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Guests say goodbye as Sahara goes dark

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Leila Navidi

Sam Nazarian, the CEO of SBE Enertainment, the company that owns the Sahara, waves goodbye to the crowd after locking the door to the casino Monday, May 16, 2011.

Sahara's Last 24 Hours

Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 8:02 p.m. - The Sahara marquee is seen as the sun sets on the last evening that the casino is open. Launch slideshow »

Sahara's Last Weekend

At the front desk of the Sahara hotel-casino in Las Vegas Thursday, May 12, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Sahara Archive Photos

Elizabeth Taylor and her son Michael Wilding at the Sahara on March 7, 1956. Launch slideshow »

Sahara Announces Closure

The Sahara hotel-casino in Las Vegas on Friday, March 11, 2011, the same day the property made the announcement it would be closing. Launch slideshow »

KSNV: What's next for the north Strip?

KSNV News 6 p.m. coverage of the Sahara closing with Amanda Finnegan of the Las Vegas Sun.

Reader poll

What will you miss most about the Sahara?

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We are live from the Sahara casino floor, which is to close forever at 10 a.m. Moments ago, a man asked no one in particular, “Is Jerry Lewis going to be here? He should be the last one out the door.”

Jerry Lewis? No idea. Let’s call him.

Three blackjack games and a pair of roulette wheels are still spinning action. The bars are closed. Earlier, bartender Tim Lindal, a 22-year Sahara staffer, poured a nearly full bottle of Drambuie down the drain while announcing, “Alcohol abuse!” Seems the cap was left off the bottle overnight, so it’s good night (or, good morning), Irene. “There are some happy rats!” Lindal said as the bottle emptied.

A morning highlight was a phone call from former hotel owner Paul Lowden, who remembered the greatest days of the hotel. “We had Don Rickles headlining at the lounge,” he recalled. “That would never happen today.”

Especially this day, when across the floor, the Casbar Lounge sign is illuminated, but the room is dark.

The tables are running out of singles, but there is an opening at third base on the $10 game. Time to play cards, friends.

Updated at 10:45 a.m.: Well, I got the crap knocked out of me. The final hand at the Sahara was the dealer showing a 4 of Hearts to my 3 of Diamonds and 9 of Hearts. I stay. My dealer, Wendy the Impaler, flipped a 10 of Hearts and a 4 of Diamonds. That was it, everyone out of the pool.

There is little reason to be in the casino now, though the bar at the gaming pit near the entrance is still doing some business. Or, was, as I left. Many players attempted to cash singles for $1 chips and were told, "No dice, or rather, no chips." Anyone shooting in the area was warned against doing so.

Cameras, I mean. Not guns.

I just ran into a 15-year Las Vegas resident, Byran Ledford, in the hotel gift shop, which looks a lot like a store that suffered 4 hours of uninterrupted looting. Not much inventory left. Even the $15 cases of Bud Lite are gone. But Ledford held three decks of authentic Sahara playing cards.

"I'm watching history die," Ledford said. "I moved here right before the Sands was imploded. I watched that from my house. Back then, there was a lot more hope. I don't know what will happen with the Sahara."

I asked Ledford what he did for a living. "Graphic design," he said. For whom? "Well, I used to work for Caesars." The visitors to the Sahara at closing time also have felt the financial pinch.

Checkout is noon, and the Sahara closes forever at 2 p.m. Better get cracking here.

Updated at 12:30 p.m.: Met up once more with Sam Nazarian, the overlord of SBE Entertainment, the company that owns the Sahara. He was with SBE President Arash Azarbarzin, and danged if those guys don't know how to dress. Dark suits seem the order of the day for the executives who hold the keys to the building that will soon be the late, great Sahara.

Nazarian said he viewed the closing of the hotel as the end of an era that included such resort figures as former hotel operators Milton Prell, Del Webb, Paul Lowden and Bill Bennett.

"I am so proud to have taken over for them," Nazarian said as employees and otherwise curious folk chatted him up and asked to pose for photographs. "I'm an ambassador for those who made the Sahara special."

Nazarian also said he was a "student' of many current Las Vegas resort icons and seemed eager to ascend to the highest level of hotel operator with whatever he has in mind for the Sahara.

"My mentors in Las Vegas have been Gary Loveman (Caesars Entertainment), Jim Murren (MGM Resorts), Steve Wynn (you know him)," Nazarian said. "In the four years I have been in Las Vegas, I have learned from them and expect to keep learning from them."

Nazarian said he is "observing memories" today.

"It's an emotional day," he said, "but you can't be overtaken by emotion."

When I suggested that he was a fairly even-keel individual no matter what the circumstances, Nazarian responded, "You have to be. You really have to be."

As guests file into, and out of, the Market Place gift shop and play their final rounds at the video poker and slot machines, just 90 minutes remain for the Sahara. And as I write this, Seattle's Best Coffee -- also known as Grind Cafe -- is closing around me.

Updated at 1:15 p.m.: We have word that the final person to walk through the doors on the way out of the hotel is a poker ace whose handle is "Eddie The Hat." This word comes straight from Eddie The Hat.

His real name is Charles Krebs, and he started playing poker at the Sahara on July 4, 1953. Originally from Chicago, Krebs moved with his family to Southern California after his father -- who he says was a "fella" in organized crime -- was nearly beaten to death by Al Capone's henchmen. His father made book for assorted mafia figures, including Mickey Cohen, for 40 years. The two made innumerable trips to Vegas to run numbers at such casinos as Binion's and Sahara.

Eddie The Hat came about when anyone would look for a poker player at Sahara, and, as Eddie says, "There were a lot of guys named Eddie." He was dubbed Eddie The Hat for his favored garment, and the name has stuck.

Eddie is 76 years old and has picked a new hotel to play cards. He's heading north on Las Vegas Boulevard.

"I'm going to the Stratosphere," he said. "You can find me there."

Sounds like a ... deal, Eddie.

Updated at 2:40 p.m.: Eddie The Hat was not the final person let out, and the women who were the final to be released were deservedly ignored, as they attempted to forge their way into history in wholly obnoxious fashion. Sleep it off, gals.

A note was taped to the glass doors at the main entrance, written by Nazarian, reading, "Be Back Soon! Thank You For 59 Years." It was signed and dated, and it is a mini-manifesto to be remembered.

As for the now-unemployed Sahara staff, an entirely appropriate closing to the closing unfolded just before 2 p.m., as I happened upon Bell Captain Don Claus, a 47-year Sahara employee. I'd met Don last week, and he's a really distinguished man who possesses infinite patience. He was wearing a dress shirt and jeans, not his usual bellman uniform. As I approached to shake his hand, a larger fella beerily asked Don to send two carts up to a room on the 27th floor.

Seriously? This was 5 minutes before the hotel was to close and 2 hours after checkout time.

"To get what?" Don asked, chuckling. "Beer?"

"Yeah, beer," the guy said. "And a couple of bar stools."

So Don Claus, who started working at the hotel when it was indeed the jewel of the desert and a haven for the greatest celebrities in the land, ordered up a couple of carts. It would be his last task at the famed Sahara.

As they say, thanks for a wonderful engagement.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow "Kats With the Dish" at twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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