Dunes: Signature for Vegas glamor

GamingToday.com is an independent sports news and information service. GamingToday.com has partnerships with some of the top legal and licensed sportsbook companies in the US. When you claim a bonus offer or promotion through a link on this site, Gaming Today may receive referral compensation from the sportsbook company. Although the relationships we have with sportsbook companies may influence the order in which we place companies on the site, all reviews, recommendations, and opinions are wholly our own. They are the recommendations from our authors and contributors who are avid sports fans themselves.

For more information, please read How We Rank Sportsbooks, Privacy Policy, or Contact Us with any concerns you may have.

Gaming Today is licensed and regulated to operate in AZ, CO, CT, IN, KS, LA, MI, NJ, NY, PA, TN, and VA.

From the ashes of the Dunes came the Bellagio, but the memories in Arthur Shenker’s book of photos will forever be hot.

“I owe Gene Kilroy (then the executive assistant to the chairman of the board) all the credit,” said Shenker, who handled the day-to-day operations at the Dunes at just 32 years of age. “Gene knew everyone and they all came when he asked.”

Shenker’s scrapbook is a who’s who of Las Vegas – from Elvis to Sinatra, Ronald Reagan to Jimmy Hoffa, Cary Grant to Liberace and the Casino de Paris to the majestic Dunes sign that was created as a “phallic symbol” of life when style was flaunted and the mob was in charge.

Public relations alert for LVS CEO Sheldon Adelson

Siberian Storm one of the most popular slots in Vegas

“My dad (Morris Shenker)became chairman of the board around 1972,” said Arthur, whose family grew up in St. Louis. “Vegas was still glamorous back then. You had Caesars Palace, the Riviera, the Desert Inn and Tropicana. You had the Sahara, Frontier, Sands and Thunderbird. Everybody knew everybody. That was how Las Vegas was.”

The Dunes ownership changed many times and the hotel/casino resort continually fought financial hardship until eventually succumbing in its sensational implosion in 1992. But for 37 years there were some great times.

Arthur’s father once ran the Dunes but his real claim to fame was as the defense attorney for teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. Life Magazine once called Morris, “the foremost lawyer for the mob in the U.S.”

“If my father had delegated authority a little bit differently, there’s a very good chance that the hotel would still be there and that my family would still be running it.” Arthur said. “I could run a hotel today, but it wouldn’t be as corporate.”

In today’s vernacular, Morris was the CEO and Arthur the president and vice chairman of the board of directors. He proudly admits most of the business deals he made came on the Dunes golf course, where he often played.

“I was very lucky in that my family had operated hotels going way back to the early 1900’s,” he said. “I had a set of plans for the Dunes. We were going to subdivide the golf course to create condominiums and four other hotels on our property.

“The plan was to create our own Strip,” Arthur continued. “What we planned way back then is pretty much what Vegas did today. Monte Carlo, City Center and New York-New York are all on property that used to be the Dunes.”

Back in the heyday of the Dunes, the casinos owned the hotel, the golf course, the restaurants, showrooms, everything. The casino was the center.

“Today there is no center anymore,” said Shenker, now 66.” It was a day when everyone dressed up. For entertainment we had Sinatra, Dean Martin, everyone appearing at one time. By the time we got in, the main showroom had the Casino de Paris.

“Upstairs in the lounge, we had Marlene Ricci and Loretta Holloway, Sonny King and Bob Anderson, a great impressionist who was the Danny Gans of his time,” Shenker added. “The Dunes became a hot spot for a lot of the entertainers in town.”

Cary Grant. Claude Akins and Glen Campbell would often stay at the Dunes, which was famed for the sign that stood out and Shenker said meant what it resembled..

“I am not sure I can discuss its origin, but it was sexual in creation, you’re exactly right.”

During the time of the Dunes, the city of Las Vegas looked nothing like it does today. It was basically the Strip and downtown.

“We had a lot of storefronts going up and down the Strip,” Shenker said. Only one street (Charleston) went past Decatur on the west side. Just dirt roads. Even I-15 wasn’t there. There was an Eastern on the east side and a Henderson, but that was like a day trip.”

And back then resorts were self-contained.

“At the Dunes everything was in house,” he said. “We had our own butcher shops, bakery, print shop, laundry. Like 15 or 20 businesses under one roof. We had a small city under one hotel. Quite a challenge back then.”

Plus the climate was different. All the other hotel owners got along.

“It’s totally different today” Shenker said. “All stay within themselves. I knew back in the 80s that hotels would be monstrous, like 3,000 to 4,000 rooms. Condominiums being built. I knew the population would quadruple.”

If Shenker is right about Vegas today as he was some 30 years ago, the future is bright.

“Las Vegas is still good,” he said. “It’s the one place where the big action will always be.”

What a ride it was!

May 23, 1955: Dunes opened as a low-rise resort with Hollywood star Vera-Ellen providing the entertainment in the Magic Carpet Review.

1956: Businessmen, Major A. Riddle and Jake Gottlieb, who had dealings with the Chicago Outfit, bought the hotel. The resort boasted an 18-hole golf course, a rooftop health spa and a 90-foot-long pool. The hotel’s slogan was “The Miracle in the Desert.”

Jan. 10, 1957: First hotel/casino in Nevada to offer a topless show – Minsky’s Follies. It set a record for attendance in a single week at 16,000.

1961: A 24-story North Tower was built, bringing the number of rooms up to 450.

1964: The hotel was known for a 35-foot-tall fiberglass sultan that stood above its main entrance.

Late 1960s: Morris Shenker bought into the Dunes and became Chairman of the Board. He remained a major shareholder until 1985.

1979: South Tower was added, expanding the hotel to 1,300 rooms.

1983: Stuart and Clifford Perlman, founders of Caesars World, agreed to buy the Dunes for $185 million.

1985: The sultan statue caught fire, reportedly due to an electrical short in its stomach.

1987: Japanese investor Masao Nangaku purchased the Dunes for $155 million but could not make it a financial success.

Nov. 17, 1992: The Dunes was sold for the last time to developer Steve Wynn and Mirage Resorts, Inc. for $75 million.

Jan. 26, 1993: The Dunes closed its doors for good.

Oct. 1993: The Dunes was imploded in a grand ceremony that involved major fireworks displays and the use of several “cannon blasts” from the English ship HMS Britannia of Treasure Island Hotel and Casino. Over 200,000 people.

July 1994: The South Tower was obliterated with no fanfare and minimal media attention. The Bellagio now stands in its place. During its construction, workers found four bags of Dunes casino chips that were buried at the site.

Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at [email protected].

 GamingToday on Facebook      and         GamingToday on Twitter

About the Author

Get connected with us on Social Media