WHEN THE MAN from Philadelphia arrived in Las Vegas, the city was starting to wake up.
Casinos were being built, but the Mafia had too much influence, and Bugsy Siegel had just been slain.
Nevertheless, the period of the early 1950s was called the "Golden Era" because the potential was not just a glint in the eyes of a few rich men. It was real.
Alvin "Al" Benedict, a Central High School grad and Rutgers swimming champ, arrived in town and eventually became a casino executive who helped some of those rich men get richer.
Among them was billionaire gaming giant Kirk Kerkorian, who said Al Benedict had much to do with the success of his enterprises, like the MGM, Flamingo and International casinos.
Al Benedict, a man who never forgot his roots and considered himself once and always a Philadelphian, died Saturday. He was 90.
University of Nevada history professor Michael Green told the Las Vegas Sun that Al was "on the front lines. He had a long, distinguished career in gaming and was one of several people Kerkorian turned to who helped him build a resort empire."
John Moran Jr., a member of the Nevada Gaming Commission and longtime friend, said Al was "the consummate gaming hotel man of the Golden Era of the Las Vegas Strip."
Al was born in Logan and graduated from Central High School. He joined the Merchant Marine and served in World War II. After the war, he enrolled at Rutgers University, where he became an all-American swimmer. He was enshrined in the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1997.
While in high school and college, Al worked as a lifeguard in Atlantic City. He owned the Fern Rock Diner in Philadelphia before moving to Las Vegas in 1952.
"He came back for his Central High School reunion every year for the last 50 years," said his nephew, Benjamin Cross. "He sent birthday cards to the children and grandchildren of his Central classmates. He never forgot his Philadelphia roots.
"Once a Philadelphian, always a Philadelphian."
After moving West, Al made a practice of swimming every day for health.
John Moran attested to Al's somewhat quirky sense of humor. He recalled that Al and his wife, Jayne, came to Moran's home to see the Morans' new baby.
Al was concerned about not giving the baby germs and insisted he and his wife wear surgical masks. Of course, Al had his cigar under his mask.
Kids liked to go to Al's house for barbecues, and were fascinated that he would start his grill with gasoline. In true Las Vegas style, bets were laid on when Al would burn the house down. Fortunately, he never did.
When Al arrived in Las Vegas in 1952, he got his first hotel job as general manager of both the Silver Slipper and Last Frontier. He became a pal of entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., who was appearing at the Frontier.
From the Last Frontier, Al opened the Stardust in the mid-'50s, then the largest casino in Nevada. In the 1960s, he became director of Howard Hughes' resort operations. Al joined Kerkorian's team after the aviation pioneer sold the Desert Inn and his other resorts.
Mobster Bugsy Siegel opened the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas in 1947, but was shot to death three months later in Beverly Hills, Calif. It took many investigations and indictments to rid the gambling resort of mob influence.
Al was a top executive of the MGM when he first retired in 1985. He came back for seven months as president of the Sands before retiring completely.
Al was married to Jayne Michael, whom he met at Rutgers. She died in 1986.
He is survived by two sons, Blaine and Scott; a daughter, Lynn, and four grandchildren.