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Dick Odessky had spunk, and we already miss him

Jul 8, 2003 7:54 AM

(Dick OdesÂí­sky was a longtime Las Âí­Vegas journalist, GamingToday columnist and Las Vegas historian. Dick died last week at his home in Oregon. His passion was always his love for this city. Reproduced below is one of his GT columns, which represents a fitting testament to his feelings for Las Vegas.)

California hotel magnate Tommy Hull stood near what is now the intersection of the glittering Las Vegas Strip and Sahara Ave. He was wondering how to get someone to come all the way out of town to fix a tire that had gone flat.

He knew he had passed the town of Las Vegas three or four miles back, but there were no phones in the wilderness of the Mojave Desert.

But Hull paid attention to his surroundings. He knew he was on the Los Angeles Highway. And he was surprised at the amount of traffic that flowed by while he was repairing his car.

He decided to build a hotel right at that intersection, with the primary feature being a large swimming pool, easily seen by motorists driving by, especially during the hot summer months.

With that, the Las Vegas resort industry was born several months later when Hull opened the doors of his El Rancho Vegas Hotel & Gambling Hall.

The industry gradually grew as the Last Frontier and Thunderbird Hotels were opened with about a hundred guest rooms apiece.

Then, in 1947, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel decided to lead the re-birth of Las Vegas by opening his flashy Flamingo Hotel. But the sleepy desert community wasn’t ready for Siegel’s "big city" style and business failed miserably. Siegel paid for his mistake with his life.

Other flashy hotels opened during the next 10 years, but nothing could be considered another re-birth of Las Vegas until the Stardust Hotel, which sported some 1,500 guest rooms, at least a thousand more than any of the competition.

The Stardust also had more than 100 slot machines in its giant casino. Until that time, the Strip hotels each had a dozen or so machines, to keep ladies happy while their husbands were busy playing at the tables.

Las Vegas flourished through the 1950s and into the ’60s. But then a pair of dreamers named Jay Sarno and Nate Jacobson came to town and fathered yet another rebirth when they built Caesars Palace. They came to Las Vegas 20 years after "Bugsy" Siegel tried to put class and glamour into Las Vegas and failed.

Caesars Palace reigned supreme for more than 30 years. No one could ever top what had been done and continued to be done at Caesars.

That is, until today. Since Caesars Palace first opened its door in 1966, there has been one man who has been dreaming and designing and building hotels in Las Vegas. His name is Steve Wynn.

He rebuilt the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino downtown in Glitter Gulch, in hopes of revolutionizing the free and easy downtown style of play. His competitors didn’t follow suit, but all have lived together with no serious problems.

He then designed and built The Mirage, a class property, to be certain. But it was still not up to Caesars Palace, even though Mr. Wynn would probably argue the point. Then he quickly added Treasure Island to his stable. It was meant more for the masses than The Mirage, but definitely not another Caesars Palace.

Now, Steve Wynn has opened his Bellagio, and he did not hit the Caesars Palace mark. Instead, he has fathered the very latest re-birth of the Las Vegas resort industry. He has built the first resort for the 21st century.

We find it as difficult to describe the Bellagio today as it was to try to describe Caesars Palace 30 years ago. It must be seen and experienced to be appreciated.

This latest rebirth of Las Vegas is being greeted with enthusiasm and the highest of hopes by this reporter as Las Vegas heads into the Millennium with new places and faces ready to make the town bigger and better than ever.

(Sadly, Dick will not be here for the opening of Steve Wynn’s newest creation on the Las Vegas Strip.)