Halloween is a reminder that ghosts can be good for business.
That is if you operate an Old West town like Bonnie Springs Ranch, run the 103-year-old Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings, or own a company like Explore Vegas Now, hosting bus tours of haunted places in Southern Nevada.
Not so much, though, if you own a casino on the Strip or elsewhere in Southern Nevada. Casinos don’t want to admit they have ghosts, for fear of losing guests.
Reno resident Janice Oberding, author of “The Haunting of Las Vegas,” said tourists won’t hear about the ghosts many people claim roam the halls of hotels up and down the Strip and in downtown.
“I think it’s because of gaming, and gamblers are very superstitious,” Oberding said. “When you start talking about ghosts, a lot of gamblers think that it’s bad luck and don’t want to be in a place of back luck.”
That’s a shame, Oberding added, because other parts of the country feature haunted bed-and-breakfasts and other properties that are more welcoming to ghosts. Nevada’s “not big on that kind of stuff,” she said.
But the interest in ghosts in Nevada has grown over the last decade, said Robert George Allen, whose company operates bus tours called the Haunted Vegas Ghost Hunt and Goodsprings Ghost Hunt. Allen, a paranormal investigator, said ghost hunting in Nevada has become more popular with cable television shows such as “Ghost Adventures,” that showcase the state’s haunted places.
“They help my business because they bring public awareness to ghosts,” Allen said. “Nevada is one of the most haunted states in the country because of the mining activity and cave-ins, bar fights and murders and suicides. It’s a hotbed for ghosts, but the casinos just as soon forget about it. They don’t want to talk about it.”
That’s evident when trying to interview casino spokespersons about the subject. They didn’t want to comment or even acknowledge the issue. One casino spokesperson talked about the legend of a ghost on a property, only to have another call back and say that person is not someone who can be quoted.
Online, people write about the ghosts of Elvis at the Westgate, where he once performed, and Whiskey Pete, the gas station owner. A Primm hotel bears the latter’s name and he’s buried on the property.
Allen’s tour talks about ghost sightings at other properties on the Strip and downtown, saying many ghost-hunters believe they are the ghosts of dead construction workers or people who committed suicide.
“Just about every hotel in town has a ghost of some sort,” Allen said. “When you look at how many suicides in this town, you wind up with a lot of ghosts.”
A SUDDEN COLDNESS
Allen tells the tale of one south Strip hotel where maids work in teams because they’re afraid of a whispering ghost and a sudden coldness around them. The workers are told not to talk about it or risk being fired, he claims.
“Think about it,” Allen said. “They don’t want a particular room or floor to get known as a haunted floor because some people won’t rent those rooms. The hotels are bean counters. They’re not interested in promoting ghosts.”
The one casino that comes closest, Allen said, is the Flamingo, opened by mobster Bugsy Siegel. The hotel has a plaque in front of its chapel recognizing him.
While the casino doesn’t openly promote it, Flamingo employees, if asked, will talk about Siegel’s ghost they or others have seen in the outdoor garden or in the hotel, Allen said.
“The Flamingo likes Bugsy’s ghost because Bugsy is famous,” Allen said.
A spokeswoman for Caesars Entertainment, parent of the Flamingo, declined comment.
While casinos shun ghosts, they’re welcome at the Pioneer Saloon and Bonnie Springs Ranch.
Bonnie Springs markets itself as an Old Western town with a saloon and opera house on a location that was once part of a watering hole for people traveling to California. But it also claims to be haunted, and has held a haunting tour once a month.
Bonnie Springs has built off that ghost legend. In October it opens four haunted houses and two haunted trails as part of a Halloween attraction.
“We were the hub of wagon trains that came through and people camped here and a lot of people died on the way,” said Tim Harrison, marketing director and events manager at Bonnie Springs Ranch. “We believe those spirits still exist and are concentrated in our opera house – that’s where they gather and most of the energy is felt.”
Bonnie Springs, which has been featured on “Ghost Adventures” on the Travel Channel, touts how its ghosts have been measured by electromagnetic equipment. There’s even a merry-go-round that has propelled itself with no wind or anybody around it, Harrison said.
“People come from all over the world, and our biggest attractor is that we’re an Old West town, but the ghosts are (also) an attractor,” he said.
TAKING THE GHOSTLY TOUR
Ghosts have been a boon to Goodsprings, southwest of Las Vegas, where ghost-hunters take Allen’s tour that visits the old post office, cemetery, an old miner’s cabin and the Pioneer Saloon.
Noel Sheckells, the fourth owner of the saloon, said he didn’t believe the ghost stories when he bought it 10 years ago but has since changed his mind. He said he’s happy today to run the three-hour nightly guided tours referred to as a haunted lockdown.
The bar and restaurant have also been featured on “Ghost Adventures,” as well as on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic Channel. The strange occurrences Sheckells has seen include a phone moving across the table and women feeling a hand on their shoulder. One of the ghosts is thought to be that of a former miner killed when he charged a dealer after being accused of cheating at cards, he said.
“In the realm of people who like to do ghost hunts, we’re kind of a mainstay on that, and people from Australia, Canada, Europe and around the world come here for that,” Sheckells said.
Allen said the people who enjoy ghost hunting are those who understand it. Those who are afraid are swayed by movies and television to think ghosts will hurt them, when in fact they have no power, he said. The ghosts are stuck in a void and remain there without understanding why.
That’s all part of the ghostly sales pitch some businesses pursue.
“There’s money in anything if you promote it right,” Allen said. “There are people who believe and people who don’t. That provokes controversy, and with that you have a marketing campaign.”
Casinos represent the other side of the equation. Affinity Gaming, the owner of Whiskey Pete’s, was the only casino contacted willing to go on the record and talk about their legend of his ghost roaming the halls.
“Since Affinity Gaming took over in 2011, there are no reports of any hauntings at Whiskey Pete’s that we know of, but we know that the legend is out there (on the internet),” said a spokeswoman who didn’t want her name used. “There’s nothing we can actually confirm. That’s where we are at this point.”