Dear Boxing Fan
and Noble Friend of Caesars:
Larry Holmes, the heavyweight champion, will defend his WBC crown against Gerry Cooney, the number one contender, here at Caesars Palace, the Home of Champions on Friday evening June 11, 1982, and we hope you can join us.
As you can well imagine, the anticipation and excitement is already at a peak level and we hope you will return the enclosed RSVP card as soon as possible so that we can make all the arrangements for you.
We're all looking forward to a great battle as both fighters are undefeated and have great knockout records.
Looking forward to seeing you.
Chief Operating Officer
So you too would like to become a Noble Friend of Caesars and get free $600 ringside seats for Holmes-Cooney? And receive round-trip first-class airfare for yourself and an unspecified number of loved ones from anywhere in the world? And then have yourself R-F-and-B'd—that's room-food-and-beveraged—until you can't remember whether coquilles St.-Jacques is on the Palace Court menu or the name of the female impersonator who warms up the audience for Ann-Margret in the Circus Maximus Theater? And luxuriate by the 112' by 80' pool in the Garden of the Gods and have your every whim attended to by a Garden Goddess or Vestal Virgin? And have thousands of dollars in stacks of $100 chips appear magically before you at the snap of your fingers and the dash of a pen?
If all of this sounds terrific, come hither. You can become a Noble Friend in one of two ways: A) by being a senator, a President, a friend of a President's, a friend of Frank Sinatra's or a friend of Wayne Newton's; or B) by being a high-roller. Because category A is booked up, with a few million folks already on the waiting list, you're better off choosing B. It makes no difference to Caesars whether you make your living twirling pizzas in Piscataway or pumping the deserts dry in Abu Dhabi. Caesars' qualifications for Noble Friendship are, according to accepted policy, simple: Be "a customer who has the ability to lose and pay $50,000 or more, and plays [note how Caesars considers this playing] in a manner in which we would reasonably expect that he could lose such sums."
This tradition of extravagance goes back many centuries before A.D. 1966, when Caesars Palace, having long been uninhabited in a crumbling old neighborhood of Rome, rematerialized in the American West. It was in circa 44 B.C. that the guy who owned the dice in the original Palace, Emperor Augustus (a/k/a Octavian, or Easy Eight), first uttered the immortal words, "Compus chumpus"—or, "If the man wants to play, let Caesar pay his way."
And so, 2,000 years later, some 2,000 Noble Friends have been summoned—all expenses paid—from all corners of the globe to a parking lot in Las Vegas to smell the sweat and see the blood of those modern gladiators, Holmes and Cooney. The fight was originally scheduled for March 15...but hadn't any of the Caesars Palace geniuses thought about the date? The ides of March? Something had to go wrong, and it did, in the form of a torn left shoulder muscle for Cooney. Now, on what will no doubt be a sweltering June evening, the Noble Friends will be able to eat, drink and be merry, watch Holmes vs. Cooney, maybe throw a hug on Sammy Davis Jr. or tell a joke to Burt Reynolds and then, perchance, drop fifty thou at the baccarat tables. Ah, the glory that is Caesars Palace!
Isn't that what Las Vegas has been all about ever since Bugsy Siegel became bored with the California rackets, built the fabulous Flamingo Hotel in 1946 and began the creation of Disneyland in the Desert? Of course! But forget the standard scenes: the miles of mind-addling neon and the millions of sucker-tourists bouncing like pinballs off the signposts—GIRLESQUE! BOYLESQUE! CRAPLESS CRAPS! LOOSE SLOTS! SHECKY! 99¢ BREAKFAST 24 HRS A DAY! Even Howard Hughes couldn't have conceived of what Caesars Palace has wrought. Today Caesars is in a class by itself—in Las Vegas or any other place in the world where men are free to heap gifts on the clientele, which, in turn, is free to heap them back, in spades, all in the name of gambling.
