Aladdin Hotel

Courtesy of UNLV Special Collections

The Aladdin hotel’s varied history included longtime Las Vegas casino operators, legendary entertainers and a group of Detroit mobsters.

The Aladdin Hotel was the first major casino to open on the Las Vegas Strip in the 1960s, eight years after the area's 1950s boom period ended with the Stardust's debut in 1958.

The original site of the Aladdin, between the Flamingo and Tropicana hotels on the Strip's eastern side, had been undeveloped desert land until 1963. Edwin Lowe, an investor from New York, bought the property that year and built the Tally-Ho, a small hotel without a casino. Lowe's venture, which catered to wealthy vacationers, suffered from the lack of gambling and stumbled into bankruptcy in 1965. The hotel closed and languished until Milton Prell, who previously had owned the Sahara Hotel, acquired the property in January 1966. Prell envisioned a hotel and a large casino with a theme based on the ancient Persian legend of a boy named Aladdin whose oil lamp contained a genie granting wishes.

Prell's Aladdin debuted on April 1, 1966, with a 150-seat gourmet restaurant and Nevada's largest casino. A year later, the Aladdin gained worldwide publicity when Elvis Presley wed Priscilla Beaulieu at the hotel in May 1967. Prell suffered a stroke that year, and was no longer able to oversee the resort. He sold it to the Parvin-Dohrmann Company, owner of the Fremont Hotel in downtown Las Vegas. In 1971, the Aladdin was sold again to Peter and Sorkis Webbe and a group of investors based in Detroit and St. Louis. The new owners pumped $60 million into improvements, including an 8,000-seat performing arts theater and a 20-floor hotel tower.

By the late 1970s, Nevada's Gaming Control Board learned of allegations of hidden ownership in the Aladdin by organized crime members in Detroit. An investigation led to the hotel's closure and sale. The Aladdin then went through a series of new owners, including Wayne Newton, a longtime entertainer in Las Vegas, and veteran casino executive Ed Torres. Most were unsuccessful and filed for bankruptcy.

In the late 1990s, wealthy investor Jack Sommer and his family trust bought the beleaguered Aladdin and spent $1.2 billion on massive improvements. The implosion of the old casino in April 1998 paved the way for a new version of the Aladdin that boasted a pair of hotel towers with 2,567 guest rooms and a large interior shopping mall called the Desert Passage. With profits tumbling, Sommer's mega-resort was criticized for design problems, specifically the inconvenient stairs that led from the Strip to the Aladdin's casino and the lack of easy automobile access from the Strip.

With debts from bondholders and other creditors he could not meet, Sommer was forced to cede control of the hotel to a federal judge. Once again, the Aladdin was a bankrupt property. In 2003, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Las Vegas accepted a bid of $637 million for the Aladdin from four partners, including Robert Earl, who headed the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain. Earl revealed plans to remove the hotel's Aladdin theme and replace it with one based on Hollywood films. The hotel officially became Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in April of 2007, with a grand opening later that year. The rooms and open areas were remodeled with a movie memorabilia theme, and work soon began on a $750 million 50-story multi-use twin-tower project. But in September of 2009 the Las Vegas Review Journal reported that Harrah's Entertainment was buying up part of an $860 million debt load leveraged against the property, perhaps in a bid to take it over.

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