Casino owner Bob Stupak was not always inclined to let the facts get in the way of an interesting story.
I made that discovery over lunch with the late casino owner at his Vegas World Casino on a day in the early 1990s, a day when I said, “Bob, tell me about this tower I understand you want to build.”
He asked me what I had heard and I told him I understood it was going to be a Washington Monument sort of thing. Nodding, he said, “They’ve got that right.”
I had decided if I wanted the facts and not someone else’s impression of things I should go see the man in charge of things.
“All, I’ve gotta do is arrange the financing,” he smirked, “but it is going to be something special. They’ll be talking about it, taking pictures of it long after I’m not around any more.”
The story he began to tell me did not match up with some of the explanations I had heard from others, but that was ok because I could see my next column in the Las Vegas Sun taking shape as he spoke. Also, big ideas often evolve over an extended period.
“Did you ever take a look at the Sahara when you walk outside my front door?” Bob asked.
His place was Bob Stupak’s Vegas World, a half-dozen blocks or so north of the Sahara on Las Vegas Boulevard. Stupak thought of his casino as enjoying a prime location on the “world famous Las Vegas Strip,” but most locals seemed to consider the Strip as beginning at the Sahara and going south from there.
Stupak was not concerned with such distinctions. What had his attention was the Sahara’s marquee, one of the tallest in Las Vegas and likely the tallest marquee on the Strip at that time.
“It’s so tall,” Stupak said, “that it makes the Sahara look a lot closer to me than it is. It’s an attention getter that brings in people who might not otherwise care to walk that far from wherever they are. I’m thinking that a tower of more than a thousand feet might do the same thing for me.”
Almost as an after-thought he added, “No one is going to have any trouble finding my place.”
And so Stupak, who could dream up promotions and attractions with the best of them – even if they occasionally had casino regulators exclaiming “You wanna do WHAAAT!” – continued pushing forward with what eventually became the Stratosphere Tower and Hotel.
The tower – all 1,149 feet and 109 stories – opened in 1996 but by then Stupak was gone, bought out by Grand Casinos and its CEO Lyle Berman in 1994 after Stupak came to the unsettling conclusion that he had exhausted his ability to get the financing on his own.
He died in 2009 at the age of 67 after a long battle with leukemia, but the tower that sprang from his imagination continues as an attraction and reference point for locals and visitors.
Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. Email: .