Beautifully engraved certificate from the Las Vegans' Vegas World Corporation
in 1987. This historic document has an
ornate border around it with a vignette of an eagle. This item has the printed signatures of the Company’s President ( Bob Stupak ) and Secretary ( D. W. Williams ) and is
over 21 years old.
In the 1970s, it was common knowledge that the Las Vegas Strip is a three mile road that starts from Hacienda and ends at the Sahara. Going north past the Sahara started a trek in a crime-ridden world including narcotics, gangs, prostitution and what was called the "seedy side" of Vegas and the "Naked City".
Stupak purchased a 1.5 acre parcel of land where Todkill/Bill Hayden Lincoln Mercury dealership stood for $218,000. The address was 2000 Las Vegas Boulevard South. Stupak thought he finally made it to the Strip when some guys stated "You stupid schmuck. You're not on the Strip! The Strip starts at Sahara Avenue."
Stupak was approved for a gaming license to operate the Million Dollar Historic Gambling Museum on November 15, 1973, and received his license the following February. The Million Dollar opened on March 31, 1974. He then insured the property through Fireman's Fund American Corporation for $200,000 and added policies for $80,000 in personal property, $5,000 in office equipment, and $100,000 in cash. A sign covering the length of the building which featured a buxom bikini-clad babe straddling the "M" and tossing cash at passerby. The sign read "Bob Stupak's World Famous Million Dollar Historic Gambling Museum World's Biggest Jackpot." Another sign read "See What a $100,000.00 Bill Looks Like."
The casino held 15 slot machines, a few antique green felt tables, casino chips, and wall-to-wall gimmicks.
Some of the gimmicks included the World's Richest Jackpot slot machine with a pay-out of $250,000, a free look at a rare $100,000 bill (it was fake), the Shower of Money machine which allowed players the opportunity to scoop up as much as $1,000, and visitors could have a free picture of themselves taken in front of the Wall of Money - an estimated 60,000 $1.00 bills.
When none of these gimmicks worked to bring the masses, Stupak had a $50,000 jackpot on a nickel slot machine named Million-to-One. The curious did come but more tourists were interested in the nearby massage parlor, the topless bar to the north, and the string of prostitute-infested motels that were on the Boulevard between Sahara and Fremont.
On May 21, 1974, at 7:40pm, tourists on the sidewalk noticed smoke rising from the casino. Nine units from the Fire Department appeared. A hook and ladder truck unfolded and firefighters blasted the blaze from above as well as from ground level. In minutes, more than 1,000 people stood outside to watch Stupak's dream burn to the ground. Stupak was present with tears in his eye watching his dream die.
Damages ranged from $500,000 to $2 million. Smoke and water damage ruined the first floor. The second floor, where the fire broken out, was gutted. The fire destroyed the fake $100,000 bill. Firefighters concentrated on keeping the flames from burning the genuine money. The rescued money was placed on the hood of a car with Stupak crying over the wallpaper, lost revenue, and the lost potential of his dream. Investigators could not determine how and where the fire started.
In September of 1974, Stupak filed insurance claims for $200,000 in losses on the building, $76,700 for equipment, and another $20,000 for cash and office furnishings. The insurance company didn't buy those figures and offered $158,000. Stupak declined and the matter ended up in federal court in 1976 with the insurance company alleging Stupak himself started the fire. Stupak responded with a counterclaim seeking in excess of $1.5 million in damages. He hired attorney Ralph Denton and sued the insurance company, City Attorney Carl Lovell, and Assistant City Attorney Peter Burleigh. Stupak won with a settlement of $300,000.
With a loan from E. Parry Thomas and Kenny Sullivan at the Valley Bank, ground breaking for his casino/hotel took place in June of 1978. This would be the first hotel/casino built close to the corner of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard since the Sahara opened in 1952. In more recent times, the only casino to open in close proximity was the Jolley Trolley that has since been replaced with a department store sized souvenir shop.
