Hotel Histories

History of the Sahar

First Opened as Club Bingo July 24, 1947
Opened as the Sahara Oct 7, 1952
Replaced by SLS Hotel & Casino Las Vegas on August 23, 2014


Club Bingo opened on July 24, 1947, on Highway 91, across the street from El Rancho Vegas. The land that Club Bingo occupied was owned by Mel D. Close, Sr. Milton Prell, owned Club Bingo. The 300 seat bingo parlor was its main attraction, but the club offered all the other casino games as well. On opening night Club Bingo raffled off a new Cadillac. A gentleman who owned a hamburger stand off of Fremont Street won.

In 1949, comedian Stan Irwin was booked for 11 days and stayed for eight months. After just four days into his venue, McDonald asked Irwin if he would like to manage the Bonanza Room of which he accepted. He then was promoted to Public Relations and Promotions.

In 1952, Close sold the land Club Bingo occupied to Milton Prell, Al Winter, and a group from Portland, Oregon. Stars such as Kay Starr as well as others convinced Prell to build a hotel on the land. Prell had the financial backing of A. Pollard Simon. Contractor Del Webb was given a 20% interest in lieu of payment for his company's work.

In October 7, 1952, the 240 room Sahara Hotel & Casino, called "The Jewel of the Desert" opened. Opening night entertainment was provided by the famous scarecrow from "Wizard of Oz", Ray Bolger, and singer Lisa Kirk. Opening night was so great, that money was rushed straight from the cash boxes underneath the tables to the casino cage at a frantic pace so that guests could continue to cash in their winnings.

The Sahara's theme was North African with plastic statues of camels standing as sentinels in front of the hotel, and Arabs lounging outside and inside the Congo Room. The Casbar Lounge and Caravan Room looked over the Olympic sized pool. Architecturally it followed the same pattern of the Desert Inn and the Thunderbird. Sahara featured a tall brick pylon at the entry anchoring low wings that spun outward from its center like a pinwheel.

The hotel itself was a low main building with the lobby and casino standing in front. The restaurants in the rear looked out on a manicured lawn ringed by two story motel units consisting of 206 rooms with balconies and patios.

In 1958, Sahara became the first gaming establishment to obtain funding from an actual bank. The Bank of Las Vegas run by E. Parry Thomas, made a $1 million loan to the Sahara to build an additional 200 rooms.

In 1959, the Sahara added a 14-story tower. This expansion also included a convention hall on the north side and a 127 foot vertical roadside sign. The tower was set on the far side of the pool and was patterned with windows, balconies, and stair towers that had a dynamic sculptural quality. A digital time and temperature board and the semi-Arabic S were perched on top.

In June of 1960, Sahara announced the opening of its new addition, adding over 200 rooms to its facilities.

In 1961, Prell sold the Sahara to Del Webb. Webb orchestrated an arrangement for a merger between his construction company and the Sahara-Nevada Corporation, the first publicly traded company to have holdings in a Las Vegas gaming establishment. The $100 million merger included Sahara, Mint, and Lucky Strike Clubs. Webb sold his Highway House Motor Hotels for $6.5 million to gain sufficient capital for the merger.

With the proceeds from the stock sale, the Sahara added a $5 million 24 story skyscraper, incorporating 400 rooms, bringing its total to over 1,000. A 44,000 square foot convention facility was built at a cost of $3.5 million. One of the main hall's unique features was that it had no internal support columns to obstruct display space. Under the direction of R. Edward Zike and Ed Nigro, construction began on a $50 million expansion program that made it one of the most extensive projects in Las Vegas history. A 3,000 car parking lot on Paradise Road, complete with security towers, was connected to the hotel by way of a covered and air-conditioned overhead walkway.

In 1964, Irwin, Webb and Sahara sponsored the Beatles' appearance in Las Vegas. This was a gamble in itself since the Beatles attracted people who couldn't gamble - teenagers. Irwin decided it was worth the gamble.

In 1968, Additional renovations, valued at $50 million, were completed including the development of a new hotel tower and convention center.

In 1969, Entertainer Buddy Hackett was named Vice President of the Sahara-Nevada Corporation. It was stated that Hackett, who had appeared for the past six years at the Sahara, functioned as a talent consultant for the corporation which included the Strip's Thunderbird resort.

Paul & Sue Lowden purchased the Sahara from Webb in 1982, and added a 26-story tower in 1988, bringing the rooms to a total of 1,500. Lowden then expanded the casino area and a new race and sports book opened.

In 1995, Bill Bennett retired from Circus Circus Enterprises, then bought the Sahara from the Lowdens for $193 million. Bennett immediately began a $100 million renovation project. As part of these renovations, the Sahara Hotel has remodeled the legendary Casbar Lounge and announced plans to construct an all-new Sahara Theater.

Sahara then remodeled 1,720 rooms, completed an 85,000-square-foot casino, four restaurants and the virtual reality Sahara Speedworld.

In the spring of 2000, Sahara and NASCAR Cafe teamed together to bring the famed entertainment complex to Las Vegas with the 75,000-square-foot NASCAR Cafe featuring exciting stock car racing entertainment and an all-American menu. The NASCAR theme encases the entertainment complex, including giant projection television screens equipped with surround sound that features NASCAR racing, driver profiles and the latest NASCAR news.

The NASCAR Cafe also features the roller coaster "Speed," a Cyber Speedway that features 24 stock car racing simulators, a state-of-the-art arcade and various race memorabilia.

The Sahara closed on May 16, 2011 and was replaced by the SLS Hotel & Casino Las Vegas on August 23, 2014.

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