Flamingo Las Vegas

Casino infobox
theme=South Beach Neo-retro
address=3555 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Toni Braxton, Jan. 2007
date_opened=December 26, 1946
space_gaming=77,000 ft² (7,153.5 m²)
attractions=Wildlife Habitat
shows=The Second City
George Wallace
restaurants=Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville
owner=Harrah's Entertainment
names_pre="The Flamingo" (1950-1952)
"The Fabulous Flamingo" (1952-1974)
"Flamingo Hilton" (1974-1999)
website= [http://www.flamingolasvegas.com/ Flamingo Las Vegas]
The Flamingo Las Vegas is a hotel casino located on the famed Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, Nevada and is owned and operated by Harrah's Entertainment. The property offers a 77,000 ft² (7,200 ) casino along with 3,626 hotel rooms. The hotel is sometimes referred to as the "pink hotel" due to the structure's neon pink color. The 15 acre (61,000 m²) site's architectural theme is reminiscent of the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne style of Miami and South Beach, with the central outdoor area housing an exhibit of flamingos as part of a wildlife habitat. It was the home of penguins, but they have since been moved to a Dallas zoo. It is the third resort to open the strip.

The Flamingo has a Las Vegas Monorail station at the rear of the property.


A Hollywood Beginning

The Flamingo site occupies 40 acres originally owned by one of Las Vegas' first settlers, Charles "Pops" Squires. Mr. Squires paid $8.75 an acre for the land. In 1944, Margaret Folsom bought the tract for $7,500 from Squires, and she then later sold it to William R. "Billy" Wilkerson. Billy Wilkerson was the owner of the "Hollywood Reporter" as well as some very popular nightclubs in the Sunset Strip: Cafe Trocadero, Ciro's and La Rue's. Wilkerson usually named his projects long before they were completed. The inspiration for these exotic names came from his many travels. He also had a particular liking for exotic birds. After considering several ideas, all variations on exotic birds, he finally settled on the name of a magnificent pink bird he had seen during a trip to Florida. Wilkerson commissioned Hollywood graphic artist Bert Worth to design the logo for his new Las Vegas operation. [harvnb|Wilkerson|2000|pp=48–49]

In 1945, Wilkerson purchased 33 acres on the west side of U.S. Route 91, about one mile (1.6 km) south of the Last Frontier in preparation for his vision. Wilkerson then hired George Vernon Russell to design a hotel that was more in the European style and something other than the "sawdust joints" on Fremont Street.

Wilkerson envisioned a mammoth complex housing a casino, showroom, nightclub, bar-lounge, restaurant, cafe, luxury hotel, indoor shops, and a health club with steam rooms and gym. Outdoors, there would also be private bungalows, a swimming pool, tennis, badminton, handball and squash courts, a nine-hole golf course, a shooting range, and stables housing forty-five horses. [harvnb|Wilkerson|2000|pp=43–44]

Wilkerson's goal for the casino was to design an ultra-gambling experience, a complete escape that allowed gamblers to indulge their passion in palatial luxury. The layout he had in mind was radical. It called for the casino to be placed at the center, "the hub" of the hotel. No guest would be able to move around the hotel without passing through the casino. There would be no windows. Based on his own experience, Wilkerson believed that daylight interfered with the gambler's concentration. No sunsets or sunrises would be visible from the crap or black-jack tables. No wall clocks would be installed, and the lights would be permanently dimmed. These elements, Wilkerson argued, would mask and conceal the true time of day, ensuring that time passed largely unnoticed. Wilkerson also wished to make the gambling experience as comfortable as possible. Before 1945, most gaming tables had hard edges. Wilkerson ordered custom gaming tables with curved edges and leather cushioned padding around the sides for extra comfort. He also felt standing diminished the pleasure of the game. Chairs and stools would be mandatory at every table. Wilkerson's project would be the first hotel in the U.S. to utilize the latest innovation in indoor cooling - air conditioning. With it, the desert would at long last become genuinely habitable. [harvnb|Wilkerson|2000|p=47]