Bob Stupak's three acre Vegas World opened on July 13, 1979, with 102 rooms, with the motto "The Sky's The Limit". Attending the opening was Stupak as well as the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, local TV personality Gus Giuffre, and City Commissioner Ron Lurie.
It was advertised that Vegas World cost $7 million to build. In reality, it cost a little more than $3 million. Gaming Control required enough cash to open the resort so Stupak sold his five-carat diamond ring, and his Rolls-Royce. Hours after he opened the resort, he raised the table stakes from $50 to $100 and soon allowed up to $2,000 bets. At the time, Caesars Palace allowed half as much. Stupak announced "Don't come to the big place with the small bankroll. Come to the small place with the big bankroll." Fortunately, when the cage ran short of money, Stupak could take loans from Benny & Jack Binion's ready cash loans.
Stupak knew he had to attract gamblers to his resort in such a way that they were diverted from the popular resorts on the Strip. He attracted gamblers with gimmicks, high-stakes games and vacation packages costing $395 to $5,000. Stupak was the first casino operator to use extensive direct mail advertising, heavy with play promotions.
Vegas World featured a rooster that played tic-tac-toe. Since the carnival-trained rooster got to pick first, it always won. Other promotions was a glass case filled with real money and a poster of Stupak above it tempting players to take a try and win; Crapless Craps; Double Exposure 21, the world's largest wheel of fortune, measuring over 30 feet across; and a standing offer that for a $10,000 minimum bet, a person could play Stupak head-up in the poker game of their choice.
One night a gambler appeared at the resort's crap table and threw a scare into Stupak. He was winning big and a few more plays and he would own a large piece of Stupak's dream. After midnight, Stupak called Jack Binion asking for money (similar to what Frontier's Bill Moore had to do with Pioneer Club's Farmer Paige decades before). The request neither shocked nor dismayed Binion who had broken into the business before he was old enough to vote. Stupak needed $300,000 and Binion told him to meet him at the Binion's Horseshoe's cage. Stupak returned to his own resort with the cash in brown sacks.
Not long after Vegas World opened, Stupak met David Sklansky, the man who would become the resort's gaming guru. Sklansky's business cards would read Resident Wizard.
With a very slim bankroll, the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees International Union (known as Culinary) figured he was an easy mark. Illegal pickets showed up outside the resort just three months after it opened. Union organizers knew it would take weeks for a judge to force them to leave, and by then the resort would give up and sign a contract. Even before the hotel was finished, Stupak was approached by organizers who attempted not only to force him to hire dues-paying waiters, chefs, cocktail waitresses, and housekeepers, but also to slip them a little something extra to ensure labor peace.
Stupak had welcomed the Teamsters' presence at the resort when it organized the front-desk workers, and parking lot attendants, but he refused to be strong-armed. Pickets appeared on the sidewalk 24 hours a day with trucks hauling food, linen, and other supplies being delayed by the marchers. Culinary then filed a list of charges against the resort. Stupak didn't fall for these tactics. He not only refused to pay protection, but he also fought the union's use of illegal pickets. When union officials would come into the coffee shop and glare at Stupak, he would jump on top of the table and start screaming "This is un-American! You can't do this to me!" The officials would come in with their shirt sleeves rolled up - and Stupak would roll up his sleeves showing his tattoos. Stupak then took his own resort employees, and proceeded to set up his own picket line around the union's. His picketers carried signs that stated "Unfair Union Practices."
Stupak then approached the union and stated "I'll make you a deal. I'll sign the contract if Ben Schmoutey will go out there and play against my Polish Rooster. If he beats the rooster at tic-tac-toe, I'll sign the contract. If he loses, then you guys go away and leave me alone." Union organizers called him an idiot and Schmoutey stated "You ignorant SOB, I've got 20,000 members and I'm going to play tic-tac-toe against a goddamn rooster?" This tactic did the union in. They walked out and the resort stayed non-union. In January, 1980, the National Labor Relations Board ordered that the illegal pickets be removed from the sidewalk. Stupak was viewed as anti-labor and as a certifiable nut after word circulated that he not only had challenged Schmoutey, but also had negotiated with the union men from behind the bar at the resort to sing "Look for the union label" while they served his adversaries free whiskey and beer.
