The Casino Boy Graveyard

Ahh, the Casino Boy Graveyard .... Woooooo-woooo. Do you hear the eerie, bone-chilling wind? Boo! What was that?! Folks, I get the chills just wandering around in here, among the tombstones of clip joints and fancy gambling halls that have gone on to the big Strip in the sky. Stay and wander around for a while, if you dare. Visit the rotting bones of Las Vegas hotel past where money was won, money was lost, and the good times came down when the walls did. All of the places described were open while Cheapo Vegas was going. So, I guess at least we outlasted them...


They call it Hubris. That is, when outsiders roll into town and think they know better than the locals and old-timers how to run a casino. The Aladdin was a disaster from the start. Getting to it from the Strip was difficult, and the parking garage was on the far side of a truly mediocre shopping mall in the back. The Arabian decor looked like leftovers from a grade-school play: a tacky gold lamé lamp and plastic jewels glued to pillars. The casino had a gaping hole in the middle that opened onto the visual feast that is the hotel registration desk. Whoop-de-doo. Above the casino was a separate, fancy high-roller casino called the London Club that was usually as dead as a corpse. In the beginning, the London Club johns had free razors, cologne and other goodies. Later, the owners realized deadbeats like us were scooping those up and just went back to paper towels and soap. In the uninspired mall was an dreary mass entertainment: a simulated rainstorm. Seriously. There were holes in the roof that dumped rain in a pool underneath. Oh, and a PA system broadcasted thunder sounds. The Aladdin dissolved into bankruptcy, only to be taken over by a group of investors who had previously failed miserably at ripping off the Hard Rock Cafe with their über-lame movie-themed eateries. So, with fresh paint, a few tacky Hollywood props, the removal of the lamp and more bad shows, it became the Hotel Planet Hollywood. In a few years the cycle may repeat.


When we first started going to Las Vegas, the Boardwalk seemed like a dumpy little casino in the middle of nowhere with a marquee advertising 29-cent breakfasts. Eventually, the city built up around it with the Monte Carlo and New York New York, and even the Boardwalk got bigger. But it still remained dumpy. A roller- coaster and Ferris wheel on the roof were major disappointments because neither really worked. The scary clown mouth you walked through to enter the casino was also a bit intimidating. But nothing was as horrifying as their second floor buffet, which took honors for the worst in town as long as it operated. By the sportsbook was a snack bar serving counterfeit White Castles, giant hot dogs and nasty strawberry shortcakes. Upstairs, too, was the showroom, featuring "tribute" bands for Prince and Elvis. MGM-Mirage owned the Boardwalk and tore it down to make way for another megaproject.

Bourbon Street

A long time ago, Bourbon Street had blackjack tables and craps in its tiny casino behind the Barbary Coast, and they tried to be relevant. It was once a pretty nice hotel for the money. Over time, though, the tables disappeared and more low-maintenance slots took their place. Then, low-maintenance became the theme of the place, and the room showed their age. No longer were they a good deal, they were just cheap and dumpy. The tiny showroom still had shows, though, from aspiring stars who paid rent for the room and promoted themselves. They included dozens of singers and comics whose Las Vegas careers started and then quickly ended right there. Oh, and the vulgar hypnotist Dr. Naughty. Harrah's now owns the Bourbon Street property and will, presumably, build another Strip giant on it once they get their hands on the Barbary Coast property it is next to.


Located among dilapidated and vacant motels midway between downtown and the Boulder Strip, the Castaways was first the Showboat. As the Showboat, it was a proud place with bowling lanes, loose slots and fine blackjack. The food wasn't fancy, but it was a solid value. Then, as other bigger, fancier locals' casinos opened and stole its customers, the Showboat lost its way. It found new owners, was renamed Castaways and adopted a half-hearted tropical island theme. The food was still all right, but there was little money to spruce up the place. It got tired and ground down before finally making a last ditch effort to appeal to Las Vegas' large hispanic population. When that failed, so did the Castaways. The Castaways is just a vacant lot now. Another casino will not go in its place because the location is so dingy.

Desert Inn

In the ever-escalating war to be the poshest, swankiest hotel, Las Vegas buried the classiest place it may ever see. The Desert Inn was the most underrated and elegant casino on the Strip until Steve Wynn knocked it over to put up another gaudy behemoth. The restaurants were all first class, from the high-end steakhouse to the superb coffee shop. The casino didn't dazzle, it swaddled you in rich leathers and the city's most professional dealers. Entertainment was mostly limited to headliners such as Crystal Gayle, Dennis Miller and Don Rickles. Steve Wynn bought the Desert Inn, promised to keep it open, but quickly shuttered it and tore it down to make the big, brown Wynn. Not other hotel has captured the elegance and class of the Desert Inn.


