William Pennington, 88, a pioneer in Nevada's casino industry who helped build the Circus Circus empire, died Sunday in Reno.

Listed for years among the Forbes 400 richest people in America, Mr. Pennington gave millions of dollars to education, medicine, and other charities through his foundation.

Mr. Pennington and business partner William Bennett acquired Circus Circus in Las Vegas in 1974. They were credited with transforming the resort and ultimately Vegas into an entertainment center for all ages.

The pair opened another Circus Circus in Reno in 1978 and later extended the Las Vegas Strip south with construction of the Excalibur, Luxor, and Mandalay Bay resorts. The Excalibur was the largest hotel in the world with more than 4,200 rooms when it was completed in 1990.

Mr. Pennington grew up in California, where he played football for the University of California, Berkeley, until he was sidelined by a knee injury. He put off graduation when he joined the Army Air Corps to serve as a bomber pilot in World War II.

He moved to Reno in 1962 to make it big in the oil-drilling business. He soon turned his attention to the gambling industry.

Mr. Pennington formed the William N. Pennington Foundation in 1989. He wrote at the time: "Having grown up in the Great Depression, when my family faced difficult times, I know very well the hardships that can befall anyone at any time."

- AP