Open Secret

Behind the construction barriers, gamblers play on at the Plaza

By now, everyone’s heard about the Cosmopolitan’s secret pizzeria. There’s no sign, and it’s down a hallway decorated with LPs, but they do serve a tasty slice. Apparently, a lot of people have discovered something similar downtown—a “secret casino” with no hotel rooms, no entertainment, no restaurants, no loyalty program and no marketing offers.

The Plaza’s in the midst of a $30 million renovation, so this is more than a “pardon our dust” situation—the entire property is a construction zone, with most entrances fenced off and boarded up. But there are still players inside the darkened casino, ardently pursuing jackpots. Temporary construction walls block access to most of the floor, which is staffed by a skeleton crew.

“When we first shut down both hotel towers and minimized the casino floor to less than half the number of slot machines, I asked myself daily, ‘Where are these players coming from?,’” says slot manager Jack Budde. “Whatever it is, the Plaza slots continue to get play and justify keeping the casino open during the construction and renovation.”

Marketing consultant Steve Rosen puts it into perspective while getting a dig in at the Plaza’s full-amenity competitors:

“The Plaza has some very loyal slot customers that feel lucky here and are probably curious as to see what’s happening to their property and neighborhood. So even though there is construction going on all around them, and the entrances might change often, they are still more comfortable here than being surrounded by the loud rock bands on the street. The sound of the rebirth of the Plaza is the real music they would rather want to hear.”

Whatever the reason, slot players continue to trickle in, and the nearly closed Plaza has managed to put a new spin on an old Field of Dreams adage: Even while you’re building, they’ll still come.

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After nearly 60 years, the Sahara hotel-casino will close its doors May 16. In the days leading up to its last, you’ll read plenty about this casino’s place in Las Vegas entertainment history. Johnny Carson, Tina Turner and Don Rickles were staples in the Conga Room. The Sahara also sponsored The Beatles’ only Las Vegas appearance in 1964, was the long-time location for Jerry Lewis’ Muscular Dystrophy Telethon and served as the setting for the original Ocean’s Eleven movie.



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