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Top historical fires that occurred in casinos

Published on October 25, 2014, 4:32 pm

by Jeff Grant Twitter account Jeff Grant LinkedIn account

Casinos are not immune to the dangers of fire, and that's concerning considering the number of people that frequent them on a daily basis. Just this week, emergency crews responded to an out-of-control blaze near the San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino, located 67 miles from Los Angeles. The casino, owned and operated by the Serrano Mission Indians in the town of Highland, was spared any damage thanks to the quick work of the responders. After consuming about 20 acres of land, the fire was halted, though not completely put out, by the firemen.

San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino
Inside the San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino (Los Angeles)

High winds helped spread the blaze, which was originally thought to span only one acre of land in the foothills of the San Bernardino National Forest. The wildfire quickly advanced to the outskirts of the San Manuel reservation, where it touched on a parking lot and threatened to invade peoples' homes. Thankfully, no injuries were reported.

Throughout history, some notable fire emergencies have taken place in casinos. The following is just a partial list of some of the many fire-related tragedies that have occurred in the Las Vegas area.

1980 MGM Grand Fire

Guests at the Las Vegas MGM Grand in 1980 were not as lucky as the members of the San Manuel tribe. A casino restaurant electrical fire broke out and quickly spread to other parts of the MGM building. Approximately 5,000 patrons were at the hotel and gambling center when the tragedy struck; 85 were killed and 650 were injured. All but four of the deaths were attributed solely to smoke inhalation.

The absence of emergency sprinklers in some parts of the hotel was thought to have spurred on the blaze. MGM wasn't breaking any rules by omitting the sprinklers; at that time, facilities that operated 24 hours per day were exempt from standard fire sprinkler regulations. Since the time of the MGM fire, however, government inspectors have tightened up their safety requirements considerably.

1981 Las Vegas Hilton Fire

Three months after the devastating MGM Grand fire, a convicted arsonist by the name of Philip Cline is said to have started a blaze at the Las Vegas Hilton. Only eight people perished in this incident, seven of whom suffered the consequences of smoke inhalation. The smaller number of victims was thought to be a result of some important pedagogical lessons learned by fire fighters during their previous battle with the MGM blaze.

Cline was found guilty and sentenced to eight life sentences in prison. In 2011, he gave an interview to reporters claiming that he never meant to hurt anybody. “For no reason,” he said, “I lit the curtains on fire.” Prior to this crime, Cline had been found guilty on charges of both theft and embezzlement.

2008 Monte Carlo Casino Fire

In 2008, welders accidentally sparked a fire at the Monte Carlo in Las Vegas while working. Over 3,000 guests were inside the hotel and casino at the time; 17 did not make it out alive. Nevada's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, pursued legal action against the contracted workers who started the fire, saying it was the workers' negligence and multiple safety violations that caused the incident. In the end, however, an OSHA review board exonerated the contracting company of eight of the nine safety violation charges, resulting in only a minor fine of $3,500 for the company.

2003 and 2009 Fires at Moulin Rouge

The historically significant Moulin Rouge hotel and casino was devastated by arson in 2003. At that time, the structure had been closed for many years. A group called the Moulin Rouge Development Corporation bought the property in 2004 with the intent to breathe life back into the cultural icon, but those plans never panned out. In 2009, the property was ravaged by yet another fire.

The Moulin Rouge played an important part in black American history and the evolution of African American rights in the U.S. It was the first hotel/casino complex to permit black entertainers to stay on its premises. In its heyday, the Moulin Rouge would house black entertainers who were on tour in Las Vegas.

Fire at the Moulin Rouge in 2009
Fire at the Moulin Rouge in 2009 (image from

2013 Key Largo Casino Fire

Last year, the vacant Key Largo Casino caught fire and was destroyed. Authorities reported that a criminal act caused the blaze, which resulted in damages to the tune of $4.5 million. Apparently a man was attempting to steal copper wiring from the abandoned building when he caught on fire. The suspect, who sustained burns on over 80 percent of his body, did not realize that the power was still turned on when he attempted the theft. The Key Largo had been sitting empty for almost a decade at the time.

Logo of Cintas corporation

How to Prevent Tragedy

The Cintas Corporation of Ohio, supplier of numerous products to multiple North American businesses, produced a checklist of fire prevention tips for casino staff. These tips can easily be translated to other businesses as well. They include the following:

  • Work with a certified fire protection company. This type of company provides an invaluable service; they inspect and test prevention equipment like life-saving fire alarms, extinguishers, and sprinkler systems.
  • Train employees to use extinguishers. Educating staff members about prevention measures is vital.
  • Create a fire prevention plan. This plan should include procedures for handling hazardous materials and a list of hazardous materials for employee review.
  • Assemble an emergency response team. This team should be well-versed in emergency preparedness and know how to help others in case of an emergency.
  • Maintain a fire-safe environment. This includes disposing of hazardous materials in a safe manner and/or storing them in a safe place.

People who go to a casino are interested in having fun, not experiencing a life-threatening emergency like fire. When fire occurs in a crowded public place like a casino, the threat to human life is great. Fortunately, casino proprietors have learned some lessons from these past tragedies. This knowledge will help them put their best foot forward when it comes to fire prevention.


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