However, Wilkerson began to run into financial problems almost at once, finding himself $400,000 short and hunting for new financing. As the publisher reached the end of his financial tether, Moe Sedway was bringing Billy Wilkerson's project to the attention of Meyer Lansky. Sedway saw it as a unique opportunity for their group to expand operations in Las Vegas. At first, visionary Lansky did not share Sedway's rosy opinions about the future of gaming in the Nevada desert. Lansky initially had pictured Wilkerson's operation as a modest casino and nightclub and doubted whether they alone would be enough to draw the crowds Sedway spoke of to an unspeakably hot desert. But once Sedway reported on the grandness and scale of Wilkerson's schemes, Lansky began to see the visions of money being made in the air-conditioned desert. A decision was taken to invest in Wilkerson's project. [harvnb|Wilkerson|2000|p=59]

The first step was the approach to Wilkerson. Someone unknown to the publisher had to make him an offer he could not refuse. The site stood empty for well over a month as Wilkerson teetered on the brink of abandoning his dream project. In late February 1946, he and his builder Bud Raulston were touring the construction site when an expensively dressed man drove up and approached them. He introduced himself as G. Harry Rothberg, a businessman from the east coast. Rothberg said he represented a firm in New York that wished to invest in the Flamingo Club. He and his associates knew that Wilkerson was broke and were willing to help him complete his Las Vegas venture.

Rothberg outlined his proposal. In exchange for funding, Wilkerson would retain a one-third share in the project. Included was the contractual promise that he would call all creative shots. When the club became operational (no later than March 1, 1947), Wilkerson would be its sole operator and manager; all others would be silent partners. Rothberg asked Wilkerson how much capital he needed to complete the project. Without hesitation Wilkerson replied, "One million dollars." Rothberg said that if the deal went through, Wilkerson would be advanced completion funds totaling that amount, with a guarantee that he would not have to put another dime of his own money into the project. Wilkerson thanked the mysterious gentleman and said he would take the offer under consideration. [harvnb|Wilkerson|2000|p=60]

While Wilkerson disliked partners, he had no qualms about investors - people who put up cash in exchange for a slice of the profit pie and then got out of the way. Overall, Wilkerson found the Rothberg proposal attractive. He agreed to all of Rothberg's terms except for one. He demanded that he retain complete ownership of the land. Rothberg consented. [harvnb|Wilkerson|2000|p=61]

On February 26, 1946 a contract was signed between Rothberg and Wilkerson. In early March, W.R. Wilkerson Enterprises received $1,000,000 to complete the Flamingo Club, which Wilkerson renamed, the Flamingo Hotel. With a year to meet his deadline, Wilkerson happily resumed construction. But the ink on the contract had not been dry for more than a month when Moe Sedway and Gus Greenbaum, both of whom the publisher had already done business with on this same project, visited the construction site. They brought with them a loudly-dressed character who enthusiastically presented himself to the publisher as his new partner. This man was Ben Siegel. [harvnb|Wilkerson|2000|p=62]

Enter Bugsy

In late 1945, mobster Benjamin (Bugsy) Siegel and his “partners” came to Las Vegas, after the fledgling resort city piqued Siegel's interest due to its legalized gambling and its off-track betting. Siegel at the time held a large interest in Trans America Wire, a racing publication.fact|date=August 2007

Siegel began when he purchased The El Cortez on Fremont Street for $600,000 and later sold it for a $166,000 profit.

