Wednesday, April 28, 2004 | 8:34 a.m.
Dan Chandler's heart never drifted far from his native Kentucky, where his father was governor in the 1930s.
And although he never was able to fully shake the long shadow cast by his dad, A .B. "Happy" Chandler, who also was Major League Baseball's second commissioner, Dan Chandler carved out a career as one of Las Vegas' top casino hosts, bringing to town many high-rollers during four decades.
Chandler, who long worked for Caesars Palace and later for the Las Vegas Hilton, recently returned to Kentucky to seek medical attention for circulation problems. He also was preparing to enjoy his favorite of all sporting events, the Kentucky Derby, aturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
Chandler died in his sleep early Tuesday in his father's cabin on the family's Kentucky estate. He was 70. Services are pending.
"Dan was a man among men -- the greatest casino host Las Vegas ever had," said longtime friend Dick Traweek, a Los Angeles real estate investor. "He had great humor and a warm personality for greeting everyone."
Las Vegas media consultant and political advisor Sig Rogich remembered his longtime friend as "A Damon Runyon character with a Southern heritage -- very bright, very likeable, a good friend to a lot of people."
Rogich and Traweek had spent a number of Kentucky Derby weekends with Chandler in Louisville. That included the traditional Sunday post-derby chicken dinner at the old Kentucky home of A.B. Chandler and his wife, Mildred.
"Dan just admired his father," Traweek said. "He started most of his stories, 'My daddy said ...' "My favorite is the one he used to tell about leaving home. He'd ask his dad for $10 to go somewhere and said his dad would give him $20 and say 'go twice as far.' "
Dan Chandler told the Sun in 2000 that because of his father, who died in 1991 at age 92, "my 15 minutes of fame was extended to several hours ... I'm him without the accomplishments."
Sun Editor and President Brian Greenspun called his longtime friend "a product of a grand old Kentucky family, tempered by reality and spiced up by his love for Las Vegas."
"There was only one Dan Chandler," Greenspun said. "No one could tell a story like Dan and no one could cause a story to be told about him the way Dan could. We will miss his considerable charm here, but we know he's with a different crowd that will be all ears for a very long time."
In Las Vegas, Chandler had a reputation for doing things his way, which friends say got him into hot water at times. Traweek said Chandler was fired at least a half-dozen times from Caesars for his maverick ways, only to be rehired because of his ability to bring in "the whales," the highest of high rollers.
While he was serving as vice president of Caesars Tahoe in 1983, the state Gaming Control Board inquired about Chandler's relationship with purported Kentucky narcotics figure James P. Lambert.
Chandler, upon being notified by a Sun reporter of the probe, defiantly responded: "Jimmy Lambert is a good friend of mine. I have no concerns about being licensed."
A jolly, robust man, who stood 5-foot-11 and weighed 250 pounds in his prime, Chandler worked for a half-dozen properties during a quarter of a century, the last being the Hilton in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Chandler's Hilton business cards listed his job as "Acting Commissioner."
Born Joseph Daniel Chandler in 1933, he was the youngest of five children, all of whom were treated as royalty in the state his father called "the promised land."
Albert Benjamin "Happy" Chandler, governor of Kentucky from 1935 to 1939, succeeded the iron-fisted Kenesaw Mountain Landis as baseball commissioner and in 1947 became an American icon for a single act that changed not only the face of baseball but also the nation.
He overruled 15 Major League franchise owners and supported Brooklyn Dodgers President and General Manager Branch Rickey in Rickey's signing of a black player, Jackie Robinson, breaking the game's color barrier.
About that time, Dan Chandler had visions of a potential career in sports. But at the University of Kentucky, where Happy Chandler was a member of the board of trustees, Dan Chandler warmed the bench for coach Adolph Rupp's 1954 NCAA championship basketball team.
After college, Dan Chandler dabbled in several business ventures, married, had two children and settled in Versailles, Ky. For a while there was talk he too would one day become governor, but his ventures into politics fizzled. Chandler moved to Nevada in 1974.
On May 20, 1993, Chandler lost his only son, Joseph Daniel Chandler Jr., 30, in a game of Russian roulette. The Clark County coroner's finding was suicide. Chandler tried for many years to get the cause of death changed to accidental. He long lamented his lack of success in that effort.
In 1999, thoroughbred owner Mike Pegram named a horse Danthebluegrassman in honor of Dan Chandler Sr. The horse won three of its first eight starts and was a late scratch at the 2002 Kentucky Derby because of an injury.
Chandler is survived by his daughter Erin and his ex-wife Lynne Knipping, whom he divorced amicably in 1974.