Caesars, with its 1,736 rooms, isn't the biggest hotel in the world—the 3,200-room Rossiya in Moscow, hardly a competitor, holds that distinction—or even in Vegas, where it ranks third behind the MGM Grand and the Hilton, each with nearly 3,000 rooms. But it was carefully conceived and designed in the '60s by its original owner, Jay J. Sarno, to be the gaudiest sister on the Strip. Sarno, now 60, is a lifelong hotelier who had already built a string of hotels across the country. "Las Vegas in the early '60s had done the Wild Western motif to death," Sarno says. "What it needed was a little true opulence." Sarno isn't responsible only for Caesars, he is also now the owner of the incomparably garish Circus Circus Casino and is making plans at Vegas for the Grandissimo, a 6,000-room monster that, he says, will be "the biggest hotel in the history of hotels."
Sarno was traveling from Atlanta to Palo Alto, Calif. one day in the '60s when he stopped over in Las Vegas to see the hotels he had heard so much about. "I was disappointed at how mediocre they were," he says. "The Flamingo was sick—like an old storage room. The Desert Inn was like a stable. There I was, busting my hump building those slick, gorgeous hotels to make a modest living, and these bad hotels were making huge sums. I decided I was building in the wrong towns. That's how Caesars got born."
Sarno thought of everything—from the Roman decor and the name Caesars Palace to the waitresses' togalike costumes, the hotel's distinctive logo and the parchmentlike stationery, matchbooks and business cards with the simulated burned edges. Not even an apostrophe was overlooked. Literally. There were long discussions about where the apostrophe in Caesars should be placed. Sarno says he didn't want it to be Caesar's Palace, because "that would mean it was the palace of only one Caesar. We wanted to create the feeling that everybody in the hotel was a Caesar." So Sarno chose not to use an apostrophe at all.
Sarno is disappointed that Caesars Palace's present owners have diluted its Roman flavor by adding touches of other decorative motifs, and also have introduced the 610-room Fantasy Tower, the 360-degree-projection Omnimax theater with its geodesic dome, and the 540' and 440' "people movers" that carry customers in off the Strip—but do not carry them back out. "If I still owned the place," Sarno says, "I'd never allow de-Romanization."
Today many of Caesars' guest rooms are packed with your standard trappings of hedonism—mirrored walls and ceilings, circular canopied beds, enough red and gold frippery to send a reasonable person dashing for sanctuary. Of course, sanctuary is hard to come by in Las Vegas. For the highest-rollers Caesars has 10 two-story Fantasy Suites ($510 to $720 per night, gratis to Noblest Friends) done in your choice of Roman, Egyptian, Oriental, Arabian or Futuristic decor. Each has a circular bar and a platform-mounted hot-tub-like bath in front of floor-to-ceiling windows commanding an electric view of the Strip.
Caesars also has seven restaurants; six bars; two swimming pools; the 1,200-seat Circus Maximus Theater, where Sinatra, recently hired as a "consultant" to the hotel, reportedly for $20,000 a week, does it his way seven weeks a year; not to mention the Omnimax. And, just so you don't forget where you are, there are the genuine imitation statues, 25 of them, hewn from the very same Carrara marble used by Michelangelo—ranging from Winged Victory of Samothrace, which beckons legions of junketeers in off the Strip, to Rape of the Sabines, which subtly portends an awaiting fate inside the front door, to a positively Caesarean Joe Louis, who watches over the action on the craps and blackjack tables from in front of the Fantasy Tower elevators.
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed, that he is grown so great? As retired Brigadier General (Nevada National Guard) and Caesars Palace President Harry Wald is fond of saying, "All the hotels in town offer the same games in their casinos, the same odds at the tables. All offer a show, food, whatever your desires may be." It's typical of the grandfatherly, 57-year-old Wald that he leaves unsaid the sequitur, "But Caesars does it better," which is a difficult point to refute, in light of Caesars' enormous growth and financial success.
