Nothing beats the vintage cool of Las Vegas in its heyday. What was once a small mining town in the southern tip of Nevada would forever change when gambling was officially legalized in 1931. That’s also the same year that construction started on the Hoover Dam, without which Las Vegas wouldn’t have enough water to become the thriving destination that it is today.
The city’s oldest hotels and casinos can be found downtown in the Fremont District. The Strip wouldn’t be developed until the 1940s and didn’t really hit its stride until the 1960s. Developers continued to build bigger and glitzier casinos, which means many of the original hotels went the way of the wrecking ball.
But some of the Las Vegas Strip’s original hotels still stand, even if they are unrecognizable after decades of expansions and makeovers. Below, discover the five oldest hotels on the Strip.
The opulent Caesars Palace opened its doors on April 5, 1966. The Roman-themed getaway was developed by Jay Sarno, who would also go on to develop the Circus Circus casino.
Sarno and his partners spent $24 million to develop the hotel, much of it borrowed from organized crime. Sarno’s group spent more than $1 million on the hotel’s opening party alone, which served guests more than two tons of filet mignon and 50,000 glasses of champagne.
Originally 680 rooms, Caesars Palace has since grown to have 3,976 rooms.
What is today known as The Linq Hotel & Casino, started out as a 180-room motel called the Flamingo Capri. It was developed for about $2 million by George E. Goldberg and Bill Capri, a former employee of the original Flamingo Hotel & Casino next door.
Since its opening in 1959, the property has undergone multiple name and ownership changes. Starting in 1979, it operated as the Asian-themed Imperial Palace (pictured above) for more than 30 years. Caesars Entertainment Corporation bought the property in 2011 and redubbed it the Quad for two short years. They then renamed the casino The Linq after completing a $223 million renovation. Over the years, it has expanded to include 2,640 rooms.
Tropicana Las Vegas
Opening in 1957 at a cost of $15 million, the 300-room Tropicana was so fancy it was dubbed “the Tiffany on the Strip.” The hotel was the dream of Miami hotelier Ben Jaffe, who bought the land and leased it to Conquistador Inc., a company associated with mobsters “Dandy” Phil Kastel and Frank Costello. The state gaming board eventually uncovered the mob ties, which led to Jaffe losing his stake in the property.
Since then the Tropicana has expanded to 1,467 rooms and is currently owned by Penn National Gaming.
SLS Las Vegas
Before it was the SLS Las Vegas, the 1,720-room hotel and casino was the Sahara. A North African-themed experience, the Sahara opened in 1952 and was just the sixth resort hotel to open on the Las Vegas Strip. Trumpet player Louis Prima was booked as the hotel’s late-night lounge act and comedians Abbott & Costello performed their final show there as well.
But the luster eventually faded, and the Sahara found itself in financial trouble and it was sold in 2007. In 2011 the new owners shut down the hotel, putting an end to its 59-year run. After a $415 million makeover, the property reopened in 2014 as SLS Las Vegas. SLS stands for “style, luxury, and service.”
Flamingo Las Vegas
Finally, we arrive at the oldest original hotel still standing on the Strip: Flamingo Las Vegas.
The hotel opened in 1946 and since ballooned to have 3,626 rooms. The Flamingo was a completely different gambling experience than what existed in Vegas up until that time. Previous casinos relied on the Old West image, but the Flamingo was the first project to bring glamour to the desert.
Development of the Flamingo was started by the founder of the Hollywood Reporter magazine, Billy Wilkerson. Partway into the project, Wilkerson was looking for additional backers to help finish the project. This provided an opportunity for infamous gangster Bugsy Siegel and his associates to muscle their way into a majority share of the Flamingo.
When the Flamingo opened it wasn’t quite the money-maker the mob thought it would be. This led to infighting among Siegel and his partners, with accusations of skimming being thrown around. After a temporary shutdown, the hotel reopened and finally started turning a profit. But Siegel didn’t survive long to enjoy the rewards: he was shot dead in Beverly Hills in 1947.
The Flamingo, which is today owned by Caesars Entertainment Corporation, is also notable for being the first casino to have no clocks or windows, a tactic now widely used by the gambling industry to trick gamblers into losing track of time.