Barron Hilton, the son of Conrad Hilton who expanded his father’s hotel empire and made the brand a force in Las Vegas gambling, has died. He was 91.

Hilton died Thursday of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles, according to a statement from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

He spent five decades at Hilton Hotels Corp., serving as chief executive officer for 30 years starting in 1966. During his tenure, the Beverly Hills, California-based company was the fifth-largest U.S. hotel chain. He was co-chairman in 2007, when Blackstone Group Inc. acquired the company -- by then the nation’s No. 2 hotel operator -- for $26 billion, including debt.

He amassed a net worth of $1.25 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Hilton oversaw the development of the Carte Blanche credit card, which the company sold in 1966 for $12 million to First National City Bank, predecessor to today’s Citigroup Inc. He pioneered the profitable practice of real estate sale-leasebacks, selling the equity in hotels while continuing to manage them.

In the early 1970s, he oversaw the acquisition of the Flamingo Hotel and Las Vegas International, later renamed Las Vegas Hilton. The move made Hilton Hotels the first company listed on the New York Stock Exchange to enter the U.S. gaming industry.

As chairman, Hilton worked with CEO Stephen Bollenbach to expand the company’s casino operations into Mississippi and Atlantic City, New Jersey, and acquire Bally Entertainment Corp. for about $3 billion in 1996. Two years later, the executives spun off their gambling unit.

Power of Hospitality
“I always found inspiration in how he saw the tremendous potential of hospitality to change the world for the better,” Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta said in a statement.

Though successful as the steward of the family business, he also made his mark as an entrepreneur. With Texas oilman Lamar Hunt and others, Hilton helped found the American Football League, and he was the original owner of the league’s Los Angeles Chargers. The AFL and rival National Football League announced their merger in 1966, the same year Hilton sold his majority stake in the team, by then called the San Diego Chargers. The team has since relocated to Los Angeles.

“The happiest days of my life were the days I was involved with the Chargers,” he said, according to a 2009 Los Angeles Times story.

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