Stardust Hotel

The Stardust Hotel became the dream of Tony Cornero, who in a sudden burst of inspiration while drinking with friends at the Louigi's bar on the Las Vegas Strip in the mid-1950s, determined to build the world's largest resort. Cornero would not live to see the completion of his dream, but his Stardust Hotel would survive for more than half a century as one of the aging icons of the Strip.

Cornero's reckless, often hapless past was well-known in Las Vegas by the 1950s, following a string of business failures. He had served time in prison in California in the 1920s for smuggling liquor during Prohibition. Later, in 1931, the year gaming was legalized in Nevada, Cornero and his two brothers built the Meadows Club, one of the first legal hotel-casinos established in Las Vegas. After an initial success, the Meadows declined in the mid-1930s. Cornero left Las Vegas and later operated the gambling ship S.S. Rex off the coast of Southern California. In the mid-1940s, he briefly ran the small S.S. Rex Club in the Apache Hotel in downtown Las Vegas.

But in 1954, as major hotel projects developed along the Las Vegas Strip, Cornero saw a future there. He wanted to get back into the casino game, and in a big way. He paid $650,000 to buy thirty-six acres on the Strip's northern side, between the El Rancho Vegas and the Hotel Last Frontier. He made plans to build a hotel with 1,000 rooms–more rooms than any other. To underwrite the project, Cornero started a company and sold shares, raising $6 million from investors all over the country. But he had failed to obtain approval from the U.S. government to sell shares, and he was forced to stop offering the stocks outside of Nevada.

While the Stardust was under construction, Cornero faced problems with Nevada state officials. Governor Charles Russell said that given Cornero's past, Nevada would never grant him a gaming license so that he could profit from the Stardust. Cornero tentatively agreed to lease the Stardust's casino, once it opened, to a group headed by Desert Inn casino investor and alleged mob associate Moe Dalitz.

But while playing his favorite casino game, craps, at the Desert Inn on July 31, 1955, Cornero collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack. Without Cornero, the future of the Stardust project, then about seventy percent complete, was in doubt. The project needed $3 million to be completed, and with little money left in the company, construction was halted for two years. Then Jake "The Barber" Factor entered the picture to take over the unfinished Stardust. Factor, a wealthy Chicagoan, was the brother of cosmetics magnate Max Factor and is said to have once been linked to the late mobster Al Capone. Factor and his wife, Rella, bought out the Stardust project's 3,000 stockholders, settled liens against the property and resumed construction with a $10 million investment, including $3 million allegedly furnished by Chicago organized crime figures Tony Accardo and Sam Giancana. Factor served as landlord, renting the casino to Dalitz's group, the United Hotels Corporation.

The Stardust opened on July 2, 1958. Themed after the stars and planets, the new hotel seemed to meet Cornero's extravagant vision. It had 1,032 rooms, regarded as a world record at the time, the largest swimming pool (105 feet long) and largest casino (16,000 square feet) in Nevada. In the rear was a rodeo complex, Horseman's Park, with corrals and space for 300 horses. The showroom, the Caf Continental Stage, was considered the most technically advanced in Las Vegas, with the latest sound and lighting equipment and hydraulic lifts to raise performers ten feet above the stage, and thirty feet below. The hotel's show, Lido de Paris, was an import from France and was directed by Donn Arden.

In December 1959, the Dalitz group effectively took control of the Stardust from Factor, and took out a long-term lease on the casino. With Dalitz holding the state casino license, some claimed that Chicago mob associate Johnny Drew was involved in managing the casino behind the scenes into the early 1960s, with some of the profits allegedly skimmed for Giancana and the Chicago mob.

Later in the 1960s, the U.S. government blocked billionaire Howard Hughes, who was buying a string of Strip hotels, from purchasing the Stardust. The U.S. attorney general argued that Hughes might gain an illegal monopoly on Las Vegas hotels.

Instead, Delbert Coleman and his Recrion Corporation obtained the Stardust, along with the Fremont Hotel in downtown Las Vegas. Recrion carried a loan of $12 million provided by the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund. In 1974, Recrion sold the Stardust and Fremont to Argent Corporation, headed by California real estate investor Allen Glick.

But under Glick's ownership, the Stardust would become the center of a major scandal in which state and local officials alleged that organized crime remained covertly in control of the casino, siphoning cash proceeds before the totals were reported to taxing authorities. Glick had obtained a $67.2 million loan from the pension fund to buy the Stardust and Fremont. A board oversaw the union pension fund, a savings account funded by contributions from Teamster union members, but the union's leader, James "Jimmy" Hoffa, secretly approved loans to Las Vegas casinos and elsewhere. Hoffa received kickbacks on the loans, which were arranged for organized crime members who used "front men" to operate the casinos while stealing millions from them.

Nevada gaming officials in the 1970s discovered a secret operation to "skim" cash from the Stardust Casino's cage and coin count room, before an official count of the funds was made for state and federal taxes. Glick insisted that he had no part of the operation, which included the use of phony "fill slips" (cash records) and under-weighing coins on the casino's coin-counting scale.

The skimmed money from the Stardust and other Argent casinos, estimated between $7 million and $15 million, was traced to organized crime members in Kansas City. The resulting federal court case in 1983 sent some of the conspirators in Las Vegas, Kansas City, and elsewhere to federal prison. Federal authorities believed that Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal ran the covert skimming operation for organized crime in Chicago, Kansas City, and Milwaukee. Although Rosenthal denied it, the Nevada Gaming Commission later banned him for life from Nevada casinos.

After the state ousted Glick's Argent company, Las Vegas businessmen Al Sachs and Herb Tobman, who previously had operated the Stardust for Recrion, acquired the Stardust. But similar charges of hidden skimming at the Stardust would be lodged again. In 1984, the gaming commission removed Sachs and Tobman from the Stardust and fined them a $3.5 million—a state record—although neither was accused of personal involvement in the skimming.

Looking for a reputable new owner, the State of Nevada offered the Stardust to a group of investors headed by longtime local casino operator Sam Boyd and his son, Bill, whose company was later known as the Boyd Group. The Boyds bought the Stardust in 1985 and ran it for the next two decades. In 2006, Bill Boyd announced that the hotel would close and be demolished in favor of a $4 billion mixed-use development, Echelon Place, featuring gaming, retail and hotels. The building was imploded on March 13, 2007.

Geographic Area: 

Article Locations

Related Articles

None at this time.

Further Reading