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January 31, 2015

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Sahara’s closure on May 16 will mark ‘the end of an era’

CEO says the 59-year-old property is no longer ‘economically viable’


Justin M. Bowen

The Sahara hotel-casino in Las Vegas on Friday, March 11, 2011, the same day the property made the announcement it would be closing.

Updated Friday, March 11, 2011 | 3:21 p.m.

KSNV coverage of Sahara closing

KSNV coverage of the announcement that the Sahara hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip will close in May. From the noon newscast on Friday, March 11, 2011.

Sahara Announces Closure

The Sahara hotel-casino in Las Vegas on Friday, March 11, 2011, the same day the property made the announcement it would be closing. Launch slideshow »

Sahara History

Louis Prima, wife Keely Smith and Sam Butera at the Sahara in Las Vegas on March 10, 1956. Launch slideshow »

Boomtown: Part Six

In the 1950s Las Vegas began to see a growing trend in resort casinos on the Strip. As the mob began to take over the casino business in town, high class performers billed at inexpensive rates made Las Vegas an entertainment Mecca. More history of Las Vegas »

Click to enlarge photo

The Beatles are ushered to their room at the Sahara hotel before performing at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Aug. 20, 1964. John Lennon dons sunglasses and stands in front, with Ringo Starr on the left and George Harrison, looking down behind Ringo.

Map of SLS Las Vegas Hotel & Casino

SLS Las Vegas Hotel & Casino

2535 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas

The owner of the Sahara hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip on Friday announced plans to close the property on May 16.

"We are working with our partners to assess a variety of options for the property, including a complete renovation and repositioning," said a statement from Sam Nazarian, CEO of SBE Entertainment Group, which owns and operates the Sahara. “While no final decisions have been made at this point,” Nazarian said, “the continued operation of the aging Sahara was no longer economically viable.”

The property, which opened in 1952, has 1,720 rooms. Its closure will add to the woes of the north end of the Las Vegas Strip, where the Riviera hotel-casino's parent company is in bankruptcy and the Fontainebleau casino-resort project remains stalled.

"We see the northern end of the Strip as the future of Las Vegas," Nazarian said in the statement. "With Las Vegas showing early signs of recovery, we are confident that we ultimately will find a creative and comprehensive new solution for this historic property."

The property said about 1,050 employees would be affected by the closure.

D. Taylor, head of the Culinary Union in Las Vegas, said the union would work with some 400 affected hotel and food and beverage employees to help them find new employment or upgrade their job skills.

"I'm not surprised," he said. "At the same time, I'm sad."

Taylor said he's hopeful some of the workers can find jobs elsewhere as the economy picks up.

At the same time, he noted it's been "tough sledding" during the recession for the north end of the Strip, which includes the stalled Echelon resort and vacant land where the New Frontier used to sit.

"It's the end of an era," he said of the Sahara.

The Sahara said it has been working with MGM Resorts International on possible solutions for both customers and employees.

“SBE is fortunate to have a strategic relationship with MGM Resorts International. As a result, we will work together to try to find jobs for Sahara employees in cases where there are open positions in MGM Resorts' properties,” added Nazarian. “We will also work with MGM Resorts to accommodate Sahara hotel and group customers with reservations following our closure.”

The Sahara's human resources department will be working with team members through this transition. The Sahara plans to offer sessions with Nevada Job Connect and provide career counseling.

"We sincerely appreciate the service and dedication shown by the many Sahara team members over the decades,'' Nazarian said. "They have been the heart and soul of this iconic property. We thank them for their longstanding service.''

Last summer, Nazarian told Bloomberg News he was in talks with lenders about restructuring the Sahara's debt and had reached a forbearance agreement with the primary lender, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc.

“We’re funding the property,” Nazarian said at the time. “Our commitment is to redevelop it.”

The property's Rat Pack heritage didn't do much in recent years for the Sahara, which was hurt by its lack of any recent major upgrades.

It was also a victim of the explosion in the city's hotel room count since the opening of CityCenter and the Cosmopolitan.

Statistics from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority show the city's room count reached 149,177 in January, up 5 percent from November 2009.

Visitation to the city hasn't kept up with the capacity additions, pushing citywide hotel occupancy down from 94 percent in April 2007 to 79 percent in January.

Plans for the closure follow last year's announcement that 1,037 rooms at the Plaza in downtown Las Vegas would be closed for renovations.

