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September 30, 2014

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Alex Shoofey: 1916-2007

The day after Elvis Presley opened at Las Vegas' Hotel International in 1969, the resort's president, Alex Shoofey, was in the showroom having a cup of coffee with Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

Despite a hugely successful opening night, Shoofey was unhappy because the king of rock 'n' roll had been contracted to only two weeks a year at the new 1,500-room resort that today is the Las Vegas Hilton.

"Listen," Shoofey recalled telling Parker in his 2003 UNLV oral history interview. "I'd like to extend your contract ."

Parker balked: "Alex, it's too early. Let's find out whether he (Presley) can make it or not."

"I'll take that chance right now," Shoofey said. He then scribbled on the tablecloth a new pact that would result in more than 700 sell out performances from 1969 to 1976, resparking Presley's career and making him a Las Vegas icon.

Alexander James Shoofey, who rose from humble beginnings in a Brooklyn orphanage to become a Las Vegas gaming giant, successively running the Sahara, Flamingo and Las Vegas Hilton resorts in the 1960s and early '70s, died Wednesday. He was 91.

Services for the Las Vegas resident of 60 years will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at Palm Mortuary-Eastern , with visitation for one hour before the ceremony. Graveside services will follow the ceremony at that location.

"Alex was an absolute stickler for organization," said Lou Toomin, a friend of 44 years. "He wrote policies for resort operations that emphasized no waste - including napkins and salt shakers. He was an innovator who believed that every department had to make a profit, not just the casino."

Toomin said when Shoofey took over as president of the Flamingo in 1967, it was $25 million in the red. The next year the resort showed a $15 million profit, he said.

"Alex was a hotelman's hotelman - that's what they called him," said Toomin, a former Nevada assemblyman. "He was a genius and a legend in his own time."

Shoofey answered directly to some of the most important figures in Las Vegas gaming history - Sahara founder Milton Prell and resort moguls Del Webb, Kirk Kerkorian and Baron Hilton.

He worked 20 years for the Sahara and its predecessor , the Club Bingo, rising from a $50-a-week bookkeeper to general manager and president.

From 1969 to 1972, Shoofey was president of the Hotel International and retired from the Hilton.

Toomin said Shoofey became a semi-recluse in retirement. He did not revisit the Hilton from the day he quit until last year , when he joined a few friends for dinner in the resort's steak house. A photo of Shoofey in his prime was still hanging on the wall of that restaurant - a tribute to his lasting effect on the property.

Born Aug. 11, 1916, in Montreal, Shoofey was orphaned at age 2 and was raised in the St. Vincent Home for Boys in Brooklyn. He graduated from a Catholic-run high school and put himself through St. John's University in part by working in the accounting department of a New York department store for $10 a night.

He earned a degree in business administration and became a U.S. citizen in 1942, the year he joined the Army. Shoofey served in the Adjutant General's Office, where one of his assignments was counting the daily war dead.

"It was an unpleasant task," he said in his UNLV interview. Later, Shoofey saw action in France and the Philippines and served with post war occupation troops in Japan.

He returned to Brooklyn after the war and in 1947 drove to Southern California for a job. But Shoofey's car broke down on Main Street and he decided to make Las Vegas his home. Soon after, Shoofey was hired by Club Bingo and joined its management team in 1952 when it became the Sahara.

In 1967, Shoofey accepted an offer from Kerkorian to run the Flamingo as well as to hire a staff for the July 2, 1969, opening of Hotel International.

In 1969, Shoofey was inducted into Hospitality Magazine's Hotel Industry Hall of Fame - the first Nevada hotel executive to achieve that honor.

Shoofey was a one-time vice president of the Nevada Resort Association. His philanthropic and civic causes included the Boys Clubs of America, National Jewish Hospital in Denver and the Clark County Tuberculosis Drive.

Shoofey was twice married and divorced - first to Joan Adams Shoofey, who was Miss Nevada 1957, and then to Deborah Faiman Shoofey.

He is survived by his daughter Teri and two grandchildren, all of Las Vegas.

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