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$15 Million Tropicana Hotel Opens Today
Lavish 300-Room Strip Layout
Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, April 3, 1957 | 6 a.m.
From the colorful, mosaic-tiled entrance through spacious guest rooms, this fantastically beautiful resort hotel combines lush luxury, extremely good taste, warmth, intimacy and functional efficiency.
Billed to be famous the day it opened, the palatial Y-shaped Tropicana brings lush, tropical beauty to its desert site about one mile north of the airport on the Los Angeles highway.
In the stem of the "Y" are tremendous lobby–lounge areas unmatched in the West, spacious casino, elongated serpentine bar, cocktail lounge, a spectacular Theatre–Restaurant, two other breathtaking dining rooms and several shops, while the wings of the "Y" incorporate 300 luxurious rooms and suites.
Unlike many other Strip layouts, the Tropicana was designed and built as a resort hotel, not as a casino and night club with incidental guest rooms.
Wide sweeping drives approach the hotel from the highways, closely adjoined by a sparkling fountain rising 60 feet and cascading water down into a brilliant pool 100 feet in diameter.
Mosaic–tile decorations flank the entrance covered by an upsweeping canopy stretching out 40 feet and measuring 130 feet in length.
Within the inviting lobby, rich mahogany paneling creates a warm, intimate area that encompasses the front desk, lounges, florist shop and gift shop.
From the lobby, "Peacock Alleys" bypass the casino and bar areas and afford easy access to hotel rooms in both wings, to spacious, lavishly appointed lounges and to all public areas.
The large, low–ceilinged casino is directly beyond the lobby, but is screened from immediate view by lush foliage in picturesque planters.
Closely adjoining the casino, the cocktail lounge and serpentine bar stretch back some 120 feet from the lobby and are the scene of dusk-to-dawn entertainment presented on a back–bar bandstand.
Immediately beyond the casino, steps rise up to the entrance of the Tropicana's Theatre Restaurant, a fantastic showplace that will showcase the world's top entertainers in spectaculars produced by Veteran Showman Monte Proser.
Two arcs of the circuclar Theatre–Restaurant are completely glassed, providing a "fourth–dimensional" view of outside tropical gardens bathed in light at night.
Below windowered walls, completely draped during shows, wide runways stretch back from the stage for use by chorus and showgirls during many productions, when numbers will be brought right into the audience.
Steeply tiered seating levels scaled down to the orchestra pit provide completely unobstructed views of the stage from any point and make every seat "ringside" in the tastefully tailored room, which seats 450 for dinner.
Tremendous stage facilities and excellent equipment insure outstanding presentation for individual stars, revues and lavish production numbers, while dressing rooms are unsurpassed in the history of show business.
Tropicana at 50
By Sam Morris
Sunday, April 1, 2007 | 7:32 a.m.
To escape Cuba in 1961 after spending months in a concentration camp, Jose Dominguez signed over his plantation and all his belongings to Fidel Castro's Communist government.
Jan Wright arrived at the Tropicana in 1975 to perform as a showgirl and animal trainer in her husband's "Folies Bergere" act, "Gene Detroy and the Marquis Chimps."
Wright did not know just how much of a "family" guy Agosto was.
He was the Las Vegas front man for the skimming operation at the Trop that funded the Civella Kansas City Mafia family's criminal enterprise.
So that, she said, explained Agosto's peculiar habit of holding meetings poolside so the noisy pool filter would muffle the conversation.
Agosto avoided using Tropicana office or casino phones, Wright said, sensing that they might have been bugged.
"But Joe was careless and said things when he used the boy dancers' (backstage) pay phone that had been tapped," Wright said. "That's how the feds got him."
Information learned from those calls helped lead to the 1979 St. Valentine's Day raid on the Tropicana by the federal government, which produced indictments against Agosto and others, including purported mob boss Carl Civella and Tropicana casino executive Carl W. Thomas.
Agosto, whose code name in mob circles was "Caesar," became the government's key witness, helping put away Civella, Thomas and others. And it ended the mob's control of the Tropicana.
