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The True Story of the Sands Casino

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In 1950s Las Vegas, by far the coolest place to be and be seen was the Copa Room at the Sands. The Sands Hotel was the seventh major casino to open on what is known today as “the Strip.” Not only was the Sands favored by the hippest celebrities of the time, but it also attracted powerful business people and politicians like U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Though many wild nights went down in the Sands’ Copa Room, its biggest claim to fame was the patronage it received from the wily Hollywood group of actors and singers that would one day be known as the Rat Pack. Supposedly they earned the name for their haphazard appearance after a long weekend at the Las Vegas Sands.

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The Rat Pack filmed the iconic original casino theft caper Ocean’s Eleven at the Sands in 1960. In the early 1960s, the hotel was so eager to keep the boys coming back that Sammy Davis, Jr’s sold out performances inspired them to do away with many of their segregation policies, making the Copa Room not only the city’s biggest hot spot but its first cultural melting pot. The Sands hit its peak in the mid-1960s when it was owned by the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. Under Hughes’ guidance (and with the help of his unlimited funds), the Sands became the most famous and popular hotel on the Strip. Unfortunately, the property’s prosperity was short-lived. The rock invasion of the late 1960s broke up the good ol’ boys club that had formed at the Copa Room, and it was all downhill from there. The Sands switched ownership three times from Hughes to MGM and then to the Interface Group all in the course of a year, from 1988 to 1989, but there was nothing the new owners could do to revive the site’s old glory.

As other casino operators raced to build the next best thing on the Strip, the Sands became less and less impressive by comparison. In 1996, the Interface Group’s president, Sheldon Adelson, gave the order for demolition. Today, the world-renowned Venetian Resort rests atop the land that once supported the legendary Sands.

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