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October 18, 2018

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Another Stardust tale

All but forgotten amid the closure of the Stardust Nov. 1 were the brief but colorful roles played at the Strip resort by Al Sachs and Herb Tobman. They as much as anyone oversaw the transition Las Vegas was undergoing at the time.

Sachs and Tobman took over the Stardust in 1979 after gaming golden boy Allen Glick and gambler Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal were run out by state gaming authorities. But by 1984, veteran gamer Sachs and venerable businessman Tobman also were ousted amid allegations of skimming - charges similar to the ones that doomed their predecessors.

Sachs and Tobman were fined what was at the time a record $3.5 million as part of the agreement to surrender ownership of the Stardust and their gaming licenses. The resort then was taken over by Boyd Gaming, which ran it for the last 22 years and plans to build on the site the $4 billion Echelon Place, featuring four major resorts.

Sachs and Tobman often told friends they regretted not fighting the allegations. To the end - Sachs died in 2002 and Tobman this year - they maintained they did not skim or otherwise work for the mob.

Their legacy is one of transition from the old mob-run Las Vegas to the corporate gaming era that in the last two decades has cleaned up the international image of the state's leading industry.

"It was a transitional time, especially for me," said former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, who was governor when Sachs and Tobman were ousted. "When I was growing up here in the 1950s, there was an understanding that (gaming authorities) did not focus so much on what you did before you got to Las Vegas. You'd get your license, keep your nose clean and you were left alone.

"But by the time I was attorney general and then governor, it had become clear that many of those old gamers had connections to national networks that were unacceptable in the modern era."

As big a story as the Sachs/Tobman ouster was in 1984, many of today's Las Vegas residents know little of it. It was barely a footnote in stories published last week about the closing of the Stardust.

Sachs was a highly knowledgeable but unpretentious gaming executive who was popular with his employees.

Tobman was more active in civic affairs, serving as chairman of the Clark County Heart Fund, active with Temple Beth Shalom and co-founder of WestCare, a Las Vegas drug rehabilitation center.

"They had great weight in the community," said Michael Green, a Community College of Southern Nevada history professor and Tobman's distant cousin. "And what they did was not as egregious as what happened during Frank Rosenthal's era. Thus they are neither as famous nor as infamous as Rosenthal."

The character "Ace" Rothstein, portrayed by Robert De Niro in the 1995 film "Casino," was based on Rosenthal, who today lives in Florida and operates a handicapping Web site. Rosenthal is in the state's Black Book, banning him from Las Vegas casinos as an undesirable.

UNLV history professor Gene Moehring, who with Green co-wrote the book "Las Vegas: A Centennial History," said another reason Sachs and Tobman are not well remembered historically is because there is little that people want to remember from the Las Vegas of the early 1980s.

"Las Vegas was in an unusual transition," he said. "The town was dying and needed something new. Sachs and Tobman simply did not have the capital to do what was needed to be done to save the Stardust."

And that was grow up.

Moehring said that from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s, Caesars Palace opened, followed by the International (today the Las Vegas Hilton) and the MGM Grand (today Bally's) - resorts that built upward, differing from the low-rise resorts of the 1950s such as the Sands, Desert Inn and Stardust.

"Prior to (its operators) reluctantly building a tower, the Stardust was just a big 1,000-room motel," Moehring said. "Many casino operators of that time did not see the need for 2,000-plus rooms that are required today."

But that became the trend after Steve Wynn opened the Mirage in 1989, five years after Sachs and Tobman were gone from gaming.

The Mirage started a wave of growth along the Strip, leaving in its wake implosions of the older resorts to make way for new megaresorts. After the wave washed away the Sands and the Desert Inn, it was just a matter of time before it engulfed the Stardust.

"When the Mirage opened, all of the older Las Vegas hotels became dumps," Moehring said. "Who really wanted to stay at the older places when there was the Mirage?"

Allan David "Al" Sachs had a meteoric rise in gaming from dealer to casino owner. Sachs began his gaming career in the 1940s as a dealer in illegal Chicago gaming houses. He also worked in the legal pre-Fidel Castro casinos in Cuba.

Sachs opened the Royal Nevada Casino in 1955 and, three years later, became a minor investor in the Tropicana. In the early 1970s, Sachs was president of the Stardust. But he left in the mid-1970s over disagreements with Glick and Rosenthal about how the casino should be operated and, in 1977, became the casino manager at the Aladdin.

Tobman and Sachs, formed Trans-Sterling Inc. in 1979, to take over the Stardust. At one point in the 1980s, Sachs owned the Stardust, Fremont and Sundance (now Fitzgeralds ) hotels

Tobman had a more diverse career. He bought and sold real estate, ran a furniture store, operated the popular Mr. T's Diner on Industrial Road and was a longtime owner of Western Cab Co.

Tobman, who in his youth worked as a Catskill Mountains resort bellhop and in his late 20s was a Las Vegas gas station attendant, served on the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board and on other boards.

Tobman's gaming career began in the 1950s when he was appointed general manager of the Moulin Rouge on Bonanza Road, the town's first integrated casino.

In 1971 Tobman was hired as general manager of the Aladdin, where he instituted a champagne dinner buffet.

In 1974, Sachs - who was then Stardust president - promoted Tobman to vice president. Two months later, after Sachs quarrelled with Glick and Rosenthal, Tobman succeeded Sachs as Stardust president.

The fine that Sachs and Tobman paid upon surrendering their licenses stood as a record until 2003 when the Mirage was fined $5 million for failing to file 15,000 anti-money laundering reports with the federal government.

In 1985, Sachs and Tobman claimed in federal court documents that they took the government's deal "under duress." In July of that year, U.S. District Judge Roger Foley dismissed their civil suit that claimed that the state violated Sachs and Tobman's civil rights.

In 1986 Tobman, who had run unsuccessfully for Clark County Commission 20 years earlier, ran for governor, raising $90,000 while limiting campaign donations to no more than $10 per contributor. He lost in the Democratic primary to Bryan.

Sachs retired from gaming and spent his remaining years out of the limelight at his residences in Malibu, Calif., and Las Vegas. He died of complications of pneumonia at age 76. Tobman remained an active local businessmen until he died of a heart attack in March at age 81.

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