Agosto died of a heart attack in August 1983 in Kansas City.
Wright stayed at the Tropicana after the act, and her marriage, broke up.
"There comes a point as an entertainer when you get tired of all of the traveling and you want to settle down," said Wright, who said she became a U.S. citizen in 1977 but declined to give her age. "The Tropicana had been good to me, like a family, so I decided to stay."
In her 32 years at the Trop, she climbed the ranks and is now the hotel's administration services manager, overseeing records and finances.
As for the future: "I see the Tropicana building on what it already has and becoming even more of a terrific place." Will she be a part of it? "I serve at the pleasure of the president."
Sammy Millage has been dealing blackjack at the Tropicana since Richard Nixon was elected president.
Millage said he was thrilled to step aside for Dino, who was known among gamers as a fairly good dealer.
"I've dealt to or seen a lot of stars here over the years," Millage, 60, said. "That's why they call the Tropicana the Tiffany of the Strip."
Millage said the Trop's friendliness has cultivated many regulars.
Millage, who worked as a dealer at the Fremont and Landmark casinos before joining the Tropicana in 1972, has had chances to move on, but he has avoided the temptation .
"I figure if I am going to do the same job somewhere else, I just as well stay here because I like it here," said the father of two and grandfather of six.
And dealing to famous people who frequent the resort is always a thrill.
Among the celebrities to whom Millage says he has dealt hands are entertainers Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Telly Savalas and Bill Cosby, as well as former world heavyweight boxing champion Larry Holmes.
Millage, who also has dealt three-card poker, Crazy 4 and Caribbean stud table games, recalled that Cosby actually preferred to play tennis at the Trop, where tennis great Andre Agassi's father was club pro.
Savalas was an excellent tipper, Millage said, and Holmes was a happy gambler.
Millage sees a bright future for the Tropicana under new ownership.
"Nothing ever remains the same. It's time for a change," he said.
The new owners "have announced they are adding a lot more rooms. We'll be among the largest hotels again."
For a time, the Tropicana was among Las Vegas' six largest hotels.
And what about Millage's future ?
"The day I cannot find my way home, I'll retire," he said.
Tropicana’s owners take first steps toward redevelopment
By Liz Benston
Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006 | 7:42 a.m.
The man who developed the Rio and built Bellagio and Wynn Las Vegas has been hired by the Tropicana's owners to design and price a redevelopment of the prime Strip property.
Working with Tony Marnell's Marnell Corrao Associates is the latest sign that Tropicana owner Aztar Corp. is closer to tearing down the aging property, which sits on a prized corner of the Las Vegas Strip across from Mandalay Bay, observers say. Marnell Corrao is still working on a final cost estimate for the project, according to informed sources. In addition to building two of the Strip's highest-end properties, Marnell also developed and owned the Rio before selling it to Harrah's Entertainment for $888 million in 1999.
Representatives for Aztar and Marnell Corrao declined comment.
The Tropicana's room reservation department also has stopped accepting reservations beyond April 14 -- another indicator that a major redevelopment is under consideration. Hotel properties don't pass up future revenue without a good reason.
In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing last week, Aztar amended severance agreements with its top executives that will provide cash payments for all outstanding stock options -- whether or not the options have vested -- should the executives be terminated.
Sweetening the company's "golden parachutes" for executives is a way for the company to prepare for a more uncertain future should a major project move forward, observers say.
The moves don't guarantee that the Tropicana is history, experts say. The company had previously blocked convention reservations while it was considering redevelopment, only to begin accepting them after deciding to delay plans to build a new megaresort.
Aztar has weighed the prospect of redeveloping the Tropicana site for years but has held off on a decision, saying the company needed more time to fully evaluate where the rapidly evolving Las Vegas market was headed.
For the past several months the company has declined to comment on its Tropicana options, even after it filed detailed plans for a 2,550-room resort with Clark County planners. While the silence has frustrated some investors, insiders say the uncertainty is related to the fact that the company has a difficult decision to make and is taking its time to carefully weigh various options for the site -- none of which may make shareholders happy.
