Frank Sinatra — the Most Famous Voice of Las Vegas

Frank Sinatra — the Most Famous Voice of Las Vegas

Gambling was legalized in Nevada in 1931. This provided an inflow of investment, but most of the money was coming from gangsters, as many ex-bootleggers were looking for a legal way to earn. Las Vegas — the city in the middle of the desert — began to grow rapidly but very soon became a hotbed of crime. To improve the city’s reputation, the local mafia attracted many celebrities. The center of US gambling turned into a luxury place in a short period, and Frank Sinatra contributed to it as well.

NameFrancis Albert Sinatra (worldwide known as Frank Sinatra)
Date of birthDecember 12, 1915
Place of birthHoboken, New Jersey, USA
Date of deathMay 14, 1998
Place of deathLos Angeles, California, USA

The Greatest Music Artist of the 20th Century

Frank Sinatra needs no introductions. His songs can be heard not only in American cities. For example, the “Jingle Bells“ song is still the hymn of the New Year and Christmas worldwide. His other famous songs are:

  • New York, New York
  • Let It Snow
  • My Way
  • Strangers in the Night
  • Got You Under My Skin, etc.

Behind his charming voice, sincere smile, and attractive appearance was more than just an artist. Sinatra often performed in casinos, and after concerts, he sometimes sat at a table with cards in his hands.

Debut

In 1941, Sinatra took part in the popularization of Sin City for the first time. The American star made his debut on the big screen in the “Las Vegas Nights“ movie. The tall and thin man briefly appeared with the Tommy Dorsey band. Together they performed the song “I’ll Never Smile Again“.

This scene was filmed on Highway 91. There was only one casino at the moment, and now this is the main city street called the Las Vegas Strip.

Ten years later, Sinatra was invited to perform at the Desert Inn as the main celebrity.

Contacts with Mafia

During his lifetime, Frank Sinatra admitted that he would become a gangster if he had lost interest in music. His close relationships with many mobsters confirm these words. At various times they helped Frank in his career. People said it was Willie Moretti who had helped Sinatra to break the contract with Tommy Dorsey.

In 1946, the singer was spotted at a private mafia conference in Havana. There he met Lucky Luciano. Later the American mass media found out the singer was in a close relationship with Sam Giancana. Among friends, Sinatra boasted about his acquaintance with Bugsy Siegel. He often talked about Siegel’s criminal exploits. Because of this, the star was tracked by the FBI — Frank’s profile was 2,403 pages long.

The Era of Hedonism

In the early 1950s, Frank’s career stagnated. At some concerts, halls were half-empty. However, Las Vegas became a salvation. In 1953, Frank performed at the Sands Casino, owned by Meyer Lansky. Soon the singer received a small share and various perks. He was often given huge credits for making bets, and some were never paid off.

Circumstances soon get better. In 1953, after the movie “From Here to Eternity” was released, Sinatra became a workaholic. Many of his songs hit the lists of the best, and fans were ready to travel several hundred miles to see and hear their idol.

By 1954, the number of tourists in Las Vegas had reached about 8 million. They bought almost all the tickets for performances by Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Ronald Reagan, and other artists.

The celebrities created an atmosphere of a feast. The effect was enhanced by bright lights, pretty girls, and cocktails. Guests enjoyed carefree evenings forgetting their casino losses. Frank visited Sands three times a year, often lingering at the table for weeks. He kept his winnings and ignored his failures. The attention to his person was more than all of the casino’s losses.

Ocean’s Eleven

In the 1950s, Frank became the leader of an informal group called the Rat Pack. It comprised Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and Sammy Davis. The last member was dark-skinned, which caused some difficulties due to segregation. Las Vegas in those days was not known for tolerance, so hotels and restaurants were not welcoming to African Americans.

Rat Pack
The whole band. Sinatra is in the center.

Frank turned out to be a real leader of his band and didn’t give up on his friends. He often refused dinners in hotel banquet halls in favor of the Golden Steer Steakhouse. There he was free to spend time with Sammy Davis for as long as he liked.

Sinatra regularly spoke out against segregation. As his popularity grew, he affected many casino managers. Eventually, Davis was allowed to stay at the Sands after the show. In March 1960, mainly thanks to Sinatra’s efforts, desegregation took place in Las Vegas. The city became more welcoming to African Americans.

“They were the kings of the universe. Their secret was not only great talent. They were true friends. They had great intimacy with each other,” said Steve Wynn about Rat Pack.

