Casino Legends Hall of Fame honors state's 'gold'

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LAS VEGAS -- When Steven Cutler was shopping his Nevada gaming museum concept around the Las Vegas market a few years ago, no one seemed to be interested.

It didn't seem to matter that the Nevada Gold attraction -- the name came from a state legislator who introduced gaming into law in 1931 and claimed casino gambling would be "Nevada's gold" -- had been well received as a traveling exhibit of gaming memorabilia at a couple of Hilton properties in Reno and Laughlin.

So Cutler used his connections at the Tropicana Resort & Casino.

"I was consulting at the time for Aztar [the Tropicana's parent company] in Laughlin and Las Vegas and had a relationship with the people at the Tropicana," he said. "I kept going to them with the idea, and they kept saying they didn't have any space."

They did, however, tell Cutler that if he found some space on the property and came up with a concept that everyone agreed with, they would entertain the idea of a permanent attraction.

"The space we came up with was occupied by the keno lounge," Cutler said. "It was Todd Moyer, who was [the property's] vice president of marketing at the time; Jonathan Swain; and I who brainstormed and came up with the hall of fame concept, where people would be involved and it would be an attraction rather than a museum."

Thus, the Casino Legends Hall of Fame was born. The 5,200-square-foot attraction opened in 1998 and has become, according to Cutler, "the most visited museum in Nevada."

"We get more than 1,000 people a day," he said. "And that's just through word of mouth. I'd like to see about 3,000 people per day, but that's only going to happen through marketing. We do exit surveys all the time and [visitors] say it's much more than they expected."

That would be a major understatement.

"My collection [of gaming memorabilia], to my knowledge, is the largest in the world," said Cutler, who is also the attraction's curator. "We have more than 100,000 different documented items."

Only a fraction of that, about 15,000 items, is on display at any one time. Exhibit items range from swizzle sticks, LeRoy Neiman works and framed historical photographs and documents, to paychecks and contracts signed by such entertainers as Lena Horne and Liberace.

China, ashtrays, gaming chips -- anything with a casino name on it -- also fill the bill, said Cutler, noting that more than 738 casinos, 550 of which no longer exist, are represented.

The hall of fame also has the largest Nevada gaming-chip collection in the world, with more than 15,000 chips ranging in denominations from one cent to $100,000, he said. And the collection just keeps growing.

"I am still seeking out memorabilia," Cutler said. "Actually, I just picked up a slot machine as recently as yesterday.

"I get things from estate sales, antique stores; but the best stuff I get is from longtime entertainers and longtime Las Vegas residents. More often than not, I buy [the items], but sometimes people give things to me."

There's something in the museum for everyone, Cutler said.

"If you don't care about the hundreds of framed documents and photographs on the wall, you can spend an hour and 20 minutes watching four different shows," he said. "You can make this an all-day event, or you can get through it in about an hour."

The video presentations run continuously in various parts of the museum. The first honors the movies inducted into the Casino Legends Hall of Fame, and the second documents the various casino implosions and fires during the past 10 years.

The third is a retrospective on showgirls, and the fourth focuses on the rise and fall of the mob's influence in the state's gaming industry.

The Casino Legends Hall of Fame is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week. Admission is $6.95 for adults and $5.95 for senior citizens.

To contact reporter Amy Baratta, send e-mail to [email protected] .

'Star-studded' inductions

LAS VEGAS -- Although the Casino Legends Hall of Fame here displays some 15,000 items at any given time, the attraction is more than a resting place for gaming memorabilia.

It is, as its name signifies, a bona fide hall of fame complete with a list of industry honorees that grows longer by the year.

"This is just like the Baseball Hall of Fame," said Steven Cutler, the hall of fame's co-founder and curator. "It's a little piece of immortality for [those inducted]."

Although the hall of fame first opened to visitors in the Tropicana Resort & Casino in 1998, it wasn't until February 1999 that the attraction held its inaugural induction ceremony.

"In the very beginning, we were actually having small ceremonies every quarter," Cutler said. "There are hundreds of people who deserved to be in there. After a while, we went to twice a year, and a now it's [an] annual [event] that happens every October."

The ceremony takes place in the Tropicana's Tiffany Theatre, where the property's "Folies Bergere" show is performed.

"We're talking a showroom that has lots of historical value because the 'Folies Bergere' is the longest-running show in the U.S.," Cutler said. "We get about 1,000 people, all of whom are VIPs and invited guests. It's a star-studded audience."

The ceremony is hosted by Clint Holmes, a headliner at Harrah's Las Vegas, and there is live music -- an orchestra or band -- depending on whether the inductees want to entertain.

"We leave it up to them," Cutler said.

The hall of fame, which honors a range of casino and gaming-related people and entities, is divided into categories, including Builders & Visionaries, Headliners, Las Vegas in the Movies, Good Guys, Gamblers and Showgirls. The newest category, recognized for the first time this past October, is the Joe Delaney Award, named for the late radio, television and entertainment writer and columnist.

For the past four years, Cutler said, the process of selecting inductees has been "me compiling a list of names and then sitting down with a selection committee made up of different department heads at the Tropicana."

That is going to change, he said. "We now feel that we have enough members [to] vote people in," he said, estimating the hall of fame has 80 members.

At every induction ceremony, more memorabilia for the museum is created.

"The plaque that is awarded onstage actually goes into the hall of fame," Cutler said. "It's a big disc that was created by [artist] LeRoy Neiman, and the [honoree's] picture goes in the center. The people who get inducted also get a plaque for their home." -- A.B.

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