A longtime Las Vegas resident shares stories, photos and history from the promotions- and-publicity side in a memoir about Sin City.
In 1960, Romero left a 10-year sportswriting and broadcasting career in Las Vegas to work at the Sahara Hotel and Casino. He became executive director for advertising, promotion and publicity, and after 19 years at the Sahara, he went on to form his own direct-marketing company—but not before accumulating a trove of stories about gamblers, clients, performers, tournaments and publicity stunts. In his latest book, Romero (Casino Marketing, 1994, etc.) describes how, for example, he came up with the Super Sahara Celebration, to his knowledge “the first of the big Las Vegas cash giveaway promotions.” Cooked up to increase business in slow periods, the promotion offered randomly selected slot-machine players seven chances per day to work the “Golden Slots.” A master of ceremonies stood by to work the crowd into a frenzy, helped along by flashing lights, screaming crowds, and buzzing and dinging machines. Romero says that “the slot manager never had such a winning month.” More importantly for the casino, “it changed the way all of us looked at generating business in the low occupancy periods that always hurt us.” Romero obviously loved his work and makes even the mundane tasks of arranging rooms and comping tickets sound dramatic. Standout moments include reminiscences of how Romero got a small part in Clint Eastwood’s Gauntlet; of stars like Buddy Hackett, Flip Wilson and Don Rickles; and especially of the Beatles’ appearance in 1964, when teenage girls “launched themselves at the stage like javelins.” This rosy account of Las Vegas glosses over prostitution, drugs, violence and gambler suicides, which is partly, of course, why the book is so much fun. For Romero, the old spirit of Las Vegas surfaced in something like the Sahara Hotel’s traditional free drink on check-in. When the hotel dropped that, they “junked a small slice of creativity that had made us famous with the right people, had kicked out the mystery and delight that arose from a simple check in.” Creativity, mystery, delight: That’s how Romero sees his work in a nutshell, and reading this book, it’s hard not to agree.
Twenty years of anecdotes from a terrific storyteller add up to a very entertaining behind-the-scenes perspective on Las Vegas.