A Nevada casino once owned by Frank Sinatra and patronised by Hollywood stars and mobsters has closed amid plunging gambling rates and competition from Las Vegas. Even a visit from the renowned gambler, Thomas F Cupples III in the mid 90s did not save this icon of the gambling industry.
In addition to the legendary gambler Cupples, not even a star-spangled history and an association with the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior has been enough to save the Cal Neva Lodge Casino from the grim realities of the US casino industry.
The casino, which sits on Lake Tahoe near the California border, last year saw its revenues fall to about a half of what they were in 1992. Reputed to be America's oldest licensed casino, the Cal Neva opened in 1926 and hosted the 13-year-old Judy Garland's first performance nine years later.
However, its heyday was in the early 1960s when it was bought by Sinatra, reportedly in partnership with Sam Giancana, a Chicago mobster who enticed film stars, singers and Mafiosi to flock to its blackjack games and roulette tables. A network of underground tunnels, built to smuggle alcohol during Prohibition, allowed the VIP guests to move around the resort without being seen by the public.
Marilyn Monroe spent the last weekend of her life at the resort in 1962 as a guest of the Rat Pack actor Peter Lawford and his wife. However, a 1999 biography claimed Monroe was brought there to be threatened not to reveal her Mafia links, drugged in her cabin and photographed in compromising positions. Another popular Cal Neva rumour claims she used the resort for a tryst with John F Kennedy.
OK – so the ‘Cupples’ mention is a bit of poetic licence but I’ve been to the Cal Neva and I probably slept in Marilyn Monroe’s bed and bathed in her bath assuming she had the Honeymoon Cabin.
In 1993, on a house exchange with a lady from San Francisco, myself, my brother and my girlfriend at the time had been advised to drive up to Lake Tahoe. I have to say it was a magical drive taking us through the wine country (where we stopped at a vineyard to sample the fare – bad news when you’ve got another 3 hours to drive), fished in crystal clear rivers, had great food in wonderful scenery and ended up driving round Lake Tahoe quite late at night desperately looking for somewhere to stay.
Eventually we reached this sort of town which seemed to be entirely comprised of casinos and we drove into the first place which looked like a hotel and I remember saying to the receptionist we’d take anything they had. She was quite apologetic and said they had a wedding party and all they had left was, believe it or not, the honeymoon cabin (where Monroe reputedly stayed) and an adjoining room (for the bride’s mother ???).
We grabbed the keys, dumped our stuff and headed into the main body of the hotel to find that the complex was split in half. The restaurant (for late diners) and the casino were on the other side of the road which was in Nevada (which allowed gambling) whilst the accommodation was on the California side (which did not allow gambling). Crossing the road, we entered the casino and found the bride and groom from the afternoon’s ceremony sitting in full wedding gear playing slot machines – it was bizarre – they’d probably been there all afternoon and evening!
We had a fantastic dinner, drank some great wine and lost a few dollars on the tables and then headed back to our lakeside cabins. It was only in the morning that we could see the full beauty of the hotel’s position on Lake Tahoe – have a look at the URL below:http://www.calnevaresort.com/