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October 16, 2018

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Casino Legends Hall of Fame looks to save gaming heritage

Cancelled El Rancho checks payable to Hoagy Carmichael ($12,086.98), Gloria De Haven ($2,758.63), Ann Southern (705.50), Lili St. Cir (1,500.00) and Rudy Vallee ($3,325).

A luncheon menu offering shrimp or crabmeat salad for 60 cents. Yes, 60 cents.

The death certificate for Bugsy Siegel next to a morgue photo of his ... well, check it out yourself.

Those are just a few of the thousands of historic items on display at the Tropicana Resort & Casino's new Casino Legends Hall of Fame, which opened officially Thursday to honor individuals who've made a significant impact on the gaming industry.

The display is the brainchild of longtime Las Vegan Steve Cutler, who said it contains the largest collection of Nevada gaming memorabilia in existence.

The exhibit features photos, films, videos, costumes, casino chips and other memorabilia representing 738 casinos, 550 of which no longer exist, Cutler said.

"Gaming collectibles have become one of the fastest-growing Internet businesses," said Cutler, curator of the Legends Hall of Fame. "More than 1,000 lots are auctioned on the 'Net each day.

"I've been collecting stuff forever myself, and the only way to really enjoy it was to set it up like this," he said as he walked through the 5,000-square-foot display area.

A former executive baccarat host and consultant to Tropicana parent Aztar Corp., Cutler said he and Tropicana President Jonathan Swain had talked about the rapid pace of change in the gaming industry and the need to preserve its past.

"We wanted to create something that would last," he said. "And we believe this is the best entertainment value in town. We have 15,000 items and 1 1/2 hours of assorted video that you can see for a very low price."

So low, in fact, that the hall is offering free admissions to Nevada residents through March. After that, general admission will be $4, senior tickets $3. And that's for those who don't use the free coupons readily available around town.

"We wanted to recognize the people who've made significant contributions to the industry," Cutler said. He solicited memorabilia from every major casino operator in Nevada, as well as from individuals who've been part of the industry for decades, and said more than 90 percent offered items for display.

Among the initial group of inductees are LeRoy Neiman, who presented his first LeRoy Neiman Award for Artistic Excellence to fellow inductee Kenny Rogers, and a mix of casino builders, performers, gamblers and politicians.

Among those honored for contributing to the industry's growth were Neiman, Vegas World and Stratosphere founder Bob Stupak, Horseshoe casino pioneer Benny Binion, reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes Jr., Caesars Palace visionary Jay Sarno, Lou Walters and Las Vegas Sun Publisher and developer Hank Greenspun.

Two-time World Series of Poker champion Doyle Brunson and Tom "Amarillo Slim" Preston were inducted, along with designated "good guys" Sen. Harry Reid and the late governor Grant Sawyer and showgirls Barbara Beverly Crockett, Janet Ford Spelman and Debbie Davis Lee.

The famed Rat Pack was well-represented with the induction of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop. Other performers included Louis Prima, Keely Smith, Sam Butera, Siefried & Roy, Shecky Greene, Liberace and the McGuire Sisters.

Future inductions will take place every six months, Cutler said.

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