Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Back around 2000 or so, I stumbled across the web site of Ed Walters, a pit boss for the Sands in the '60s, who knew Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack. I thought it would be great to interview him for Casino Player, the publication I wrote extensively for. Originally, late editor Adam Fine wanted to run the piece in two parts because it was too long. Sadly, he never found the room (since it was the beginning of the magazine's dwindling ad space). The story turned out pretty good and and it remains one of my favorite pieces.

If you're interested in Sinatra, Dino, Sammy, vintage Vegas, Bogart or gambling, this is a must read. In our interview, Walters dished alot and told me stories about the gang that I 've never heard before.

Like I said, it's a tad long, feel free to bookmark and peruse at your leisure.

Reflections of a Pit Boss: Sinatra, the Sands and a Thousand Swingin' Nights

Former pit boss Ed Walters remembers it was a bad night for the Sands.

The baccarat pit was down around 80 large to some European high roller.
Walters was nervous because they were on their way to losing more. Way more.

It was the early sixties. 80 thousand clams meant around $300,000 by modern standards. After alerting casino manager Carl Cohen, it was clear that there was only one thing to do.

Get Frank Sinatra.

The young pit boss didn't want to flirt with the Chairman's famous mood swings -- especially at 2 a.m. - and told Cohen, "I don't wanna call Frank. He won't listen to me."

"Look, don't be afraid of Sinatra." Cohen said. "He'll help us out." But why even call Sinatra in the first place?

If there was one thing Cohen knew, it was that the singer understood the casino business. The high roller was in town with his wife, who was a huge Sinatra fan. If they kept her there, the husband would keep playing, hopefully long enough for the house odds to kick in. Simple as that.

After placing a call to his suite, the usually-nocturnal Sinatra showed up in pretty good spirits. Walters immediately informed him that the player was hotter than a two-dollar pistol.

"Relax," Sinatra said.

"But we got a lot of cash out..."

The Sultan of Swagger took one last drag of his cigarette, looked at Walters with those ice-blue peepers, and casually said, "Stop worrying, let me handle it. Just tell the dealers to pick up the speed and let's keep the action going."

Sinatra headed to the table with that trademark gait of confidence, took a seat smack dab next to the wife, asked for two grand, and started playing. She couldn't believe it. With Sinatra at the table, no one moved.

Cohen was right.

Two hours later, the house recouped its losses -- and then some. When the game broke up, a relieved Walters watched the tuxedoed Sinatra walk past the gold ropes of the pit, smiling.

"You owe me one, Kid..." he said with a wink.

Walters just heaved a huge sigh and thought, "Man, I sure as hell do."

We recently caught up with Walters, now retired and still living in Las Vegas, to chat about those glory days of yesteryear. It was an era before white tigers; before dancing water fountains and erupting volcanoes. It was a pre-Starbucks Vegas, before fanny packs and sneakers and roller coasters for the kids. It was a magical time when the Sands and its famed Copa Room were busier than a hustler with two bunks, where Sinatra and his Rat Pack held court like regal hipster knights.

"Oh, no doubt about it. The Sands was the 'In' place to stay," Walters remembers. "At the time, the Copa Room only sat around 350-500 and Frank brought them all in. At one table you might have a stockbroker from New York and at the next, some bookmakers from Pittsburgh. Everyone felt a little special just being there. It was usually about everyone drinking and having a good time."

Walters worked the pit in Jack Entratter's Sands, a casino then legendary to gamers for its "Whatever ya need" attitude. It was here that he came to know the Chairman.

"He was a master at work," Walters says of Sinatra. "My first day on the job, Cohen pulled me aside and said, 'Eddie, when Frank is in the house watch him, he's a pro. He knows what we're doing and he handles himself accordingly. He's a guy who knows what it's all about.'"

By the early fifties, Las Vegas was still in many ways regarded as a cowboy town riddled with sawmill gambling halls and "hot pillow" joints, motels that rented rooms by the hour. It was the just the kind of city postwar America secretly craved -- a lawless playground for the elegant jet set itching to let loose on whatever vice was being offered.

