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Best of John Grochowski
The Sahara's swan song29 March 2011
In another time, but the same place, the Las Vegas Strip embraced its desert setting, The Sands. The Dunes. The Desert Inn. Playgrounds for Frank and Dean and Sammy and Joey — that's Sinatra, Martin, Davis Jr. and Bishop, for those too young to remember the Rat Pack. Can't-miss desert oases for those who wanted to immerse themselves in the glitz and glamour of the Strip.
They're gone now, long since imploded to make way for bigger, newer, showier, more modern megaresorts.
One remains from that era of embracing desert location in both name and theme: the Sahara.
But not for much longer. SBE Entertainment, which owns the icon at the north end of the Strip, has announced the Sahara is no longer economically viable, and will close its doors May 16.
I'm not quite old enough to reach back to Rat Pack days, but I've long enjoyed soaking up Las Vegas history, staying and playing in the older joints. Sometimes it's a little sad, as when we walked into the Dunes in the late 1980s and my wife said, "This must have been beautiful in its day. Now it's a faded old lady."
Sometimes the experience is more upbeat. The Sands was in there pitching until the day it closed, waiting for the implosion that would clear land for the Venetian. A daily slot tournament was a staple for years, and one of my fondest early gambling memories was hitting four blue 7s four times in the final round to win the $1,000 top prize for my $10 buy-in.
My last stay at the Sahara, a mere two years ago, was something of a mixed bag. Yes, it was fading, and no, it couldn't pull attention away from the Mediterranean villages, celebrity chefs and Cirque du Soleil extravaganzas elsewhere on the Strip.
What it could do was compete for a different customer. Sandy Hackett's Rat Pack Show, with the son of comic legend Buddy Hackett, appealed to affection for the songs and fun of old Vegas. For a newer generation, there was NASCAR Café Las Vegas Entertainment Experience, playing to the rise in popularity in stock car racing with a themed restaurant, state-of-the-art roller coaster and realistic simulated racing.
I enjoyed strolling an area of the casino called Locals Lane, which included a number of video poker games with 99%-plus payback, far better than most other Strip resorts.
And there were Dollar Days, with $1 blackjack minimum bets, $1 hot dogs, $1 beers and $1 shots in free souvenir glasses.
That hasn't been enough to sustain the property well past its glory days. The Vegas of Frank, Dean, Sammy and Joey, and now one more desert-themed resort, looks like dust in the wind.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best of John Grochowski