weather icon Clear

Jeff Lowe of ‘Tiger King’ wanted attraction in downtown Las Vegas

Updated March 30, 2020 - 3:33 pm

Jeff Lowe, a central figure in the Netflix documentary phenomenon “Tiger King,” wanted to do business with the last Las Vegas Strip entertainer to use wild tigers in his act.

Dirk Arthur said no.

Lowe wanted to open this business at Pawn Plaza, owned by Rick Harrison of “Pawn Stars.”

Harrison said no, too.

That was in June 2017, as Lowe was scratching around the Pawn Plaza property, seeking to cash in on his adorable baby liger and pet tiger cub. Lowe sought a partnership with Arthur for what was billed as an educational/entertainment attraction, where tourists could have photos taken with these exotic creatures.

For the uninitiated, Lowe has become nationally famous/infamous in the seven-part “Tiger King” odyssey, which at this writing remains the No. 1 series on Netflix. The documentary centers on the long-running feud between the stridently flamboyant Joseph Maldonado-Passage (known in the series as Joe Exotic), owner of Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma; and Big Cat Rescue owner Carole Baskin.

The series careens through a labyrinth of astonishing subplots, among them Exotic’s polygamist same-sex marriage and farcical run for governor of Oklahoma. Finally, Exotic is arrested and indicted by the FBI for attempting to hire a hit man to murder Baskin. The Lowes — Jeff and Lauren — arrive midway through the project, with Jeff presented as an “angel” with resources to save Exotic’s faltering zoo.

In the series, Lowe is depicted as an entrepreneur out of South Carolina with suspect financial standing and questionable ethics. One illuminating disclosure: Lowe tools around the zoo in a Ferrari, even while falling behind on payments on the car. Las Vegas is shown as his playground, with obligatory footage of the Strip, and shots of him partying on the Fremont Street Experience and at Hakkasan Nightclub. Lowe is shown convincing Exotic to hand over zoo operations, while also helping federal authorities assemble a case against Exotic.

The space in Las Vegas that Lowe envisioned was to be called Tiger Encounter, located on the second level of Pawn Plaza, just across the parking lot from the line of tourists snaking into the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. The idea advanced to the point that Lowe’s wife, Lauren, posed with a tiger cub on Tiger Encounter promotional material. The Lowes and Arthur also took a tour of The Strat for possible sites. But their primary focus was to the north, at Pawn Plaza.

Arthur was a natural tie-in for such a concept, having headlined Las Vegas showrooms for more than three decades since debuting as a specialty act in “City Lights” at the Flamingo in 1985. Arthur most recently headlined with his half dozen exotic cats at the Westgate’s International Theater in 2016. He returned to the stage at the Westgate Cabaret from 2017-2018, but without the animals.

Arthur still cares for his big cats on his property in the southwest. Most recently he’s worked as a manager at Houdini’s magic shop at Circus Circus while restarting his stage career.

“I was open to ideas, sure, and Jeff saw you could make a lot of money with the cats in Las Vegas, where tourists could have their pictures taken with the babies,” Arthur says. “We looked at the units there, I did a bunch of research into the sanitation requirements and what permits we would need.”

Permits are vital in Arthur’s world. His career depends on legal compliance.

“What it came down to was, I would be able to house a few of the cats on my property as long as we were in strict accordance with Clark County use permits,” Arthur says. “There’s no way in a million years I would do it any other way.”

Arthur made that provision clear to Lowe.

“Then this guy started getting kind of crazy, he said, ‘I don’t need to get a permit to have a tiger; I can just bring one in,’ ” Arthur says. “I said, ‘You definitely need to have a permit to do this in Clark County. Trust me on this.’ ”

Lowe said via text Saturday that he had no interest in revisiting his time in Vegas: “We have talked to so many media outlets that we’re talked out at this time.” Earlier in the day, he and Lauren appeared on the Instagram version of “Lights Out With David Spade.”

Harrison, who is always seeking ways to expand the “Pawn Stars” empire, enlisted Pawn Plaza and Gold & Silver General Manager Andy Zimmerman to review Lowe’s concept. It took one meeting between Arthur, Zimmerman and the Lowes at Pawn Plaza to know the idea was stalled.