A bright spot, though, was the closed 349-room Ritz-Carlton at Lake Las Vegas reopening as the Ravella.

Andrew Zarnett, a gaming analyst at Deutsche Bank, said the closure of the Sahara and potentially other uncompetitive properties is not surprising.

"While this may have come as an unexpected event for many, we are not surprised by this announcement as we have been expecting unprofitable and dated casinos in Las Vegas and other markets to shut down, given the continued downward pressure they face from higher unemployment, rising commodity inflation and reduced discretionary spending. In the near-term, we expect other unprofitable casinos in Las Vegas and regional markets to either shut down or get bought out by bigger operators who can reinvest in the property. We believe this closure may impact American Casino Entertainment’s Stratosphere property located in the north end of the Strip, which is now surrounded by Riviera (under bankruptcy), Sahara (closed) and the permanently stalled Fontainebleau project," Zarnett said in a note to clients.

The closure also is likely to harm the bankrupt Las Vegas Monorail, which has a station at the Sahara that is the transportation system’s northern terminus and a connecting point to the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada's bus transit system. (Related story: Sahara's closure could hurt monorail, but station will stay open)

In an e-mailed statement, Ingrid Reisman, vice president of corporate communications for the Las Vegas Monorail Co., said the station would stay open.

The hotel includes 85,000 square feet of casino floor space and two main restaurants: the House of Lords steakhouse and the NASCAR Café. The hotel-casino’s entertainment options include "The Magic and Tigers of Rick Thomas" and "Striptease," a topless revue, but both went on hiatus and were originally scheduled to return in mid-March.

In 2009, the Sahara closed two of its three hotel towers and its buffet, citing slow business. The hotel’s room rates have been as low as $30 on weekends during the last few years. It recently offered $1 rooms through its Twitter account to entice visitors.

SBE purchased the Sahara hotel-casino in March 2007 for a price estimated between $300 and $400 million. The Navegante Management Group operates the casino while SBE manages the hotel and restaurants.

SBE recently announced plans to rebrand and redesign the Fontana Bar at the Bellagio as Hyde Nightclub. MGM Resorts International had announced a partnership with its new players club card, M Life, and SBE that would allow guests to use the SB Preferred program at MGM resorts.

SBE operates four other hotels, including the SLS Hotel in South Beach, the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, the Four Points by Sheraton at the Los Angeles International Airport and Redbury in Hollywood. It also operates several nightclubs and restaurants in the Los Angeles area.


  • Join the conversation below via Twitter by adding the #sahara tag to your tweets.

In January, it was announced that Los Angeles investment firm Colony Capital LLC was investing $35 million in Nazarian's company SBE. Colony Capital also is an investor in Station Casinos Inc. and the Las Vegas Hilton.

Sun reporters Amanda Finnegan and Rick Velotta contributed to this report.

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  1. More unemployed. But the few times I was in the Sahara, looked like some of the staff had been there for awhile so maybe they are close to retirement age and can just retire instead of facing the ugly prospect of finding a job when you are over 55.

  2. Too many rooms chasing too few tourists and more rooms to come when the Cosmopolitan opens its next phase.

    The current market cannot support the number of rooms in this town.

  3. The Riviera will be the next to fall. I wonder when both will be imploded. How long after a hotel closes does it usually get imploded? Carl Icahn may buy the land where the Sahara is after it is imploded.

  4. OMG I cannot believe this historic hotel is closing!!! This hotel is such a part of LV history. EVERYONE who was anyone stayed there. I am so sorry for all of the emplyoee's. A sad day for them and for LV!

  5. The closing of the Sahara is concerning to me because I feel that if one resort closes on the strip, it can start a wave of closures in the future. Yes, the Sahara is old but I stayed there two years ago and I like it very much, it didn't feel like a resort built in 1952. Las Vegas needs to evaluate the north end of the strip and figure out how to revitalize that end. I now do not see the Fountainbleu being completed anytime soon or other projects now. I suspect that the Riviera will close within the next two years, which will leave only the Stratosphere alone, which can end up being their demise.

  6. Long-term development plans should consider a merger: the Fontainbleau, the Riviera, the Sahara all combined into a visionary new property to book-end City Center... That's if the two-trick pony that's now the Vegas economy -- gaming and tourism, and little else, without diversification -- can ever recover. Will it? Or will this be one more cycle in a death spiral of Las Vegas?

