Downtown casino owner Don Barden succumbs to cancer

May 20, 2011 11:23 AM

            Don Barden, one of America ’s foremost African-American entrepreneurs and the owner of Fitzgerald’s Hotel/Casino in downtown Las Vegas , died Thursday, a victim of lung cancer.

            A native of a Detroit , Michigan , suburb, Barden, 67, the ninth child in a family of 13 children, spent a lifetime developing a variety of businesses, from cable television to casinos under his flagship Majestic Star.

            The Fitzgerald’s Hotel/Casino property became part of the Barden Developement  Co. in 2003. The company also had properties in Indiana , Colorado and Mississippi

            As a successful African-American entrepreneur in Detroit , Barden felt that he was a natural to get one of the three casino licenses authorized in the mid-90s for the City of Detroit . However, the licenses were awarded to others.

            A bitter Barden told the Associated Press in a 1997 interview that “I’m on a mission to prove that a poor, young African-American from a very large family, from humble beginnings, can rise to the top in America in a free enterprise system.”

            Without question, Barden, with a background that included running a newspaper, a record shop, a nightclub, a cable system, as well as several casinos, rubbed shoulders with the rich and powerful.

            In entertainment, he traveled with the likes of Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and Aretha Franklin. In 1990, he even taught then President Bill Clinton a new dance step at a state dinner with South African President Nelson Mandela.

            Advised of Barden’s passing, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said, “Don was a stalwart leader and businessman in this community, as well as a friend. We were aware of his longtime illness and dreaded this day. We send our condolences to his family.”