“I remember talking about it and thinking it sounded interesting, but once we were told it wasn’t going to work out by our contact (Arthur), we moved on to other interested tenants to fill the spaces,” says Harrison, who is more than happy with the tenant who eventually moved in to the space — the Rev. Scott Polek’s Chapels at the Pawn. There have been no permit concerns with the good reverend.

Unfazed, soon after cutting ties with Arthur, Lowe opened his own interactive tiger attraction in Las Vegas, The Jungle Bus. Lowe’s exotic animal experience, where he hauled tourists along the Strip so they could play with the cubs, is shown briefly in “Tiger King.”

Lowe also rented a home on Natalia Court near Tropical Parkway and Rainbow Boulevard in North Las Vegas, another business where guests could mingle with the cubs. The entire operation was halted in November 2017, when Lowe was arrested at his home by Clark County Animal Control officers for keeping and staging the animals without proper permits.

In a plea deal to avoid jail time, Lowe agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and surrender his tiger, liger and lemur (his court appearance, too, is featured in the documentary). Those animals, now adults, are being kept at a private exotic-animal habitat in Pahrump owned by Zuzana Kukol and Scott Shoemaker.

“They came to us very sick, with many problems, bloody diarrhea, urinary-tract infections, pancreatic problems. But they are healthy and happy now,” Kukol says. “We have all the proper licensing through the county. That’s why Animal Control asked us to keep them.”

Meantime, the Lowes have taken over G.W. Zoo operations, renaming the attraction the Greater Wynnewood Animal Park — and the place is still open even during the coronavirus outbreak — and are planning a new zoo, the Oklahoma Zoo, in Thackerville. But don’t expect any further business forays, or even pleasure trips, to Vegas.

According to city of Las Vegas’ marshal’s office documents, Lowe is a wanted man in Las Vegas with multiple warrants out for his arrest, having not paid his four $2,500 court-ordered fines. The marshal’s office notice warns, “DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DETAIN THIS INDIVIDUAL, CONTACT YOUR LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY.”

