Las Vegas Sun

December 17, 2014

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Aladdin’s history dotted with troubled owners

The history of the Aladdin hotel is replete with glorious wishes and broken dreams.

In 1978, the hotel was the site of the world's first slot machine with a jackpot of $1 million.

Two years earlier, the Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts was constructed at the resort, and over the next two decades the theatre would host performances of the Bolshoi Ballet, rock concerts by the likes of Kenny Loggins and Sade, and even the Miss Universe pageant.

But it seemed that no promotion or event could save the Aladdin.

The 1,100-room hotel had originally opened in 1963 as the Tally Ho, a non-gaming hideaway catering to rich tourists. But the hotel failed and bankruptcy followed.

In late 1965, a group headed by Las Vegas gaming pioneer Milton Prell, developer of the Sahara, bought the Tally Ho and on April 1, 1966, Prell re-opened his new property as the Aladdin hotel-casino.

Three years later, after Prell started developing health problems, a series of management teams ran the property -- and usually in the red.

Among the early Aladdin executives were Las Vegas promoters Jack Melvin and Al Garbian. Another partner, Al Parvin, was a principal in Recrion Corp., which operated the Stardust before Allen Glick and Frank Rosenthal, two executives profiled in the film, "Casino."

In late 1971, a Midwest group purchased the Aladdin from Recrion. They included St. Louis attorney Richard Daly, St. Louis deputy license collector Peter Webbe, Detroit residents Charles Goldfarb and George George, and then-Las Vegas casino operator Sam Diamond.

The only problem was that all of the owners were denied gaming licenses because of questions about their past business dealings. Finally in 1976, Mae Ellen George, the widow of George George, was licensed by the Nevada Gaming Commission over the strenuous objections of the Gaming Control Board.

Two years later, Aladdin general manager James G. Abraham was named in an indictment that charged several Aladdin executives with running a skimming operation for reputed Detroit underworld boss Vito Giacalone. Abraham and several others were later convicted in a federal trial in Detroit.

Finally, in 1979 the Nevada Gaming Commission seized control of the Aladdin and ordered the property to be sold.

Over the next several years, several parties, including entertainer Johnny Carson, attempted to purchase the Aladdin, but the deals fell through. Also during that time, Wayne Newton owned the hotel for a brief time.

In 1986 Japanese businessman Ginji Yasuda purchased the Aladdin for $54 million. The first Japanese citizen ever licensed to operate a Nevada casino, Yasuda's stewardship of the resort was wrought with financial hardships. After spending $35 million to refurbish the property, Yasuda was removed as the Aladdin's operator by state regulators September 1988 and the resort was placed in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Yasuda died three months later.

The hotel was purchased by Bell Atlantic-Tricon Leasing Corp. of Paramus, N.J., in 1991, but within a few months the Aladdin was again on the block.

In 1994, Jack Sommer, developer of the 630-acre Mountain Spa resort community in northwest Las Vegas, purchased the hotel. Today, the Sommer Family Trust is the principal shareholder in Aladdin Gaming, the company planning the $1.3 billion casino, entertainment and retail complex.

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