By 1980, Vegas World had brought in $7 million and Stupak quickly reinvested it to build 900 more rooms and increased the casino from 15,000 to 80,000 square feet without any bank financing.
World's card room was the place to be and Stupak's own reputation as a high-stakes gambler attracted some of the best players in the city. Associates of the Chicago mob's Vegas enforcer Anthony Spilotro made Stupak's card room a satellite office for suspected extortion and loansharking activities. Spilotro was a suspect in 24 murders, but was never convicted of a felony. In June 1986, the bodies of Spilotro and his brother Michael were unearthed from an Indiana cornfield.
When union organization didn't work, organized crime figures decided they should have part of the action. They met in the hotel coffee shop, and Stupak put on quite a show. He went bug-eyed, and it spooked them into thinking he was unstable.
"You don't go to bed with the boys. Once you get into bed, you never get out. I handled the Outfit by being absolutely nuts. They let me know what was going on, said I going to be with them, and I got all excited. When is the meeting? Do I get to carry a gun? I can't wait. Do I get a kiss? Am I a made guy? I was outrageous, but it was nothing they ever woke up to. Pretty soon the word went around: That Stupak, he's too nuts. They thought I was completely nuts. Nobody ever reacted that way to them." - Bob Stupak
Law enforcement wanted Stupak to be an informant and strong-armed him - or they thought. Stupak made a terrible informant. For all the time he spent in the casino, he rarely seemed to notice anything. Occasionally he would give something but very little and of little use.
The resort contained The Galaxy Bar.
Vegas World had an entire side of its tower painted with space stations and astronauts floating in outer space seen through a screen of building's pilasters.
In February, 1981, Stupak announced on the Merv Griffin Show that World would be home to the largest jackpot on Earth. Dressed in a loud sport shirt with an open collar, Stupak said it came to him in a dream. Four slot machines were grouped in the casino with a flashy sign. The payoff was $1 million and could be hit only with the maximum $3 bet. Some of the smaller payoffs on the machines could be hit by lining up S-T-U-P-A-K. The $1 million jackpot was touted in the tabloids.
Stupak added a 340 seat showroom. The keno and poker parlors were expanded, the coffee shop cleaned up, and the casino enlarged from 16,000 to 27,000 square feet. Five chandeliers were installed, and new oak paneling gave the place a touch of Binion's Horseshoe.
In December, 1981, a fire broke out on the third floor of the hotel. A pile of linen had caught fire. Fire inspector Paul Keeton told a reporter that someone could have flicked a lighted cigarette into the stack, and it eventually ignited. But the question was, what was the pile doing in the hallway in the first place? There were no maid carts around to indicate that employees were working in the area.
In July 1982, Stupak won approval for a 24 story, 339 room tower. Stupak formed a construction company called High Rollers, Inc., to serve as general contractor for the expansion and, as to be expected after he was treated so badly, he refused to hire union workers.
In September, 1982, the AFL-CIO's 26th annual convention took place and there was a boycott of World along with Imperial Palace and Bingo Palace.
The shows during the construction were shows in themselves. Jahna Reis and the Boob Tube Review emphasized jiggle over talent. Outrageous Vegas was a vulgar drag-queen show that surprised everyone by proving to be popular.
On night a wealthy player from Chicago was down $200,000 and requested a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice. Stupak rounded up a bag of oranges and headed to the kitchen. The gambler not only got his glass of juice but he came away with the knowledge that the owner had squeezed it.
