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The Sahara Hotel Turned SLS Las Vegas: Some Questions Answered

Published on November 17, 2013, 2:30 pm

by Jeff Grant Twitter account Jeff Grant LinkedIn account

On May 16, 2011, a beloved Las Vegas icon closed its doors to the public. That icon was the hotel Sahara. At 59 years old, the Sahara was no longer an "economically viable" business, according to SBE Entertainment Group CEO Sam Nazarian. In spite of its efforts to reach out to the public through desperately low, $30-per-night offers, the 1,720-room hotel's business took a nosedive right along with the U.S. economy. Now, two years later, president and CEO of SLS Las Vegas Rob Oseland is making an attempt to revive the historic Las Vegas structure under a new name.

Oseland's New SLS Las Vegas

Sam Nazarian - Chairman and CEO of SLS Hotel & Casino
Sam Nazarian - Chairman and CEO of SLS Hotel & Casino

The former Sahara building is owned by SBE mogul Nazarian, who recently partnered with Oseland in a quest for the structure's revival. Oseland has raised $300 million for the project and plans to model the new hotel after the upscale SLS Beverly Hills, calling it SLS Las Vegas. Although $115 million has yet to be raised in order for the restructuring project to be complete, Oseland has high hopes for the profitability of the future SLS Las Vegas. His vision will transform the small and outdated Sahara into a swanky destination for vacationers who seek a luxury hotel stay in Las Vegas.

What Will the New Hotel and Casino Be Like?

The SLS will be different than the Sahara in some ways. Instead of $30 per night hotel fares, customers will pay between $100 and $200 per night. Although this may seem high when compared to the drastically low room rentals of the Sahara, the rate is still cheaper compared to some other big name hotels on the Las Vegas Strip. Oseland hopes that the SLS name, well known in Beverly Hills, will lure in customers who seek an extraordinary resort-like experience without an extraordinary price tag.

The facility will retain its 85,000 square feet of casino space. In addition, it will feature four nightclubs, the famed Los Angeles apparel store Fred Segal, and multiple restaurants offering a variety of styles and fares. The new business is slated to open in the fall of 2014.

How Can Oseland's New Business Afford Cheaper Rental Rates?

The Sahara is an aged structure with tinier-than-average rooms. The entire building is smaller than some of the king casinos down the street. Oseland believes he can swing the $100-$200 per night price tag on rooms because he expects his mortgage and operational costs to be much lower than that of some of the larger resorts in the city. For this reason, even if the SLS Las Vegas takes in less money than other resorts, Oseland believes it will still fare well against the competition.

Who is Rob Oseland?

Rob Oseland, President and Chief Operating Officer (SLS Las Vegas)
Rob Oseland, President and COO (SLS Las Vegas)

Nazarian knew what he was doing when he hired Oseland to breathe life back into the Sahara. As president and CEO of SLS Las Vegas, Oseland brings to the company a wealth of valuable experience in successful casino development. In the earliest days of his career, Oseland worked at the Gold Nugget as a casino analyst and dealer for Steve Wynn. Wynn subsequently invited Oseland along for the ride as he developed the new Mirage and Bellagio casinos. Later, the two men worked side by side in opening the highly successful Wynn Las Vegas. Under the tutelage of mentor Wynn, Oseland developed a positive, can-do attitude that is challenged by some and appreciated by many. Skeptics question Oseland's ability to resurrect the old Sahara into something new and profitable, but Oseland counters their skepticism with a spirited attitude and positive reasons of his own.

What Are Skeptics Saying About Oseland's Plan to Resurrect the Former Sahara?

Skeptics say that the Sahara revival project has some definite drawbacks. The hotel is too small, they say, in comparison with larger Las Vegas resorts. The location is too far north on the Strip, they say, to attract customers who plan to travel up and down the street on their gambling ventures. They say that if the Sahara couldn't pull it off in 2011 at super low prices, there is no reason to believe that SLS Las Vegas can pull it off in 2014 with significantly higher prices.

Oseland views the situation with a more positive attitude. He says the smaller hotel size will create a more intimate, exciting atmosphere that will only stimulate gambling and other consumerism. He says the northern location of the facility is perfect because he wants to be the leader in the development of this part of the Strip. He says the economy is now recovering and the accommodations of the SLS, in its glamorous Beverly Hills style, will beckon customers looking to pay $100 - $200 per night.

What Have We Lost?

Patrons and businessmen alike mourned the loss of the Sahara. The building was a fixture on the Las Vegas Strip, an iconic spot people knew about even if they'd never visited the city. Originally titled Club Bingo in 1947, owner Milton Prell renamed the facility the Sahara Hotel and Casino in 1952. Over its 59-year career, the Sahara housed hundreds of thousands of guests. Rat Pack members Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra all crooned their tunes on the Sahara stage. Other notorious entertainers to grace the Sahara's nightclubs included Judy Garland, Liza Minelli, Wayne Newton, and George Carlin. The Beatles stayed at the hotel when they played the Las Vegas Convention Center. Without a doubt, the Sahara building is entrenched in a deep and meaningful cultural history. When it closed in 2011, many found its demise a difficult truth to accept.

Image of Club Bingo Casino (1947)
Club Bingo Casino (1947)

Oseland aims to reinstate the building to its former glory, albeit under a different name. He envisions the SLS Las Vegas as a leader of future new developments along the northern part of the Strip. Taking the naysayers in stride, Osland keeps his eyes on the prize: a revitalized new casino and hotel with booming business and a rich cultural history that beckons young and old alike.


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