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This Mob-Era Casino Is Closing on the Las Vegas Strip. Here's Some Big Moments in Its 67 Years
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By Associated Press
Published 3 weeks ago on
April 2, 2024

Iconic Tropicana Las Vegas closes after 67 years, marking an end to its vibrant history from mob ties to a sports entertainment era. (AP/File)

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LAS VEGAS — From its lavish opening in 1957 on a Las Vegas Boulevard surrounded by wide-open desert, to its sleepier years amid a boom in megaresorts, the Tropicana Las Vegas has been a familiar landmark home to colorful events in a city known for constant reinvention.

Now the Strip’s third-oldest casino is set to shut its doors for good at noon Tuesday, with demolition slated for October to make room for a $1.5 billion Major League Baseball stadium for the relocating Oakland Athletics — part of Las Vegas’ latest rebrand as a hub for sports entertainment.

Take a look back on some key moments in the Tropicana’s vibrant history.

The ‘Tiffany of the Strip’ Debuts

Before it opened on April 4, 1957, a sign erected at the Tropicana’s construction site on a dusty Las Vegas Boulevard teased that a “desert oasis” was coming. When the Tropicana finally arrived, it was the most expensive and lavish casino on the Strip. Local newspaper reports from the time say more than 12,500 people attended the grand opening.

Nicknamed the “Tiffany of the Strip” for its opulence, the Tropicana cost $15 million to build. It was three stories with 300 rooms split into two wings, creating a footprint shaped like the letter “Y.” Each room had a balcony. Between the resort’s wings was a half-moon pool surrounded by lush landscaping and towering palm trees.

A 60-foot (18-meter) tulip fountain greeted guests at the front when they arrived. Flags from different countries lined the casino’s entrance. There were mosaic tiles and mahogany-paneled walls throughout.

Later, the Tropicana underwent two major hotel expansions: The Tiffany Tower opened in 1979 with 600 rooms. It was renamed the Paradise Tower. In 1986, the Island Tower opened with 800 rooms.

The Mob

Behind the scenes of the casino’s opening, the Tropicana had ties to the mob, largely through reputed mobster Frank Costello, according to Sin City historian Michael Green, who also serves on the board of The Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas.

Weeks after the Tropicana debuted, Costello was shot in the head in New York. He survived, but police found in his coat pocket a piece of paper with the Tropicana’s exact earnings figure. The note also mentioned “money to be skimmed” for Costello’s associates, according to a post on The Mob Museum’s website looking back on the Tropicana’s storied past.

By the 1970s, federal authorities investigating mobsters in Kansas City would charge more than a dozen mob operatives with conspiring to skim nearly $2 million in gambling revenue from Las Vegas casinos, including the Tropicana. Charges connected to the Tropicana alone resulted in five convictions.

The Feathered Showgirl

On Christmas Eve in 1959, the Tropicana debuted “Folies Bergere,” a topless revue imported from Paris and featuring what is now one of the most recognizable Las Vegas icons: the feathered showgirl.

During its nearly 50-year run, “Folies Bergere” featured elaborate costumes and stage sets, original music that at one time was played by a live orchestra, line dancers, magic shows, acrobats and comedy.

The cabaret was featured in the 1964 Elvis Presley film “Viva Las Vegas.” Magicians Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn got their start in the show, as did Lance Burton.

The final curtain fell in March 2009 amid the Great Recession.

Vegas Lore

The Tropicana is a Las Vegas landmark not just because of its location but because of its lore. It’s long been a pop culture reference in movies and TV shows, while conjuring up memories of vintage Vegas.

A portion of “The Godfather” was filmed at the Tropicana and in the 1971 film “Diamonds Are Forever,” James Bond stays there.

“I hear that the Hotel Tropicana is quite comfortable,” Bond says in the movie.

Black and white photographs still floating around on the internet today memorialize the casino’s heyday hosting A-list stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds and such members of the Rat Pack as Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. Davis purchased an 8% interest in the casino and became the first Black person to own a share in a major Las Vegas Strip hotel.

Mel Tormé and Eddie Fisher performed at the Tropicana. Gladys Knight and Wayne Newton have held residencies there.

In 1998, the casino became the backdrop to daredevil showman Robbie Knievel’s record-breaking motorcycle jump, soaring to 231 feet (70 meters) over a row of 30 limousines. His daredevil father Evel Knievel was in tow that day to wish his son luck.

The Las Vegas Mass Shooting

When a gunman opened fire into a crowded country music festival from a high-rise suite at the Mandalay Bay in October 2017, the nearby Tropicana sheltered thousands of people fleeing gunfire.

“The Tropicana welcomed them all in. They provided some first aid as needed and a safe place for them until the danger passed,” said Tennille Pereira, director of the Resiliency & Justice Center — formerly the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center — which was created in the aftermath of the shooting to provide assistance to survivors and families of the victims.

During a recent media tour of the casino’s sprawling property ahead of its scheduled closure, a security officer took The Associated Press into the Tropicana’s “Trinidad” conference room, a massive red-and-orange carpeted hall where concertgoers received aid and took shelter for hours.

Sixty people were killed in the shooting, including two who initially survived but later died of complications from their gunshot wounds.

“The Tropicana embodied the spirit of Las Vegas that night by jumping in and doing everything that they could, and not thinking of what that would necessarily mean for them in that moment,” Pereira said.

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