One Mob-Era Casino Closes, Another Offers Old Las Vegas Prices

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One Mob-Era Casino Closes, Another Offers Old Las Vegas Prices
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The Tropicana hotel-casino, a once-glamorous resort that first opened in 1957 on the Las Vegas Strip, is set to close permanently Tuesday.

The Trop, as it is known locally, is one of the last Mob-linked properties on the Strip with original construction intact.

Meanwhile, a small, longtime Las Vegas Strip casino, Slots-A-Fun, is returning not to its organized-crime past, but to $2 food and beer prices — and popcorn — along with lower betting limits on table games.

Oakland A’s Relocating To Las Vegas Strip

The Tropicana is slated to be demolished for a 33,000-seat Major League Baseball stadium planned as the new home for the Oakland Athletics, beginning in 2028. The demolition is tentatively set for next October, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Meanwhile, the A’s on Thursday opened the 2024 regular season at home in Oakland with an 8-0 loss to the Cleveland Guardians. The announced attendance was 13,522.

It is unclear where the A's will play after this year while awaiting construction of the ballpark at the Tropicana site.

Now headed for demolition, the Tropicana once was known as “the Tiffany of the Strip,” with a decorative stained-glass ceiling over the gaming tables and, in the showroom, elaborate stage productions.

These days, the Tropicana is managed by publicly traded Bally’s Corp. of Rhode Island but for years was linked to the Mob.

Some of the underworld figures associated with the Tropicana during earlier years include Frank Costello, Carlos Marcello, “Handsome” Johnny Rosselli, Joe Agosto, Nick Civella, Carl Thomas and Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal.

Rosenthal’s wife, Geri, had been a showroom dancer at the Tropicana. In the 1995 Las Vegas Mob movie “Casino,” Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone portray characters based on the Rosenthals. Frank Rosenthal, a Chicago bookmaker, lived for a time at the Tropicana, according to Nicholas Pileggi's book "Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas," and, without being licensed to do so, later operated four Argent Corp. casinos in the valley for Midwestern Mob families -- the Fremont, Stardust, Marina and Hacienda.

The Tropicana also has been featured in Hollywood movies and is where novelist Mario Puzo and director Francis Ford Coppola wrote the script for 1972’s “The Godfather,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

While taking a break from writing, the duo sometimes went down to the gaming floor at the Tropicana, where Coppola within days dropped $30,000 playing craps and blackjack, and Puzo lost $10,000 at roulette.

“We felt so terrible that we lost that we went up and worked twice has hard,” Coppola said.

Mixed Reaction To The Trop’s Closure

The Tropicana’s closing has led to angry responses from those who don’t want one of the few remaining iconic casinos on the Strip to be demolished.

Las Vegas Strip hotel-casinos once linked to the Mob, including the Desert Inn, Riviera, Sands, Stardust, Dunes and Hacienda, were imploded after a boom in megaresort construction that began in 1989. In November of that year, casino developer Steve Wynn opened the Mirage resort, signaling a new era in casino development.

Most of the imploded hotel-casinos were replaced with megaresorts controlled by publicly traded companies. For instance, the Venetian was opened in 1999 where the Sands once stood, and Resorts World Las Vegas first opened in 2021 at the former site of the Stardust.

On the KTNV-Channel 13 Facebook page, some people responding to the Tropicana’s closure expressed sadness regarding the loss of another longtime casino, and along with it, more of the Las Vegas Valley’s history.

“End of an era,” a Facebook user identified as Melvin Armstrong said on the television station’s Facebook page.

Another user, identified as Charlene Western, said she doesn’t know any locals who like going to the Strip anymore, in part because of an already congested traffic situation. Local residents have complained on social media sites that a baseball stadium on the Strip will add to traffic woes at the south end of the resort corridor near the airport.

“So much as changed in 20 years and not for the better,” Western wrote.

Others are glad the A’s are coming to town, insisting that resorts like the Tropicana are past their prime.

With more than 1,000 tribal or commercial casinos now operating around the country, and with sports betting legal in 38 states and Washington, D.C., Las Vegas is attempting to diversify by attracting conventions and sporting events. According to the Wall Street Journal, Las Vegas Strip resorts since 1999 have made more money from conventions, and from hotel amenities such as food and entertainment, than from gambling.

In recent years, the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights and WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces have made the valley their home. A recent Formula 1 event, the Las Vegas Grand Prix, which included race cars zipping down the Strip, added to the area’s claim as the “sports capital of the world.” Many expect an NBA franchise to land in the city someday.

Those who welcome Major League Baseball to the valley are ready for the Tropicana to be demolished so construction on a stadium can begin.

“Let’s all go and bring a sledgehammer,” said a social media user identified as Andrew Olsen on a Facebook fan page called “Las Vegas Athletics.”

The stadium will occupy about nine acres of the 35-acre current Tropicana site on the east side of the Strip. A new resort, tentatively expected to be called Bally’s Las Vegas, is planned for that location, too. The fate of the stained-glass canopy over the gaming floor at the Tropicana has not been announced.

Slots-A-Fun Brings Back Earlier Las Vegas Prices

While this unfolds on Strip near the airport, Slots-A-Fun is rolling back the clock. The small casino is north of the Tropicana and on the other side of the Strip.

In news that recalls an earlier era, the tiny casino next to Circus Circus recently advertised an array of items available for $2 — Heinekens, hot dogs, shrimp cocktails and popcorn. With high table limits now common around town, Slots-A-Fun has brought back $5 table games such as blackjack. In addition, the casino has installed quarter coin games on old-fashioned slot machines.

“Slots-A-Fun is heading in the right direction,” said Gambler Andy on the Las Vegas Review-Journal Facebook page, “and hopefully this will lead to the Slots-A-Fun revival we've all been hoping for.”

Slots-A-Fun has been around for decades, dating back to its opening in August 1971.

For years it was popular for features like its hot dogs and popcorn and for a festive atmosphere that included a craps table almost on the sidewalk at its front entrance.

Mob Associate Once Ran Slots-A-Fun

Slots-A-Fun also had a role in the valley’s Mob history.

At one point, the small property was owned in part by casino executive Carl Thomas, who maintained an office at the casino. Thomas at one time had been respected in the community but suffered a downfall that led to a criminal conviction.

In 1978, Thomas was recorded on surveillance audio at a Kansas City home explaining to the city’s Mob bosses how the skim works in Las Vegas casinos. During that period, the Civella crime family of Kansas City controlled the casino skim at the Tropicana in Las Vegas. The “skim" refers to the theft of untaxed gaming revenue.

After being convicted of 10 counts of skimming $280,000 from the Tropicana, Thomas in 1983 was sentenced to 15 years in prison, according to the Los Angeles Times.

His sentence was reduced to two years when he agreed to testify against organized crime figures in a separate skimming trial, the Times reported.

In 1993, Thomas was killed in a single-vehicle accident 11 miles south of Frenchglen, Oregon, when his truck swerved and rolled over, according to the newspaper. Thomas was 60 years old.

Currently, Slots-A-Fun and Circus Circus are owned by Texas native Phil Ruffin, who has overseen renovations at the properties as part of an overall revival of the north end of the Strip.

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Larry Henry

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