Caesar Palace turns 50: The story of Las Vegas’s most famous hotel

The themed hotel, resembling a Roman paradise, is celebrating its golden anniversary on August 5th.” An icon of the Vegas strip, Caesar Palace has hosted some of the best known people in America. With years of service, also came multiple renovations. What started as a 680-room resort has become a nearly 4,000 room resort and multiplex extravaganza of luxury with its restaurants, shops, and entertainment facilities.  Express, Peter Sheridan in Los Angeles visits the history of the iconic resort.

 

It is 50 years since Las Vegas’s Caesar Palace opened its doors
In hit movie The Hangover three dazed friends awake to scenes of chaos in a wrecked hotel suite strewn with empty champagne bottles, burning furniture, fallen statues, a strutting chicken and boxer Mike Tyson’s growling tiger.It’s a tableau of excess and depravity emblematic of Las Vegas and it is no accident that it is set in Caesars Palace, the iconic, garish luxury hotel that celebrates its 50th anniversary next month.

For half a century its Roman columns and marble statuary have dominated the Vegas Strip, hosting many of Sin City’s most memorable – and dubious – moments.

It is where Evel Knievel almost died jumping across the hotel’s famed fountains, where Muhammad Ali in his last world title fight was battered by Larry Holmes and where Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Judy Garland, Elton John and a galaxy of stars performed.The oldest deluxe hotel in Las Vegas has featured in countless movies including Ocean’s Eleven, Rocky III, Rain Man, two Hangover films and TV’s The Sopranos. With 3,960 rooms in six soaring towers Caesars Palace has grown since its opening on August 5, 1966, with only 680 rooms, where guests were met by Roman gladiators and waitresses dressed like Cleopatra – Egyptian slave girls still greet visitors today.

“Did Caesar live here?” asked Zach Galifianakis in 2009’s The Hangover – a question the hotel front desk now hears almost daily. But when launched by Atlantic City hotel mogul Jay Sarno, he deliberately omitted the apostrophe in Caesar’s to suggest that “every guest will be treated like an emperor”. It is a grammatical oversight so frequently noted that in 2013 the hotel opened the £1.3million Apostrophe Bar, with its signature cocktail The Missing Apostrophe.

The hotel featured in comedy hit The Hangover

Sarno was supported by an £8million loan from the Teamsters union, which was deeply entwined with the mafia, making the hotel mob-run from the start.

Frank Sinatra debuted at Caesars Palace in 1968 but in 1970 threw a public tantrum, outraged that the casino would not let him play for £12,000 a hand at a £1,500 limit baccarat table. Hotel executive Sanford Waterman pulled a gun on the Hollywood legend and Sheriff Ralph Lamb, who had been called to the hotel, threatened to throw Sinatra in jail saying: “I’m tired of the way he’s been acting around here anyway.”

Sinatra refused to complete the rest of his three-year contract and “retired” from showbusiness, only to bury the hatchet and headline at Caesars in 1974.

Frank Sinatra and his daughter Tina at the hotel in 1969

Despite its kitsch decor and 20ft statue of Julius Caesar dominating the entrance, Caesars has remained a Las Vegas innovator. It brought major boxing bouts to the city, hosting championship fights featuring Ali, Holmes and the likes of George Foreman, Evander Holyfield and Marvin Hagler, as well as Formula One grand prix races.

Motorbike daredevil Knievel’s most famous exploit was his 1967 leap 140ft across the hotel’s fountains, aired as a TV special. His bike landed inches short of the ramp and Knievel cartwheeled across the concrete like a rag doll. Near death, Knievel lay in a coma for 29 days with a fractured pelvis, femur, wrist and ankles before recovering.

The hotel’s 1,200-seat Circus Maximus theatre hosted stars including Liberace, Tony Bennett, Diana Ross and Jerry Lewis before its demolition in 2000. It was replaced by the 4,296-seat Colosseum, purposebuilt to host Celine Dion as Las Vegas’s first “resident artist” launching a new generation of Vegas superstar acts including Elton John and Britney Spears.

Larry Holmes and Muhammad Ali fight at the Caesar Palace in 1980

When the hotel built its vast mall of Forum Shops, critics warned: “No one comes to Vegas to shop” yet it became one of the world’s most successful shopping centres. When celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck opened a restaurant there critics again warned: “No one comes to Vegas to eat” but its success transformed the city into a culinary mecca. Gordon Ramsay now reigns there.

Sarno, having built Caesars for £18million, was pressured to sell the resort after only three years for £45million following a federal investigation into his links to organised crime.

Caesars is near the end of a £756million renovation to prepare it for the next 50 years but the aftermath of the economic recession and a slump in gambling threatens to destroy it. The casino’s operating company is saddled with £17billion in debt and declared bankruptcy in 2015. Creditors have sued, accusing it of asset-stripping.

caesars-palace

Caesars has endured other scandals. It was fined £7million last year for failing to control money-laundering by allowing high-rollers to gamble anonymously. And in 2009 Caesars was fined £170,000 in a sex-drugs-and-booze probe after Nebraska tycoon Terrance Watanabe blew £96million in a year-long gambling binge, then complained that the casino had plied him with alcohol and drugs.

But Las Vegas is rebounding with a record 46 million visitors last year and Caesars Palace is packed 24 hours a day. The Hangover continues to cast its debauched shadow over Caesars, where guests regularly ask to stay in Suite 2452, as seen in the film, though the interior was constructed on a studio soundstage.

The Vegas tourist authority is repeatedly asked: “Where do I get the tiger?” “Hotel security catch people trying to sneak up on to the roof,” says Hangover director Todd Phillips. “They wanna go on the roof to have a toast and start their night. It’s crazy.” No, that’s just Caesars Palace, baby.

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