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Nicholas G. Colon

A farewell to 'old' Las Vegas

13 January 2017

The Flamingo still stands on its original 15-acre plot of land.

The Flamingo still stands on its original 15-acre plot of land. (photo by Chris Alex Villal)

On 16 August 2016 at 2:30 a.m., the 26-story Monaco tower of the Riviera Hotel and Casino was demolished. Since that Las Vegas staple opened in April 1955, it has been an integral part of the history of that morally ambiguous city. From being the crown jewel of the Chicago Mobs' desert properties to being a favorite location of Hollywood studios to shoot casino-centric storylines, mostly because of its gaudy and over-the-top décor, it has served many purposes over its 60-year life.

Its historic vitae has included being the home to some of the most profound headliners, including Liberace, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. It has back dropped several financially successful films, like 3000 Miles to Graceland, starring Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner, as well as the more recent comedy hit The Hangover. The final tower's implosion marked an end of an era for the old guard casinos that made Las Vegas into America's adult playground. Let's take a look at a few others.

The Flamingo Las Vegas was the first resort located off the Strip. The original resort has since been torn down, rebuilt and remodeled, over and over again. The Flamingo Las Vegas still resides on its original 15-acre land plot and was founded by mob-connected businessman Bugsy Siegel. It opened on 26 December 1946. During his pitch to his partners, most of whom were all good family men, Siegel was adamant that Las Vegas was poised to be the playground in the desert for America. Because of construction delays, rising building costs, unavoidable skimming by his partners, and a slow financial start, Siegel was unable to see that vision come to pass. He was killed by his partners while resting at his California home on 20 June 1947.

Bugsy's vision of sex, sin and sun was prophetic. In the decades that followed Siegel's demise, Las Vegas matured into an amazing cash machine — at least, it did before the 2008 housing collapse. Champagne flowed from the heavens and velvet ropes parted for anyone who was gambling at a high level. It became a place where ordinary men and women could rub elbows with Hollywood's elite, famous athletes and Wall Street gurus. Las Vegas was and is the great equalizer. Bugsy Siegel's vision of a city where everyone could experience world-class entertainment and five-star dining came to be. Bugsy Siegel started everything: It was the beginning; without his vision and his sacrifice we wouldn't have the grand resorts we have today.

The Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Resort reside on the same property that was home to Las Vegas' premier five-star casino resort, The Desert Inn. Steve Wynn purchased the property in 2000 for the hefty price tag of $270 million, just three years after it underwent a $200 million renovation. Rather than keep the hotel in operation Wynn decided to demolish it and build two mega-resorts, the Wynn and the Encore. Even though the original Desert Inn hotel and casino was demolished, Wynn elected to keep the 18-hole golf course that was behind the resort.

At the Desert Inn's grand opening in 1950, the 2,400-square-foot casino was one of the largest in Nevada. The original windowless, no-clock casino included five craps tables, three roulette wheels, four blackjack tables and 75 slot machines. There was also a sportsbook. During the 1978 renovation, the gaming floor was greatly expanded. Hundreds of new coin-operated gambling machines were added. These included slot machines, video poker, 21 and keno.

This was one of the largest gaming expansions endured by a Las Vegas casino. With this expansion, tens of thousands of new players came to Las Vegas. This expansion led to people being more and more excited about the casino industry and specifically the games that were offered. The expansion resulted in mainstream publications covering casino gaming specifically for the player. The main purpose of these articles is to educate the public on casino games, and specifically how to attack various games for profit. Casino City Times senior writer John Grochowski was the first casino gambling columnist for a major U.S. newspaper. He has also authored several books on casino gaming.

In his book The Casino Answer Book, Grochowski writes, "Slot machines are the most popular form of gambling among casino visitors and they make up over 80% of the gaming floor in a casino." This overwhelming affinity for slot machines among casino-goers led Grochowski to believe that they are the most misplayed game in the casino. John recently wrote the free Ultimate Slot Machine Guide, which he published on the 888 Casino blog so players can improve their chances when playing slot machines at both online casinos and land-based casinos.

Almost every major entertainment star of the latter half of the 20th century played at the Desert Inn. Frank Sinatra made his Las Vegas debut at the Desert Inn on 13 September 1951. He later said of it, "Wilbur Clark gave me my first job in Las Vegas. That was in 1951. For six bucks you got a filet mignon dinner and me. In 1979, Jet magazine noted that Wayne Newton was "enthroned" at the Desert Inn as the "king of entertainment idols," earning a whopping $10 million a year, which made him the highest-paid nightclub performer of all time. Other famous performers in the famous "Crystal Showroom" over the years included Tony Bennett, Shirley MacLaine, Dean Martin and Liza Minnelli.

The Desert Inn, circa 1968.

The Desert Inn, circa 1968.

The Dunes was a hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip that operated from 23 May 1955 to 26 January 1993. It was the 10th resort to open on the Strip. The Bellagio now stands on the former grounds. The Dunes golf course is now occupied by parts of Monte Carlo Las Vegas Resort & Casino, New York-New York Hotel & Casino, City Center and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, as well as the recently built T-Mobile Arena.

The Dunes opened as a low-rise resort with Hollywood star Vera-Ellen providing the entertainment in the Magic Carpet Review. Through the first two years of operation, the resort struggled to turn a profit. In a desperate move to keep the resort afloat, the Dunes became the first hotel-casino in Nevada to offer a topless show, called Minsky's Follies. The State Legislature was in an uproar, but the show set a record for attendance in a single week with 16,000 tickets sold. The introduction of "topless shows" at The Dunes is credited with turning around its financial turmoil.

Each one of these hotels played an important role in shaping Las Vegas into what it is today, from introducing world-class entertainment and fine dining at bargain price to associating that city with sex appeal and all things taboo. With the book now closed on these pioneering properties and the new megaresorts now taking over; we anxiously anticipate what new and worthwhile attractions these new resorts will bring — and, more importantly, what impact they will have on the future of Las Vegas.
A farewell to 'old' Las Vegas is republished from