Bearing its famous slogan "A Place in the Sun," the Sands opened on Dec. 15, 1952 at 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South. The $5.5 million 200-room resort was the seventh lovely lady on the strip, falling in with The Sahara, Silver Slipper/Golden Slipper, the Desert Inn, The Thunderbird, The Flamingo, Hotel Last Frontier and the El Rancho.

Although opening night brought much fanfare, with Danny Thomas providing the song and dance, Walters said the property still needed that special something to make it unique and prosperous. "After all, we were a young hotel built out in the middle of the desert," he said. "You'd look outside and see literally nothing but sand. Our only m.o. at the time was trying to lure gamblers from New York, who'd usually go to Miami in the winter."

So what was a dice joint to do? Snag the big fish, naturally.

The "big fish" the Sands had their eye on had just won raves in a highly touted war picture called "From Here to Eternity." And even though Frank Sinatra wasn't a bonafide casino draw at the time, Walters says everyone at the casino knew he'd lure in the dough that the fledgling casino needed to survive. By October 1953, Frank Sinatra began his long association with Sands co-owner (and entertainment director) "Smiling" Jack Entratter (pictured), also the proprietor of New York's famed Copacabana. And for a while, Walters says, it was a grand old time for everyone.

In late January of 1960, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop were in town shoot the Lewis Milestone caper film "Ocean's 11." The production allowed the guys to shoot during the day, take a steam around 5, then let loose at night. But what many people don't realize, Walters says, is that the famous Rat Pack shows weren't intentionally planned. Entratter originally wanted Frank, Dean and Sammy to perform individually and alternate their performances nightly. "Frank went on the first night with two shows -- 8 p.m. and midnight. Dean was next. By the third night when Sammy was on, he was running a bit long, so Frank came out to talk with Sammy and ended the show. He told the crowd, 'He's gotta go to bed -- we're doing a movie all day. Sorry, folks. Sammy, say goodnight.'"

The audience loved the fact that they were watching two of the world's biggest stars on the same stage. The next night, Walters says, Martin would pull a similar stunt, this time cutting in on Sinatra's action. Again, the crowd ate it up. By the end of the first week, Sinatra decided that no matter who was billed for the evening, all three (Sinatra, Martin and Davis) would wind up together. "Their fooling around on stage became the talk of the Strip," Walters says. "The buzz then quickly spread to L.A. and N.Y."

It was Entratter's idea to use Joey Bishop as a sort of emcee. Why Bishop?

"Well, quite frankly, Frank or Dean just weren't interested in being 'the straight man," Walters says. "It just seemed easier for Bishop because he was a natural comedian." (Plus he didn't drink, so it was easier for him to handle the guys onstage -- who were behind the cork many an evening). It wasn't long before Lawford (pictured) joined the mix, rounding out the Pack shows.

Although the Englishman didn't do much in terms of song and dance, he provided just enough "British country gentleman" to perfectly contrast with the sophomoric hijinks of his fellow Packmates.

His stint with the Big Boys, however, didn't stop Lawford from being a monumental pain-in-the-rear. "He was always showing off, dropping Frank's name," Walters recalls.

Take the night when the actor jumped in the pit, primed to deal a game of 21. When Walters objected, Lawford barked, "I'm Frank's guest and if he were here, you'd let him deal." Walters, who'd had enough, set him straight.

"Listen motherfucker, you're right, if Frank was here, he could deal. But you're not Frank Sinatra. Did you forget Frank is one of the owners? Do you think he wants to stop a live game just so you can play around? Now, if I'm wrong, let's call him."

"He may have been all that and more with the gang," Walters says. "But he was no Frank Sinatra."

For the next three weeks or so, the town didn't know what hit it. The fivesome created sheer pandemonium. "Everyone wanted a seat (at the Copa Room)," says Walters. "We had to turn people away." Playing on the eminent summit meeting in Paris between President Eisenhower, Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev and French President Charles De Gaulle, Entratter went as far as wiring media outlets, calling his Rat Pack shows "Summit at the Sands."

