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The Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas in the 1948...... click for the UNLV Center for Gaming Research photo archive
The Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas in 1948
click for UNLV Center for Gaming Research exhibit
    The Desert Inn in the 1950s... click for the UNLV Center for Gaming Research photo archive
Wilbur Clark's Desert Inn in the 1950s
click for UNLV Center for Gaming Research exhibit

TIME Magazine, May 8, 1950, p. 16:

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Wilbur's Dream Joint
    Nevada's wide-open Las Vegas (pop. 26,000) had seen a lot of memorable gambling joints--the opening of the late "Bugsy" Siegel's flamboyant Flamingo in 1946 had closely approximated bank night in a Turkish harem. But it had never seen anything quite like the uproar that rose last week when Wilbur ("God, how I hated that name when I was a kid") Clark threw open the doors of his sprawling $4,000,000 Bermuda-pink Desert Inn, invited the world to come in and help him get rich.

    The town had figured that Wilbur was crazy when he set out to build his dream hotel three years ago. He had done pretty well before that. He is a greying, boyish man who worked his way from bus boy to crap dealer to the ownership of a string of San Diego cocktail bars, moved to Las Vegas (in 1941) and blossomed into a full-fledged Nevada gambling impresario. But his Desert Inn sounded just too rich.

    In one sense, it was. Before he got it built he had to borrow huge sums, much of the money from a set of Detroit and Cleveland sharpies. But he fabricated his gaudy dream, kept a healthy third interest, and was still out in front as manager, diamond-studded cuff links glittering when the last carpet was tacked down.

    Minks & Sport Shirts. By then Las Vegas' wealthy wives were out buying $500 Hattie Carnegie gowns for the opening, and movie stars, gamblers, tourists and hundreds of plain Nevada citizens were poised for the great invasion. When they surged in on opening night, wearing everything from mink capes to pedal pushers, from dinner jackets to sport shirts, they found that Wilbur had not disappointed them.

    The 300-room Desert Inn not only boasted a huge pool and a 35-ft. colored fountain, but in deference to gamblers with "kiddies," a king-size doll house. It had a temperamental French chef named Maurice who specialized in things served on flaming swords (said one awed gambler: "The guy gets excited over a steak"). It boasted a $22,000-a-week floor show, with a chorus line rivaling Manhattan's Copa Girls, Ray Noble's orchestra, Ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and a trio of French tumblers.

    But it was the green and coral "Casino," fashion heart of the whole hotel, that drew the crowds in crushing throngs. They paid only bemused attention to the pink-painted Joshua tree (with gardenias hung from its limbs as presents for the ladies) and the big bar with a nude painting that lighted every hour on the hour. They jammed about the five dice tables, three roulette wheels and four "21" tables. The house had some fevered moments--gamblers from the competing Flamingo took a whirl at breaking the bank, but left in disgust, $60,000 losers. Movie Star Bud Abbott sat at a "21" table for two hours, finally got up with a quiet smile and $10,000 in winnings.

    $750,000 Night. But the Desert Inn could afford momentary setbacks. Wilbur had invited 150 $10,000-men (citizens eligible to $10,000 in credit)--and most of them played until dawn, side by side with hordes of silver-dollar bettors. And that was not the end of the excitement. The hotel stayed jammed, the play kept on at a rising tempo night after night and at week's end rose spectacularly higher.

    On Saturday the house lost $87,000 in one eight-hour shift ($36,000 in a lump to a plunger named Aaron "Stoney" Stone), but enjoyed a night's volume of $750,000 and was making profits anyhow. When the guests finally thinned out this week the stick men, dealers and special guards were pale with fatigue. The chef had taken to quitting an average of six times a day. But Wilbur seemed to be making good as a Nevada-type hotel man.



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