Club Bingo opened on July 24, 1947, on Highway 91, across the street
from El Rancho Vegas. The land that Club Bingo occupied was owned by
Mel D. Close, Sr. Milton Prell, owned Club Bingo. The 300 seat bingo
parlor was its main attraction, but the club offered all the other
casino games as well. On opening night Club Bingo raffled off a new
Cadillac. A gentleman who owned a hamburger stand off of Fremont
In 1949, comedian Stan Irwin was booked for 11 days and
stayed for eight months. After just four days into his venue,
McDonald asked Irwin if he would like to manage the Bonanza Room of
which he accepted. He then was promoted to Public Relations and
In 1952, Close sold the land Club Bingo occupied to Milton
Prell, Al Winter, and a group from Portland, Oregon. Stars such as
Kay Starr as well as others convinced Prell to build a hotel on the
land. Prell had the financial backing of A. Pollard Simon.
Contractor Del Webb was given a 20% interest in lieu of payment for
his company's work.
In October 7, 1952, the 240 room Sahara Hotel & Casino,
called "The Jewel of the Desert" opened. Opening night entertainment
was provided by the famous scarecrow from "Wizard of Oz", Ray
Bolger, and singer Lisa Kirk. Opening night was so great, that money
was rushed straight from the cash boxes underneath the tables to the
casino cage at a frantic pace so that guests could continue to cash
in their winnings.
The Sahara's theme was North African with plastic statues
of camels standing as sentinels in front of the hotel, and Arabs
lounging outside and inside the Congo Room. The Casbar Lounge and
Caravan Room looked over the Olympic sized pool. Architecturally it
followed the same pattern of the Desert Inn and the Thunderbird.
Sahara featured a tall brick pylon at the entry anchoring low wings
that spun outward from its center like a pinwheel.
The hotel itself was a low main building with the lobby
and casino standing in front. The restaurants in the rear looked out
on a manicured lawn ringed by two story motel units consisting of
206 rooms with balconies and patios.
In 1958, Sahara became the first gaming establishment to
obtain funding from an actual bank. The Bank of Las Vegas run by E.
Parry Thomas, made a $1 million loan to the Sahara to build an
additional 200 rooms.
In 1959, the Sahara added a 14-story tower. This expansion
also included a convention hall on the north side and a 127 foot
vertical roadside sign. The tower was set on the far side of the
pool and was patterned with windows, balconies, and stair towers
that had a dynamic sculptural quality. A digital time and
temperature board and the semi-Arabic S were perched on top.
In June of 1960, Sahara announced the opening of its new
addition, adding over 200 rooms to its facilities.
In 1961, Prell sold the Sahara to Del Webb. Webb
orchestrated an arrangement for a merger between his construction
company and the Sahara-Nevada Corporation, the first publicly traded
company to have holdings in a Las Vegas gaming establishment. The
$100 million merger included Sahara, Mint, and Lucky Strike Clubs.
Webb sold his Highway House Motor Hotels for $6.5 million to gain
sufficient capital for the merger.
With the proceeds from the stock sale, the Sahara added a
$5 million 24 story skyscraper, incorporating 400 rooms, bringing
its total to over 1,000. A 44,000 square foot convention facility
was built at a cost of $3.5 million. One of the main hall's unique
features was that it had no internal support columns to obstruct
display space. Under the direction of R. Edward Zike and Ed Nigro,
construction began on a $50 million expansion program that made it
one of the most extensive projects in Las Vegas history. A 3,000 car
parking lot on Paradise Road, complete with security towers, was
connected to the hotel by way of a covered and air-conditioned
In 1964, Irwin, Webb and Sahara sponsored the Beatles'
appearance in Las Vegas. This was a gamble in itself since the
Beatles attracted people who couldn't gamble - teenagers. Irwin
decided it was worth the gamble.
In 1968, Additional renovations, valued at $50 million,
were completed including the development of a new hotel tower and
In 1969, Entertainer Buddy Hackett was named Vice
President of the Sahara-Nevada Corporation. It was stated that
Hackett, who had appeared for the past six years at the Sahara,
functioned as a talent consultant for the corporation which included
the Strip's Thunderbird resort.
Paul & Sue Lowden purchased the Sahara from Webb in 1982,
and added a 26-story tower in 1988, bringing the rooms to a total of
1,500. Lowden then expanded the casino area and a new race and
sports book opened.
In 1995, Bill Bennett retired from Circus Circus
Enterprises, then bought the Sahara from the Lowdens for $193
million. Bennett immediately began a $100 million renovation
project. As part of these renovations, the Sahara Hotel has
remodeled the legendary Casbar Lounge and announced plans to
construct an all-new Sahara Theater.
Sahara then remodeled 1,720 rooms, completed an
85,000-square-foot casino, four restaurants and the virtual reality
In the spring of 2000, Sahara and NASCAR Cafe teamed
together to bring the famed entertainment complex to Las Vegas with
the 75,000-square-foot NASCAR Cafe featuring exciting stock car
racing entertainment and an all-American menu. The NASCAR theme
encases the entertainment complex, including giant projection
television screens equipped with surround sound that features NASCAR
racing, driver profiles and the latest NASCAR news.
The NASCAR Cafe also features the roller coaster "Speed,"
a Cyber Speedway that features 24 stock car racing simulators, a
state-of-the-art arcade and various race memorabilia.