The scandal sheets, though, weren't taking the cue. While neo-hipsters today embrace the Rat Pack as heroes of cocktail cool, gossip reporters in the vein of Dorothy Kilgallen, Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons often wrote columns using the moniker in an almost derogatory sense. "They'd write things like Sinatra and his 'cronies' were up all night drinking, and running around town like a little pack of rats," Walters says.

And how did the Chairman feel about the nickname? "I never heard Frank use it. He always hated it. Those of us in the casino never referred to the guys like that. It was almost like calling Ben Siegel, 'Bugsy' to his face. No one did it."

The press was using the term spawned from "The Holmby Hills Rat Pack," the exclusive drinking circle that formed in 1949 when Sinatra moved from L.A.'s Toluca Lake to Holmby Hills, just blocks from Humphrey Bogart's hous0 (right). Sinatra, being a hard-drinking night-owl, was instantly inducted into Bogie's band of boozin' brothers. Legend has it, one evening when Betty Bacall found husband Bogie belting the grape with Sinatra, Judy Garland and David Niven, she hissed, "You look like a goddamn rat pack."

Bogart even went as far as to jokingly devise a coat of arms -- a rat gnawing on a human hand complete with the motto "Never rat on a rat." He declared his crew was formed "For the relief of boredom and the perpetuation of independence. We admire ourselves and don't care for anyone else." Even though the actor's tongue was planted firmly in cheek, the jocular camaraderie of the bunch certainly made an impact on Sinatra -- so much so that after Bogart died in 1957, many believe Sinatra took Bogie's so-called Rat Pack ideal and refashioned it in his own image. He handpicked his own Pallies, which would include Martin, Davis, Lawford and Bishop with occasional appearances by Packette Shirley Maclaine as their token Gal Friday.

Sinatra's bylaws would have only three rules: pray at the Church of Jack Daniels, remember the name of the doll you're with, and most important, dress to kill (Sinatraspeak for always wear black at night). And during the hey-hey days of the sixties right up until Howard Hughes bought the Sands, Vegas would be kicksville for the Pack, chock filled with coo-coo days and ring-a-ding nights.

Alan King once said, "Sinatra was so hip, it hurt." When asked if that was true, Walters absolutely agreed, adding that Sinatra's mere presence was one that permeated throughout the room. "You had to have almost been around him to understand it," he says. "The man exuded power. I mean, he was only this frail little guy, but I promise you when he walked in a room, he was like a sunbolt. When he walked into the lounge after his midnight show, I don't care who was there, it was HIS fuckin' lounge."

By the early sixties, most of the carpet joints on the Strip tantalized their vacationers with various forms of booze, broads and gaming. Entratter thought it would be good for the Sands to lure in a more sophisticated foreign crowd with Chemin De Fer -- otherwise known to modern gamers as baccarat.

Not many people know this, Walters says, but Sinatra helped plant the seeds for what the game is known as today -- classy, glitzy, and expensive.

"We decided to set up our baccarat area near our Blackjack pit, but you have to remember, we were casino people, young dice guys, not decorators,"
Walters said. "So one afternoon, as Sinatra strolls by with some of his fellas, he just loses it."

Like it was yesterday, Walters can hear Sinatra's laugh.

"Jesus, you guys, this looks like a cat house," Sinatra chuckled, shaking his head at the sorry sight of the pit. "What are you gonna do? Put up a plaque that says 'Decorated by the Mob'?"

But when he was through clowning around, Sinatra got serious and told them that in order to lure in high rollers, they'd have to exclusify the game a bit. Make it feel like something special. "Frank realized he needed to help, so he told us about drapes and stuff to put on the wall, with gold ropes around the pit. He also wanted the dealers to wear tuxedos and picked out the chairs himself."

"At the time, we were the first casino to offer it and all the other hotels were watching our 'experiment,' ready to follow suit. (Sinatra) turned out to be right."

"I was a kid. I didn't realize it was historic," Walters says of Sinatra's invitation to watch him record in 1966.

While Sinatraphiles would shudder at the very thought of turning the Voice down, Walters says he simply had no interest at the time. "To me, watching a guy singing every night in the showroom was work. I told him, 'I ain't going to L.A.just to spend all day watching you sing songs. I do that here at work."

