Posted on: December 28, 2023, 02:20h.
Last updated on: December 28, 2023, 02:38h.
It’s no longer news that the Tropicana Las Vegas is not long for this world. Sometime in the next couple of years, if all goes according to plan, the casino resort will be imploded to make space for a baseball stadium for the rebranded Las Vegas Athletics.
What many tourists don’t realize, however, is that the implosion will take with it the oldest surviving hotel rooms on the Las Vegas Strip. And what almost no one realizes is that that those rooms are no longer available to the public. They were permanently, and quietly, closed for in mid November. According to a representative of the hotel, this was done in preparation for the Trop’s imminent demise.
The 300 “bungalow” rooms, as they have been called for decades now, opened along with the casino hotel on April 4, 1957. They fanned away from the main casino in two three-story wings making a “V” shape, and still do – even though the original casino was razed to build the resort’s Tiffany (now Paradise) Tower, which opened in 1979.
Most tourists have no idea the Trop’s bungalow rooms are the Strip’s oldest. That’s because the Flamingo and Sahara were mainstays on the old Highway 91 long before the Tropicana opened there on April 4, 1957. (It wouldn’t be renamed Las Vegas Boulevard for two more years.)
However, all original structures that the Flamingo and Sahara opened with — in 1946 and 1952, respectively — have long since been demolished.
The Trop was conceived by hotelier Ben Jaffe, a partner in Miami’s Fontainebleau hotel. In 1955, he purchased 40 acres on Highway 91 and Bond Road, far south of the Flamingo. Eager to own the nicest resort in Las Vegas, but not to build or run it, he leased the property to a company called Hotel Conquistador Inc., which had experience doing both.
The trouble was that its experience came via organized crime. Hotel Conquistador was owned by Phil Kastel, who ran the illegal Beverly Club gambling parlor near New Orleans under Luciano crime family boss Frank Costello. The two also ran a substantial illegal slot machine route.
The Trop’s operators had already removed Kastel’s name from the gaming license application before the Gaming Control Board’s final hearing. However, only a month after opening night, Costello survived an assassination attempt on his life ordered by rival mob boss Vito Genovese in New York. And inside one of the mobster’s coat pockets, police found an earnings promissory note from the the Tropicana for $651,284 in gross winnings.
The national crime headlines didn’t hurt business, though. They may have even enhanced the Trop’s intrigue. At the time it opened, it was the most expensive casino ever built in Las Vegas. Its $15M price tag far outstripped the $8.5M necessary to top off the Riviera two years earlier — though, at 300 rooms, it was a third of the size of the Stardust, which would open the following year.
“Lush luxury, extremely good taste, warmth, intimacy and functional efficiency,” was how the Las Vegas Sun initially described it.
And the casino resort was a hit with a constant stream of visiting stars such as Sammy Davis Jr. and Elizabeth Taylor, who came to watch headliners including Jayne Mansfield and Taylor’s fiancée, Eddie Fisher.
The Trop eventually earned the nickname “Tiffany of the Strip.”
Tropping the Ball
By the early ‘70s, however, the Tiffany was tarnished by the lure of newer and larger competitors Caesars Palace and the International Hotel (Las Vegas Hilton). Mitzi Stauffer Briggs, heir to the Stauffer Chemical fortune, bought the resort in 1975 with an eye to compete. She knocked down its original casino, and began building the 22-floor Tiffany Tower in 1977.
A year later, a skimming operation was uncovered that was operated by the Civella crime family of Kansas City. That crime ring was part of the plot inspiration for the 1995 hit film Casino, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Sharon Stone.
Due to her mob ties, Briggs was forced to sell the Trop to its first corporate owner, Ramada, which added a second tower (Island) in 1986. But the Trop’s reputation never recovered, enduring a revolving door of financially strapped new owners promising renovations that never materialized.
In 2015, Penn National Gaming (later Penn Entertainment) purchased the Trop for $360M. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it sold the land it occupied to a spin-off company, Gaming and Leisure Properties (GLPI). In September 2022, Bally’s Corporation, purchased the non-land assets of the Tropicana from GLPI for $148M and leased the land from GLPI for an annual rent of $10.5M.
In May 2023, Bally’s announced its agreement to with the Oakland Athletics baseball team to develop the site for a new baseball stadium.