The Frontier became the New Frontier right around the time it also became the Sucking Frontier. New ownership tacked on the "new" because that was cheaper than actually sprucing the place up. So, it spent its last years in decline and then static decay. In all our time going to Las Vegas, the Frontier was never one of the nicest places in town. Even in the late 80s they gave rooms to $5 blackjack players and free buffets to almost anyone. It once had a floor show, though, and the pool was always very cool because it had a twelve-foot deep end. The Atrium Tower had suites for all guests long before oversized rooms became a must-have for snooty visitors. The best performance at the place was a long-running production of the culinary worker strike that marred the joint's entrance for most of our formative years. The second-to-last owners, the Elardis, were adamant about keeping unions out, so the strikers would harass and pelt guests, yelling obscenities and pretending to write down license plate numbers as you went in. The final owner, Phil Ruffin, let in the union workers, but very few repair or maintenance men. Still, it's hard to feel bad for, or miss, a place that fell into such a depressing funk. If we did, we'd visit our sister and her cats more often.

Gold Spike Downtown Las Vegas

Casino Boy is tearing up because Gold Spike Downtown Las Vegas hotel is closed as of April 14th, 2013. Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, has bought this Downtown Las Vegas casino and hotel for his Downtown Project. Casino boy isn't sure yet what he paid or what the plans for this property are, but you'll definitely hear from him in the What's New section as soon he finds out. Looks like we'll have to find another cheap Vegas hotel and casino in Downtown Las Vegas. This Vegas hotel said its official farewell on Sunday, April 14th.

Key Largo

Few, if any, will miss the Key Largo, a Quality Inn motel off the Strip with the one of the smokiest casinos outside downtown. The bar, which advertised a 24 happy hour, never was happy. Just cheap greasy food, cheap booze and the kind of locals who love those in large quantities. The amateurish tropical mural on the walls made it feel like you were getting loaded in a special education third-grade classroom. The casino consisted of a couple of blackjack tables and a lot of video poker, many of which offered full-pay. The hotel had basic rooms, just like any other Quality Inn, but the courtyard in the middle had a nice pool and the feel of a cool, moist grotto which was a pleasant surprise. The Key Largo will likely become a site for condos or timeshares, but not another hotel-casino.


Two-hundred rooms, a gold-rush theme, and way south near the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign on Las Vegas Boulevard. The Klondike stunk like a dead grandma who'd been smoking in her casket, but the ten-cent roulette wheel was a ton of fun. Where else in Vegas will they hand over ten tall stacks of chips for twenty bones? You could play all day and put away the Foster's Lagers, feeling like a gazillionaire. That is, until you ate the under-two-dollar spaghetti dinner. Then, you just felt sort of queasy. The casino was tiny and the sportsbook had one television. The theme had fallen into disrepair and disregard, with the exception of a tiny model of a chuck wagon that made you think a dog would come tearing through soon, chasing it. The rooms were like those of any old independently-owned interstate motel, and they wrapped around an olympic-sized pool. The klondike was bought by developers with plans to build, what else, a condo-hotel-casino. Yawn.


Before the hotel became the Westin Casuarina, but after it was the Playboy Hotel and Casino, the Maxim proudly went from cool, little hotel to dump over about twenty years. Only a block off the Strip, the Maxim had a good location and a nice-sized casino to go with what was once a cool, modern glass facade. However, time and ownership indifference were not kind to the hotel, and the first place Matt ever ate a Steak and Lobster special sunk into disrepair and inactivity. The inventory of table games shrunk, and the slots got old and creaky. The carpet faded and the rooms got crappy. Eventually, the place had no choice but to shutter and either be demolished or remade. The Westin Casuarina is a fancier place, for now, but still struggles to attract players.

Nevada Palace

As we said of this place in our original review, the smoke is so thick not only can you cut it with a knife, you can butter it too. Who knows if what you walked on was carpet or a half-inch of pressed ash. There are other smoky dumps in town, but this place out on Boulder Highway was like a magnet for locals who loved to stuff their mouths with four, five, six cigarettes at a time and have their oxygen tanks wired directly into their tracheotomy holes. And everything about this place was low-rent all the way, from the dingy cafe food to the faded motel rooms out back. Maybe that's why we sort of liked it. The live table pit was a sad affair with a mini-tub for craps that was rarely manned, a few blackjack tables with bored dealers, and a routlette wheel that was occasionally as cheap as a dime a spin. The poker room had a pair of lonely tables tucked into what may have once been a storage closet. The tables were more often used for storing boxes than for playing. Actually, we never did see a poker game here. The sports book was a small counter directly in front of one casino entrance, so watching a game would be interrupted every few minutes by someone tromping by. A few cheap chairs were propped in front of a handful of fuzzy 13-inch televisions. I first discovered the Palace when visiting my parents at Sam's Town down the street and loved that they had video poker machines that took dimes. Those machines went away. What stayed, though, was the impending sense that this was the waiting room of the damned. Nobody ever gambled or ate here because they wanted to. It was the last resort for people killing time until lung cancer finished them off.


