A Tale of Two Casinos

The Tropicana and the Sahara are a study in contrasts despite some shared history; at opposite ends of the Strip, both holdovers from the 1950s managed to survive into the 21st century. Both drifted further and further down market as they faced larger and more luxurious competitors. And, as of today, they are facing profoundly different fates. One is closing, while the other has a new lease on life.

The Sahara, since its purchase in 2007 by Sam Nazarian’s SBE, has been in a holding pattern. Originally, he planned to drastically renovate the casino into a branch of his hip SLS hotel, with ample Hollywood sizzle. But the fizzling economy meant that the Sahara got a reprieve from its makeover, which was a mixed blessing; the casino survived for another three years but, unable to compete with more luxurious resorts that were suddenly pricing rooms in its range, just couldn’t remain viable. Beached at the north end of the Strip, its closing is regrettable, but not surprising.

The Tropicana, on the other hand, got an ownership group who decided to give the place a major, but not exorbitant, overhaul, infusing the tired property with a South Beach look and fresh rooms; international lifestyle brand Nikki Beach is on the way this summer. The result is a property that’s still relevant. At one of the Strip’s busiest intersections, it’s right in the middle of the action in more ways than one.

In the end, a better location, and a more realistic appraisal of what is workable in today’s Las Vegas is what saved the Tropicana from the Sahara’s fate. Even though big dreams can pay off in Las Vegas, lately it’s been a town that’s rewarded more grounded expectations.