History of the
Dunes and Bellagio
Movie magnate Al Gottesman, along with two men from Las Vegas, a
purchased horse ranch property from an estate for $58,000. Gottesman
was to receive 50% of the profits from an immediate resale of the
hotel and nine points of the casino take. Of that amount,
$20,000 was for the initial escrow and an additional $38,000 to
purchase the property. This payment was one-tenth of the full price
of the $380,000 for the land. Gottesman then added another $16,000
for the preliminary plans for which he was to receive a refund. It
turned out that these two gentlemen also secured an agreement from
an investment group from Rhode Island to sublease the hotel in the
event it was built. The middlemen got lost in the shuffle and
Gottesman, Joe Sullivan of the Rhode Island Group, and Bob Rice, a
Beverly Hills costume jeweler, became owners of the property. A
total amount of $2 million was now invested into the property before
building even began.
With the additional financial assistance of the Teamsters
Pension Fund, the 200 room Dunes opened on May 23, 1955. Hollywood
musical star Vera-Ellen provided opening night entertainment with a
show billed as the Magic Carpet Review.
With the slogan "The Miracle in the Desert" the theme was
nomadic. It had a porte cochere both modern and normadic, with
sloping stucco walls that echoed desert tents. On top of its roof
stood a 35 foot tall fiberglass sultan with a billowing cape and
resort struggled. Sands owner Jake Freedman bought it. Even with
the assistance of the Sands' management, the casino closed after one
year. Jake Gottlieb bought the property in 1957, and hired Major
Auterburn Riddle, to turn the Dunes around.
Riddle booked "Minsky's Follies" series, the first bare
bosom stage show to appear in Nevada. The first of the "Minsky's
Follies" series debuted on January 10, 1957, with Minsky Goes to
Paris. While there was an initial uproar in the State Legislature,
the show set a record for attendance in a single week at 16,000.
A golf course was added in 1959. In April of 1959, Dunes
celebrated the first double ground breaking ceremony in Las Vegas
history when construction began simultaneously on both the hotel's
new Exhibitor & Convention Hall and 500-car parking lot.
In July, the Dunes showcased flying Indians who performed
poolside 4:30 and 10:15pm. free of charge. The Aztec Birdmen
performed their ritual dances on a platform so small a person could
scarcely see it as it sat on top of a 100 foot high pole without the
benefit of a safety net.
In 1961, Dunes was turned into a resort complex dominated
by another new highrise, the 24-story "Diamond of the Dunes"
bringing the hotel's number of rooms to 450. This tower for a while
was the tallest building in the state.
In 1964, the Dunes added a 180-foot sign at a cost of
$250,000. The onion dome silhouette evoked a Thousand and One Nights
fantasy. With electric lava erupting through the sign into the sky
every minute, the Dunes' sign was phenomenal. In 1966, it was noted
that the sign alone, which contained 10,000 lighting units cost the
Dunes $47,500 a year to operate.
Opera star Rouvaun signed a three year contract to appear
in the new 1967 Casino de Paris for just under $1.5 million.
Rumors were flying in June of 1970 as negotiations began
with Howard Hughes and Dunes owners regarding Hughes' possible
purchase. Hughes was told by the Gaming Board that he already had
enough gaming licenses. Hughes was considering removing the gaming
license from the Castaways so he could purchase the Dunes.
Ultimately Hughes bowed out of the deal.
In December of 1979, Dunes built a 17-story companion to
the Diamond of the Dunes, bringing the total rooms to 1,300. The new
tower advertised the most luxurious suites in the entire resort
world with multi-level layouts, lavish flora and cascading
In 1980, Dunes advertised the 18-hole Emerald Green
Championship Golf Course which extended a full mile to the rear of
the hotel. The golf course was the largest in the state - 7,240
yards, par 72.
The property held acres of free parking, two giant
swimming pools, a complete laundry and dry cleaning plant, and a
staff of more than 2,300.
In 1985, the sultan, who had been moved to the golf
course during the renovations caught on fire and was destroyed. It
is reported that there was an electrical short in his stomach which
caused the fire.
At this time the resort also contained five outdoor
tennis courts, two lighted. It contained a pro shop, and racquet
rentals were $4.
In 1987, Japanese millionaire investor Masao Nangaku
purchased Dunes for $155 million but could not make it a financial
In late 1992, Steve Wynn bought the Dunes for $75
million, closed it down, and on October 20, 1993, the Mirage
Resorts, Inc., imploded the casino and north tower which was
televised. The Dunes' death signified a birth of another resort. A
cannon fired by Wynn from the Treasure Island went off signaling the
implosion. At the same time, it was also signifying the opening and
birth of the Treasure Island resort. The golf course remained
however and it was then called the Mirage Golf Course.
In 1994, the Dunes south tower was imploded without
fanfare to make ready for the building of The Bellagio. Bellagio
construction workers stumbled onto four bags of Dunes casino chips
buried at the site of the Dunes resort.
On October 15, 1998, just before 11:00pm, the 36 story,
3,026 room, $1.6 billion Bellagio opened. The Bellagio reported to
spend $88 million on its opening. The VIPs invited to the grand
opening were expected to donate to The Foundation Fighting Blindness
$1,000 a person or $3,500 a couple, which entitled them to an
overnight stay at Bellagio's suite rooms.
Opening night's entertainment began with Wynn giving a 40
minute welcome speech and then the opening of the Cirque du Soleil
production, "O." Performing in Bellagio lounges that night were New
York cabaret and recording artist Michael Feinstein, George Bugatti
and John Pizarrelli.
The property contains an eight acre lake, called Lake
Como, filled with thousands of fountains which run the length of
Bellagio's grounds. Facing Las Vegas Boulevard, crowds gather in
front of the hotel to listen to amplified music and watch the
"dancing" fountains that are activated regularly throughout the day
and evening. The in-door garden sits on 12,500 square feet. The
resort replicates a Tuscan village which lines the water's edge.
Stretching across the ceiling of the lobby is the 70' x 30' Dale
Chihuly floral sculpture of hand-blown multicolored glass. The
casino is 156,000 square feet and holds 173 game tables and 2,700
slot machines. Nearby, a botanical conservatory is home to exotic
plants and flowers.
Complementing the beauty of nature is a $285 million
dollar gallery featuring the works of the masters-original
Bellagio's deluxe guest rooms and suites feature sweeping
vistas of the resort's lake, surrounding mountains and the Las Vegas
skyline. Each room is elegantly appointed with custom European-style
furnishings and art, and is equipped with every modern-day
convenience. They include an armoire housing a remote-controlled
cable television, stereo, electronic in-room safe and lighted
wardrobe section able to accommodate full-length gowns. The writing
desk is equipped with a two-line telephone and computer/fax
accessible data ports.
The bathrooms, decorated in Italian marble floors and
surfaces, contain robes, a third telephone, a soaking tub and
On March 6, 2000, it was announced that Mirage Resorts
has been sold to Kirk Kerkorian/MGM Grand for $4.4 billion in cash.
As of June, 28, 2000, MGM Mirage raised $154.2 million
from the sale of Mirage Resorts assets, primarily from the sale of
Bellagio artwork. MGM Mirage is using these funds to reduce its
Less than half a dozen paintings now remain available for
sale from the art collection. Though the controversial right of
first refusal gave Wynn the capability of buying all $200 million in
artwork owned by Mirage Resorts, he ended up purchasing three items
from the gallery -- though it has not been revealed what Wynn paid
for these paintings, or which paintings he purchased.