Some believe Aztar could settle on a middle-market property rather than a more expensive, super-luxury casino that would compete with the likes of Wynn Las Vegas, Bellagio and the Venetian.
Aztar has faced increasing pressure from Wall Street to redevelop the site, with investors concerned that the property is becoming less able to hold its own against more luxurious properties on the Strip.
"The Tropicana is just not competitive anymore given the growth of Las Vegas," said John Maxwell, a bond analyst at Merrill Lynch.
Some also fear a new project could be lost in the shuffle by the time the latest building boom -- which promises more than $15 billion in new projects by 2010, including at least four major casino resorts and several condominium towers -- is complete.
Others say Aztar's cautious approach makes sense given the circumstances.
Rather than plunging ahead, Aztar has spent the past year steadily paying down debt, using cash generated by an expansion at the company's flagship resort in Atlantic City.
Any kind of redevelopment -- regardless of its timing -- presents a significant risk for Aztar.
It almost certainly would require the company to close the Tropicana and could take up to two years before Aztar could begin making money again, experts say.
Aztar's major Strip competitors are bigger companies that can better absorb disruptions at single properties. To compete with the big boys, Aztar is facing the prospect of spending in the neighborhood of $2 billion, some experts say.
"The cost of competing on the Strip has gone up," bond analyst Maxwell said. "A billion dollars certainly doesn't get you a top-tier property."
With a low ratio of debt to equity compared with other casino companies, Aztar is in a strong financial position to be able to build a major resort, Maxwell said. The company still faces tough questions about whether the project will be able to compete with a flood of new projects, he said.
In a research note to investors this week, Bear Stearns & Co. stock analyst Joe Greff downgraded shares of Aztar to "underperform" based on a variety of factors including the prospect of redevelopment.
Greff doubts the project's ability to achieve an adequate return -- a key measure that moves share prices -- not to mention the fact that it will hurt profit and raise debt in the short term.
"We continue to see considerable risk in the redevelopment of the (Tropicana)," Greff wrote.
Investors are concerned about whether Las Vegas will be able to fill thousands of hotel rooms and condos planned for the Strip in the coming years and whether resorts can continue raising room rates as new competitors emerge.
With labor costs and prices for raw materials on the rise, companies must spend more than they initially expected, recouping even less of their investment than hoped and scaring off investors seeking higher returns, experts say.
The choice of Marnell Corrao to plan a new resort is a selection likely to inspire confidence on Wall Street.
Marnell will be building the upcoming M Resort along Las Vegas Boulevard South in Henderson and is now working on a variety of other projects, including luxury condo towers at MGM Grand, an upgrade of the Mirage's showroom and a commercial center near McCarran International Airport.
Liz Benston can be reached at 259-4077 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tropicana’s closing shuts door on history
By Jerry Fink
Sunday, April 2, 2006 | 7:24 a.m.
The museum at the Tropicana soon will be history.
Curator Richard Burgel, who opened the humble Las Vegas Historic Museum in July, has been given notice that he must vacate the premises before April 25.
He learned about his eviction a week ago.
"I had a meeting Friday with a Tropicana executive who showed me a kiosk they wanted me to rent," Burgel said. "Then he sat me down in his office and told me they were going to expand the slot department's tournament area - they were going to remodel and they would like me out ...
"I almost hit the floor."
A spokesman for the Tropicana was unavailable for comment.
With its propensity for building, razing and rebuilding, Las Vegas doesn't seem to put much stock in nostalgia.
"I'm devastated," the 52-year-old Burgel said.
Burgel's small corner of the Tropicana - about 2,000 square feet - contains exhibits related to the city and the state's colorful past, with emphasis on gaming, mobsters, entertainers and brothels.
A video covers the rise and fall of the Mafia in Las Vegas. There are also several large photos of such figures as Flamingo founder Bugsy Siegel and former Stardust boss Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, the subject of the movie "Casino."
