Leo the Lion

While the rest of the world was up in arms over Tiger Woods and his press statement I was thinking of writing about something just a little bit different. While the rest of the writers are wasting time writing about Tiger I am going to waste my time writing about a lion.

The idea for Leo the Lion is really attributable to one of my poker opponents at San Manuel. I have to admit that I did not catch her name but I did take her suggestion. When one googles Leo the Lion the resulting pages that pop up refer to the zodiac sign, the constellation and the MGM mascot.

I write about poker and lifestyle issues so I am going to choose the mascot. The lion mascot is an obvious choice for me to write about. MGM was formed by the merger of Samuel Goldwyn’s studio with Marcus Loew’s Metro Pictures and Louis B. Mayer’s company. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was formed and later shortened to simply MGM. The lion logo predates MGM and came from predecessor Goldwyn Pictures. Leo the Lion is the current lion used in the logo and was actually the fifth lion used in the MGM logo. The lion was based upon the logo for Columbia University.

At this point the story begins to unravel and I have to make a few confessions and concessions. MGM Mirage the Las Vegas based hotel and casino company is not affiliated with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In 1967, Fresno’s native son Kirk Kerkorian bought MGM and quickly attached the branding to a Las Vegas Hotel Casino still known as MGM Grand. Kerkorian quickly moved MGM away from movie production and into the hotel and casino business and in 1979 declared MGM a hotel company. Kirk was smart enough to brand everything MGM and use the already famous Leo the Lion logo.

On May 31, 2000 a merger of the MGM Grand and Mirage Resorts formed MGM Mirage the biggest gaming company in the world at the time and second only to Harrah’s today. Kirk Kerkorian was the majority owner of the company and to this day is still the largest shareholder. All MGM Grand branded properties use Leo the Lion as the mascot. The MGM Mirage logo features a lion in between the two names.

The Chinese with a strong culture of gambling are very important to the casino industry and Leo the Lion works very well for Chinese gamblers. The entrance to the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip is guarded by two enormous gold lion statues. In the center of the casino is a lion habitat featuring semi-domesticated lions in a glass enclosure. Lions are not native to China, yet appear in the art of China and the Chinese people believe that lions protect humans from evil spirits, hence the Chinese New Year Lion dance to scare away demons and ghosts. Chinese guardian lions are frequently used in sculpture in traditional Chinese architecture. For instance, in the Forbidden City in Beijing, two lion statues are seen in almost every door entrance. Luck or a grand plan, I can not say for sure, but Kirk hit a home run when he decided to marry the MGM concept and Leo the Lion to the casino business.

Leo the Lion has become an iconic figure in society today and the symbolism is many layers deep and steeped in tradition. Leo is not Tiger but never forget that the lion is the king of the jungle.

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