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Gaming Guru

Chris Jones
 

Caesars Earns Niche in Gaming Pantheon

21 July 2004

By Chris Jones

LAS VEGAS -- The Roman Empire wasn't built in a day, and neither was its pseudo successor in the desert.

Over the years, Caesar's reign in Southern Nevada has endured its share of historic ups and downs since Las Vegas' faux centurions first set up an outpost on the Strip.

But after 38 years of continuous operation, there's little doubt the company now known as Caesars Entertainment has earned its place among the gaming realm's elite.

When insurance magnate Nate Jacobson and hotelier Jay Sarno opened Caesars Palace on Aug. 5, 1966, the then $25 million resort's opening weekend guest list ranged from the famous to the infamous to the downright strange.

Where else but Las Vegas could television stars Andy Griffith and Johnny Carson rub elbows with Jimmy Hoffa (whose Teamsters Union reportedly loaned $10 million toward the project) and an assortment of "slave girls" who one New York Times reporter dubiously wrote were on hand to greet important visitors and "provide for their needs"?

What happened there, stayed there, indeed.

In subsequent years, Caesars Palace grew in both size and stature. The resort was purchased in September 1969 for $60 million by Florida-based restaurant company Lum's, and less than a year later the 14-story Centurion Tower and signature Cleopatra's Barge bar made their debut at a cost of $4.2 million.

Around that time, Caesars also began its tradition of hosting major sports and entertainment events including boxing, which began its run in the sun in 1969 with an amateur card that pitted some upcoming Americans against a team of Soviet fighters.

Jerry Lewis' annual Labor Day telethon commenced two years later and further enhanced the resort's status as a leading Strip attraction.

Lum's changed its name to Caesars World in December 1971, and two years later, the company added the 16-story Roman Tower to the Palace at a cost of $16 million. Not even a minor 1973 fire that chased out guests like the Osmonds was enough to hold up the empire's progress.

The hotel's exterior remained largely unchanged until 1979, when the 23-story Fantasy Tower (now called the Forum Tower) opened amid other improvements that totaled nearly $47 million. That year Caesars World also expanded to the Atlantic City market, opening that city's second casino, the $75 million Caesars Boardwalk Regency, on June 26.

Today, the company has 28 hotel-casinos on four continents.

In Las Vegas, the Palace's attractions expanded further with 1979's debut of the domed Omnimax Theatre, followed by an October 1981 Grand Prix race held on parking lots that in 1992 became the site of today's Forum Shops at Caesars mall.

The mid-1990s kicked off a series of dramatic changes at Caesars World, beginning with its Dec. 20, 1995, acquisition by New York-based ITT Corp. Roughly two years later, the Forum Shops added its 250,000-square-foot second wing while the Palace added its first new tower in nearly 20 years, the 17-story Palace Tower.

ITT was acquired by Starwood Hotels & Resorts in February 1998, and 14 months later Park Place Entertainment struck a deal to buy most of the Caesars World division for approximately $3 billion. Park Place changed its name to Caesars Entertainment at the start of this year.

Although construction and the presence of newer competitors stole some of Caesars' luster in recent years, the resort has come back strong in the past two years with March 2003's debut of the Colosseum, a $95 million theater that's housed top-name performers like comedian Jerry Seinfeld, singers Elton John and Faith Hill and the venue's primary attraction, Celine Dion's "A New Day ..." show.

This month, its Roman Plaza entryway also debuted, improving the Palace's appearance and accessibility along the Strip.