Wald is an unassuming man, manifesting not a scintilla of the flash and color one might expect of a hotel-casino president. But make no mistake: He's one of the most powerful men in Las Vegas—a close personal friend of both Wayne Newton's and Frank Sinatra's—and it's no coincidence that he's one of the only top executives who have been at Caesars since the day it opened. Also, he isn't without his mystique. A Jew born in Germany, he was smuggled out of the Nazi Reich at the age of 13 to Detroit, where he settled with a foster family. Within three years he was fluent in English, which he speaks today without a trace of an accent. In 1943 he was smuggled back into Nazi-occupied Europe and became a heavily decorated intelligence officer with the 30th Infantry Division. After the war, back in the U.S., he found work decorating hotel and motel rooms on occasion in hotels owned by Sarno, before Sarno engaged him to be project coordinator for Caesars in 1964. When Clifford and Stuart Perlman bought the hotel from Sarno in 1969, Wald stayed on and has been the man responsible for staging bigger and bigger sporting events at Caesars.
And, unquestionably, what sets Caesars apart from the other hotels on the Strip is its sports attractions. Time was that Vegas people felt that showgirls and craps tables were enough to lure the customers. They tried sports in the '50s and '60s, but except for an occasional big boxing match, no one east of Colorado seemed to care very much.
The Desert Inn gained some fame with its Tournament of Champions golf event, which it inaugurated in 1953, but in 1967 the Stardust picked up the tournament for two years before letting it go to La Costa, Calif., where it now flourishes. The Showboat started a bowling tournament in 1960, and it is now the oldest stop on the PBA Tour. In 1965 the Stardust tried auto racing on a track west of the city, but that was a bust. Motor sports enthusiasts would come to the races all right, but would then disperse all over town.
Caesars Palace, still under Sarno's ownership, got into the sports act—sort of—on Dec. 31, 1967, when Evel Knievel tried to jump his motorcycle 150' over the Palace's famed fountain. The result—Knievel crashed and broke his hip, pelvis and several ribs—was hardly disastrous. As Wald says, "He made out. Hardly anyone had heard of him until then. And a lot of people saw on TV what Caesars Palace's fountain looked like."
But boxing was the sport that would keep 'em coming back. The first heavyweight title fight at Vegas, held at the Convention Center, was Sonny Liston's 1963 defense of his heavyweight crown, in which he knocked out Floyd Patterson in the first round. Two years later, also at the Convention Center, a new heavyweight champ, Muhammad Ali, successfully defended his title against Patterson. The fights drew well, and some of the hotels did extra business by housing the fighters during training as a come-on to gamblers. In fact, boxing was such a good attraction that, beginning in 1964, fights were held weekly in hotels themselves—first at the Castaways, then the Hacienda, Circus Circus, the Sahara and the Silver Slipper, where bouts are still staged today. These fights made a nice change of pace from the standard Vegas entertainment package but were not the kind of events to inspire thousands of high rollers to flock in for a week of plunging. The fact was that the really big boxing events—the later Ali fights, the Foreman and Frazier fights—were going to the Madison Square Gardens and Astrodomes, to Za√Øre and Manila.
Caesars Palace has changed all that, and its neighbors are at least riding along on Caesars' toga-tails. Since 1969, more than 100 live sporting events have been staged at Caesars, running the gamut from legitimate athletic endeavors to trashsport. Next week's Holmes-Cooney bout will be the 29th championship fight held at the hotel. There have also been tennis, bowling, bocce, Ping-Pong, armwrestling, billiards and weightlifting tournaments, gymnastics meets, horse shows, the Circus of the Stars and, last year, the first Caesars Palace Grand Prix Formula I auto race. "There's almost no event we won't take," as Caesars Corporate Director of Sports Bob Halloran says. "We're not just in it for the money."
But they aren't in it for the charity, either. Nor is Caesars the sole beneficiary of the extra money the events have pulled into town. It's estimated that a major fight adds $150 million to the Las Vegas economy. Other hotels have upgraded their own sports programs: The Aladdin had last month's Alexis Arguello-Andy Ganigan title bout and, earlier this year, it put on the Thomas Hearns-Marcus Geraldo fight; the Sands has had James Tillis-Jerry Williams and the Hilton, Ali-Leon Spinks in 1978.
The other hotels are in a sense Caesars' partners as well as its competitors. Alvin Benedict, president of the MGM Grand, says, "Caesars has had a tremendous impact on everyone's business, and I have to give the management there a lot of credit."
