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59-YEAR RUN ENDS; LAS VEGAS SAYS SO LONG TO SAHARA

Los Angeles Times

LAS VEGAS - The Moroccan-themed Sahara hotel and casino closed Monday, ending a 59-year run. Once a hangout for Elvis Presley and the Beatles, the resort was stricken in recent years by the deep recession that has plagued tourism in Las Vegas.

In its heyday, the Sahara was a favorite haunt of the Frank Sinatra-led Rat Pack, featuring Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., who also performed here. The resort even had a cameo in the original Ocean's Eleven movie.

In 2007, Los Angeles nightclub impresario Sam Nazarian took over and vowed to reinvigorate the property. But in March, his company, SBE Entertainment, announced that continuing business was "no longer economically viable."

More than 1,000 employees will lose their jobs, including Rick Fidone, a valet who has worked at the Sahara for five years. "I've got nothing lined up," said Fidone, 53.

Through the front doors, gamblers huddled around $1 blackjack tables or hovered at the penny slots. The overhead chandeliers no longer evoked luxury, but retained a bit of the luster from better times. Curious tourists snapped photos of the rows of darkened slot machines. To the chagrin of some who passed by, the still-advertised topless show was already closed.

At the Oasis Bar, Jay Rydell struggled to fill drink orders. The liquor was running low and there was no sense in buying more, he said. Not much wine left either. "It's so sad," he said. "There's going to be a lot of tears."

At a souvenir shop, the only merchandise left with the Sahara name were playing cards, $1.75 for a deck. Johnny Santia, 38, of San Pedro, bought 12 decks. "The Sahara has the mystique of the old Vegas," he said.

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