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Tropicana Casino: the refuge of the mafia and the Rat Pack in Las Vegas closes after 67 years | Culture

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In 1972, Sammy Davis Jr. became the first black person to own shares in a Las Vegas hotel. The famous crooner and a member of the Rat Pack then opted for the Tropicana, the casino that became a regular refuge for the group of artists of the sixties led by Frank Sinatra in the desert city of Nevada. The famous casino closed its doors this week after 67 years of history on the Strip. Demolition of the resort will begin in October. Then the construction of a baseball stadium for the A’s will begin, a team that changed Oakland (California) for Sin City.

Although there are several months until the demolition work begins, the heavy machinery can already be seen in the hotel parking lots. This Tuesday, the last day, regulars and some tourists gathered for the last time in front of the doors to mourn the closing of the Tropicana. The last bets were placed at 03:00 in the morning. Waiters, dealers, former showgirls and other employees exchanged two- and five-dollar chips from the gaming tables, now converted into a relic of the city’s history. At noon, security guards secured the entrances with thick chains and padlocks.

The members of the Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, in Las Vegas in 1962.Michael Ochs Archives

The Tropicana opened its doors in 1957, when Las Vegas barely had 100,000 inhabitants. Today it has 2.3 million. It was the third casino that began operating in the city after an investment of 15 million dollars, the largest until then. The building had 300 rooms spread over three levels and two wings. That construction was just a memory of what exists today on the Strip, an immense complex with two towers located on 3.6 hectares that provided accommodation to tens of thousands of tourists each year in 1,500 rooms. These were managed since the end of 2022 by Bally, one of the largest corporations in the industry.

The growth was possible after changing hands between several owners and with an investment of several billion dollars. Several renovations were made to the hotel, which had at its entrance an iconic tulip-shaped fountain that held a neon with the name of the place. In 1979, a million-dollar tinted glass roof was installed over the gaming tables. In the eighties, blackjack tables were set up in the pool. The latest face of the Tropicana was a redesign to take tourists to a place opposite the desert, to the lush South Beach on the coast of Florida. But in its final days, the casino’s former glory could not be appreciated. At the beginning of the year, broken windows and cracks could be seen in its white plaster facade.

There are those who consider that the end of the Tropicana closes a chapter of the old Las Vegas. In the sixties, the hotel attracted celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Mel Tormé, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, who had his first show in the city on that stage. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, popularly known as the Rat Pack, were frequently seen at the luxurious hotel. The world was able to see what the rooms looked like thanks to James Bond. The spy played by Sean Connery had a suite in the complex in Diamonds are eternal (1971).

A convention room at the Tropicana is used as a warehouse, March 29.
A convention room at the Tropicana is used as a warehouse, March 29.David Becker (Getty Images)

The history of the Tropicana is not only linked to Hollywood. He also had ties to the criminal world of Chicago, Kansas City and New York. An attack against Frank Costello, the boss of the Luciano family, put authorities on the trail of the mafia’s role in the operation of the first casinos in Las Vegas. The police found in a bag in his coat an alleged note with the Tropicana income that had to be laundered to make it legal. The attack occurred just weeks after the casino opened its doors.

The attack caused the FBI, the US investigative agency, to carry out an immense surveillance operation during the 1970s against gangsters, who milked profits from the casinos. One of these was Joe Agosto, who came to the city as producer of the show Folies Bergere, a show topless with cabaret dancers flown directly from Paris. The show, offered by the Tropicana, became one of the longest running shows in the city until its last show in 2009. Agosto used it to climb positions within the hotel until he became an executive of the group. His task was to send part of the money to the Kansas City family headed by capo Anthony Civella.

One of the recordings intercepted by FBI agents captured Agosto boasting that he had in his pocket Harry Reid, the president of the state Gaming Commission between 1977 and 1981, and who later became an influential Democratic senator until his death. Reid flatly denied the accusations and the governor at the time, Robert List, believed him and left him in office.

The FBI operation dismantled a criminal structure that had tentacles in the casino operation. The case came to court in 1981, two years after the Ramada hotel group took over the Tropicana. In July of that year, several Kansas City mobsters who extracted thousands of dollars from gambling in a scheme permitted by the Teamsters, the United States truckers union, were convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

A frayed textile outside a cabin that used to be a lodging option in Tropicana.
A frayed textile outside a cabin that used to be a lodging option in Tropicana.John Locher (AP)

The home of the Athletics

The Bally group acquired the Tropicana in 2022 for $148 million. The group has not revealed in detail its plans for the 14-hectare land. For the moment, it will continue to pay the $10 million in annual rent to the real estate group that owns the land. They have not ruled out the construction of a new casino once the construction of the stadium is completed in 2028.

The new home of the Oakland Athletics will have a capacity for 33,000 fans. Construction of the stadium will begin in April 2025 and will cost $1.5 billion. The building has caused some controversy among the city’s inhabitants, since part of the expense will be covered with public money. Local legislators last year approved a trust that aims to contribute $380 million to the team that exchanged the San Francisco Bay for the Nevada desert.

The owners of the A’s, known simply as the A’s, will spend the remainder of the year analyzing and studying designs for the future stadium. Major League Baseball (MLB), the professional baseball league in the United States, approved the team’s move last November. The A’s, immortalized on tape Moneyball (2011) with Brad Pitt, they have not reached a World Series since 1990.

The disappearance of the Tropicana will usher in a new era of Las Vegas, that of the sports oasis of the American West. With the arrival of an MLB team, the only thing missing is the landing of a professional basketball team so that the city has a representative of the country’s main sports. In the urban landscape where the casino is seen today you can see the Allegiant of the American football Raiders, who also left Oakland four years ago, and the home of the Golden Knights, the professional hockey team, who won the championship in 2023.

Cars drive in front of the casino on March 28.
Cars drive in front of the casino on March 28.John Locher (AP)

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