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Nov 19, 2008 8:34 PM

Staff & Wire Reports |

The board of MGM MIRAGE Inc. (MGM) appointed Jim Murren as the casino operator's new chairman and chief executive -- to replace Terry Lanni.

Murren, MGM MIRAGE's chief operating officer and the man largely credited with envisioning its $9.2 billion CityCenter complex now under construction on the Las Vegas Strip, will take over Dec. 1, the company said.

Murren told The Associated Press he looks forward to guiding the company past tough economic times that have hit the casino industry hard, particularly in Sin City.

"This is not for the faint of heart right now -- it's for people who are absolutely dedicated," he said.

The company said Lanni, who faced questions about his academic credentials as he announced his retirement Thursday, would remain on the company's board and its diversity committee.

The company has said Lanni's retirement has nothing to do with the revelation that he never received a master's degree in business, though his corporate biography has long claimed he earned one from the University of Southern California.

Murren said there is no indication the revelation would affect Lanni's ability to remain on the board. If Lanni falsely claimed the degree on his state gaming license application, Nevada gambling regulators could deny him a seat on MGM MIRAGE's board, however.

"From my knowledge it's not an issue whatsoever," Murren said. "(But) I am not privy to anyone else's application, nor are they to mine."

It was not immediately clear whether Lanni mentioned the degree on his state license application. Jerry Markling, enforcement chief of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, did not return phone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.

An MGM MIRAGE spokesman said last week that Lanni remembered receiving an honorary MBA degree in 1992, when he was given an alumnus of the year award by USC's business school.

A spokesman for the university said Lanni took classes toward the degree from 1965 to 1967, but never finished, and the business school hasn't awarded an honorary master's degree since 1933.

Murren said Lanni's influence would be important to the company as it moves forward and said he'll model his own leadership on that of the man who led the company from a one-casino operation to become the largest operator on the Las Vegas Strip.

"He's a great manager and mentor of people and I hope I can be the same," Murren said.

Kirk Kerkorian, the billionaire investor who holds a majority stake in MGM MIRAGE, said in a company release that MGM MIRAGE will now benefit from a succession plan more than two years in the making.

"Jim is a remarkable and multifaceted leader in whom I have the utmost confidence," Kerkorian said.

MGM Mirage shares rose 41 cents in aftermarket trading after closing at $10.65, up 7 cents or 0.6% on Tuesday.

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