Last time, we talked about the origins of the Aladdin Hotel under the leadership of Milton Prell. After he sold it, the trouble started. The next owner, Albert Parvin, had ties to Meyer Lansky. He sold it to a group of investors from St. Louis and Detroit. They made some big moves: a nineteen-story tower and construction of the Aladdin Theater for the Performing Acts. Neil Diamond opened the 7,500-seat theater with a concert in July 1976. Over the next two decades, it would host a variety of shows, and be the site of such community events as high school graduations.
But the new owners were getting into trouble. First, they spent big on those renovations, and didn’t get that great a return on their investment. Second, they were tied to the Detroit mob. James G. Abraham became the general manager. Later, he and several other Aladdin executives were indicted. They were charged with involvement in skimming. The money supposedly went to Detroit boss Vito Giacalone, who may have been tied to the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. Co-owner Sorkis Webbe was indicted on kickback charges. Another player in the Aladdin, James Tamer, was tied to the Detroit mob. He tried to get licensed as director of the Aladdin’s showroom. At the time, that was a favorite executive post for mobsters—other alleged entertainment directors were Frank Rosenthal at the Stardust and Joe Agosto at the Tropicana. The state Gaming Control Board said no to Tamer. The Gaming Commission ordered the Aladdin closed in 1979.
Its new owners had reputations of their own. Ed Torres had been in the gaming business in Las Vegas for many years. His partner was Wayne Newton, one of the most popular showroom performers in Las Vegas history. They bought the hotel for 85 million dollars and tried to get it back on its feet. They had trouble working together, and Torres bought out Newton. Then the Teamsters called in their loan. Torres’s ownership group filed for bankruptcy. Amid reports of more mob involvement, the Aladdin closed again.
This time, a foreign investor tried to save the Aladdin. Japanese businessman Ginji Yasuda bought it in 1987 for 54 million dollars—a full 30 million less than Newton and Torres had paid for it. He hired a respected casino operator and former regulator, Dennis Gomes. But then Yasuda wouldn’t tell Nevada Gaming Commissioners where he had gotten six million dollars that kept the IRS from taking the hotel from him. The rumor was that he got it from the Japanese mob. The Aladdin went into bankruptcy. In 1992, a court trustee gave control to Joe Burt, who had run the Maxim Hotel and Casino (that’s where the Westin is today). After Burt died, the Aladdin was sold in 1994 to the Sigmund Sommer Family Trust for 80 million dollars. Jack Sommer, the hotel’s operator, said it would be redeveloped in partnership with London Clubs International. On November 25, 1997, the Aladdin closed. The following April 28, the hotel was imploded with only the Aladdin Theater for the Performing Arts left standing.
The original Aladdin was history. Today, Planet Hollywood stands in its place. Somehow that seems appropriate: the Aladdin’s story sounds like a movie, because the reality was hard enough to believe.
Nevada Yesterdays is written by Associate Professor Michael Green of UNLV, and narrated by former Senator Richard Bryan. Supported by Nevada Humanities