  7. A large bit of Vegas history gone. I'm sorry for all involved.

  8. Not sure if anyone sees this, but the closing of the Sahara snowballs and will also effect the operations of the Las Vegas Monorail too. Even more adverse than the problems that troubled transportation method faces already.

    The Sahara Station for the Las Vegas Monorail is the last stop at the northern end. Now, instead of seven stops, there are only six...making it shorter.

    Even if they are able to keep this station open, it is accessible from the street via escalator, stairs and elevator...but not from the Sahara anymore.

    I predict because of the loss of foot traffic even going past the monorail through this station, the independent ticket booth up on the platform will have to close also. Because of decrease of business.

    Seems like this Sahara closing will be another nail in the coffin for the Las Vegas Monorail Company.

    Not to mention severely effecting the surrounding businesses around there that won't be accessible by tourists easily anymore (notably the Stratosphere and the large tourist gift shop on the corner of Sahara/Las Vegas Boulevard as well as other places).

  9. This is sad news and bad news. Who knows how long it will ever be before the north end of the Strip recovers?

  10. The Sahara poker tournament is a good one, reasonable buy-in and adequite chips - will be sorry to see another part of Las Vegas history bite the dust. At least the Trop. is still standing.... for now

  11. The Eureka will benefit from this fact. Gamblers not willing to drive far will either go to the Strat or the Eureka now.
    I enjoyed playing the matchplay coupons at the Sahara and usually had a coffee in that little Seattle's Best coffee shop.

    I think one of the towers has been shut down for a while already and they figured out that even with this deep cut they are not able to run the casino profitably. So closing is the only option.

    It was a classic. From that point of view it's sad to hear about the closure. Sorry for the many employees being laid off now.

    From Switzerland

  12. A lot of people seem to think this has to do with the hotel portion of the property. That's not where they make their money. They make their money on the casinos. It's always been that way. The hotel has simply been there as a way to keep the gambler on property.

    I remember someone one time saying, "It make be called such-and-such hotel and casino. Don't be fooled. It's such-and-such casino that happens to have a hotel attached."

  13. Would not be surprised to see an announcement shortly about one of the other companies picking this property up. Should be selling fairly cheap and many others are looking to have property on the Strip.

    I don't see this property being imploded any time soon. There is still life in it and there is more property to expand.

    Sorry to see it close. Love the old properties. Many of the old properties I saw open when they were new. ;-)

  14. Man that's too bad. I've stayed there a couple of times and enjoyed both stays. When they added to $1 Blackjack and Roulette, that brought me and a friend in for an evening of gaming. Sad to see the old place go.

  15. Obviously Nazarian and his fund partners didn't see the economic blindside coming when they bought this property.

    Sadly everything changed, and there's no point in putting perfume on a pig.

  16. Right now the land is worth more than the buildings. That is what savvy investors will be planning around future development.

  17. I never stayed there, but I did like to visit. As the last stop on the monorail it was the easiest of the North Strip casinos to get to. Seemed a bit seedier of a place and I liked that.

  18. "Right now the land is worth more than the buildings. That is what savvy investors will be planning around future development."

    Who knows what it is really worth. It's at a bad spot on the strip and you can't have the land without paying to remove the buildings, which will cost tens of millions of dollars. If the buildings were not there, it would be a good investment - buy the land and hold it for a while. With the buildings, hmmm... Dunno.

  19. Monorail will still probably have to go to Sahara station anyway since that is where the track is designed for the cars to switch tracks and head back the other direction.

  20. There aren't many historical Las Vegas hotels left in these days, so why not preserve Sahara by converting it into a rental property, like apartment/condo/college dorm/timeshare? Or they could make the property as the new retro hotel?

    So see it go.

  21. The Sahars is a monument to the classy thinking and creativitiy that put Las Vegas on the map. How bold it was to build an Arabian Desert themed casino in the American Southwest! It's still an intriguing and beautiful concept, and the property should be rejuvenated and kept alive along with the photos and memorabilia of all the great stars, like Elvis, who loved the place.

    My wife and stayed at the Sahara many times from from around 2003 thru 2007 until the new owners took over. We used to look forward to winning on the quarter slots (Five Times Pay, Double Diamond,etc) coin payout machines. We usually did well, but if we lost, we had fun trying. A machine attendant promised me the day I won about a grand at one of the coin slots, that the Sahara would "always have these machine because that's what brought in the cusomers."

    The following year those slots were gone. We stopped going.