By the early 1980s the hotel was a cross between early brothel and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The walls were lined with mirrors, and an astronaut and spaceship hung from the ceiling. The Starship Enterprise-sized big six wheel took an electric motor to spin. Outside, a mural covered the entire east wall of the hotel.
The image was cards falling through space with the Earth in the background. In time, a giant astronaut was added to the hotel. The marquee was shaped like a rocket ship. (The marquee was where the tower is located today.)
During the 1982 college football season, Stupak locked in his line at 7-1/2 and wrote $1 million worth of action. The bettors rushed to World to take advantage of the sap, who stood to lose more than $400,000 if Florida State won by more than a touchdown. If West Virginia somehow covered the point spread, World be would $600,000 richer. W. Virginia not only covered, but beat Florida 28-6.
At the World's pool, Stupak bet a friend $5,000 on who could hold his breath longer. Despite being a chain smoker, Stupak won.
On May 19, 1984, Dan Koko, was hired to jump off of the building. He made it no problem. Three months later, Stupak upped the stakes and drew national attention: he promised to pay Dan Koko $1 million if he would free-fall 326 feet from a scaffolding atop the hotel. The record was 311 feet.
On August 30, 1984, Koko landed safely and the feat was memorialized from coast to coast.
Even though he had 6 Rolls-Royce autos, Stupak would drive his Vegas World rocket car, a cramped coupe with his casino logo emblazoned on the side around town.
Stupak's office at the resort was a dingy, little-used space on the third floor. It had dust on everything as he was never there.
In 1984, Vegas World made her acting debut in Las Vegas Caper, and in 1985, she appeared in Fever Pitch.
In 1985, the Galaxy Showroom showcased the Robert Allen Show. The Casino Show Lounge showcased Kay Shannon.
During this year the casino held three poker tables with Sid Diamond as Manager. The sports and racing book was managed by Greg Liece.
Vegas World was now bringing in excess of $100 million per year. Tony Martin was signed to play at the resort, and there was a stripper Platinum Peaks who appeared there. Whenever she appeared in the showroom the hotel marquee read 88-DDDDDDD.
Kelly and Cohen's was a restaurant set in an intimate, plush setting. Its specialties were rare beef offerings, fine veal, fish and poultry dishes, including Casey's Creation. Prices ranged from $10 to $15.
In 1987, Vegas World starred as Lucky Star in the TV show Crime Story.
Even though Stupak accomplished his dream, he had a bigger and different dream for this property. In 1991, he announced plans to build a "space needle" modeled after other World Fair landmarks. (It should be noted that this idea was a duplicate of another resort, Landmark). Unable to secure financing from lending institutions, Stupak embarked on a massive direct mail ad campaign. In the promotional brochure aside from advising the person about his plans for the resort, that for $2,500, an investor would receive five once a year trips to stay at Vegas World for three days and two nights plus $500 each trip in house chips. Furthermore, any and all ground floor investors would have their name placed on a bronze plaque on the grounds of the completed resort.
In 1988, Main Showroom showcased Men of Paradise, and The Robert Allen Show. The Lounge showcased Pursel and Breene.
In 1991, Main Showroom showcased Reflections of Sinatra starring Duke Hazlett, Memories of Elvis starring E.P. King, and Marty Allen/Steve Rossi.
In 1992, Galaxy Theatre showcased So Big Burlesque, The Legendary Marty Allen/Steve Rossi, Tony Martin, and Memories of Elvis.
In 1993, Galaxy Theatre showcased The Legendary Marty Allen/Steve Rossi, and Memories of Elvis starring E.P. King.
With parts of Vegas World staying open during the construction, by August of 1993, the Tower had risen to 510 feet. It already was by far the tallest structure in the city, and it had not yet reached the halfway mark. The planned opening date was in the summer of 1994.
