Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Supported by

Storied Tropicana closes to make way for Las Vegas ballpark

FILE - In this Aug. 4, 2015, file photo, sunlight illuminates a sign at the Tropicana hotel and casino in Las Vegas. The Tropicana Las Vegas Hotel and Casino is being sold. Bally’s Corp. announced Tuesday, April 13, 2021, it will acquire the iconic Las Vegas Strip property from Gaming and Leisure Properties Inc. for about $308 million.(AP Photo/John Locher,File)
John Locher/AP
FILE - In this Aug. 4, 2015, file photo, sunlight illuminates a sign at the Tropicana hotel and casino in Las Vegas.

When the Tropicana resort was built on the Las Vegas Strip in 1957, it ended five years of rapid resort growth in Clark County. The county hadn’t yet tipped 100,000 people, but 8 million people flocked to Las Vegas for fun each year.

The 1950s saw a resort boom in Las Vegas, which included the emergence of Sahara, Sands, New Frontier, Royal Nevada, Showboat, Riviera, Fremont and Binion’s Horseshoe.

And yes, lots of that came from Teamsters' money and pension funds, and a lot of mob influence.

Be that as it may, the last resort to rise was the Tropicana. It opened with just 300 rooms, but it was luxurious, more expensive and had a celebrity chef from California. It was truly the icing on the cake; the Bellagio of its time. And in just a few weeks, almost 70 years later, it’s gonna close to make way for a potential baseball park.

David Schwartz, a gaming history professor and ombuds at UNLV, tells State of Nevada a great story about how its mob connection was revealed — as Frank Costello, a New York underworld crime figurehead, was being treated in a hospital for a gunshot wound to the head.

"The police went through his clothes, and they found a slip of paper in his pocket that had the win numbers for the Tropicana down to the penny, and to whom different amounts of money [was] going to different people," says Schwartz. "So people were confused and concerned, and, "How could this happen, and what's going on?" It was well known that Phil Kastel, who was one of the promoters behind the Tropicana, had been partners with Frank Costello. So it seems like it was an open secret that there was a connection. The official story was, "Well, there were two rogue employees, including one who was the secretary-treasurer, were behind the whole thing. There's nothing institutional about this. And as long as we get rid of them, and we pay off Kastel's investment, everything's gonna be fine." But ... there was continuity into the late 70s."

David Mckee, editor-in-chief of Casino Life, says the property pretty much sealed its fate during the early 2010s renovation that gave the property a more modernized look. "Unfortunately, many of their initiatives just never gained traction with the public, or, in the case of the alliance with Nikki Beach, to try and give it more of a Miami Beach flavor — that lasted very few months and ended under mysterious circumstances," says McKee. "So it was just a question of initiatives either not running long enough to catch on or simply never achieving any kind of cachet with the public public. Plus, the previous ownership had, in its finite wisdom, pulled the plug on the Trop's signature attraction, Folies Bergere. I remember that [the Tropicana] had lost a great deal of its identity by the time that [CEO Alex] Yemenidjian came along. And he did a lovely job as far as rebranding the place and trying to make the Trop name mean something new. But the public just was not in the mood for it."

But as the Tropicana awaits its eventual implosion, questions remain about the Oakland Athletics' attempted move to Las Vegas and development of a stadium in the casino's location — namely, who is going to fund the latter. owner/reporter Alan Snel says another huge hurdle remains.

"The one thing about the Athletics and the public subsidy to help build their stadium is that ... there is some opposition, obviously, in the local community," says Snel. "But even more than opposition, there's been kind of relative indifference. People look at the stadium as opening in 2028 — it's four years down the road. ... To me, you know, the A's are going to have to work very hard at creating an interest in a team that, as you know, there was no local community group that you normally see in many markets seeking baseball, or asking for Major League Baseball in this market. I think most people would prefer an expansion team, much like the Vegas Golden Knights in hockey."

Guests: Alan Snel, founder, LV Sports Biz; David Schwartz, ombuds and gaming professor, UNLV; David McKee, editor-in-chief, Casino Life magazine and gaming columnist, Las Vegas Advisor

Stay Connected
Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.
Related Content