    The buffet was cheap and the selection quite good, but the dining room needed fresh carpeting and a spiffing up which the new owners did not attend to such as the table bussing which was done by using unappealing carts which were trundled right under one's nose displaying heaps of dirty dishes and table waste as one tried to enjoy a meal. Even the locals stopped going. So the buffet closed.

    Truly hope a remake of the Sahara is in the offing.
    Las Vegas can't go on destroying its past and hope to keep its loyal patrons.

  22. It seems that any gaming investment that Colony Capital sticks their paws into turns know what!

  23. Sad day. "Too Big To Fail" type thing to me. This end of the Strip is important, it needs to be saved!

    It seems to there are several owners/interests that should work together to protect their interests in this area. Take a negative and make a positive.

    They include (at least)The Strat (because, as touched on, if therere is NOTHING else around.. ah.. that's tough).., Sahara, Fontainebleau, Riviera, Boyd's Echelon, Frontier property, and the Monorail.

    Combined, those entities have the land and assets to make that area great again! But NOT by doing it "City-Center" Echelon isn't what Vegas needs!

    Heck, done right the Monorail might even prosper, imagine, a train delivering customers to your casino. Maybe the Monorail stops at a place beteen all these properties, an event.

    Short term, other hotels can take fill their rooms with lost Sahara guests. That might help their books.

    Man, for them to take that area, fix it up, rejuvenate the area. The state could offer some tax "incentives" to make it viable. The should include some outdoor space for people to breathe.. some type of open air space, an attraction, vendors, food, outdoor concert space or something.

    Well, I guy can hope.

    p.s. Allow me to add Mr Wynn into the mix of entities that should care, alot. I understand hi sclientel is much different, but even they don't like looking at ghost towns, even people with money like to have a little fun!

  24. I hope they don't tear it down.

  25. Just a few years ago, the original El Rancho site across the street was considered "the most valuable piece of undeveloped real estate in the world."

    If the economy was rocking and rolling, the announcement would have instead been, "Sahara to be imploded and rebuilt as _________!"

    Lots of Vegas history here, but this property has been struggling for some time. The future of Las Vegas is tomorrow, not yesterday, and who knows what tomorrow may bring? Forward!

  26. This is the end of gaming as we know it. Times have changed and Las Vegas can't seem to keep up. We keep rewarding poor leadership so in a way we are getting what we deserve. Lack of diversification will force the city and it's workforce to shrink. There is not enough money to support all of the casinos at this point. Look for more closures.

  27. "Lack of diversification will force the city and its workforce to shrink."

    That would be awesome. Our sweet spot is 1 million people.

  28. Very sad, hate to lose the old hotels.

  29. The newer hotels pull the cream-like the top and middle level management-to their properties and is leave the rest with a poor morale. The new owners who don't have a gaming licence should never be allowed to buy a property, since they use it as an investment, akin to the speculators buying homes to flip them. They have no feeling for the community or the employees and their only goal is to make a fast buck-and you can't do that with a casino. When the economy goes south the investor/owners cut down entertainment and other attractions-as it happened at Sahara-the Casbah lounge was closed and the buffet was closed. This starts a downward spiral that sadly culminated in this icon of a property closing.

  30. From an employee and historical point of view it is too bad, but I was there last year and the place is falling apart. Maybe close it down for a few years and hopefully things will pick up and they can reopen, new and improved.

  31. I was there a few years ago and asked one of the employees what happened to the remodel and was told "They painted some areas".

    It's functionally obsolete.

    Implode, then wait it out for another day.

  32. Was there 2 yrs ago...great poker room, but the rooms and carpet were disgusting. Old torn carpet in lobby, terrible food at coffee shop. Nothing has renovated after the purchase by SBE....what do you expect??

  33. This is so sad. This place needs to be saved if for no other reason than "historical". We have GOT to stop imploding our history here. We have a fantastic history; one that needs to be preserved (as much as we can with what's left) and showcased.

    I love places like the Sahara & the Riviera; it's Old Vegas -- tacky as can be and it's the best!

    And yes, that part of the Strip needs to be somehow connected to Downtown, and not with a "foot path".

    I'm sorry for the employees; I hope other places can pick up as many as possible.

  34. I have a idea let me take over the operations and the city can impose a special assessment tax in the entertainment corridor to fund the project I will make payments to the city after I interpret a profit.