Throughout the spring of 1946, Siegel proved remarkably useful. He obtained black-market building materials through his connections. The post-war shortages that had dogged construction were no longer a problem. At first Siegel seemed content to do things Wilkerson's way. His desire to learn everything about the project from the ground up took precedence over his "sportsman" lifestyle. It also seems to have temporarily subdued his aggressive impulses. Under Wilkerson's tutelage, Siegel played the willing pupil, earnestly learning the mechanics of building an enterprise. The role of the pupil did not come easily to Benny Siegel. Perhaps outdistanced and afraid of being upstaged by his mentor, Siegel began to feel intimidated and paranoid. He grew increasingly resentful of Wilkerson's talents and vision. As time went on, the gangster's respectful admiration disintegrated into an insane, all-consuming jealousy. It all started quietly enough. Siegel reverted to his familiar role; the big-shot. He began making decisions on his own without Wilkerson's consultation or authorization. Informing work crews that Wilkerson had put him in charge, Siegel ordered changes which conflicted with the blue-printed plans. The problem came to a head when Siegel openly protested his watchdog role. He demanded more hands-on involvement in the project. In an effort to appease the gangster and keep the project moving smoothly, Wilkerson agreed to a compromise. It was mutually agreed that Siegel would supervise the hotel portion while Wilkerson retained control of everything else. As time passed, Siegel's grandiose ambitions mushroomed into uncontrolled greed. Unhappy with the business arrangements originally negotiated by Harry Rothberg, the gangster began to view Wilkerson, who held the reins of power, as a major obstacle. In May 1946, Siegel decided that the original agreement had been a mistake. It had to be altered to give him full control of the Flamingo. Siegel offered to buy out Wilkerson's creative participation, not with cash, but corporate stock — an additional 5 percent ownership in the operation. On June 20, 1946, Siegel formed the Nevada Project Corporation of California, naming himself as president. He was also the largest principal stockholder in the operation, which defined everyone else merely as shareholders. From this point on the Flamingo became effectively a syndicate-run operation. He launched an all-out spending spree that was staggering even by today's standards. Indulging in a taste for the astronomically expensive, Siegel demanded the finest building that money could buy at a time when wartime shortages were still being felt. Siegel decreed that each bathroom of the ninety-three room hotel should have its own private sewer system. Cost: $1,150,000. More toilets were ordered than needed. Cost: $50,000. Because of the new plumbing alterations, the boiler room, now too small at its original capacity, had to be enlarged. Cost: $113,000. Siegel also ordered a larger kitchen. Cost: $29,000. Adding to the budgetary over-runs were problems with dishonest contractors and disgruntled unpaid builders. By day, trucks regularly delivered black market goods. By night the same materials were often pilfered, and resold to Siegel a few days later. As costs soared, Siegel's checks began bouncing. By October 1946, the project's costs had soared above $4 million. [harvnb|Wilkerson|2000|pp=876–85]

Siegel waged a reckless campaign of private fundraising. He was so desperate for cash that he even sold nonexistent stock. Suddenly, Siegel was in a hurry to finish the hotel. He doubled his work force, believing the project could be completed in half the time. But it was the costs, not the building, that began rising even faster. Siegel paid overtime and even double-time. In some cases, special bonuses tied to project deadlines were offered in hope of increasing productivity. By the end of November work on the casino was nearly finished. Under immense pressure to have the hotel start making some money, Benny moved up the grand opening from Wilkerson's original date of March 1, 1947 to the day after Christmas, 1946. Although the hotel portion was still incomplete he was hoping to generate enough revenue from the casino to complete the project and repay angry investors. Siegel formally announced that the hotel would be open and ready for occupancy the day after Christmas. Its gala opening would be held that same evening, December 26, 1946. Siegel managed to generate considerable confusion regarding the opening date itself. Acting on a whim, the gangster had suddenly decided that a weekend would be more likely to entice the much-needed celebrities away from home. Invitations were subsequently sent out for Saturday, December 28. The indecisive Siegel changed his mind yet again. Invitees were hurriedly notified by phone that the opening had been changed back to its original date, the 26th. [harvnb|Wilkerson|2000|p=86–89,99]

Flamingo Opening

Siegel finally opened The Flamingo, at a total cost of $6 million on December 26, 1946. Billed as The West's Greatest Resort Hotel [harvnb|Wilkerson|2000|p=103] , the 105-room property and first luxury hotel on the strip, [cite news
last= Levitan
url= http://www.lvrj.com/living/16160347.html
work=Las Vegas Review-Journal
] was built seven miles (11 km) from Downtown Las Vegas, with a large sign built in front of the construction site announcing it was a William R. Wilkerson project, with Del Webb Construction as the prime contractor and Richard Stadelman (who later made renovations to the El Rancho Las Vegas) the architect.

