Roulette wheels spin for last time at old Rat Pack haunt

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The Independent US

There would surely have been water in those ol' blue eyes if Frank Sinatra were still alive today to witness the shuttering of his once-beloved casino, Cal Neva Lodge, for lack of folk at the gambling tables.

Yesterday saw the last of the card-dealing and roulette-spinning at the gaming resort that, in truth, may have come to the end of its deck far sooner had it not been for its heritage. Set on Lake Tahoe on the Nevada-California border, it was long ago overshadowed by glitzier competition in Las Vegas.

The current owners of the lodge assert that the restaurant and other non-gaming parts of the Cal Neva will remain open and they have not given up on finding another gaming operator to re-open the casino by the end of the year. But more probably the poker tables will be gone for good, industry experts say – not just because of shinier Las Vegas across the desert but because the recession has hit hard.

"The realities are when you have that kind of decline the weakest operators typically get pushed out," William Eadington of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming told the AP. "The older, tired casinos – and the Cal Neva is a great example – don't have much to offer for gaming."

Gamblers on The Strip nowadays expect a bit more than the pretty dealers, chiming one-armed bandits and the chance of a sudden fortune. Tigers, in-house roller-coasters, erupting volcanoes, acrobatic shows and computer-choreographed fountains have now become part of the experience.

Still, there was surely something special about the ghosts at Cal Neva Lodge, which, when Sinatra was its owner between 1960 and 1963, became a hub for his Rat Pack cronies, including, of course, Dean Martin, Sammy David Jr and Peter Lawford.

Not only was Marilyn Monroe an occasional visitor at the resort, she in fact stayed there just one week before her death from a drug overdose in 1962. Indeed, a tour that is still offered by the hotel includes a glimpse of the cabin where she stayed.

"This was one of the hottest casinos in Nevada when Frank owned it," Carl Buehler, a bar tender who leads the tours, said. "Frank had all the stars coming in and out of here, and it was always packed with people. I think the history is what keeps the Cal Neva going."

The admittedly rather tired-looking place, which opened in 1926, still has tunnels built for smuggling in booze during Prohibition; they were later used for ferrying the famous (and the crooked) in and out away from the hungry eyes of the public. According to the resort's web site, owners during the Forties and Fifties, before Sinatra, included "serious gamblers with names like Pretty Boy, Bones, and Baby Face".