In order to build the tower, Stupak had to fight the local FAA. The FAA stated that the tower would interfere with some flights at McCarran Airport. Stupak knocked a few hundred feet off his plans and took his case to FAA officials. As a result, height limits were revised all over town. This allowed construction of the 49 story New York New York, and her sibling Monte Carlo. It also allowed development of the future resort by Circus Circus on the 74 acre property they received from their purchase of Hacienda which would become Mandalay Bay.
On Sunday August 29, 1993, a Vegas World tourist noticed flames and smoke rising from the top deck of the tower. What was not known was that the fire had already spread to the tower's stairwell and was making its way down one leg. At 12:39am the fire was reported; at 12:45am the first engine arrived at the scene. Fire hoses were set up on the roof of Vegas World in hopes that the water pressure would somehow enable them to fight the fire from more than 250 feet below. It was raining fire, the back side was on fire, and within a matter of 15-20 minutes the whole structure was on fire. It was shooting part of the scaffolding onto the casino and down to the ground. The fire department converged and found a gigantic torch burning. A modern ladder tuck can climb several stories, but even the tallest fire crane wouldn't begin to approach the flames burning more than 50 stories overhead. The most powerful streams of water fell 30 floors short of the fire.
Sparks drifted on the 20mph winds from the upper deck to nearby residential areas, but no spot fires were reported. As spectacular as the fire was to watch, there wasn't much to burn up there except a stack of cement forms used to frame the daily cement pour. The tower's concrete structure would not be weakened by the fire, no matter how hot it burned. A nearby McDonald's and the Aztec Casino were evacuated.
Police, who had spent nearly $1 million in crowd control preparation in the wake of L.A.'s Rodney King riots, quickly blocked off traffic on the Boulevard from Sahara and St. Louis Avenues. Falling debris threatened to harm the thousands of spectators who gathered from nearby motels and Meadows Village. Vegas World was not evacuated immediately. The resort wasn't on fire, but the debris outside was life-threatening if people ran out.
Unfortunately, World's lights went out and guests hurried to gather up their stuff in rooms or clear their winnings off the tables before rushing outside. With burning pieces of wood dropping down past the guests' windows, the scramble became crushing. Patrons struggled to see in the darkened hallways. They located the stairs only to find them flooded with other guests. In the dim light someone easily could have been trampled, but in the end, the only serious injury was to Stupak's name.
World employees remained behind to assist with the evacuation. Although they had been given no fire-safety training, they responded as if they owned a piece of the place. Comedian Marty Allen, who had become a staple in the showroom worked on his material from the sidewalk. "They kept saying it's a hot act," he said.
By 2:00am, the blaze was upgraded to a three-alarm fire, but the firefighters were limited to making sure the burning debris didn't spread the flames throughout downtown. The lack of huge winds probably saved lives and millions of dollars in property damage. One hour later, the fire on top began to die out, but the blaze was still strong at the building's lower levels. The top would continue to smolder until sunrise.
At the time of the fire Stupak was in Minneapolis attempted to persuade Grand Casinos Chairman Lyle Berman to invest in the project. Stupak's initial reaction was "What is there to burn? I didn't know any of the details until the next day."
To proceed with the building, the site needed a new crane to replace what was now a 25-ton collection of scrap iron balanced on top of the tower. Although fire crews had secured the damaged construction crane with chains to prevent the possibility of it breaking loose and crashing on LV Boulevard or the top of Vegas World, the problems created by the gigantic broken erector set were many. Securing it was one thing, removing it quite another. Engineers would have to construct a 700-foot crane and bolt it to the outside of the tower, then use it to remove the ruined crane piece by piece. The good news was that the tower suffered no structural damage. Although a container of plastic material appeared to be at the flashpoint of the fire, the cause of the blaze remained unknown.
On November 15, 1993, Lyle Berman and Stupak struck a deal. Grand Casinos saved the IPO by purchasing $28 million worth of stock, and in doing so acquired 43% of Stratosphere Corporation, as well as picking up options including an agreement to acquire 75% of World from Stupak for $50.4 million. Grand did not however, assume Stupak's liabilities, which included the cost of the Vegas World vacation packages. Ex-Howard Hughes employee Bob Maheu was the Vice President of Stratosphere Tower Company.