Sinatra let it go. Later, after playing some blackjack, he again asked the young pit boss to come to L.A. for a couple of days. And Walters, once again, turned him down.

At this point, customers and dealers alike tried to convince Walters to go. They told him he was crazy if he didn't. Hearing this, Sinatra said kiddingly, "He's too thick - won't listen to anybody. Young and stupid."

Walters joked back, "You sing 10 songs here every hour. Why do you need three days to sing a song? Sing it right the first time."

Sinatra just laughed. He knew the kid had no idea what he was talking about. Then, Walters asked Sinatra about the forthcoming sessions. "Frank, what do you do in there for so long? What's it all about?"

Leaning over the blackjack table, Sinatra got serious and answered, "It's about a lot of fucking hard work."

And he was right, Walters admits. "I didn't realize that until years later when I heard the session tapes. To this day I still get letters from fans around the world who say they would've given their right arm to see Sinatra record. And the shame of it all was that I had a chance to witness some of the best music ever created and was too dumb at the time to appreciate it."

While Walters didn't say which sessions he would have been visiting, bear in mind that in 1966 Sinatra recorded his monster hit "Strangers in the Night," which nudged the Beatles' "Paperback Writer" from the top spot on the Billboard chart. In fact, that lacquer cracker was so hot that Sinatra quickly rushed back into the studio to complete the entire album, which contained such gems as "Summer Wind," "Call Me" and "All or Nothing at All."

Walters believes there was something more behind Sinatra's invitation. "He was around 50 and I was 30 or so. It was his way of letting me know that the whole world wasn't just a casino. When he was by himself we talked about politics, history, and he always told me to go to college."

"Sinatra was right," Walters says. "Young and stupid."

Working with Sinatra, however, wasn't always fun and games. Late one evening, Sinatra approached the 21 pit and gestured to Walters with two fingers, who then instructed the dealer to give him $200 in chips.

"So how you doing?" he asked Sinatra, just as he'd done countless nights before.

The singer, looking straight ahead, didn't answer.

Thinking Sinatra didn't hear him, Walters again addressed him, this time a bit louder. "Hey, how'd the show go tonight?"

Now obviously irritated, Sinatra shot back, "What the hell are you doing?"

"I'm trying to talk to you," Walters says.

"Well, who the hell wants to talk to you?" The irate singer barked.

"When are you gonna pay attention to what you're doing? You #@$!-ing never learn!"

"Well, fuck you, too, Frank!"

Their shouting quickly escalated to the point where Bucky Harris, second in command under Carl Cohen, rushed over to ease the situation. He pulled Walters aside and pleaded with him to can it. "Eddie, this could cost you your job."

Walters ignored him, only hearing Sinatra ranting from the blackjack pit. "Eddie, you dumb fuck, you never learn!"

"Fuck you!" Walters shouted back.

Harris, sensing there was something deeper at hand, said, "Look, I don't wanna get in the middle of you two guys, but whatever it is, let it go." Walters soon came to his senses, went to the lobby to cool off, and then went home.

When Carl Cohen called Walters the next morning, he knew something was strange, since Sinatra and the young pit boss were tight.

"Eddie, you missed something, didn't you," Cohen said. Not as a question, but as a statement. Deep down, the young pit boss knew Cohen had hit the nail right on the head.

"He was right," Walters said. "I did miss something. You see, from the start of working with Sinatra, you'd realize that he was very particular with who he dealt with. He loved to work with sharp people and had absolutely no patience with incompetence of any kind."

Walters realized it went back to when Sinatra had motioned with his two fingers. As a pit boss, Walters says, knowing what that meant required not only keen intuition, but a talent for mind reading as well.

"Whenever Sinatra walked up to a table and put two fingers out, it could've meant that he just wanted to kill some time, so I'd tell the dealer to give him $200 in $5 chips. Or, if I saw he was in a more serious mood and wanted to really play, I'd give him $2,000. If he's with a girl and wants her to have something to do so, I'd give her the $200. Sometimes he'd walk up with a guy and motion with five fingers and say 'Don't let him get in trouble' and walk away. That meant give the guy $500 and keep and eye on him and when it's gone, that's all he's to get."

