Last roll of the dice for Stardust casino - icon of 'old Las Vegas'

Click to follow
The Independent US

Not too much still remains of the old Las Vegas, the cheesy, 1950s-era casinos where Rat Pack wannabes downed Manhattans and smoked their way through the night while Mob enforcers sent down from Chicago or Kansas City made sure everybody stayed under control.

Now one of the last icons of that era, the Stardust, is set for demolition as soon as the end of this year. Once vaunted as the largest casino with the largest swimming pool in town, the Stardust has come to look increasingly like a relic of a bygone era - its purplish hue looking decidedly unambitious next to the pyrotechnic wonders of the Luxor pyramid or the ersatz splendours of Paris, New York New York or the Venetian, further south on the Las Vegas strip.

Its end also symbolises Las Vegas's transition from a Mob town to a corporate entertainment capital blessed by Wall Street. The Stardust was among three casinos run by Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, a sports bookie and Mob placeman whose lightly fictionalised counterpart was portrayed by Robert De Niro in the 1996 Martin Scorsese movie Casino. Rosenthal ended up blacklisted and chased out of town, while his enforcer, the notorious Tony "the Ant" Spilotro, was beaten with baseball bats and buried alive in a cornfield.

The Stardust will have its last hurrah on Hallowe'en night before being shuttered for good, two months earlier than originally scheduled. Then the wrecking ball will come down to make space for a 63-acre luxury casino and resort complex called Echelon Place.

It is a demise that has been a long time coming. The Stardust's contemporaries - the Dunes, the Sands and the one-time showcase Desert Inn - have all vanished in the past decade to make room for lavish high-end casinos with gourmet restaurants and novelties such as Impressionist art collections. Many of the new edifices - the Bellagio, the Mirage and the super-lavish $2.7bn (£1.4bn) Wynn Las Vegas, were conceived by the uncrowned king of Las Vegas, the entrepreneur Steven Wynn.

The Stardust clung on, partly because it was at the unfashionable northern end of the Strip and partly because of the enduring popularity of its headline act, the lounge singer and self-proclaimed "Mr Las Vegas", Wayne Newton.

But Newton gave up his gig last year after a seven-year stretch and the new corporate investors in Las Vegas, in the shape of the Boyd Gaming Corporation, seized their opportunity.

The casino opened in 1958 in the first big building boom on the strip. Rosenthal arguably put the place on the map. He introduced sports betting, a first in Vegas, quickly copied by his rivals. And he employed Sin City's first female dealers, an innovation so good for business it is a wonder nobody thought of it before.

The Stardust was also known for its topless revue, the Lido de Paris, with performers who cavorted with doves and camels and danced to re-enactments of natural disasters.