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Last roll of the dice for Las Vegas historic hotel

Those looking to take in a little Las Vegas history have about a month before the legendary Tropicana closes and is demolished for a proposed baseball stadium to house the Athletics, the Major League Baseball team that has called Oakland home since 1968.

Tropicana Hotel resort Las Vegas
Tropicana hotel resort Las Vegas 1957

Its last day will be Tuesday, April 2nd 2024, owner Bally's Corp. announced last month. That's just days before the 67th anniversary of the resort's opening. Bally's has not yet announced how the two guestroom towers will be removed, but it seems inevitable they will be subject to a newer Las Vegas tradition: implosion.

When the Tropicana Las Vegas opened on April 4, 1957, Nevada's lieutenant governor unlocked the door and threw away the key to signal that it would always stay open, Michael Green, a professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, told the Associated Press.

Tropicana Resort Hotel
Tropicana Resort Hotel

Built for $15 million and including 300 rooms, the Tropicana was then the most expensive hotel to open on the Strip. What soon became known as the "Tiffany of the Strip" featured delicate mosaic tile, rich mahogany panels and a tall, tulip-shaped fountain near the entrance. The Tropicana also famously had ties to organized crime through mob boss Frank Costello,

The Tropicana had been planned since 1955, and on the surface did not seem to have been hurt much by the failures of that year. It had a curious ownership structure: Miami hotelier Ben Jaffe (part owner of the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach) owned the land on which the casino would sit, but Conquistador Inc. would build and operate the resort.

Tropicana Resort Hotel
Tropicana Resort Hotel Present day

Las Vegas was in the middle of a slump. It was April 1957, and the town was still coming to terms with the opening of five major resorts two years earlier. It just so happened that Conquistador’s owner, “Dandy” Phil Kastel, had a long and fruitful partnership with Frank Costello, perhaps the nation’s most infamous gangster in the spring of 1957.

On May 2, 1957, while entering a New York apartment building, Costello was shot and wounded by Vincent “the Chin” Gigante on orders from rival Mafia boss Vito Genovese. Written on a piece of paper found by police inside Costello’s coat pocket was the exact gross win from the Tropicana as of April 27, 1957 — $651,284, less $153,745 in markers (loans to players), with the proceeds from slot machines at $62,844. The note mentioned $30,000 for “L” and $9,000 for “H,” likely money to be skimmed on behalf of Costello’s underworld partner Meyer Lansky and perhaps for Mob-connected Teamsters union boss James Hoffa. It was a big national news story.

Frank Costello, wearing a bandage around his head after attempted murder, New York, 1957. A note police found in his pocket after the shooting revealed the skim at the Tropicana. (Getty Images)
Frank Costello, wearing a bandage around his head after attempted murder, New York, 1957. A note police found in his pocket after the shooting revealed the skim at the Tropicana. (Getty Images)

The iconic topless "Folies Bergere" opened in 1959 and ran until 2019, fortifying the city's reputation for showgirls. The show was featured in the 1964 Elvis Presley film "Viva Las Vegas" and was where magicians Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn got their start.

Sammy Davis Jr., Louis Armstrong, and Gladys Knight were among the stars who performed at the Tropicana Las Vegas historic hotel.

Daredevil Robbie Knievel made a record-breaking motorcycle jump outside the hotel, soaring to 231 feet over a row of limousines, in 1998.

After the Flamingo (which opened in 1946) and the Sahara (1952), the Tropicana is considered the third oldest on the Strip.

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