Of the argument, Walters chalks it up to being young and cocky. "It was one of the reasons that I progressed so fast and got to where I was, but that night I really screwed up. I just wasn't on top of it, and Frank got hot. Unfortunately, so did I."

Days later, as Walters sat home wondering if he still had a job, a car drove up to his house with a box. Inside was every album Sinatra recorded on his Reprise label, along with a small note that read:

"If you're gonna sit around and do nothing, than maybe you can listen to these...Get back to work, kid."

It was an inside joke that hearkened back to Walters saying he had no need to listen to Frank at home, since he heard him all the time at work. The gesture proved that even Sinatra had a sense of humor, and more importantly, knew when to bury the hatchet.

On July 22, 1967, the Sands was bought for $14.6 million by entrepreneur Howard Hughes. He put the finishing touches on the trademark 17-story cylinder tower (adding 777 rooms), making it one of the nicer properties on the still very lo-rise strip.

Walters says the Hughes organization was mostly comprised of lawyers and accountants who came in heavy and strong. "But they weren't casino people," he says. "They looked at us like we were a bunch of mobsters and gamblers."

Hughes was no stranger to Nevada. During the '40s and '50s, he was a frequent visitor and predicted that the town would eventually have a population exceeding one million. In 1966, Hughes moved to Vegas and settled his business operations into a cluster of luxury suites at the Desert Inn.

Six months later, when management griped that he was occupying the rooms usually reserved for high rollers, Hughes bought the property outright for $14 million -- almost twice what the casino was worth. The businessman went on to acquire the Frontier, the Castaway, the Landmark and the tiny Silver Slipper, mainly because he found its well-lit rotating marquee to be an annoyance. By the sixties, Hughes had scooped up every vacant lot on the Strip's three-mile stretch, from the Tropicana to the Sahara.

But what did Sinatra think of the Sands' new owner? Walters says the two shared a fair amount of baggage. Sinatra, who was known to harbor resentment, may have never gotten over the fact that Hughes was once involved with his ex-wife, Ava Gardner (left).

Walters says the two would often court the same women, but had completely different styles. Sinatra would park a shape-in-a-drape in a suite and everything would be taken care of out in the open. Hughes, on the other hand, would book a block of rooms under the same name for some dish, who'd be instructed to stay there until he arrived. Many times, he'd never show. If he did, it would be during the night. No one would be allowed in that section of the hotel, not even room service.

Things came to a head between Sinatra and the new Hughes era when the eccentric mogul suddenly changed the Sands' rules regarding casino credit. Early one evening that September, Walters was forced to deny Sinatra his usual line of credit. After a couple more tries later on in the day, a livid Sinatra confronted Cohen in the casino's restaurant. With both men wound up like an eight day clock, yelling and screaming, Cohen punched Sinatra in the mouth, knocking out a couple of teeth.

It was the kind of act that sent shockwaves through town. While Walters agrees that Sinatra sometimes acted foolish when he was angry, in this case, he believes the singer was right. "There was a real sense of honor to a player taking credit. We trusted players and they trusted us. It was the old school of dealing with our customers. We'd know all of them by name. It was as simple as seeing them come in and us asking 'Whaddaya need?'"

After the confrontation, Sinatra would never again perform at the Sands and predicted, "This place will go under!" Within a week, he set up camp at Caesars Palace down the road, ushering in a new era for the town.

Their promo poster boasted Sinatra's arrival in an almost mocking sense. With a blackened silhouette of the man, it simply read, "Caesars Welcomes the Noblest Roman of Them All!"

Many expected his pallies to also jump ship, with most of the speculation surrounding Martin, who Walters says was undeniably as big a draw as Sinatra, if not bigger. But Martin, who never took orders from anyone, saw no reason to leave the Sands (neither did Sammy Davis) and even negotiated another year's contract. By 1969, though, Martin was eventually swayed by Eddie Torres, president of the Riviera, to make a move down the block. Tickets for a Dino show at the Riviera wound up costing more than Sinatra at Caesars.

