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NEON BABYLON

Stardust memories

October 29, 2006|Swati Pandey | SWATI PANDEY is a researcher for the editorial pages.

LESS THAN two years from its 50th birthday, the Stardust Resort and Casino is closing Wednesday, the latest nail in the coffin of the old Las Vegas of jeweled-and-feathered glamour girls, boyish crooners and mob heavies. In its place will be the Boyd Gaming Corp.'s 5,300-room Echelon Place.

The Stardust signaled its arrival at noon July 2, 1958, by exploding several bombs. It was the largest resort in the world, boasting 1,065 rooms and the largest swimming pool in Nevada. Its casino floor was the biggest in Nevada. Despite its flashiness, the Stardust had plenty of middle-class appeal. In 1958, its hotel rooms started at $8 a night and remained cheaper than hotels nearby for decades.

The feather in the hotel's cap was the Lido de Paris. The show debuted on the Stardust's opening night, attracting more than 10 million people in its first 17 years. Lido de Paris catapulted Siegfried & Roy into stardom and offered steady jobs to jugglers, mimes and ice skaters. One of its biggest draws was topless women, who a Times reviewer promised were "all very artistic and not offensive." Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper reported that during the show's early run, 1,000 people were turned away every night.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 05, 2006 Home Edition Current Part M Page 2 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
The Stardust: An Oct. 29 article in Current stated that the Stardust Resort and Casino was the first casino whose gambling license was suspended. It was the first casino whose license was suspended without a court hearing.

In subsequent years, the Stardust opened a golf course, car racing track and drive-in theater on the property. It also featured Las Vegas' first sports book, with a record-high betting limit of $100,000 (most limits ranged from $1,000 to $5,000).

But the hotel's mob connections eventually upstaged its glamour. In 1976, the Stardust was exposed by Nevada investigators as a Mafia front and accused of skimming more than $7 million -- in quarters -- off its slot machines for distribution to Midwestern mobsters. The Stardust's owner, Allen Glick, was forced to sell the casino. Another top Stardust boss and sports book founder, Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, against whom Glick testified, was banned from Nevada casinos. Rosenthal later survived an attempt on his life, but his business associate, mob-affiliated Tony Spilotro, wasn't so lucky.

In 1983, the Stardust was again found by Nevada authorities to be skimming from its slots, and its owners were forced to sell. The hotel and resort was fined $4 million, a record for a casino at the time, and Nevada gaming officials threatened to suspend its gambling license, another first.

The Stardust had a few successes in the intervening years, most notably scoring Wayne Newton as a headliner. But its glory days were over. By the early 1990s, the Lido de Paris had closed, the Stardust's signature sign had lost its space-age font and its all-you-can-eat buffets and discount slots had become standard fare for Vegas.

When the Stardust shuts its doors, it will have gone from the world's largest hotel to one of the smallest on the Strip, from glamour to infamy to middle-class normalcy.

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