March 12, 2011 / 12:03 AM / 6 years ago

Iconic Las Vegas Sahara hotel and casino closing

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - The Sahara hotel and casino, an iconic presence on the Las Vegas Strip that in its heyday played host to the "Rat Pack," will close its doors, the owners said on Friday.

The Sahara, which first opened in 1952 and is one of the last postwar hotels still standing on The Strip, will be shuttered on May 15, said Sam Nazarian, chief executive of SBE Entertainment Group, which owns and operates the property.

Nazarian left open the possibility of reopening the Sahara, which has 1,750 rooms with a distinctive Moroccan theme and brightly-lit entrance capped by an onion dome, at a later date.

"While no final decisions have been made at this point, the continued operation of the aging Sahara was no longer economically viable," Nazarian said of the 60-year-old property.

Nazarian said in a statement that he would help the Sahara's more than 1,000 employees find new jobs. Workers were notified of the closing on Friday morning.

He said that his company "ultimately will find a creative and comprehensive new solution for this historic property."

If the Sahara is razed, as often happens with shuttered Strip properties, only the Flamingo and Riviera will remain from the postwar era, Las Vegas historian Michael Green told Reuters in an interview.

The hotel's guests and performers over the years included talk show host Johnny Carson, members of the so-called "Rat Pack" -- including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. -- along with such entertainers as Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, comedian Don Rickles and even the Beatles.

Green said the Sahara was only the sixth resort and casino to open on the strip and "really made the lounge act central to Las Vegas."

The Sahara was first opened by developer Milton Prell and in 1961 was sold to real estate magnate Del Webb, who owned it until the early 1980s. The hotel and casino changed ownership two more times before Nazarian's company acquired it in 2007.

Green said the Sahara's decline could be blamed not only on time and the recession, but also on the changing face of Las Vegas, where glittery vintage casinos have largely been replaced by larger, more upscale resorts.

"What has happened to the Sahara reflects how the Strip has developed in the last two decades," he said. "It's an example not just of the economy but how Las Vegas has evolved."

Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune

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