  35. Poor management. Some of the best people in Vegas work at this place. I remember playing blackjack in the back for 3 bucks a hand while old rock and roll played. You had to wait to get a seat,then some dumb casino manager decided to do away with the fun. I would lose and didn't care because it was the perfect place for baby boomers. No doubt the casino has seen better days but that is what happens when you don't make any investements in the property. He'll the Plaza ownership is smart enough to revamp their rooms!!!!!!

    What a shame to see this old dog die. Vegas will never be the same. Everyone wants shiny and new. I miss the way Vegas used to be

  36. Such a bummer...
    The Sahara coffee shop was the first restaurant I ever went to and the first casino for that matter..
    I was 3 days old (6/25/1965) when my mom got out of the hospital (Sunrise) she, my dad, my maternal grandparents, and my uncle Donald and of course me...went to eat breakfast..
    It was also the first hotel my mom ever worked at as a showgirl back in the 50's and 60's...
    and of course Vegas (being lame) no such thing as an Historical Landmark...

  37. I am saddened by the proposed closing of the Sahara Hotel and Casino; my family and I have great memories of our stays there in the 80's and 90's. Even a few years ago, when neglect by SBE was evident in some of the rooms and furnishings, the staff made everyone visiting feel like VIP's! To those of us who never miss a meal at the Caravan Coffee Shop or a show at the Congo Room, it's a travesty not to try to save such an piece of Las Vegas history. Nazarian's focusing on overpriced nightclubs at the expense of the Sahara shows why Las Vegas needs to stand up and save it from meeting the same fate as the Stardust, Dunes and Sands before it's too late!

  38. The closing of a venue which supports Vegas' primary product (gaming), is NOT a good thing... unless safety hazards dictate otherwise. I would think a 'North Strip Association' would have been formed by now to plan the rejuvenation and refurbishing of the older, original establishments. Wasn't anything learned from the implosions of the Frontier, Stardust and WestWard Ho?

    The North Strip need not compete with the ridiculously upscale, high-roller environment of Vegas' latest casinos. But rather, the North Strip could be the midscale, less-than-high-roller destination for many 'average' vacationers. I think the Tropicana has done a terrific job of remodeling/refurbishing; the North Strip could do the same... along with medium priced rooms and eateries AND slightly looser slots.

    It is sad to see the Sahara leave us. Here's hoping it is only temporary. Lots of luck to the employees.

  39. Most cities across the country now understand its not a good idea to tear down landmarks and thus the boom in historic preservation.

    Las Vegas needs to understand - many memories will be lost and it will stop some tourists from visiting when the landmarks leave.

    For me I remember in 1979 yelling across the sports book for my friend Wayne to bet on the Seattle Supersonics at Pistons. Sonics won and that year surprised everyone.

    After Wayne made the bet a gentleman said "excellent analysis" and offered us a ride in his car. He gave me an envelope full of 100's and said we could get one each week - if we call in the line before gametime-- to a phone booth in St Joe Missouri - that gig lasted almost a year.

  40. Who needs "Vegas"? Indian Casinos in U.S. (446).
    In Californian (65). Now it is front page headlines in Palm Springs because their revenue is down to the year 2008. Indian gaming was leaglized in 2005. Only so much money for discresionary spending in a family these days. Even if you have a job to go to. That is why you have C.E.O.'s. They think they are smart enought to acquie that sum of money. There was nothing like the 50's. Reunited families (Service Men) had their act together. They were tired of fighting and wanted a life of their own.

  41. We just reserved a premium room at the Sahara. Might as well take one last chance to stay at the old place before it closes. The rate was very reasonable. I mean VERY reasonable for one of their nicest rooms. Maybe I'll see Boris there!
    Jack, Indian gaming has been legal in California for at least 20 years. To date, I,ve nnever been to one in California. Went to one in Oklahoma last year, played blackjack (3:2!) and won some money.

  42. Sad to see this place go. It is one of the few monorail properties that offered a more direct access to the strip than the others, and a short walk to the Stratosphere.

    I had a lot of fun there playing blackjack and poker. I made a lot of friends and had a lot of good times there.

    I really hope they won't close permanently.

  43. And now the Fontainebleau is still-born. Icahn is selling off its bones and guts, before turning its hollow shell over to some sucker.

    We need to blame the outrageous credit and monetary policies of the FEDERAL RESERVE for this over-expansion and over-contaction of credit and money supply.

    Ghost Town, here we come. ;-(