One local hotel executive demurs. "I wouldn't do some of the things Caesars does," he says. "The people there are very daring, very inventive. But I think they're bigger gamblers than the people they cater to. I'm a hotelman first, second and third, and I also have a casino. They are casino people who also have a hotel. I believe I've an obligation to someone who loses a hundred thousand dollars to tell him he has to watch it because he hurts himself and his family. Their philosophy is that if you lose two hundred thousand you're a good customer, if you lose a million you're a very good customer, three million they love you, four million and up they dance with you. I think the Ali-Holmes fight was a disgrace to sport. I think everyone knows this but them."
Clifford Perlman, 56, believes that such sentiments are wrought of jealousy. Perlman and his brother, Stuart, 57, made a small fortune selling hot dogs steamed in beer through a Florida-based chain of restaurants called Lum's. That was a nice step up for them. Previously, Clifford had been a small-time lawyer in Miami representing drunk drivers and filling out tax forms for $5 apiece, and Stuart had sold dresses door to door in Philadelphia, the Perlmans' hometown. In 1969 they used their Lum's money to buy Caesars Palace, then just another 600-room joint on the Strip, for $60 million. Clifford, now chairman of the board of Desert Palace, Inc., the Nevada subsidiary of Caesars World, Inc., the $678 million conglomerate that controls Caesars Palace, delights in telling the story of the sale. Caesars' original owners, Sarno and Nathan Jacobson, had been asking $80 million. Clifford showed up in their offices dressed in tennis clothes and offered $60 million. When Sarno and Jacobson wanted to negotiate, Perlman said, "O.K., I'll offer $50 million and we'll negotiate up to $60 million." The original offer was accepted. It was then that Caesars Palace, sports mecca, began to take shape.
Perlman was—and is—a tennis player. But Las Vegas in 1969 had nothing but swimming pools, hookers, a few golf courses and the aforementioned weekly prizefights to serve as sporting alternatives to the gaming tables and sports books. Caesars Palace had no tennis courts, so Perlman built some. It had no pro, so he hired Pancho Gonzales. He erected an air-conditioned pavilion and decided to put on indoor events. He began with the U.S.-U.S.S.R. boxing matches and subsequently hooked up with Alan King to start the Alan King-Caesars Palace Tennis Classic. In 1975 Bill Riordan, then managing Jimmy Connors, came to Perlman with the notion of featuring Connors, the No. 1 player in the world, in a series of challenge matches called the World Heavyweight Championship of Tennis. The first match, against Rod Laver on Feb. 2, 1975, was terrific, the then 22-year-old Connors beating the 36-year-old Australian 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5. In 1977, when Connors played Ilie Nastase, there was something of a scandal when it was revealed that the match had been misrepresented by CBS as a "winner-take-all" event, as had all three previous matches in the series. In fact, all the players had been given substantial guarantees. The taint hardly mattered to Caesars, because that event, like its predecessors, turned out to be a bonanza that resulted in millions of dollars of publicity for the hotel.
In 1976, with the public's taste for boxing freshened by the successes of that year's U.S. Olympians, Perlman brought the sport into his pavilion. He hired Joe Louis as a hotel "host" and got Spinks and Ken Norton to fight there. Then came Holmes vs. Earnie Shavers and Holmes vs. Norton. In 1979 Sugar Ray Leonard had two bouts at Caesars. Television beamed the hotel's logo round the world, the fight crowd began to gravitate to the desert, and a lot of money was left behind at the tables. No one had yet conceived of a parking lot stadium in Las Vegas, and Perlman is no boxing expert, but, as should be clear by now, he knows how to make money. And he's not afraid of grandiosity.
"I've forgotten more about sports than Perlman ever knew," says Halloran, a former television sportscaster. "But each time we discuss an idea he comes up with an ingredient that makes it whole."
One afternoon in 1979, Perlman, Halloran and boxing promoter Don King were driving down the Strip. The subject of conversation was the anticipated match between Leonard and Thomas Hearns. "Mr. Perlman, that fight is going to be so big, they're going to have to hold it on the moon," King said in his usual hyperbolic style.
Without changing his expression Perlman said, "So we'll build a moon."
Everyone laughed but Perlman.
