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Published: Monday, 5/16/2011

Sahara hotel-casino closing on Las Vegas Strip after 6 decades

ASSOCIATED PRESS
The marquee of the Sahara Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. The marquee of the Sahara Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
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LAS VEGAS — The venerable Sahara hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip, where Elvis Presley stayed while filming “Viva Las Vegas” and the Beatles stayed when they performed in Sin City, dealt to its final gamblers and checked out its last guests Monday after six decades.

Visitors streamed through the casino one last time, picking up souvenirs at a near-empty gift shop, playing $10 blackjack and visiting with dealers and bartenders one last time before officials planned to shut the doors at 2 p.m.

“It’s kind of visiting the past,” said 35-year-old Misty Davis of Las Vegas, who said the Sahara was the first casino she visited when she was 21, with her husband and mother to celebrate her one-year wedding anniversary.

Davis, who bought four decks of cards Monday, said she teared up as she walked in and remembered the casino’s friendly atmosphere. She also said she talked with a dealer whom she remembered from years ago.

“I remember him from when I first came here because he taught me how to play blackjack,” she said.

The Sahara is remembered as one of the Rat Pack’s favorite haunts and where an emphasis of lounge acts set standards for other joints that followed. Don Rickles, Johnny Carson and Louis Prima entertained here, and its first performance was from Ray Bolger, who played the scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Owners SBE Entertainment decided earlier this year it was no longer economically viable to keep the casino open on the north side of the Strip, where several projects have been planned but shuttered the past few years.

Instead of celebrities and lounge acts, the Sahara became known in recent years as home to round-the-clock $1 blackjack, the NASCAR Cafe with a six-pound burrito eating challenge and a replica of Dale Earnhardt’s race car that sat Monday with a flat tire, dents in its hood and coins thrown inside.

Unlike other casino closings in Sin City that make way for newer projects, it’s not clear what the future of the site will be. Past hotels, including the Stardust, Landmark and Bordwalk, were razed to make way for new developments. SBE Entertainment have not announced their plans.

Casino officials gave away the last of the Sahara’s progressive jackpot cash Friday, awarding 63 winners about $500 each. The free drawings started a weekend of visitors streaming through the Moroccan-themed casino, snapping photos and nabbing $1 chips as keepsakes.

Michael Green, a history professor at the College of Southern Nevada who co-wrote a book on Las Vegas’ first 100 years, said the Sahara was popular with Hollywood stars like John Wayne and Fred MacMurray, and Presley could be seen here pulling slots.

But Green said that while the Sahara will be remembered for its lounges and theme, its owners didn’t do enough to keep it current with other resorts as the Strip boomed in the 1990s and early 2000s.

“It has not kept up with the Joneses and this is a problem for a Las Vegas casino, and frankly, for our community’s history,” said Green, who said his parents honeymooned at the Sahara in 1964.

“Las Vegas blows up its history,” but only part of it,” he said.



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