But Sinatra's prediction was right, Walters says. The Sands became slower than molasses in January, taking on a deadness they'd never really known. "It was weird," he said. "Before he left there was always the possibility that Frank, Dean and Sammy might walk through. After he was gone, we were just another hotel. If we didn't have someone like Martin or Davis in the showroom, it was a ghost town. Everyone was at Ceasars. The magic was gone."

While Sinatra had the more commanding presence, Walters says second pallie-in-command Dean Martin was every much the effervescent opposite, possessing the perfect blend of personality and panache. "God, he was a wonderful guy to work with," he recalls of Dino.

Martin was good people. So much so that he thought nothing of helping out the dealers whenever he got the chance. Walters remembers one Indian summer afternoon when the singer rounded up a bunch of Sands employees, crammed them all into a casino station wagon, and took them to purchase a spankin' new TV to replace the busted-up set that was in the dealer's break room.

"He did that kind of stuff all the time. No ego. No putting on airs. We all loved him," Walters says.

Even Sinatra, who gave Dino one of his first film roles (in 1958's "Some Came Running"), had a very special affection for him. After all, they had much in common -- both singers were Italian with similar blue collar roots; neither could read a lick of music; neither man had a high school diploma; both had very definite career ups and downs; and both liked their time drinking with the fellas.

Walters believes that Sinatra had an unspoken reverence for Martin.

"He would never ever knock him, and I'll tell you why," he says. "Frank always wanted to be funny, but couldn't be. Very few people know that. Sure, they both were nightclub crooners in their day, but Dean (with Jerry Lewis) was a much bigger draw than Frank ever was. Martin and Lewis were legendary as the greatest, funniest act that had ever played New York. People literally fell down in the aisles laughing."

Anyone who's heard Sinatra's comedy monologues on various live discs would have to agree that sometimes his delivery was thinner than the gold on a weekend wedding ring. "He'd try new material in his act all the time and it was just terrible," Walters said. "Comics would always be writing stuff for him and he'd try (the jokes) time after time. Ultimately, Frank would go on with material he just paid $10,000 for and he'd only get the 'polite'
Frank Sinatra laugh."

Dean Martin, though, intrinsically possessed a comic's crafty sensibility (chalk it up to all those years with Lewis) and had a keen sense of delivery. "By the second week of shooting 'Ocean's 11,' Sinatra was on stage doing things in a way that he'd never done before. I mean, he was actually funny. Why? Because he was doing bits with Dean. And Dean was the one who initially made it work. In the early days of those Rat Pack shows, Martin was the glue that held it together."

It wouldn't be until years later that Frank would become the master who'd set the tempo, Walters says. "When all was said and done, Sinatra became the world's greatest singer, won an Oscar for acting, but for him to be in a casino at 2 a.m. and have people approach him saying, 'Frank, God damn, you were so funny...' was a quirky little achievement. All his early idols were great nightclub entertainers, and Dino brought a little bit of that back to him every time they were on stage."

Walters says there wasn't a nicer, more genuine man than Sammy Davis Jr. "Behind that ball of energy was a very sweet, considerate, warm guy.

He represented the guy who struggled all his life - a guy with no education, hoofing since he was five or six, doing seven shows a night. With Frank and Dean, he just got bigger and bigger and bigger. Bear in mind that whenever Frank wasn't in the house, Sammy was THE superstar."

There were a couple of key factors that he believes were instrumental in Davis' success in Las Vegas. "At the time, Vegas was heavily segregated. To see this little black man perform on stage with more energy and talent than anyone had ever seen, it truly turned the town around. But it was afterwards, when fans would meet him in the lounge, he'd turn out be the sweetest guy."

The second factor was, without a doubt, Sinatra. "Frank looked at Sammy in almost a brotherly way, because Sam was a young guy with a lot of talent without some of the breaks that went along with it. By the time they met, Sammy already knew stagecraft. You see, when you're an opening act, you work hard in a way that only opening acts do. You work the room saying 'I'm trying to make it.' In many cases, the headliner may not work that hard.

Sammy ALWAYS worked hard. What Frank taught him was how to do it with class and persona. Remember, Frank had the ability to be very powerful and very kind. Sammy was already kind; Frank showed him how to be powerful."