"There was really no reason to believe he didn't mean it," King says now. And a few months later, when King was making Ali-Holmes, he asked Perlman how serious he was. "We really wanted that fight." Halloran says, "but we kept asking each other, 'Where could we put it?' In the Convention Center? The UNLV football stadium? It was going to cost us four million. We could only get 8,000 people in our pavilion. So Mr. Perlman said, 'We'll build a stadium in our parking lot.' We all laughed. He said, 'I'm serious.' And of course the whole thing went off without a flaw."
Without a flaw, indeed. A 25,000-seat stadium, constructed in 30 days at a cost of $750,000, was built in the parking lot. The invitations to the 2,000 Noble Friends went out, some 700 accepted, and the live gate was the biggest in boxing history—$5.7 million. But that was only the appetizer. On a major fight night at Caesars, high-rollers are elbow to elbow in the casino. Table stakes are raised to chase out the grandmothers and the Rotarians. You can't play "21" for less than $25 a hand or craps for less than $100 a throw; the usual minimum for the games is two bucks. An occasional baccarat game is set up with an $8,000 minimum. As a consequence, records for casino profits come tumbling down. Figures for specific days are secret, but during the 30-day period surrounding the Ali-Holmes fight on Oct. 2, 1980, Caesars raked in $30 million from its casino, nearly 2½ times the monthly average and several million more than any other 30-day period in the hotel's history.
When Leonard and Hearns fought last September, it wasn't on the moon, but in another temporary stadium at Caesars, this one atop tennis courts. This time the crowd was 23,600, the gate was $3.7 million, and the casino action was almost as hot as for Ali-Holmes. For Holmes-Cooney, Caesars expects to do its best business ever. The stadium's capacity has been increased to 32,000 seats and the top ticket price upped $100. Of the 2,000 Noble Invitees, 1,000 are expected to come. The hotel, and many others in town, have been booked for months. "After all," says Murray Gennis, the Caesars vice-president whose main job is coddling the customers, "you got a Great White Hope from New York and a lot of money chasing him. It's going to be the biggest fight in history." The live gate may attain $8 million. And it's likely that with all those Noble Friends in town the fight will be sandwiched between a heap of $3 million and $4 million win days in the Caesars casino, where the average daily take in 1981 was $515,500.
"New York is all washed up as the boxing capital of the world," says Lem Banker, a professional gambler and tout who has lived in Vegas for 25 years. "You got everything here. Gambling, girls and good times."
And doesn't Caesars know it. Last year it introduced its customers to its own international Formula I Grand Prix race, after constructing a 2.26-mile course in 45 days for $3.5 million. The event drew 38,000 but the casino totals were a little disappointing. "Evidently the race crowd doesn't have big-time players like the boxing crowd has," says a hotel official. Wald believes that with more time for promotion, the '82 race, on Sept. 25, will be much more successful. And, he believes, the race will become a fixture at Caesars, even after the initial four-year deal with the International Auto Sports Federation expires in '84.
In keeping with the international marketing concept, it's hardly surprising that Caesars had the audacity to ask the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee to farm out the 1984 Olympic boxing matches to the Palace. Olympians at Caesars Palace—a natural, no? The LAOOC politely declined, but Caesars is angling to get the '84 Olympic Boxing Trials. And this month the hotel is hosting a black-tie dinner with the goal of raising a cool million for the U.S. Olympic Committee. And get this—the USOC will present its Sportsman of the Year award to Clifford Perlman, a gambling czar.
Caesars offices are stocked with executives who seem to do nothing more than dream up special events, with an emphasis on those having television appeal. "Our pavilion started out as a place to play tennis; now we use it for all kinds of things," says Special Events Director Andy Olson. "Just last year we had the Circus of the Stars taping, the Lily Tomlin TV special, the Mother's Day TV special with Liz Taylor, the Paul Anka telethon, the Joe Louis funeral...." So many entertaining things took place at Caesars that for the first time, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce bestowed its Entertainment Personality of the Year award—previously won by the likes of Liberace, Wayne Newton and Shecky Greene—on a hotel.