Berman made his mark by investing $3 million in an Indian gaming project in Minnesota in 1990, and Grand Casinos operates two hotel-casinos each in Minnesota, Louisiana and Mississippi. The company's fourth-quarter 1995 revenues rose 30 percent, to $373 million from the year before.
In 1994, World showcased Bob Anderson, and Memories of Elvis.
In January of 1995, Galaxy Theatre showcased Bob Anderson - America's Greatest Singing Impressionist, and Memories of Elvis.
By the end of January, 1995, everyone knew that Vegas World was ending her life. Encouraged by $.50 drinks, crowds of locals dropped by to stroll over the interstellar carpet featuring Stupak's signature, to bid farewell to the million-dollar display and wonder whether there was anywhere near that much cash under the glass. The looked one last time at the lunar module replica and the space-walking astronaut that hung from the ceiling. They walked past the Spaceport check-in, and to wonder at the possibilities of the gigantic wheel of fortune, and undoubtedly, to get lost in the reflection of all those wall mirrors. This lady was a place where no one had to ask the identity of the owner and where everyone had to ask directions to the restrooms. She was a little place that affected greatness and, in the age of 3,000 room megaresorts with finely tuned themes and Ivy League CEOs, it was almost quaint - in a Lost In Space meets Mustang Ranch sort of way. Many would miss this resort that personalified the Cheers TV show.
Despite a lack of critical acclaim and a genuinely awful location, little Vegas World had been successful. The property had grown from two to eleven acres, the casino from 15,000 to 18,000 square feet. She had opened with 150 slot machines and eight table games and was closing with 1,350 machines and 40 tables. She had generated $7-8 million the first year and more than $100 million in her final years.
On February 1, 1995, Vegas World closed her doors in preparation of her offspring.
Transforming Vegas World to Stratosphere.
On March 31, 1995, Stupak was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him in a coma for five weeks and required plastic surgery to reconstruct his face. It is truly amazing that Stupak survived as he was travelling at 60mph in a 35mph zone when the accident occurred.
On November 5, 1995, Air One of Phoenix lifted the final 24 foot spire section to the top of the Stratosphere tower. A crew moved in to secure the 3,700 pound section into place.
In late 1995, it was announced that the new resort's Top of the World Restaurant will offer a one-of-a-kind view of the Vegas area from more than 100 stories above the ground. The restaurant will be found at the 832-foot level of the resort. Top of the World was to make one revolution per hour while offering diners the opportunity to have imaginative cuisine at reasonable prices. It was to feature a 220 seat cocktail lounge, a restaurant seating 360, special ceilings to absorb sound, and non-reflective glass windows
On April 30, 1996, the sparkling 354,000 square foot, $550 million Stratosphere opened drawing more than 8,000 invited guests to its premiere party while thousands more lined the streets outside awaiting their chance for a glimpse of Las Vegas' newest megaresort. (The 1,500 rooms and suites didn't accept overnight guests until May 7, 1996.) People who attended the opening were Bob Stupak, Phyllis McGuire, Jack Binion, Lyle Berman, Gov. Bob Miller, Mayor Jan Jones, Councilman Arnie Adamson, and actor Gary Busey. True to his word, Stupak's plaque with the investors names was placed on the site along with the gold statute Berman gave to Stupak.
The tower is 1,149 feet (Landmark was 297-1/2 feet in height). The structure is the tallest free-standing observation tower in the United States and tallest building west of the Mississippi. The tower is taller than the Eiffel tower and twice as tall as Seattle's Space Needle. It is capped by a 12-story pod. It can be reached by four double-deck elevators that travel at 1,800 feet per minute.
Information is from the Las Vegas Strip History - Deanna DeMatteo
Owner of Las Vegas Strip Historical Site