Tropicana: The refuge of the mafia and the Rat Pack in Las Vegas closes after 67 years

The legendary casino and hotel is to be demolished to make way for construction of a new baseball stadium for the Oakland Athletics

Casino Tropicana en Las Vegas
The Tropicana in Las Vegas, in 2006.Ethan Miller (Getty Images)
Luis Pablo Beauregard

In 1972, Sammy Davis Jr. became the first Black shareholder in a Las Vegas hotel. The famous crooner and Rat Pack member placed his bet on the Tropicana, the casino that had become a regular haven for 1960s group of performers led by Frank Sinatra. The celebrated casino closed its doors this week after 67 years of history on the Strip. The demolition of the legendary resort will begin in October to make way for the construction of baseball stadium for the Athletics, the MLB franchise that is planning on moving from Oakland, California, to Sin City.

Although the demolition work is several months away, heavy machinery can already be seen in the hotel’s parking lots. On Tuesday, the Tropicana’s last day of operation, regular customers and tourists gathered for the last time in front of its doors to mourn the closing of the casino. The final bets were placed at 3.00 a.m. local time. Waiters, croupiers, showgirls and other employees exchanged two-dollar and five-dollar chips from the gaming tables, now a piece of the city’s history. At noon, security guards locked the entrances with thick chains and padlocks.

Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, the Rat Pack, in Las Vegas in 1962.
Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, the Rat Pack, in Las Vegas in 1962.Michael Ochs Archives

The Tropicana opened its doors in 1957, when Las Vegas had barely 100,000 inhabitants. Today, the population of its metropolitan area stands at around 2.3 million. It was the third casino to begin operating in the city following a $15 million investment, the largest of its kind at that time. The original building had 300 rooms distributed across three floors and two wings. That construction gradually grew into an immense complex with two towers on 35 acres that provided lodging for tens of thousands of tourists every year in nearly 1,500 rooms.

That expansion was made possible after various changes of hands among different owners and an investment of several billion dollars. Several renovations were made to the hotel, which had at its entrance an iconic tulip-shaped fountain holding a neon sign with the name of the casino. In 1979, a $1 million tinted glass ceiling was installed over the gaming tables. In the 1980s, blackjack tables were set up in the pool. The last makeover of the Tropicana was a redesign to transport tourists away from the desert to a leafy rendition of South Beach on Florida’s shores. But in its final days, the casino’s old glory was fading. By the beginning of this year, broken windows and cracks could be seen in its white plaster facade.

Some see the end of the Tropicana as the closing of a chapter of historical Las Vegas. In the 1960s, the hotel attracted celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Mel Tormé, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, who performed his first show in the city on the Tropicana’s stage. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop — popularly known as the Rat Pack — were frequently seen at the luxurious hotel. The wider world got a glimpse of the casino’s rooms thanks to James Bond. In the 1971 movie Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery’s 007 had a suite at the resort.

A convention room at the Tropicana now used as a warehouse, March 29.
A convention room at the Tropicana now used as a warehouse, March 29.David Becker (Getty Images)

The Tropicana’s history is not only linked to Hollywood. It also had ties to the criminal underworlds of Chicago, Kansas City and New York. An attempt on the life of Frank Costello, the capo of the Luciano crime family, put the authorities on the trail of the mafia’s role in the operation of the first casinos to spring up in Vegas. While Costello was in hospital, police found his coat a note containing Tropicana proceeds that were to be laundered. The attack on the crime boss occurred just weeks after the casino opened its doors.

Costello’s shooting prompted the FBI to carry out an immense surveillance operation in the 1970s against mobsters who were skimming casino profits. One of these was Joe Agosto, who arrived in Vegas as owner of the Folies Bergere topless show, with cabaret dancers flown in directly from Paris. The show, staged at the Tropicana, was one of the longest-running in the city until its final performance in 2009. Agosto used the show to climb the hotel ladder and became an executive of the group. His job was to send some of the money generated to the Kansas City crime family headed by kingpin Anthony Civella.

One of the recordings tapped by FBI agents captured Agosto bragging that he had Harry Reid — the chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission between 1977 and 1981, who later became an influential Democratic senator — in his pocket. Reid adamantly denied the allegations, and the governor at the time, Robert List, believed him and retained him in office.

The FBI operation unraveled a criminal structure that had tentacles across the Vegas casino operation. The case went to court in 1981, two years after the Ramada hotel group took over the Tropicana. In July of that year, several Kansas City mobsters, who skimmed gambling dollars from casinos they had become secret shareholders in after securing pension fund loans from the Teamsters union, were convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

A frayed textile outside a cabin that used to be a lodging option at the Tropicana.
A frayed textile outside a cabin that used to be a lodging option at the Tropicana.John Locher (AP)

The home of the Athletics

Bally’s Corporation acquired the Tropicana in 2022 for $148 million. The group has not disclosed in detail what plans it has for the 14-hectare site. For the time being, it will continue to pay the $10 million annual rent to the real estate group that owns the land. Bally’s has not ruled out the construction of a new casino once the baseball stadium is completed in 2028.

The new home of the Athletics will have a capacity of 33,000. Construction on the stadium will begin in April 2025 and will cost $1.5 billion. The building has caused some controversy among the city’s residents, as part of the cost will be met with public money. Local legislators last year approved a trust fund that aims to contribute $380 million in taxpayer dollars to the stadium.

The owners of the Athletics, known simply as the A’s, will spend the remainder of the year analyzing and studying designs for the future stadium. Major League Baseball approved the franchise’s move last November. The A’s, immortalized in the movie Moneyball (2011) starring Brad Pitt, have not reached a World Series since 1990.

The demise of the Tropicana will usher in a new era for Las Vegas, the sports oasis of the American West. With the arrival of an MLB team, only an NBA team is needed for the city to have a representative of all the country’s major sports. In the urban landscape where the casino can be seen today is the Allegiant Stadium of the Las Vegas Raiders NFL team, which also left Oakland four years ago, and the T-Mobile Arena of the Golden Knights, the professional ice hockey team who won the NHL championship in 2023.

Cars drive in front of the casino on March 28.
Cars drive in front of the casino on March 28.John Locher (AP)

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