What next for Caesars' parking lot? Would you believe World Cup Soccer? Seriously, Caesars is considering building a permanent stadium seating, say, 30,000 or more if it can get the rights from the International Football Federation to hold at least a couple of preliminary World Cup matches, if not the final. "We've talked about the stadium," says Wald, "but, money being what it is right now, we have it on a back burner." The stadium would be built on the site of the current temporary one—in the parking lot—and it would certainly be large enough to accommodate a pro football exhibition game. But Perlman entertains an even grander vision—the Super Bowl.
Says Halloran, "At the NFL meetings this year I was passing [NFL Commissioner] Pete Rozelle in a hallway. I said to him, 'Pete, one of these days I'm going to be talking to you about bringing the Super Bowl to Las Vegas.' Rozelle kept on walking, but he walked away smiling."
And why not? If Rozelle is as smart as King, he will guess—correctly—that Perlman has at least one more ace up the sleeve of his toga. This is it: FIVE BILLION DOLLARS BET ON THE 1982 SUPER BOWL GAME. Wald, representing Caesars, is a prime mover in an effort to get Clark County to build a Super Bowl-size stadium, which, of course, would also be able to accommodate a minor—or major—league baseball team.
"We will continue to hold the Super Bowl in league cities," Rozelle says. "We don't feel Las Vegas would be an appropriate setting."
No matter what Rozelle says, he knows that the love of sport and the love of gambling germinate from the same seed. Adam and Eve may have been the first in a long line of big losers, but they undoubtedly loved taking a chance. In ancient Rome, gambling was a main event during the Saturnalia, the pagan forerunner of Christmas. As the biggest plunger of them all, Nick the Greek, once said, "The greatest thrill in my life is to play and win. The second greatest is to play and lose." Today, combined legal and illegal betting on sports events in America is a $100-billion-plus-per-year industry. That's bigger than Exxon. And the man who dares to declare every day a Saturnalia is Clifford Perlman.
During a break one day from his regular game with Gonzales, Perlman took the question of morality in the sports-gambling marriage and gave it a neat American twist. "Every society has atavistic appendages," he said. "And one of the most prominent of those appendages is the conflict between the Calvinist, or Protestant, ethic and the impress of modern life. That conflict is clearly described in the relationship between sports and gaming. That's the shoreline of life right there. That's where the Calvinist ethic hits the rocks of modern society. This is the confrontation between what people think is right and what people actually do.
"Moralists? I don't think a fringe group or a passing morality code can change what human beings have done ever since they crawled out of the seas. Who doesn't bet on football? Maybe a guy goes to horse racing in the afternoon. And the trotters at night. Maybe he bets with the great State of New York at one of its wonderful Off-Track Betting parlors. Or he invests in a high-risk stock on the American Stock Exchange. Who dares to call this evil? The only question that really matters is, 'What do people do?' "
As the man who brought big-time sporting events to the gambling capital of the world, Perlman is naturally considered by some to be a genius and by others to be an associate of criminals. Banker calls him "the P.T Barnum of the late 20th century." Halloran says that because of Perlman, "TV networks talk to me like I run a major stadium, not like I represent a hotel." But traditional foes of gambling—religionists and moralists—detest everything that Perlman represents. At least part of that stems from the popular assumption that the proprietors of legal gambling establishments, like the men who run illegal gambling operations, are in bed with organized crime.
The State of New Jersey—certainly no foe of gambling—considers Perlman persona non grata because of his past business association with Miami Beach lawyer Alvin Malnik and, to a somewhat lesser degree, Miami Beach businessman Samuel Cohen. Malnik is believed by law enforcement agencies to be an associate of mob boss Meyer Lansky, and Cohen was indicted along with Lansky in 1972 for skimming $36 million from the Flamingo Hotel casino. Cohen was later convicted. Lansky was too ill to stand trial. After protracted hearings last year, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission ordered the Perlman brothers to sever their connections with Caesars Boardwalk Regency in Atlantic City as a precondition for the Commission's granting the hotel a permanent gaming license. At least until an appeal of the case is ruled upon by the New Jersey Supreme Court, the brothers have also had to sever their connections to Caesars World, Inc., the parent company. So they sold their 18% of it for nearly $100 million and resigned their positions as chairman (Clifford) and vice-chairman of the board (Stuart). Clifford now holds a post only with the Nevada subsidiary.
