The Tropicana Las Vegas, a mob-era casino and Sin City landmark, closes after 67 years

Apr 1, 2024, 9:14 PM | Updated: Apr 2, 2024, 4:40 pm

LAS VEGAS (AP) — In the 1971 film “Diamonds are Forever,” James Bond stays in a swanky suite at the Tropicana Las Vegas.

“I hear that the Hotel Tropicana is quite comfortable,” Agent 007 says.

It was the Tropicana’s heyday, a frequent haunt of the legendary Rat Pack, while its past under the mob cemented its place in Vegas lore.

But after welcoming guests for 67 years, the Las Vegas Strip’s third-oldest casino shut its doors for good on Tuesday. Employees crowded the main entrance, cheering and crying, while tourists and locals watched the historic moment from behind a yellow gate. A tissue box made its way through the crowd.

Then, just before 1 p.m., security guards began locking up the Tropicana. The thick chains clinked as they were wrapped around the casino’s gold door handles.

Demolition is slated for October to make room for a $1.5 billion Major League Baseball stadium — part of the city’s latest rebrand as a hub for sports entertainment.

Charlie Granado, a bartender at the Tropicana, said it’s a bittersweet ending for the place he has called a second home for 38 years.

“It’s time. It’s ran its course,” Granado said. “It makes me sad. But on the other hand, it’s a happy ending.”

The population of Clark County had just surpassed 100,000 when the Tropicana opened on a Strip surrounded by vast, open desert. It cost $15 million to build three stories with 300 rooms split into two wings.

Its manicured lawns and flashy showroom earned it the nickname “Tiffany of the Strip.” There was a towering tulip-shaped fountain near the entrance, mosaic tiles and mahogany-paneled walls throughout.

Black and white photographs from that time give a view into what it was like inside the walls of the Tropicana at its height, playing host to A-list stars — from Elizabeth Taylor and Debbie Reynolds to Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. Mel Tormé and Eddie Fisher performed at the Tropicana.

Decades later, New Jersey resident Joe Zappulla was among the final hotel guests to check out at the Tropicana before the locks went on the doors. He spent $600 for a room and fulfilled a Vegas fantasy: lying on top of a craps table on a casino floor.

“When else can I do this in Vegas?” he said.

Zappulla grew up hearing glamorous tales from his parents, who honeymooned in Las Vegas in 1961 and visited often, about their run-ins with the Rat Pack during the Tropicana’s heyday. It’s a version of Sin City that his parents loved.

“Old Vegas, it’s going,” Zappulla said with tears sliding down his cheeks. “So I’m really clinging to a little piece of that.”

In a city known for reinvention, the Tropicana itself underwent major changes as Las Vegas evolved. Two hotel towers were added in later years. In 1979, the casino’s now-beloved $1 million green-and-amber stained glass ceiling was installed above the casino floor.

Barbara Boggess was 26 when she started working at the Tropicana in the late 1970s as a linen room attendant.

Now 72, Boggess has seen the Tropicana through its many iterations. There was the 1980s rebrand as “the Island of Las Vegas,” with a swim-up blackjack table at the pool, and the South Beach-themed renovation completed in 2011.

Today, only the low-rise hotel room wings remain of the original Tropicana structure. Yet the casino still conjures up vintage Vegas nostalgia.

“When you first walk in, you see the stained glass and the low ceilings,” JT Seumala, a Las Vegas resident staying at the casino in March, said. “It does feel like you step back in time for a moment.”

Seumala and his husband roamed the sprawling property during their visit, turning down random hallways and taking pictures of the purple-and-orange carpet, the wallpaper and the ceiling. They tried their luck at blackjack and roulette and made conversation with a cocktail server who had worked there for 25 years. They saved a few red $5 poker chips to remember the mob-era casino.

Behind the scenes of the casino’s opening decades ago, the Tropicana had ties to organized crime, largely through reputed mobster Frank Costello.

Costello was shot in the head in New York weeks after the Tropicana’s debut. He survived, but the investigation led police to a piece of paper in his coat pocket with the Tropicana’s exact earnings figure and mention of “money to be skimmed” for Costello’s associates, according to The Mob Museum.

By the 1970s, federal authorities investigating mobsters in Kansas City charged more than a dozen operatives with conspiring to skim $2 million in gambling revenue from Las Vegas casinos, including the Tropicana. Charges connected to the Tropicana alone resulted in five convictions.

But there were many years of mob-free success at the Tropicana. It was home to the city’s longest running show, “Folies Bergere.” The topless revue, imported from Paris, had a nearly 50-year run and helped make the feathered showgirl one of the most recognizable Las Vegas icons.

Today, the casino once surrounded by wide-open desert intersects with a major street named for it at the south end of the Strip, dwarfed by towering megaresorts that Las Vegas is now known for. Nearby are the homes of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, who left Oakland, California, in 2020, and the city’s first major league professional team, the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights.

The ballpark planned for the land beneath the Tropicana is expected to open in 2028.

“There’s a lot of controversy as far as if it should stay or should it go,” Seumala said. “But the thing that I do love about Vegas is that it’s always reinventing itself.”

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The Tropicana Las Vegas, a mob-era casino and Sin City landmark, closes after 67 years