The Sahara opened in 1952, right in the middle of the Vegas rennaissance, and it stayed relevant for a couple of decades. By the 80s, though, the hotel had lost it cool factor and was a dingy also-ran in a town dominated by Caesars Palace. It was where forgotten Vegas legends like Freddy Bell went to die on the stage of the Casbar Lounge. In the 90s, Bill Bennett of Circus Circus fame bought the place and put new life into it. By 2000, with great lounge acts, a roller coaster, a new pool and a classic marquee and porte cochere, the Sahara returned to relevance. Some of our best times around the turn of the century were here, playing dollar blackjack and craps, dancing to the Checkmates and having a graveyard special in the great coffee shop. Alas, Bill Bennett died and his family sold the joint to a jerk from L.A. at the height of the real estate bubble. The new owner, Sam Nazarian, seemed to have no clue what he was doing. As the market crashed, he had no cushion for error, and rather than get funding to revive the Sahara, his people started shutting it down. They closed hotel towders, buffets, the coffee shop, the Mexican restaurant. They closed shows and more amenities, and finally, they shuttered the whole place. Nazarian claims he will revive it as a hip nightclub-style casino. That's laughable. If he knew what he was doing, he would have kept it from closing. The Sahara is how a legend dies a slow, painful death of neglect.

San Remo

The San Remo seemed to have a million different names, but spent the end of its life as a less-than-half-assed Italian hotel-casino before transforming itself into the boobs-and-wings themed Hooters. Located just east of the Tropicana, the San Remo never capitalized well on the traffic generated by the behemoths going up nearby. The casino had a few cheap table games and a ton of slots. Entertainment was restricted to a tiny stage that was cramped for a duet, but shoulder-to-shoulder for trios or more. The theme was carried out through a lame deli called Luigi's with bad Italian murals on the wall. Otherwise, food offerings included a good prime rib in the coffee shop and some bad sushi. The hotel rooms were okay, the motel rooms in the back were awful. The pool was better than you'd expect, and never crowded. under the hardwood and paint, the current Hooter's is still just the San Remo.


From its mobbed up past to its classic neon and goofy fountains out front, the Stardust was a piece of Vegas history. By the time we started going to Las Vegas, the place was a middle-class joint that just seemed like a sprawling casino and a mess of motel buildings. But you could tell from the signs and the old men playing big money inside that it was once something special. Then came the West Tower, a monolith of nicer rooms that pointed the direction the place was going: to less history and to more practicality. Still, the Villas and some of the old rooms gave the old Vegas feel with balconies overlooking rolling lawns and a pool that actually went to 12 feet deep. The sports book and poker room were full of characters who weren't exactly out of Damon Runyon stories, but maybe the children of his characters. On our first visit, the Stardust's big feathered-headress production show (everyone had one) was"Lido de Paris" and the star was a man named Bobby Berosini who had trained orangutans. That night, Mr. Berosini was shown on the news beating one of his orangutans with what looked like a blackjack, and this was the leadstory. Paying forty bucks to watch apes make faces was every day life, but knowing they only did it out of fear, well, that was newsworthy. In later years, the Stardust had a revolving door for cheapened entertainment, including a long stint by a weak-voiced Wayne Newton, some bad mentalists and hypnotists and, at the end, a lame show with topless girls humping classic cars. Its time only came because its owners stopped caring.

Vacation Village

Somewhere south of the rest of Las Vegas sat Vacation Village, accessible only by car or a long, sad bus ride. The place sprawled out in two-story motel buildings painted adobe brown with southwestern turquoise accents. Roadrunner and Kokopelli images were prevalent. Inside was a classic low-roller joint with two-dollar blackjack, and free hot dogs at the bar when you played the video poker. A huge stage with a massive projection-TV screen rocked the joint with the worst of the seventies. The big appeal here was a wheel of fortune that anyone showing an airline ticket could spin. Cash prizes went up over one hundred bucks, and we hit twenty a couple of times. The rooms were like at a Super 8, and all looked out onto a sprawl of hot blacktop and dirt.

Westward Ho

The Ho never pretended to be anything more than it was: the world's largest motel. Located on the North Strip, between Circus Circus and the Stardust, the Ho had a small, low-ceilinged, dark casino with cheap games, cheap food like the 3/4 pound Megadog and 27 oz. Slushee margaritas for 99 cents. The buffet was bottom-of-the-barrel. Entertainment was practically nonexistent, except for a musician in the lounge whose claim to fame was his crazy hats, and the occasional dinner show featuring Z-level talent and London Broil. The 777 rooms were scattered over a bunch of two-story motel buildings that stretched so far from the casino they had a shuttle to pick you up from the deepest reaches. The Ho closed to make way for still more pricey condos for yuppies.