"Those poor people on the Casino Commission had no choice," Clifford says. "They're politicians. Unfortunately our media is suffering from its own freedom. I was accused of associating with a man—Malnik—who has been accused of associating with someone else—Lansky—which Malnik denies. And my brother was denied a gaming license. Why? Because he's my brother. So now anyone who associates with me would probably have a problem in New Jersey.
"George Steinbrenner, a convicted felon, would in my opinion definitely get a gaming license in New Jersey. He's a prominent man; he's paid his debt to society. I've never been convicted, indicted, accused or even been thought to have committed a criminal act. I have only two problems: an ethnic name and an association with a man who has been a target of the press.
"I'll tell you this: I think that if the media decided it was O.K. to play the Super Bowl in Las Vegas, Pete Rozelle would jump at the idea. But to say that you can't play the Super Bowl in any town in the United States where there is organized crime operating, then where are you going to play it? Detroit?"
"See that guy over there?" Murray Gennis asks as he strolls through Caesars' casino one afternoon.
"Who's he," Gennis' visitor wants to know as he looks at the small, mild-looking man in the loud polyester suit.
Gennis is clearly pleased with the question. "Who's he?" he says. "I'll tell you who he is. His name is Artie Funair, F-u-n-a-i-r."
"Yeah...?" says the visitor.
"Artie Funair was one of the six Marines who hoisted the American flag on Iwo Jima."
"That's right. Artie Funair is a holder of a Congressional Medal of Honor."
"Not only that. Artie Funair was an assistant trainer for the Green Bay Packers when Vince Lombardi coached."
"And that's not all. You know what Artie Funair does now?"
"Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?"
"Close. He's a Number One aide-de-camp to Frank Sinatra."
Well, sort of. He does live with Sinatra's longtime pal, Jilly Rizzo. As for the rest of the credentials Gennis enumerated—not really.
Despite Murray Gennis' fancy title, his main job is knowing every one of Caesars' best Capital-C Customers and seeing to it that everything they want is theirs. He remembers names, faces and business affiliations and, most important, the size of a customer's bank account. At Caesars Palace, What's My Line? is a whole different game, because half of the money gambled in the casino—$985.5 million in 1981—is on credit. "You can name any guy who plays here," Gennis says, "and I can tell you if he's a $50,000 player, a $20,000 player, a half-a-million-dollar player or what."
Gennis gets calls in the middle of the night from customers who have just jetted into town and need accommodations and a marker for a hundred thou. He gets calls from friends of customers who want a front-row table for Sinatra. Gennis has obtained birth control pills at 4 a.m. for the girl friend of a player whose luggage was lost by an airline; he has arranged for private Saturday morning services for a certain big Jewish player. "You've got to do these things for your customers, so they'll want to stay at Caesars," he says.
One of Gennis' least favorite responsibilities is to "remind" players who have "forgotten" to pay their debts, because gambling debts aren't legally collectible in Nevada. "We consider it a matter of honor," says Gennis, "that a gentleman never welshes on a bet." Recently Gennis was informed that a Mexican customer who had gotten himself into a $450,000 hole had said he'd only pay back half. Gennis said that was O.K., "except the man will never get credit in any casino in the world." Caesars Palace claims a 96% collection rate, but even at that the hotel had to write off some $19 million in bad debts last year.
Of late, Gennis' desk has been piled high with requests for fight tickets. The MGM Grand called for tickets. Ed DeBartolo, owner of the San Francisco 49ers, called for tickets. One of Nelson Skalbania's people called for a special favor. "You know who Nelson Skalbania is?" Gennis asked, putting down the phone. "He's the guy who owned the Montreal Alouettes football team in Canada. Very big player. He wants to use one of our houses. Now we own two houses—five bedrooms, full staff, pool, courts, got everything—one in Palm Springs, Calif., one in La Costa. So Skalbania wants to get away for a couple of days, we give him one of the houses. Now if Skalbania is in the mood to bring some people down to have some fun in Las Vegas, is he going to call me or MGM when I accommodated him for nothing in our house?