Among the entertainers featured in the museum are Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Louis Prima, Judy Garland, Wayne Newton, Elvis Presley and Liberace.
In the brothel section, there are exhibits from such bordellos as Sheri's Ranch, the Mustang Ranch, the Chicken Ranch, Mabel's, Madam Kitty's and the Green Lantern.
The space leased by Burgel for about $2,500 a month was previously the home of the Casino Legends Hall of Fame Museum.
The Hall of Fame Museum, owned and operated by Steve Cutler, opened in 1999 and was closed by the Tropicana in April 2005.
Cutler's museum focused more on the entertainers, inducting legendary performers into its hall of fame during ceremonies at the Tropicana.
Burgel, who also owns the Lost Vegas Gambling Museum and Store downtown at Neonopolis, said the Tropicana invited him to create another museum in some of the space vacated by Cutler and to present exhibits that focused more on brothels and gangsters.
"They knew I had the museum downtown so they asked me to put this one in here," he said.
However, he didn't have the kind of exhibits they wanted.
"I went out and bought the collections," Burgel said. "And I kept improving them, buying more collections - the museum is a work in progress."
He said a lot of promises were made to him.
"I was told if the place didn't get imploded, I would have a home for at least two years," Burgel said.
He was worried earlier this year when it was announced that the Tropicana had stopped taking reservations after April.
"We were holding our breath," Burgel said.
Then last month it was announced that Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. was buying Aztar Corp., owner of the Tropicana.
The takeover isn't expected to be completed until the end of the year.
And it may be as long as two years before any new construction takes place.
Burgel is mystified about his sudden eviction.
"I'm a small-business operator - this is a mom-and-pop operation," he said. "I was led to believe that they (the Tropicana) wanted the museum; people love it.
"The hotel is making money off of me because I pay rent. I invested my savings in this, and now I'm being forced to move, without any assistance."
Burgel says he hasn't had the help he was promised in the beginning.
"The Tropicana was supposed to promote us, but they didn't," he said. "We're hidden down in the basement, so if you don't know about us you won't come - we don't get any foot traffic."
He said the Tropicana gave free coupons to visit the museum.
"But that doesn't help me," he said. "I don't get the admission."
Burgel's 3,000-square-foot facility housed in Neonopolis isn't faring much better.
"Neonopolis is in a lot of turmoil right not," Burgel said. "It's in escrow. Nobody knows anything.
"There's no foot traffic here at all."
Burgel's interest in collecting memorabilia dates back to his childhood.
Born and raised in Miami, he worked as a cabana boy at the Eden Rock Hotel when he was a teenager.
"I waited on Meyer Lansky, Morris Landsburg and a lot of others," he said.
He often received casino chips from them and from his parents, who used to fly to the Bahamas to gamble.
From collecting casino chips he expanded into other memorabilia.
After selling his Xerox dealership in Los Angeles, Burgel retired and moved to Las Vegas in 1995.
"I retired to play golf," he said.
But then eBay came along.
"With the advent of eBay, collecting has never been better," Burgel said.
Burgel is determined to keep his museum going.
"I have a collection like no other that the public needs to see," he said. "You know, there's no money in it - I just love the history of Las Vegas.
"There's no place in this town where you can track the history of gaming, of the owners and operators of the casinos - the good, the bad and the ugly."
By Michael Mishak
Sunday, Sept. 9, 2007 | 1:21 a.m.
The Culinary Union and the major Las Vegas casinos may have agreed on new contracts, but that doesn't mean labor peace just yet.
Talks with the new owners of the Tropicana and a number of smaller downtown operators have turned thorny. The Tropicana in particular is pushing the union for givebacks, including retirement and health care coverage, which the Culinary touts as its finest benefits.
At its last main - table bargaining session Thursday, the Tropicana's parent company, Tropicana Casinos & Resorts, submitted a proposal to the Culinary Union that would eliminate some key worker protections in the union's current contract, according to D. Taylor, Culinary secretary-treasurer and the local's lead negotiator.
