Sahara hotel-casino in Las Vegas to close in May


Closure of the 59-year-old Sahara hotel-casino on the recession-battered Strip is a psychological blow to Las Vegas. Sam Nazarian, the Los Angeles nightclub impresario who owns the property, has no specific plans for the Rat Pack-era hotel's future.






The Sahara hotel-casino, a Rat Pack-era jewel of the Las Vegas Strip that age and a prolonged recession had tarnished, will close in May, owner SBE Entertainment announced Friday morning.

Chief Executive Sam Nazarian, the Los Angeles nightclub impresario who purchased the Moroccan-themed casino in 2007 and vowed to restore its hipness, said in a statement that running the property was "no longer economically viable."

While the statement said Nazarian's company was mulling options for the 59-year-old resort, "including a complete renovation and repositioning," it gave no details or timeframe for such plans.

In southern Nevada, casinos are often bought, sold, remodeled or imploded to make way for a new resort – but very rarely shuttered.

The announcement is a psychological blow to Las Vegas, which has been battered by years of economic misery. While some gauges of tourism, including the number of visitors, have ticked up in recent months, many analysts expect a lumbering recovery.

Gaming revenue in January dipped 2.5% on the Strip compared to the same month last year, according to figures released this week, despite several marquee conventions that swelled visitor volume by nearly 9%.

With the Sahara's closure, the Strip's north end will more closely resemble a recession-battered cul-de-sac rather than a top-notch tourist destination. Nearby sits the Fontainebleau hotel, a gleaming blue tower expected to stand unfinished for years; the carcass of Echelon, where construction stalled in 2008, and empty swaths where planned projects never broke ground.

Nazarian, who also owns L.A.-area watering holes MI-6 and Hyde Lounge, purchased the Sahara at the tail end of the two-decade-long Las Vegas building boom. He intended to transform the run-down property into a hot spot for the rich and beautiful as part of a hotel chain called SLS, for "style, luxury and service."

That appeared to be a formidable task. The Sahara, a haunt of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, once paid bathing beauties to frolic in its Garden of Allah pool. It is now home to a roller coaster and aNASCAR Cafe known for its 6-pound burrito.

ashley.powers@latimes.com

jessica.gelt@latimes.com

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