A historic Vegas whale, Khashoggi, passes away

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From time to time Las Vegas turns the lights off for a short while to honor the passing of either entertainers or casino moguls who had made major contributions to the city. Yet the city never seems to remember the whales who lost so much money that in some cases they pretty much paid for certain of the casinos they played in.

Such was the case for Adnan Khashoggi, who during his heyday in the 70’s had gaming losses and gregarious spending habits that could probably be responsible for paying off the mortgage on more than one casino and the personal mortgage of more than a few Las Vegas citizens.

Even by today’s standards Khashoggi was a big customer. In his time, he may have been for a while one of if not the largest whale in Las Vegas in the late 70’s.

While Las Vegas has evolved in emphasis between gaming, entertainment, dining, resort experiences, nightclubs and dayclubs, one of the constants that drives this city is hedonism – the pursuit of pleasure; sensual self-indulgence, of which Adnan Khashoggi was perhaps the grandmaster during his reign as king whale in Las Vegas: Reckless gambling, wanton spending, gregarious tipping, outrageous gifts, over the top parties and women, women, women.

During the highpoints (or low points, pending ones perspective and morality) of Khashoggi’s time in Las Vegas he was a frequenter of the Sands Hotel and Casino, which in its day was quite the place. One of the suites he preferred there had a large pool, lawn and detached pool house that was originally intended as a separated his and her changing bungalow.

However, do to the nature, size and focus of the parties Khashoggi enjoyed there, the signs above the changing room doors that originally read Men and Women, were changed to Women and Women. On more than one occasion because of the racy and raucous nature of the activities there, the hotel took adjacent hotel rooms that overlooked that pool area out of service, as well as certain rooms near enough to see the comings and goings of people to the suite.

Back in those days it was not uncommon for certain levels of casino guests to just sign purchases at jewelry and fashion shops around town to their hotel room or even pay for their shopping sprees with casino chips. Both practices were used impulsively by Khashoggi to the benefit of certain ladies from around the world, as well as Las Vegas, and to the pleasant retail delight of local shop owners. Certainly a much more freewheeling time than today, but things were very different then.

Khashoggi’s, self-made wealth came from being the consummate middleman between certain Arab countries and certain very large global conglomerates that sold everything from weapons to construction equipment as well as other high ticket items. As the world changed though so did the need for his skill sets. Gradually the need of his services diminished both from way the world works and because he had become so high-profile his presence in a deal implied something sordid and often worked to his great disadvantage.

In my last dealings with him as a customer, I found it somewhat sad that he had gone from where he could once get anything he wanted – comps, lines of credit, etc., at most any casino in town, to being reduced to looking for a casino that would accept a check in an amount that was less than his average bet from his high flying days. The check was verified as good funds; he played like a gentleman studied and diligent, not with the “devil may care” attitude of the late 70’s and early 80’s, and lost every dollar the check was written for. But due to some peculiarities in the banking laws of the country where the bank was, it took about a year to clear the check; but to his credit the check did clear.

Khashoggi died last week at the age of 81 from complications related to Parkinson’s and while his passing was noted more for his image as a once highflying playboy arms dealer, it was by and large ignored here in Las Vegas. Granted, very few gaming executives are still alive or active who even dealt with him, and certainly all the casinos he lost truckloads of money in have changed hands or been demolished to make way for new resorts. Yet it still seems a touch melancholy that someone who was that prominent in Las Vegas’ gaming history just fades away without a tip of the hat.

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