One funny Sammy story sticks in Walters' head. Every now and then, Sinatra had the urge to play blackjack from the steam room. Walters would have one of his dealers closest to the phone deal a game just for him. "The dealer would deal and I'd tell Frank 'You got 14, dealer has 5 up.' Frank would tell me what he wanted to do. Hit, stand, split, double down or whatever."

Walters says this special service was provided only for Sinatra. But one day, Davis tried to pull the same stunt. "At first, I hesitated," says Walters. "I asked Carl Cohen. He liked Sammy but said we couldn't do it. So I told him, 'Not now,' but he was persistent. Carl saw me trying to turn Sammy down and said, 'Tell him fine, but I don't want this continuing - whack him out.'

So Walters set up a game with Davis. "I tell Sammy, alright, you got 17, dealer has 4 showing.' Sammy stands and I told him the dealer had 14 - 6 - 20."

Sammy bets another 50 bucks. "Okay Sam, you got 11 - dealer has 6 - wanna double down?"

Sammy doubles down.

"I give Sammy his totals and Sammy loses again. This goes on for a while until he's down $600."

What Davis didn't know was that there were no cards actually being dealt.

When the dust cleared, Davis owed $1,100. Being a stand-up guy, Davis soon tracked Walters down to settle the debt. Walters told him, "Carl said to tell you, you don't owe anything. Sammy, he doesn't want anyone but Frank doing this."

"But it was fun, Eddie. Next time I'll win," Davis replied.

It was then that Walters grabbed him real close and whispered, "Sammy, no more. You're not going to win, I promise it."

Sammy didn't get what he was trying to tell him, until Walters said, "You know how good you dance? I deal even better 21."

Sammy caught on - and laughed. "That cracked Sammy up," says Walters. "The funny thing is, he knew I was right."

Fast forward roughly 40 years, and contemporary Las Vegas is a completely different animal. These days, casinos are pretty much one stop-shopping for the traveler -- themed-ridden mini-cities that offer movie theaters, chic rooftop nightclubs, colossal malls, and thousands upon thousands of rooms.

Walters says the modern day Vegas of $100 show tickets is a different world from Entratter's Copa Room. "It's unbelievable what these shows cost nowadays. Sinatra was nine bucks! I can show people a dinner show menu where the steak dinner was $6.75."

On Nov. 26, 1996 at 2:06 a.m., the Sands was imploded and bid farewell to the Strip after 44 years of ring-a-ding-dingin'. Throngs of people showed up to say goodbye to their old friend, and perhaps to pave the way for the new Vegas -- an ultra-chic city that in many ways is reminiscent of the hot spots of the sixties. The clothes and music may have changed, but a stroll through the Hard Rock, the Rio, or the Palms proves that the young, hip, and beautiful are in town to stay. Much like it was in 1960 at the Sands.

Today, the 4000-room Venetian stands on the former site of the Sands, like a distant cousin longing to peer into the kitschy cool world that seems so long ago. In an attempt to keep the Sands' old-school ambiance alive, its Venus bar is a marvelous throwback to Walters' day, complete with black-and-white photos of vintage Vegas, Varga girl pinups, leopard rugs, and tiki bars. Dig the mammoth Italian "Ocean's 11" and Japanese "Viva Las Vegas" movie posters, baby! And in another tribute to the Pack, the hotel has placed a large marble star in the front entranceway, the former site of the Copa Room stage where Sinatra and Co. used to perform.

It's a reminder that even though the Sands is gone, the legacy of the building, it's hard-working employees, and the entertainers who made it what it was will never be forgotten.


  1. Anthony, this was amazing. I started to read it, planning to come back and finish, but I couldn't stop. The opening story was excellent. A really great piece.

  2. An excellent article on a time come by. I have read a few books on the Rat Pack and I have seen a DVD with Ed Walters in it talking about the Rat Pack. I sure wish I was around when these guys were big. Now if only the Venetian would put a marker in their Great Hall marking where the Copa room was and dedicating it to the Rat Pack. By the way I see Dean as being the best singer, Sammy as being the best entertainer singer and dancer and lastly Frank. Sorry Sinatra lovers


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