Deal Me Out: The Stardust Closes Forever
The Stardust is one of the oldest hotels on the strip; opening on July 2, 1958. When the hotel opened, it had the largest casino in Nevada, it had the largest swimming pool in Nevada and it had the second ever poker room in Las Vegas. On Halloween night 2006, I played the last seven hours of poker ever to be dealt at the Stardust and a few hours later the doors of the famed casino closed forever.
The last night in the Stardust poker room was a loud, funny and sad occasion. Dealer's and staff from years past stopped by for champagne, cake, stories and hugs. Several dealers commented that this was as busy as the room had been in months, perhaps years. Most regular local players have moved to the outlying rooms at Red Rock or Green Valley, but they came back to play the last night. Old friends reunited, shared stories and played a few hands in what had once been the "Big" room in Vegas.
Johnny Chan once worked at the Stardust, as a dealer and shift manager. Although several ancient dealers told me that they often ran the shift because Johnny in his "brown bowler hat" was usually more interested in playing the $10/$20 game than making sure the stud game had players or cocktails. Phil Hellmuth and Miami John Cernuto were regulars in that same 'ten-twenty' game. Several players and dealers remembered Phil as a "nice, respectful young man…." Johnny Moss was also remembered but the details of his memory were "debated" by the Stardust staff from twenty and thirty years ago. The same debate came up when Stuey Unger was mentioned, some loved him, others felt: "with all the poker hype today, a lot of those old pros get a new paint job for the press."
On this final night the four hold'em tables stayed full, there was a waiting list right up until the final hand. At one point a "memorial" seven stud game was started but in a telling sign of the times, it soon became a loud and very funny razz table. All night long there was one other full table without any cards being dealt; dealers, staff, and players from years past would come and sit at that table, drink champagne and tell stories of the Stardust. I heard Puggy Pearson stories and tales of Jimmy the Greek and Amarillo Slim. The "mob" was a constant topic, the Stardust being the final remaining gambling establishment that had "at one time" been completely mobbed up.
In 1985, the "Stairway to the Stars" poker tournament was inaugurated at the Stardust. A $5,000 buy-in tournament, it was set to be what the World Series eventually became. The first Stairway tournament was a huge success except for the "extensive improprieties" that apparently even the 1980s Gaming Commission could not overlook. Still the underworld run casino operation was remembered fondly by nearly all of the old-timers. "At least back then the players knew they would be treated as valued customers. No one checked your player's card before giving you a comp."
When the last card had been dealt, the last pot swept to the lucky player and there were too many memories standing around with nothing more to say. I ducked out the front door and found the final words for the Stardust up in lights.
The marquee under the famed Stardust sign read:
To All Our Friends
For 48 Wonderful Years