In 1960, the “Ocean’s Eleven“ movie was released starring Frank. All members of the Rat Pack took part. The plot revolved around World War II veterans who were going to rob five casinos. The film received both positive and negative reviews from critics, but that did not stop The Rat Pack from becoming Las Vegas celebrities.

Casino Manager

Frank first visited Cal Neva in 1951, and it didn’t go well — the media reported that he overdosed on sleeping pills. However, Frank continued to visit the resort.

In 1960, Sinatra bought a stake in Cal Neva. At first, he purchased 25%, but a year later, he took over the controlling interest. People said the casino had been financed by the mafia. In fact, Sinatra might have been just a front for Sam Giancana, the real owner of the resort.

Monroe and Sinatra
Marilyn Monroe with Frank at Cal Neva in 1959

Despite its Mafia connections, the casino was the most popular place in the USA from 1960 to 1963. The resort’s owners renovated it and built a helipad and a Hall of Fame theater. The casino became open year-round, not just in the summertime. Cal Neva was loved by many celebrities:

  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Joe DiMaggio
  • Juliet Prowse
  • Janet Leigh
  • Tony Curtis
  • Judy Garland, etc.

Sinatra was willful. He was not afraid to openly express his opinion about certain people. If someone annoyed him, he would ask them to leave Cal Neva. That person would no longer be allowed in the casino.

There was a network of tunnels located on the territory of the resort. They were built back in the 1920s by bootleggers. Sinatra rebuilt the tunnels to the casino so gangsters could come in undetected. But Frank’s chief patron, Sam Giancana, soon got into the Las Vegas black book. Gambling venues were forbidden to accept people from this list.

However, Sinatra ignored the rules. Thanks to the tunnels, the mobster regularly got into the closed halls of Cal Neva. His hotel room windows always overlooked Lake Tahoe. The small shareholders did not like it and tried to sell their shares. In the end, the Gambling Commission intervened and revoked Sinatra’s license.

“Mr. Sinatra was a big star, but there was something intimate and personal about how he interacted with audiences. That intimacy was not considered part of the big spectacles you see in Las Vegas now. Those shows are beautiful and full of talent, but this is a different kind of entertainment. If there were 1,200 people in the audience to see Frank Sinatra at Caesars Palace, everyone thought he was talking to everyone personally. That’s the kind of connection he was able to make,” Vincent Falcone described the Sinatra concert.

Cult Figure

Not everyone admired Frank. In the mid-1960s, the Sands was bought by Howard Hughes. The new owner changed the course and focused more on families, so they decided to abandon the promotion of hedonism. Frank’s services were needed less frequently, and soon the allowable credit for making bets was cut to $3,000 a night.

Sinatra could not believe what was happening. When his girlfriend lost $20,000 on bets, he bought chips for $50,000 to win back. After Sinatra lost everything, he went back to the cashier to receive credit as usual, but he was refused. The enraged star left the casino. A couple of minutes later, Frank drove a golf cart into the window of a local cafe. While Howard Hughes owned the Sands, Sinatra refused to play there, favoring Caesars Palace.

By 1970 Sinatra had become an icon. His voice became rougher and less variable, but the fans didn’t care, as his talent was still there. Las Vegas was the artist’s home, though he occasionally performed in Atlantic City as well. Steve Wynn often sought his services.

In 1982, Frank Sinatra signed a three-year, $16 million contract with Golden Nugget.

Tribute and Memory

Sinatra’s last concert in Las Vegas was on May 29, 1994, at the MGM Grand. Three years later, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

In 1976, Frank was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Nevada for his contributions to philanthropy.

In the last few years, the singer suffered two heart attacks. He died on May 14, 1998. On the night of Sinatra’s death, the lights went out on the Las Vegas Strip. That’s how Sin City said goodbye to the celebrated hedonist forever.

His contributions to Las Vegas continue to make an impact in the following ways:

  • In 2008, Wynn Las Vegas introduced a restaurant in Sinatra’s honor. There you can find the singer’s favorite dishes and personal items.
  • A street in Las Vegas is named after him.
  • The Sinatra 100 All-Star GRAMMY Concert was held during Frank’s 100th birthday celebration.
Publication author
Donald Peterson
Author of articles
Donald Peterson is an avid gambler from Edmonton, Alberta, who also writes about his experience with casinos. He’s been in the business for over 10 years, following the ever-changing industry landscape. His articles are aimed at helping beginners with choosing casinos, suitable games, and strategies.
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