The Tropicana, which has been on the Las Vegas Strip since 1957, is going to close in the next year or two because it’s on the land where a new baseball stadium will be built once the A’s move from Oakland. It won’t be missed.
I’ve been to the Trop exactly three times. One was when I joined hundreds of other fans and friends of James Randi at the last ever Amazing Meeting in 2015. Another was when my brother-in-law Stuart and I rented a car to drive up to the Valley Of Fire for the day, and the Tropicana was the only place on The Strip with an Enterprise counter.
The third time was several years ago when I went to see impressionist Rich Little do his standup show, which was essentially him reminiscing about his career highlights and the people he’d worked with, plus some of his most famous voices. I expected to see some schlock entertainment but ended up surprised at home much I enjoyed him. Afterwards, I bought Little’s autobiography and chatted with him for a minute about “The Kopykats,” an ABC-TV show he’d done in the early 1970s with other all-star impressionists (Frank Gorshin, Marilyn Michaels, George Kirby, Fred Travalena, and Joe Baker).
On each of those occasions at The Tropicana, I couldn’t help but shake my head at how the then-current owners had allowed the property to fall into such disrepair. Paint peeling, carpets fraying, and the curtain in my room not covering the entire window were just some examples. The customer base seemed to be made up of senior citizens whose social security checks were direct-deposited into the casino’s penny slots. The food choices were uniformly awful. Most of the cocktail waitresses looked like they’d been born in the Pleistocene era.
The Tropicana was once a thriving venue. It was the first place in Vegas to feature magicians Siegfried and Roy. Its headliners included Carol Channing, Eddie Fisher, Gladys Knight, Wayne Newton — plus a bevy of showgirls. James Bond stayed there in “Diamonds Are Forever.” Dan Tanna showed up at the Trop several times during the run of the TV show, “Vega$.” The Folies Bergère ran in one of the Tropicana showrooms for 50 years. It had a comedy club that at various times was named for comics like Rodney Dangerfield, Brad Garrett, and Bobby Slayton. The place ran into trouble at least a couple of times because of connections to the mob — which may be why Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola included it as part of “The Godfather” world when Michael Corleone expanded the family’s operations to Vegas.
Over six and half decades, The Tropicana has been sold and resold more often than the roulette wheel landed on double zero. Each owner has made promises about improvements, but no matter what they did, business kept dropping off. Once the money wasn’t flowing in at an acceptable rate, there wasn’t as much spent on upkeep, which deterred more customers from showing up, and the cycle kept going. It could never compete with the big resorts like Bellagio and Venetian, which were more visible and thus more popular with tourists.
There will be all sorts of lamentations written about the loss of yet another original Las Vegas venue, and the inevitable implosion of the building will draw a crowd, but you’ll never meet anyone who’s been excited about going to the Tropicana in the 21st century. Like The Dunes, The Riviera, The Hacienda, and The Desert Inn, its name will quickly fade into history and cries of “Yo!” at the craps table will be replaced by “Play Ball!”