Upon learning that information, Arthur, who has seen it all, said only, “I am not surprised.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides a bicycle on the Strip with Kats
Las Vegas resident and ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides down the Strip with his wife Gilligan Stillwater GIbbons and Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John Katsilometes Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides a bicycle on the Las Vegas Strip with Kats - Video
Las Vegas resident and ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides down the Strip with his wife, Gilligan Stillwater Gibbons, and Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John Katsilometes on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Ex-WWE star Shad Gaspard found dead on beach - Video
Shad Gaspard, 39, the former WWE wrestler, was found dead Wednesday morning on the shoreline of Venice Beach in California. Gaspard went missing over the weekend. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Buffets won’t reopen soon, but they may return eventually - VIDEO
In a Tuesday earnings call, Frank Fertitta III, CEO of Station Casinos parent company Red Rock Resorts, said buffets won’t be among the amenities included in the early stages of the resorts’ reopenings. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'Hamilton' to debut on Disney+ in July - Video
The film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s popular musical was originally set for theatrical release in October. The musical’s director, Tommy Kail, shot three live performances featuring the original Broadway cast. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Little Richard dead at 87 - VIDEO
Little Richard, the pioneer and rock 'n' roll originator, died on Saturday, May 9. His son, Danny Penniman, confirmed the news but the cause of death is unknown. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jerry Stiller, actor and comedian, dies at 92 - VIDEO
Jerry Stiller's son, actor and director Ben Stiller, announced his father's death via Twitter. Jerry Stiller became widely known with a recurring role on "Seinfeld" as Frank Costanza, George's hot-headed father. He also starred on "King of Queens." (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wolfgang Puck's Players Locker opens in Downtown Summerlin along with others - VIDEO
Under the governor's orders a few restaurants were able to open their dining rooms in Downtown Summerlin Saturday, May 9. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nicolas Cage to portray Joe Exotic in ‘Tiger King’ TV adaption - VIDEO
Nicolas Cage is headed to television to take on the role of Joe Exotic, the iconic character from the Netflix docuseries "Tiger King." (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Quarantined! 'The Ghost Adventures' miniseries by Zak Bagans - VIDEO
The four-part miniseries “Ghost Adventures: Quarantine” by Zak Bagans will debut in June on the Travel Channel. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
10 facts about Cinco de Mayo - VIDEO
The holiday celebrates the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Mexico began the holiday in 1862, but does not recognize it nationally anymore. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kristin Cavallari has already filed for divorce - VIDEO
Kristin Cavallari, the "Very Cavallari" star, announced she and her husband, former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler, have separated after seven years of marriage and 10 years together. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brad Pitt portrays Dr. Anthony Fauci on ‘Saturday Night Live’ - VIDEO
"Saturday Night Live’ aired their second socially distanced episode of the COVID-19 pandemic on April 25. The episode’s cold open featured actor Brad Pitt portraying Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brian Dennehy, 'Tommy Boy' and 'First Blood' star, dies at 81 - VIDEO
Actor Brian Dennehy died Wednesday in New Haven, Connecticut. Dennehy's acting career spanned more than four decades, working in television, film and theater. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bishop Gorman 'Guys and Dolls' virtual performance
Bishop Gorman's virtual opening of "Guys and Dolls." (Bishop Gorman High School)
John Prine, country-folk singer, dies at 73 - VIDEO
John Prine died due to complications caused by COVID-19 at Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee on April 7. The singer-songwriter is counted as one the favorite artists by the likes of Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caesars furloughing about 90% of US workers
The furloughs come amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted all U.S. commercial casinos to temporarily shut their doors.
Bill Withers, soul legend and 'Lean on Me' singer, dead at 81 - VIDEO
Bill Withers' family said he died of heart complications on Monday in Los Angeles. Withers was a three-time Grammy winner. His other major hits include “Ain’t No Sunshine" and “Lovely Day.” (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas KatsWalk: From the Mandalay Bay to Excalibur - VIDEO
Review-Journal columnist John Katsilometes walks and talks along the Las Vegas Strip, from Mandalay Bay to Excalibur. (John Katsilometes and Kevin Cannon / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Make Ivan Grant's Quarantini - VIDEO
Ivan Grant, a flair bartender at Long Bar at The D Las Vegas, makes his Quarantini. (Ivan Grant)
Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger dies from coronavirus - VIDEO
According to Variety, 52-year-old frontman and songwriter Adam Schlesinger has died, following a short battle with the respiratory illness, coronavirus. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
KATS WALK: A walking tour on south Las Vegas Strip – VIDEO
RJ columnist John Katsiometes takes a walking tour of the south end of the Las Vegas Strip. (John Katsiometes and Kevin Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tiger King character has Las Vegas connection - VIDEO
Entertainment reporter John Katsilometes talks about the popular "Tiger King" and Jeff Lowe, a central figure in the Netflix documentary phenomenon who wanted to do business with the last Las Vegas Strip entertainer to use wild tigers in his act. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Coranavirus victim Howard Berman playing the harmonica in April 2014 - VIDEO
Howard Berman, 66, playing the harmonica at a jam session in April 2014. Berman, who was active in the Las Vegas music community, died on March 24, 2020, from COVID-19. (Diana Andriola)
Boarded-up businesses in the Arts District add some color - VIDEO
Businesses in the Arts District have commissioned local artists to paint murals on the boards covering their doors and windows. When the boards are removed, they will be auctioned off to raise money for those affected by the coronavirus shutdowns. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Sold-out Electric Daisy Carnival still scheduled for May - VIDEO
In a post on his social media platforms, festival founder Pasquale Rotella confirmed that EDC remains scheduled for May 15-17 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway despite coronavirus concerns that have sideline scads of other live music events. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
City of Las Vegas responds to calls to allow restaurants offering curbside pickup
Alcohol is now allowed in curbside meal pickups in Las Vegas. The city of Las Vegas has responded to calls to allow restaurants offering curbside pickup service to include alcohol in those meals. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Lady Gaga delays new album release - VIDEO
The pop star was planning to drop her sixth LP, "Chromatica," on April 10, but she's made the "tough decision" to push back the launch following the coronavirus outbreak. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ways to keep yourself from going crazy at home during coronavirus - VIDEO
Take art classes with your kids. Install a bidet. Practice yoga. Buy houseplants. Catch up your streaming queue. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas nightclub giant Hakkasan Group lays off 1,600 - VIDEO
The Las Vegas Strip’s leading nightlife company has let go of nearly its entire workforce, leaving about 1,600 staffers suddenly unemployed, due to the shutdowns during the coronavirus crisis. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)