Tuesday, July 8, 2003 | 11:24 a.m.
The Stardust, which celebrates its 45th anniversary today, achieved several milestones when it opened in 1958 at the north end of the Las Vegas Strip and for years burned brightly as one of the city's premier resorts.
While megaresorts have eclipsed aging properties like the Stardust over the past seven years, the property may once again steal the spotlight in 2005, when executives may begin planning for a redevelopment project that could lead to a new resort on the site.
Stardust owner Boyd Gaming Corp. has decided to wait until Steve Wynn completes Wynn Las Vegas, a $2.4 billion resort under construction nearby and expected to open in mid-2005, before jump-starting those redevelopment plans, Boyd executives said Monday.
"It will be a number of years before we do it," company Chief Executive Bill Boyd said.
For the past few years, the company has focused its attention on the Borgata, a $1 billion resort and joint venture with MGM MIRAGE that opened in Atlantic City on Thursday.
Expansion projects at existing Boyd casinos are now on the immediate horizon, including plans to add more hotel rooms at the company's Blue Chip riverboat casino in Indiana and to build a hotel at Delta Downs, a Louisiana racetrack that added slot machines last year.
The planning of a new resort at the Stardust will benefit from the experience of opening the Borgata, which was built to attract new customers to Atlantic City as the region's most luxurious casino, Boyd said.
"We are going to be successful at Borgata (but) we don't know whether the (look of) Borgata would fit at the Stardust. That's one reason why we aren't rushing to develop at the Stardust," he said.
Besides, he added: "We have a property that epitomizes the Old Las Vegas. "We have customers that like that rather than the megaresorts on the Strip."
The company also hasn't decided how it will redevelop the Stardust. The plan might involve tearing down the property in grand Las Vegas fashion or building an adjacent resort on the roughly 61 acres Boyd owns to the rear of the resort.
The Stardust claimed to be the world's largest resort hotel when it opened July 2, 1958, with 1,032 rooms. It also boasted the state's largest casino (16,000 square feet) and its largest swimming pool (105 feet long). In 1991, the company spent $250 million to add a 32-story tower with 1,550 rooms as well as other amenities including a conference center, a new lobby and a pool.
The property's distinctive star-studded marquee also claimed to be the world's largest electric sign. The 27-foot high structure used 6 miles of wiring and 7,100 feet of neon to light up the night sky.
The Stardust opened with "Lido de Paris," a floor show imported from France that helped establish showgirls and their opulent costumes as a Las Vegas icon. Future Las Vegas icons, Siegfried and Roy, began their careers as magicians in the Lido de Paris show. The French revue was replaced by a modern version, "Enter the Night," which was in turn replaced by singer Wayne Newton in late 1999. Newton, who regularly performs for enthusiastic, sellout crowds, has been credited with helping the property churn out a steady profit during a time of intense competition from newer resorts.
The property is also known for its prominent place in the city's darker past, moments in time that are nowhere to be seen on a photo timeline that will be on display this evening at the Stardust convention center.
Boyd bought the Stardust in 1985, just over a year after Nevada regulators asked the company to take over management of the resort. The previous owners, Allan Sachs and Herb Tobman, were fined a record $3 million by the Nevada Gaming Commission over claims that they failed to stop the mob from skimming more than $1 million from the casino. Former Stardust boss Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, denied a license to run the casino in the 1970s because of alleged mob connections, later became the subject of a book and Martin Scorsese's hit movie, "Casino."
The company planned today's anniversary celebration about a year in advance as a way to highlight the past and future importance of the Stardust in Las Vegas history, Boyd said.
"We think we made a wise investment when we bought the Stardust," which for years was a top earner at the company, he said.
Those years have past. The company has spent about $35 million over the past four years to improve the property, including tearing down the last original rooms to make way for more convention space and building a new dining room. The Stardust generated $4.8 million in cash flow in the first quarter compared to $4.5 million a year ago, dwarfed by the company's more-profitable Sam's Town casino on Boulder Highway and its three downtown properties combined. Revenue was $36 million, up from $35.6 million.
The anniversary will be held today because Boyd and other executives were in Atlantic City last week opening the Borgata. Today's celebration will include the deposit of a variety of memorabilia from the city's past and present into a time capsule to be reopened at some undetermined date. The capsule, shaped like a rocket to evoke the space-age theme for which the property was once known, will be on display at the Stardust until about September. In partnership with vodka maker Absolut Co., the property also will unveil a "Stardust" cocktail.