wynn, Barron Hilton, Kirk Kerkorian and Cliff Perlman in Las Vegas. Atlantic City executives Ken Condon and Arthur Goldberg made similar contributions.

Boxing, conversely, aided their bottom lines.

“It has made their hotels better, their goods and services better,” King indicates. “The cab driver, the bus boys, the boutiques, the restaurants, everybody benefits. You look at all these buildings rising in Nevada on the Strip and now into Henderson. And they are all built on people’s caprices, whims and dreams. We as promoters made casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City household words around the world-from every nook and cranny to every shanty.”

Their collective journey through the nooks, crannies and shanties comes full circle September 16-on the podium. It seems fitting that David Copperfield is a past Hall of Fame inductee.

After all their fighting, Arum and King can enjoy some magic.

Dave Bontempo, an award-winning journalist and commentator, announces major boxing matches throughout the world.

Casino Connection Sports Editor Dave Bontempo is an award-winning sports writer and broadcaster who calls boxing matches all over the world. He has covered the Philadelphia Flyers in the playoffs, as well as numerous PGA, LPGA and Seniors Golf Tour events, and co-hosted the Casino Connection television program with Publisher Roger Gros.

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