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Tropicana fans spend bittersweet last weekend at 66-year-old hotel

Updated March 31, 2024 - 11:16 am

Las Vegas resident Kit Vega stood near the center of the action at the Tropicana on Saturday night, taking in her last moments at the property she’s come to love.

Vega, a flight attendant, has been coming to the Trop for at least five years for dinners and shows with her friend, who works as a casino host. Saturday night, she felt sad to lose a great tradition.

“I could see the shows over and over again,” Vega said. “It’s heartbreaking to close a place.”

The Tropicana had a bittersweet atmosphere on its last Saturday evening in operation. The vintage Vegas hotel-casino closes Tuesday, two days shy of its 67th anniversary.

Visitors made their way through the buzzing property that night, snapping last pictures of the property’s stained glass above the main casino pit and describing to friends how Major League Baseball plans to build a $1.5 billion ballpark to host the relocating Oakland Athletics.

It was obvious that the casino was experiencing imminent change despite the moderate crowd. Signs around the pit said the casino was not selling $1 and $5 chips, while the cage wouldn’t sell any denomination. No luck at the gift shop either — the only Tropicana-branded items were plastic gift bags. Players watched slot reels spin while technicians worked on decommissioned machines that made up about half the floor.

The closure approach was slightly different than Dean Davis, a Tropicana door person of 33 years, expected. He said he also closed the Riviera, the last casino that was imploded on the Strip in 2016. He recalled full operations until the last hour.

“(Tropicana) certainly didn’t go anywhere near the parties and celebration,” Davis said. “Right in the middle of closing, everything was in full swing whereas here they’ve shortened hours a week out and there’s already construction stuff on property.”

Sacramento resident Chris Koontz said he came with a group to stay at the Tropicana until closing. They planned a weekend of Strip tourism, all sparked by the resort’s last days.

“My father-in-law called and told me an old gangster casino was closing so we got our tickets,” he said.

One of the biggest parties on the property Saturday was a self-organized gathering of former Folies Bergere showgirls. The French revue show closed in 2009 as the last showgirls on the Strip.

Former dancer Jan Russell came to the gathering in the Trago Lounge to reminisce with her fellow showgirls. She danced in the show for about eight years beginning in 1975 and wanted a chance to stand on the stage one last time, but Tropicana operators, Bally’s, already began demolition work in the showroom.

“It was so much fun,” Russell said. “My memories are mostly funny stuff that went wrong — people losing their wigs on stage, heels caught on stage.”

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on X.

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