From a school dropout to becoming the first African American to own chain of casinos, the story of Don Barden 

Business mogul Don Barden/Photo credit: Michigan radio

His magic wand which shot him to become the first African American to own a chain of casinos in Las Vegas was to target businesses that required less capital to get it to be successful. One of such areas was the operations of casinos despite several setbacks he faced in breaking through a market which was dominated by white businessmen. 

In his book of lessons, business mogul Don Barden said when the Fitzgerald casino deal was placed before him, he knew from the fact he would require little effort to make his name as an operator in that space. 

According to Black History Month, the fundamental structure and management were in place to enable Don Barden to leverage his vision. It never came as a surprise when Barden made $347 million in profits from the chain of casinos in 2002. 

He erased the impediments that made it difficult for African Americans to enter the casino business. Barden, prior to making a breakthrough in the casino markets, had established his presence as one of the most successful African-American businessmen. He grew up from a humble beginning in a family of 13 children in Detroit, Michigan. 

Born on December 20, 1943, Barden was the ninth child. He learned his early traits of hard work from his parents Milton and Hortense. From an early age, Barden was in the limelight when he played basketball for his school. He dropped out of Central State University in Ohio in his first year. The expectation was that since funds were the challenge, he would work to raise money and continue his education later. 

But, he used the monies he had saved to start his first business which was worth $500 on the day of commencement. He began breaking even with his business and turned his attention to hosting concerts and operating a record label. 

Though he was making enough to keep body and soul together, it was the real estate business that changed the dynamics for Barden. He reported as saying the real estate sector is where he mined millions of his dollars from. This is because he got an army contract and property sale business which raked in more revenue for him. 

Barden had a keen interest in the media space. He co-founded the Lorain County Times newspaper and a public relations business. Entering the media space also sparked another interest in radio and politics. When his knowledge of the media space increased, he ventured into cable television where he operated a few tv stations. He set up deals that enabled African-American entrepreneurs to own cable networks in Lorain. 

Not relenting on his achievements, Barden started nursing his ambitions of entering the casino market in 1993. He joined the President of Riverboat Casinos to run a casino when the State of Indiana gave permission for such operations. 

In 1993, Barden began his first move into the world of gambling. When the State of Indiana legalized riverboat casinos, he teamed up with President Riverboat Casinos to begin operations. When this partnership hit a snag, he sold his shares in the cable tv network to open the Majestic Star in 1996 in Indiana. 

He made several moves to open casinos in his home region of Detroit even with Michael Jackson but it failed to materialize. With tenacity and determination to succeed in the casino space, Barden made a move and entered Las Vegas in 2002. He saw an opportunity in Fitzgerald casinos when its managers filed for bankruptcy.

After raising $135 million from financial institutions and individuals, he joined with $14 million and bought the chain of casinos. Barden did not only write his successes in the gambling and business space but also invested largely in emerging technologies. He was behind the use of digital voting machines, and video jukeboxes that played videos.

He passed away on May 19, 2011, but the feat he achieved as an African-American entrepreneur lives on. He won the Company of the year in 1992 and 2003 in an award by Black Enterprise. In 2010, he was named among the 40 Most Powerful African Americans in Business.  

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 13, 2022


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