The splashy opening with entertainment including Cuban band leader Xavier Cugat (whose band provided the music), George Jessel, Rose Marie, and Jimmy Durante — was a flop. While locals jammed the opening, the masses of celebrities Siegel has been counting on never materialized. A handful of celebrities did motor in from Los Angeles despite the appalling weather. Some of the celebrities present were June Haver, Vivian Blaine, George Raft, Sonny Tufts, Brian Donlevy and Charles Coburn. They were welcomed by a cacophony of construction noise and a lobby draped with decorators' drop cloths. The desert's first air-conditioning system collapsed at regular intervals, leaving guests cursing the heat. While visitors did find gambling tables in operation at the Flamingo, the luxury rooms that would have served as the lure for them to stay and gamble longer were not ready. Siegel had decided to rely on the kitchen staff, chefs, waiters and bartenders. Unfortunately, these new recruits had yet to complete their training. They were thrown into an unfamiliar, unfinished building, prompting numerous complaints about poor service. Wilkerson's original idea of formal attire for the opening was abandoned at the last minute. As a result, the gala event was awash with curious locals who stared in amazement at croupiers and dealers in white tie and tails. [harvnb|Wilkerson|2000|p=102]

Siegel had also been overly optimistic about the revenues the Flamingo would bring in on opening night. A major reason why the casino lost money when it opened was because there were no hotel rooms available to keep guests gambling after hours. Gamblers and guests alike took their winnings elsewhere. After two weeks of operation the Flamingo's plush gaming tables were $275,000 in the red and ended up shutting down the entire operation in late January 1947. [harvnb|Wilkerson|2000|pp=101–102] . Lansky managed to persuade the mob chiefs to reprieve Siegel once more and allow the Flamingo more time.

Organized crime king Lucky Luciano wrote in his memoir, however, that Siegel once owned an interest in the Hialeah race track and viewed the flamingos who populated nearby as an omen. "There was no doubt in Meyer’s mind," Luciano recalled in his memoir, "that Bugsy had skimmed this dough from his building budget, and he was sure that Siegel was preparing to skip as well as skim, in case the roof was gonna fall in on him." Luciano and the other mob leaders in Cuba asked Lansky what to do. Torn because of long ties to Siegel, whom he considered like a brother, Lansky nevertheless agreed that someone stealing from his friends had to go — at first. Lansky persuaded the others to wait for the Flamingo's casino opening: if it was a success, Siegel could be persuaded in other ways to repay. Luciano persuaded the others to agree.fact|date=August 2007

The Flamingo re-opened in March despite the hotel not being complete, and this time, the results proved different. By May, the resort reported a $250,000 profit, allowing Lansky to point out that Siegel was right about Las Vegas, after all. But it wasn't quite enough to save Siegel. On June 20, 1947, relaxing in the Hollywood bungalow he shared with Virginia Hill, who was away at the time, Siegel was shot to death. No one was ever charged with the murder, and the crime remains unsolved.

Nevada Project Corporation investors

There were twenty-two original investors in the Nevada Project Corporation. Below is a partial list of key shareholders. It is not known exactly how many were part of the eastern syndicate. This list does not include those later investors who bought stock from Siegel when he was attempting to raise additional funding. [harvnb|Wilkerson|2000|p=137]

* Hyman Abrahams
* Willie Alderman
* Davie Berman
* Gus Greenbaum
* Meyer Lansky
* Louis Pokross
* Morris Rosen
* N. Joseph Ross
* G. Harry Rothberg
* Samuel Rothberg
* Moe Sedway
* Benjamin Siegel
* Charles L. Straus
* Billy Wilkerson

Life After Bugsy

Casino management changed the hotel name to "The Fabulous Flamingo" on March 1, 1947, and in time the Flamingo presented lavish shows and accommodations for its time, becoming well known for comfortable, air conditioned rooms, gardens, and swimming pools. Often credited for popularizing the "complete experience" as opposed to merely gambling, the Flamingo staff became known for wearing tuxedos on the job, and in 1950 the resort's Champagne Tower opened.fact|date=August 2007

Kirk Kerkorian acquired the property in 1967. [ cite web
url= http://gaming.unlv.edu/abstract/fin_mgm.html
title= Nevada Gaming Abstract - MGM MIRAGE Company Profile
] , making it part of Kerkorian's International Leisure Company, but the Hilton Corporation bought the resort in 1972, renaming it the "Flamingo Hilton" in 1974. The last of the original Flamingo Hotel structure was torn down on December 14, 1993 and the hotel's garden was built on the site.fact|date=August 2007

The Flamingo's four hotel towers were built (or expanded) in 1967, 1975, 1977, 1982, 1990, and 1995.

