Posted on: September 7, 2023, 10:34h.
Final up to date on: September 8, 2023, 04:16h.
Las Vegas Park opened 70 years in the past this week. And you’ll simply be forgiven for by no means having heard of the one-mile horse monitor that was situated on the location of right this moment’s Las Vegas Nation Membership, Las Vegas Conference Heart, and Westgate Resort.
That’s as a result of it operated for a complete of 13 days.
Las Vegas Park opened with large aspirations on Sept. 4, 1953 for a 67-day inaugural meet. Its failure to satisfy these aspirations, and even to finish that schedule, is known.
It Appeared Like a Good Wager
Las Vegas’ beginning as an leisure and playing mecca dovetailed completely with the ‘50s growth in Thoroughbred racing. Actually, Las Vegas Park even made historical past as America’s first racino. (The Las Vegas Gaming Fee permitted 165 slots on the racetrack.)
It was attractive for its day, too. The clubhouse and grandstand have been painted pink to duplicate Argentina’s Hipodromo Rosado. Nearly no expense was spared in its $4.5 million funds (greater than $40 million right this moment).
And its schedule match neatly in-between the tip of the Del Mar race assembly and the beginning of the Hollywood Park assembly.
This monitor appeared like a positive guess to host one of many premier Kentucky Derby prep races.
So how did one thing so good stumble out of the gate?
Earlier than the monitor ever opened, it already had a backstory tainted by corruption, embezzlement, and main blinders.
That backstory started with Joseph M. Smoot — a New York racing promoter who had an early hand within the success of the Santa Anita and Hialeah racetracks, and figured that meant he might do something.
In 1948, Smoot bought 750 acres of vacant land simply east of the Strip from the Leigh Hunt property at $750 per acre, and started setting up his dream a 12 months later.
However just a little greater than a 12 months after that, Smoot wakened in a nightmare. He was charged with three counts of embezzling $24K from the Las Vegas Thoroughbred Racing Affiliation, over which he presided. Throughout a listening to, a federal courtroom decide reportedly requested Smoot to provide receipts or canceled checks for $500K that reportedly went lacking with no hint.
Smoot responded: “You ever attempt to pay a politician with a verify?”
Smoot remained beneath indictment till he died of pure causes in 1955, penniless, in a free room on the Grand Resort.
By 1953, Las Vegas Park was purchased out of its first chapter and accomplished by the Las Vegas Jockey Membership, a brand new company headed by traders together with Lou Smith and Al Luke. Relying on a ton of big-name horses, and their big-spending Southern California house owners, the companions promised to award $1.9 million — the richest prize ever provided by a first-year monitor.
To take their bets, they opened the very first $500 betting window at a horse monitor.
When Las Vegas Park lastly opened that Sept. 4, a number of the horses got here. (Among the many 75 that ran was 15-time stakes winner Blue Studying.) However the huge spenders have been largely AWOL. A devastatingly low take of $252,683 fell practically $150K in need of the $400K each day requirement for the racetrack to satisfy bills.
And the native inhabitants couldn’t even fill the seats left by absentee vacationers. Clark County had solely 50,000 residents again then, in comparison with practically 3.3 million right this moment. In all, 8,200 paying clients occupied an area designed to carry 20,000.
Malfunctioning ticket cubicles, just one entrance that labored, and a serious malfunction of the infield tote board didn’t assist issues. After its third day open, the monitor closed for 2 weeks whereas a substitute board was put in, erasing what little momentum and word-of-mouth opening day generated.
After Las Vegas Park reopened, it didn’t log a single break-even day. When 4,000 clients wagered a complete of $100K on Oct. 10, veteran racing journalist Pete Bonamy known as it “one of many poorest showings by a racing crowd ever recorded.”
Las Vegas Park closed on Oct. 19, 1953, after racing solely 13 packages.
“Racing wants inhabitants,” columnist Leon Rasmussen wrote in Thoroughbred Document journal on the time, “and though Las Vegas doesn’t hew to conference in very some ways, it’s nonetheless not fairly fabulous sufficient to maintain a monitor as pretentious as this one hoped to be.”
Beating a Useless Horse Monitor
Its stables have been vacated in October 1953, although the advanced was revived for an additional quick however failed horseracing run the following 12 months. The each day attendance recorded by the Las Vegas Turf Membership in December 1954 was much more dismal than its predecessor — at occasions as little as 400. That experiment lasted seven weeks.
By January 1955, an oil magnate purchased the racetrack out of its second chapter for $2.65 million. However Joe W. Brown didn’t intend to construct a 3rd failed horseracing monitor. His factor was buying properties to carry onto for others. Two years earlier, he bought the Horseshoe Membership from his previous Texas buddy, Benny Binion, so he might run it whereas Binion served 4 years in Leavenworth Penitentiary for tax evasion.
And Brown bought Las Vegas Park for the same motive. He was holding onto it whereas the Metropolis of Las Vegas and Clark County acquired its geese in a row. Civic leaders wished a portion of the land to construct what ultimately turned the Las Vegas Conference Heart, however didn’t have the funding on the time.
By January 1956, that deal was full and the primary conference heart — a 6,300-capacity, silver-domed rotunda with an adjoining 90,000 square-foot exhibition corridor — opened following Brown’s dying three years later. On Aug. 20, 1964, it hosted the one Beatles live performance staged in Las Vegas.
Vroom For Lease
Whereas it awaited demolition, the renamed and nonetheless largely intact Las Vegas Park Speedway was repurposed for auto racing. It hosted three main races: the AAA Champ Automotive occasion in 1954, the NASCAR Grand Nationwide Championship in 1955, and a United States Auto Membership Grand Prix in 1959.
It additionally achieved cinematic immortality by serving because the setting for a racecar scene within the 1964 Elvis Presley film, “Viva Las Vegas.”
In 1965, Brown’s property bought many of the remaining property to Nationwide Equities Inc., which later used it to assemble the Las Vegas Nation Membership alongside Joe. W. Brown Drive. One other 20 acres have been bought to Clark County to increase the Conference Heart.
Las Vegas Park was lastly demolished in 1966. A 12 months later, Nationwide Equities bought 65 of its former acres to Caesars Palace landlord Kirk Kerkorian to construct the Worldwide Resort — which meant that Las Vegas Park would enter historical past for a extra surprising motive…
Each Elvis and the Beatles would sooner or later carry out the place it as soon as stood.
“Misplaced Vegas” is an occasional On line casino.org collection that includes remembrances of Las Vegas’ lesser-known historical past. Click on right here to learn different entries within the collection. Suppose you recognize a very good Vegas story misplaced to historical past? E mail corey@on line casino.org.