The company, an affiliate of Columbia Sussex, the Cincinnati-area operator of midpriced hotels, seeks to eliminate contract language that guarantees members a 40-hour workweek and protects against nonunion subcontractors, Taylor said.
Most disturbing, he said, is Tropicana's desire to opt out of the Culinary's health care and pension plans, a marked departure from standard Las Vegas business practices.
Since gaining a foothold in the local casino market nearly 20 years ago, the Culinary has considered its health and retirement benefits non-negotiable - and casino operators, with few exceptions, have obliged.
Tropicana's proposal, Taylor said, would effectively "decimate the union."
"This is your typical out-of-state corporation that comes in here in a way that wants to destroy the Las Vegas dream," Taylor said. "The company plans to make it a part-time, McDonald's-type workforce."
Tropicana disputed the union's characterization, but confirmed its intention to opt out of the Culinary's health and retirement plans. The company will propose alternative plans that are "more in keeping with the needs and costs required to compete effectively in a modern service workplace," Tropicana spokesman Hud Englehart said.
The plans, he said, would improve on the union's current system, which guarantees members and their families health care at no personal expense and mandates company contributions to a defined-benefit pension. "The company expects these plans to provide better protections for employees and their futures," Englehart said.
As for wages, Englehart said Tropicana wants an agreement similar to the one signed by casino mogul Steve Wynn at Wynn Las Vegas in 2005. That contract links raises to the consumer price index. The union is seeking a series of fixed annual raises over the course of the contract. Englehart said the company's proposal would guarantee workers receive wages and raises at or above prevailing rates on the Strip.
Englehart also confirmed that Tropicana seeks concessions on the union's guaranteed 40-hour workweek because it "wants to have the flexibility to serve customer needs at its property."
In the case of theme restaurants or other operations open for just part of the day, the company "wants to be able to hire people and pay them for the hours they work instead of an entire day," he said.
Tension over the contract has been apparent for months. Tropicana has fired at least 300 workers since taking over in January. Cuts have been even steeper at the Tropicana in Atlantic City.
The New Jersey Casino Control Commission says the Tropicana's workforce there has shrunk from 4,507 employees in January to 3,766.
New Jersey gaming regulators have intervened, objecting that cuts in the security force would have jeopardized public safety and violated regulatory requirements.
"I can't recall a situation where an individual casino was looking to cut as many positions as we have in this case," an agency spokesman told The Press of Atlantic City last month.
The conditions are not unique to Atlantic City, Taylor said. Las Vegas Tropicana workers have complained about job cuts, saying cleanliness, safety and service at the property have suffered. Taylor has asked Nevada gaming regulators to investigate and complained that they have not.
"I guarantee if they talked to the workers they'd find a situation that's unsafe," he said. "I think our (Gaming Control) Board has acquiesced and has no control over what's called a privilege license."
Dennis Neilander, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, said the number of layoffs at the Tropicana has prompted the board to "step up our monitoring," but declined to provide specifics
Neilander said New Jersey and Nevada gaming laws differ. In Nevada casinos must comply with "minimum internal control standards," but that does not include casino staffing levels, he said.
All of this comes as the Culinary mobilizes workers for a strike vote next week. The nearly 10,000 Las Vegas casino workers working without a new contract will descend on Cashman Field on Wednesday to vote on whether to authorize strikes at various properties if bargainers cannot reach new agreements.
On Tuesday the Culinary joined with its parent union, Unite Here, to announce the creation of an $80 million strike fund - the largest war chest in the local's history. Anticipating a tough round of contract talks, members approved a 30 percent increase in union dues last year to boost the local's strike fund, Taylor said. Members pay $41.50 per month in dues, up from $32.50 a year and a half ago.
The union is also negotiating with second-tier properties, such as the Stratosphere and the Sahara, as well as the operators of a dozen downtown casino s.
The strike fund comprises $10 million from the local, $20 million from Unite Here and a $50 million line of credit from the Amalgamated Bank, which is owned and operated by the international union.