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Bob Stupak, builder of Stratosphere and Vegas World, dies at 67

Bob Stupak


Bob Stupak, right, watches as a Horseshoe Casino cashier counts out $100 bills as Stupak cashed in his markers and removed items from a lockbox in the casino cage. Stupak attempted to cash a $5,000 casino chip from the hotel but that transaction was refused.

Updated Friday, Sept. 25, 2009 | 6:49 p.m.

Bob Stupak

Former Las Vegas casino owner Bob Stupak announces plans to build a $1.2 billion hotel-casino modeled after the ship Titanic in Las Vegas during a press conference on Thursday, April 8, 1999. The plans include a hotel-casino which resembles the Titanic and an attached Launch slideshow »

Beyond the Sun

Bob Stupak, a Las Vegas legend who developed the Stratosphere and called himself the Polish Maverick, died today at Desert Springs Hospital after a long battle with leukemia.

He was 67.

The Stratosphere released a statement Friday afternoon saying Stupak will be remembered for his contributions to Las Vegas.

“Bob Stupak was a true visionary and he will be sorely missed. He was instrumental in developing the Stratosphere Casino Hotel and Tower – an icon in Las Vegas, as Mr. Stupak was himself. He will be remembered for his many community initiatives and his many innovative projects within the gaming industry," the statement said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

After an unconventional boyhood in Pittsburgh he came to Las Vegas, where he survived a motorcycle crash and sparred with gaming regulators. He eventually built the tallest hotel-casino in Las Vegas.

In his early days, Stupak delved into pop music and motorcycle drag racing before he began selling coupon books. His father, Chester Stupak, was a major player in Pittsburgh gambling rackets from before World War II until his death in 1991.

After Bob Stupak dropped out of school following the eighth grade, he bought a Harley-Davidson and began an odyssey that would lead to Las Vegas.

Stupak's interest in gambling drew him to Las Vegas in 1964. He then took a detour to Australia for seven years, where he continued selling coupon books and got married twice. Stupak stayed in Las Vegas for good in 1971.

In 1973, Stupak opened the Million Dollar Historic Gambling Museum & Casino, which burned down under mysterious circumstances. Rising from those ashes, Stupak built Vegas World in 1974, an outer space-themed casino with a display of cash Stupak had won in some of his most notorious gambling bouts, including poker games and big Super Bowl bets.

Media from around the world came to the April 29, 1996, opening of the 1,149-foot-tall Stratosphere. A bronze statue of Stupak was displayed at the resort north of Sahara Avenue on Las Vegas Boulevard.

Stupak had envisioned an 1,800-foot tower, but the Federal Aviation Administration intervened and prevented him from going that high. Less than three months after the Stratosphere opened, Stupak, a 14 percent owner, resigned as chairman and the bronze statue disappeared. Stupak said later he had never authorized it.

On March 31, 1995, Stupak was nearly killed when the Harley-Davidson motorcycle he was driving collided with a vehicle on Rancho Road, leaving him in a coma for five weeks.

Stupak had attempted to enter the political arena by running for mayor of Las Vegas. He also helped his daughter, Nicole, with a failed bid for a City Council seat in 1991.

"It seems like he was always playing it right to the edge -- good, bad or indifferent," said former United Press International Bureau Chief Myram Borders, who covered Stupak during the years of his greatest contributions to Las Vegas history. "He had a good sense of humor. He was a funny man. Bob seemed to enjoy life very much."

In 1989, Stupak won the World Series of Poker $5,000 buy-in no-limit deuce-to-7 world championship at Binion's Horseshoe, earning a purse of $139,500. He had placed third in that same event in 1984 and would go on to place fourth in that game at the 1991 and 1993 World Series of Poker.

Famed Las Vegas oddsmaker Lem Banker called his longtime friend "a visionary."

"Bob was a decathlon gambler -- sports bets, propositions, poker -- everything at once," Banker said. "He had a lot of heart and a lot of brains."

Sen. Harry Reid said in a statement that he was saddened to learn of Stupak's death, adding that they had been friends for 35 years.

"Las Vegas has seen many visionary people come and go throughout the years, but few personified the town like Bob did. He was a genuine Las Vegas character," Reid said. "My thoughts and prayers go out to Bob's family and friends during this difficult time."

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