The Sahara Hotel

Things have been a wee bit slow this week, so I’m going to let you, my loyal readers, read a story about a once Grand Hotel that was loved by one-and-all. Some of the story is accurate as hell. Some is speculation, and some is pure dislike on this writer’s part of what has taken place the last couple of years.

Last week we were not surprised, when it was announced by the Sahara Hotel owner, that the storied property would be closing its doors on May 16. In its glory days, The Sahara was The Star of the Northern tip of the Las Vegas Strip, along with the Tropicana at the Southern end of the fabled Strip. You name the entertainer, and he, or she, either appeared on its stages, or would come by after their show at another hotel/casino, to just watch the top entertainers of the time performing in its lounge. Often those stars would end up on the lounge stage, and become part of the entertainment for hours. It was a fabulous place to be seen in, and to work for.

But, unfortunately, over the years, and through various owners, it slowly it lost its luster. It was slowly dying and it was not pretty. The last couple of years, under its new out-of-town owner, who we (the residents of our village, and workers of Las Vegas) truly believed, when he said upon purchasing it, that he would return the old lady to its days of splendor. I think he really believed he could, and would, do it. Of course, that was before the economic downfall. The out-of-town-owner took back his check book (which I think he never really opened), and stopped any plans to help the hotel survive. His intention then, was to milk it, and let it die. Having experienced a relationship with the management team, I can well understand why it had to close.

As anyone who has been in the gaming business for any length of time knows, entertainment helps to feed a casino. And, when you start jamming shows into a single theater (in this case three shows) within a time span of 5 hours, you can create a problem. And, when management ignores contracts with producers, and fails to pay bills, then you face law suits. This is what has been going on at the Sahara for at least the last couple of years. The pencil pusher upstairs would nod yes to any request, and then totally ignore what he had agreed to. The hotel was threatened with law suits. They ignored the potential suits and guess what? They have been sued!

Who this writer truly feels sorry for is the great team of loyal employees—many of them having worked there for more than 20-30 years. They had numerous opportunities to leave, and go with one of the new hotels—but they loved THEIR Sahara. They would never think of deserting her. Only the owner and his management team would allow the Grand Lady of the Strip to fall into disrepair and fail. Not its employees.

As an example I’ll tell you about how hotel management screwed a couple of well-known producers, and is still trying to fool the public with the announcement of why they are closing.  In this particular case, of which I can speak, the manager of the hotel (not the casino, because that was operated separately) decided to take two successful shows, The Comedy Stop and the Rat Pack Show, and move them from the 300 plus–seat Congo mini-showroom upstairs by the buffet. The pencil pusher upstairs got the brilliant idea to close the buffet first, and then a few months later, he moved the two smaller shows downstairs to the 800—seat Sahara Theater. The excuse given: save on electricity costs by not using the air conditioning and lights in the upstairs area. Duh? Management also closed down a lot of the hotel rooms for the same reason—but, they sent out snowball messages saying they were going to begin a remodeling program. Duh? How stupid does the out-of-town owner think the people of Las Vegas are?

Rick Thomas and his tigers were already ensconced in the Sahara Theater. And the two new shows, particularly the Comedy Stop, requested of Thomas’ manager, and hotel management, that his show be off the stage at least 15 minutes before the Comedy Stop show time, which was set for 9:00 p.m. The Rat Pack had a 5 p.m. time, ending at 6:20 p.m., giving Thomas plenty of time to set the stage for his show.

Well, the promise was made by everyone concerned.  But, believe me, it never happened. The Stop audiences would begin lining up at around 8:30 p.m. and the average time became (when the frustrated Maitre’d could begin letting them into the room) 9:20 p.m. A couple of nights, the Stop didn’t get the room until 9:40 p.m., which meant the audience was standing outside in a line, getting angry, for more than an hour. When that would happen (which was practically every night during the summer months), some of the comedians would go out and entertain the line. It helped a little. Complaints to the general manager of the hotel would go in one ear, and quickly out the other. He seemingly could care less. Nothing ever changed. They even let go a long time employee in management, who dared to tell hotel management, that they were not living up to their promises or contracts.

After months of complaining, management decided The Comedy Stop would move to the old smaller lounge. Bob Kephart, owner of the Stop, informed them it would not work unless they enclosed the room, which they again said they would take care of. Not everything is to be blamed on the hotel management, however. They entered into contracts with various entertainment entities, of which the pencil pushers knew little about. Especially, one producer, who is still in court with a bankruptcy case, which, from what I’ve heard, is not going completely like he wanted. The hotel management team would promise to do everything to make it successful. Need I tell you what they did do—practically nothing of what they promised, nor did the producer who was collecting rent from Kephart.

It was never, we believe, in hotel managements plans to spend any real money to make it work. Kephart gave notice and left. They, the multi-millionaire owner and his underlings in hotel management, kept Kephart’s last two checks (they collected all the ticket money and issued a check in the net amount every week after production costs—union payroll for sound, and rent, etc.).

Kephart has requested the money on numerous occasions, but they always have an excuse—they are being sued for breach of contract. That they have stooped so low as to keep a few thousand dollars of another person’s money (income earned for performances performed) is pretty sad. Payback is a bitch, it has been said. Karma is even worse. And, they deserve everything that has, and will, happen to them. If the owner had really wanted good management, he should’ve hired competent managers—not a pencil pusher, who knew absolutely nothing about entertainment, nor do I believe, running a real hotel (with a casino) and lots of rooms. If he had done some diligent research before hiring a management team, I do believe the Grand Old Lady would have made it. But, alas, that is hindsight. She lived a glorious life, and it is honestly sad to watch her go out this way. I’m sure a lot of former owners, managers, entertainers and guests are spinning in their graves. Farewell old girl. You fought a great battle for over 59 years.


The Utah Shakespeare Festival announced its fourth annual fundraising event at, Lawry’s the Prime Rib Restaurant, 4043 Howard Hughes Pkwy, Las Vegas, for Thursday, April 28, 2011. As the Festival continues its 50th anniversary celebration in 2011, this event features an evening of food, entertainment, and fun with Festival artists and friends.

Entertainment for the evening will be provided by Festival artistic directors David Ivers and Brian Vaughn, as well as Festival founder Fred C. Adams and Festival favorite Melinda Pfundstein. Executive director R. Scott Phillips will also participate.

Tickets are $125, with $70 as a tax-deductible contribution. Tables of six or eight are still available. To reserve tickets call the Festival development office at 435-586-7880.

Well, gang, I hope I have not bored you with my little tale of a hotel that tried. I’m outa here!

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