"Now with these fight tickets," he says, picking up a stack of envelopes, each imprinted with the name of a Noble Friend, "you're giving them away to your best customers, but it's very, very important where each guy sits. For instance"—he begins flipping the envelopes—"this guy likes the raised level; we put him up there. This guy wants to get on television; we put him in the celebrity section. This guy doesn't want to get on TV; his wife might be watching, you know what I mean?" He winks.
"Now, the thing you really have to watch out for is this. Most of these guys know each other. They know who the hundred-thousand-dollar players are and who the twenty-thousand-dollar players are. You can't have a guy with a 50-line [$50,000 credit at the casino] seeing that a guy with a 20-line has a better seat than he has. So it's very important that we arrange the seating according to lines."
Of course, all the other hotels in town have their A-lists. They buy up ringside tickets and send flowery invitations to their customers, failing to mention that the fight is taking place at Caesars. The guests are wined and dined and, just before fight time, loaded into buses or limos and taken—through the back entrance—to Caesars. Once there, they're reminded to return to their vehicles as soon as the fight is over, the better to get back to the friendly, familiar tables at their hotels. Naturally, Gennis studies the competition the way Cooney studies Holmes. He really loves this part. "If a man is over here in our parking lot," he says slyly, "he'll probably want to walk in and look at our casino, especially since our casino that night will be filled with some of the greatest players and celebrities in the world. So we got a shot at this guy. We might say, 'Stay. Have a meal. See our show. Play our games.' And who knows, we might have a new customer."
One curious note. Big-time boxing is the best thing that ever happened to legal Vegas bookmakers. They expect $10 million worth of action on Holmes-Cooney. One would think, then, that Caesars could get a major piece of that action if it had a sports book of its own. But no. Caesars had a sports book for a while but closed it down last fall. No one at Caesars will say why, but one Noble Friend has a theory: "The house wants the fight wagering to be friendly." Translation: Caesars Palace would prefer not to infringe upon the pleasure certain of its customers derive from booking a few million dollars' worth of bets on their own.
It's all just another part of the service, like the elegant Rs, sumptuous F and abundant B, the...well, one of Caesars' handouts says it best: "Behind the dazzle and sparkle of Caesars Palace—with its unparalleled roster of performers, world-class sporting events and celebrities from throughout the world—is a first-rate hotel, given the highest rating possible by thousands of guests returning throughout the years. The glory that was Rome will never fade...as long as there is a Caesars Palace. Long Live Caesars!"
But before you mail in your application for Noble Friendship, a few words of advice from Gennis:
"The thing I tell people before they gamble is this. 'You see this beautiful hotel here? The beautiful grounds? The beautiful casino? The beautiful pools? The beautiful statues? The beautiful chandeliers? All this beautiful stuff here—it didn't come from winners.' "
Wald (above), who has been at Caesars since it opened in 1966, has seen many changes, like the construction of the two-story Fantasy Suites (left). Perlman (below), who bought the hotel in 1969, championed the cause of Joe Louis, whom he hired, and the game Louis dominated.
Ol' Blue Eyes is a full-time Caesars consultant and a part-time crooner in the Circus Maximus.
Newton owns the competing Aladdin Hotel and is a highly visible VIP at Caesars' boxing events.
The "heavyweight" match between Connors (left) and Laver put Caesars on the tennis map in '75.
The defense by Holmes (below left) of his heavyweight title against Shavers in 1979 was a hit in the sports pavilion. "There's almost no event we won't take," says director of sports Halloran.
More than 38,000 people—although few high-rollers—attended Caesars' first Grand Prix, raced on a 2.26-mile circuit built in just 45 days.
Erected in 1941, El Rancho Vegas was the original jewel of the desert. It burned down in 1960.
Jacobson (left) and Sarno (center) got Caesars going in 1965.
Caesars' outdoor boxing arena took 30 days and $750,000 to assemble.
Knievel's jump over Caesars' fountain in 1967 was a publicity windfall for him and the hotel.