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The Controversial Dunes Hotel and Casino

The Dunes hotel and casino was one of the original properties associated with the Las Vegas Strip, and was the tenth resort constructed on the Strip. The Dunes Hotel was opened during the 1950s Las Vegas casino boom, and over the years accumulated as colourful and legendary history as any of the other famous resorts. Controversial even before construction was completed, the Dunes Hotel was always struggling financially and changed hands regularly, often with reputed mafia involvement and money. Despite attempting several innovative ventures to improve the financial situation, ultimately this was never accomplished, and the resort initiated the implosion craze of casinos in Las Vegas when it was demolished in 1993 to make way for the $2 billion Bellagio Hotel, which today stands in its place.

Reputed Mob Involvement and Financing

The Dunes Hotel, the most southern of the resorts on the Las Vegas Strip, was developed by Alfred Gottesman, a movie theatre owner, Joe Sullivan, a restaurant owner from Rhode Island, and Bob Rice, a jeweller from Beverly Hills. Rumour has it that Sullivan was a mafia front man, and that his portion of the investment was actually from the Rhode Island crime family, who expected significant casino profits. The venue opened in 1955, at almost the exact time as the Moulin Rouge Hotel.

Attempts Made to Improve Profitability

The Dunes Hotel was famously termed the ‘Miracle in the Desert’ and even before the official opening has expansion plans laid out for making the most of what was expected to be phenomenal growth. Almost immediately tensions were raised amongst shareholders as the resort proved to be unprofitable and remedial measures were required almost immediately. In 1957, the Dunes courted further controversy with the first topless show in Nevada. This attempt to improve income was called Minsky’s Follies, or ‘the Follies’ and despite initial record attendances was ultimately also doomed to failure.

By 1961, further funding was obtained from movie mogul Al Gottesman and the Teamsters Pension Fund to build the 24 storey tower called Diamond of the Dunes, and making the Dunes one of the largest hotels on the Strip with 450 rooms. This accomplished with the resort at the time being owned reputedly by the Chicago mafia, so the financial dealing are cloaked in questions and myths. The Dunes, as a hotel and casino resort, at the time also boasted a an 18-hole golf course, a rooftop health spa and a 27m pool, which made it the centre of luxurious and wealthy Las Vegas attendance.

A Slow Slide into Oblivion

During its history, the Dunes Hotel was eternally in financial strife, and this contributed to the shady dealings and questionable monetary investments that it is so famous for. The hotel even had an arrangement with the Sands Hotel for financial and managerial support. The reason that was attributed to the lack of profitability was the Dune Hotels’ location at the southernmost part of the Strip. Even a continuous stream of high-profile entertainers and celebrities such as Frank Sinatra were unable to turn the hotel’s fortunes around. Howard Hughes contemplated purchasing the resort, but the Nevada Gaming Commission put paid to that idea by warning that a monopoly would prevent any licence being granted.

Finally, in 1992, the Dunes was sold for the last time to Mirage Resorts, Inc. who closed the hotel permanently in 1993, and later that year demolished the resort in a huge, well-attended implosion ceremony.

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