Last time, we opened Caesars Palace. August 5 marked the legendary hotel’s fiftieth anniversary. It opened with a bang, and things never seemed to slow down. It has grown to six towers and nearly 4,000 rooms. But it wasn’t always easy.
The original builders, led by Jay Sarno and Stan Mallin, ran into problems. Sarno and hotel president Nate Jacobson fought over who ran the hotel. Running the casino was Jerry Zarowitz, who had mob connections. And Teamsters money from the mob-controlled pension fund helped them build Caesars in the first place.
Sarno wanted to do something different. So he planned a casino without a hotel … but with a circus. Eventually, he and his partners settled on property at the Strip’s north end. In 1968, they opened Circus Circus. They also were looking to sell Caesars Palace. The buyers were brothers Clifford and Stuart Perlman, who had a 450-restaurant chain out of Miami, Lum’s. They paid fifty-eight million dollars for Caesars—three times what it had cost to build.
Controversies continued, though. With Zarowitz leaving, his successor in the casino, Sanford Waterman, had his own alleged connections. He also wound up in a confrontation with Frank Sinatra at the baccarat table; Waterman reportedly pointed a gun at Sinatra. But under the leadership of Billy Weinberger and Harry Wald, the executive suite at Caesars became much calmer, and the hotel and casino were wildly profitable.
Caesars Palace put a great emphasis on sports, starting with an odd one: Evel Knievel attempting to jump over its fountains on a motorcycle in 1967. Caesars soon turned to more traditional activities, including the Alan King pro-celebrity tennis tournament, a grand prix auto race, and numerous championship boxing matches, including Larry Holmes versus Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard versus Marvin Hagler. In a sign of things to come, Caesars even hosted a National Hockey League exhibition in 1991.
Entertainment has been an important part of the history of Caesars Palace, and vice versa. In addition to just about every big showroom name you can think of, it hosted Caesars Magical Empire, which combined dining and magic. That closed and was replaced by the Colosseum, opened in 2003 when Caesars became the home of Celine Dion. Since then, numerous other big stars have had long residencies there, including Bette Midler, Elton John, Rod Stewart, and Cher.
Caesars also has been part of the reinvention of Las Vegas that began with the Mirage opening in 1989. With changes going on around it, Caesars added The Forum Shops, which opened in 1992, complete with moving statuary and numerous high-end retailers who were known around the world but new to Las Vegas. It also included high-end dining. Wolfgang Puck became the first celebrity chef here with Spago at The Forum Shops, and that certainly began a major trend.
Caesars also has reflected and affected the transition that Nevada and the gaming industry made to corporate ownership with Caesars World under the Perlmans. They built Caesars properties in Lake Tahoe and Atlantic City. Starwood Resorts eventually bought the company, but then sold it to Hilton, which spun off its casinos into Park Place Entertainment. In 2005, Harrah’s bought the casinos, and now the company is Caesars Entertainment—the name serving as a reminder that what Jay Sarno and Stan Mallin and company dreamed of half a century ago has grown bigger than anybody could have imagined.
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