Florence Ballard was fired from The Supremes during their engagement at the hotel in June-July 1967.

In the 1998 spin off of Hilton's gaming operations ownership was changed to Park Place Entertainment which was renamed to Caesars Entertainment in 2004.

In September 1999 the Flamingo Hilton and its sister property in Laughlin ended their long standing relationship with Hilton Hotels. The Hilton name was removed and the property was renamed "Flamingo Las Vegas". Longtime Las Vegans still refer to the casino by its former name, however.

To enhance the hotel's Caribbean themeFact|date=February 2007, a Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville restaurant was opened in 2004.

In 2005 Harrah's Entertainment purchased Caesars Entertainment and the property became part of Harrah's Entertainment company.

Toni Braxton replaced Gladys Knight as the Flamingo’s new headlining act on August 3, 2006. The show, "Toni Braxton: Revealed", ran through April 7, 2008. Although scheduled to run until August 2008, the show was canceled early due to Braxton's health problems. [cite web
url= http://vegasblog.latimes.com/vegas/2008/05/breaking-news-t.html
title = Toni Braxton Show canceled

Film history

The 1960 version of "Ocean's Eleven" was filmed here. Also a flashback sequence from the 2001 version of "Ocean's Eleven" was filmed at Flamingo.

The 1964 film, "Viva Las Vegas" was filmed here.

References in fiction

Hunter S. Thompson and Oscar Zeta Acosta stayed at the Flamingo while attending a seminar by the National Conference of District Attorneys on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs held at the Dunes Hotel across the street. Several of their experiences in their room are depicted in Thompson's most famous work "".

The original Flamingo hotel and casino figures prominently in the Tim Powers novel "Last Call". In the novel, the famed myth of Siegel's creation of the Flamingo was utilized as a basis for the overall supernatural plot of the novel (rather than the true historic account of his acquiring it from the original founder). The Flamingo is supposedly founded on Siegel's mythical/mystical paranoia of being pursued and killed for his Archetypal position as the "King of the West," also known mythologically as "Fisher King". Supposedly the Flamingo itself was meant to be a real-life personification of the "The Tower (Tarot card)" card amongst the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck, literally "the King's Castle in the Wasteland." It is also fabled to be where Siegel kept his copy of a deck of the Lombardy Zeroth Tarot deck, a fictional deck of psychically-empowered Tarot cards also prominent to the plot of Powers' novel.

"", a shot of the casino can be seen along with Circus Circus, and Stardust. Siegel's penthouse and office floor did, as referenced in the novel, in fact have a secret escape-hatch complete with ladder down to a service floor where supposedly a car was always in ready to effect his getaway in the event of his being attacked in his chambers (the escape preparations of course were ultimately moot; Siegel was killed in Los Angeles at the home of his girlfriend Virginia Hill). All other references to the Flamingo in any supernatural context in the novel are not based on any known or recorded facts/events.

The Flamingo has also been referenced in animated cartoons - an episode of "The Jetsons", in 1962, dealt with a trip to "Las Venus" and the "Flamoongo casino". [http://www.bcdb.com/cartoon/4617-Las_Venus.html] More recently, an episode of "Kim Possible" ("Ron the Man") was set in Las Vegas, and while there was no direct reference to the Flamingo, the casino the characters went to was drawn to resemble the original Flamingo design. [http://www.tv.com/kim-possible/ron-the-man/episode/169617/summary.html]

It was also seen in the game "" as "The Pink Swan".

Norovirus Outbreak

In 2004, an outbreak of norovirus at the Flamingo hotel sickened over 1,000 people. The source of the virus is unknown, but food is the likely culprit, as the virus is usually transmitted by food handlers who are infected. [ [http://www.about-norwalk.com/norwalk_outbreaks/news/norovirus-strikes-guests-workers/ Norovirus strikes guests, workers] ]



last = Wilkerson
first = W.R., III
title = The Man Who Invented Las Vegas
publisher = Ciro's Books
year = 2000
url = http://cirosbooks.com/man_who_invented_las_vegas.html
isbn = 0-9676643-0-6

External links

* [http://www.flamingolasvegas.com/ Flamingo Las Vegas website]
* [http://www.harrahs.com/ Harrah's Entertainment website]

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