El Rancho Hotel and Casino

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Not to be confused with the El Rancho Vegas, also in Las Vegas.
El Rancho Hotel and Casino
El Rancho Casino 1995, after closing.
Location Paradise, Nevada
Address 2755 Las Vegas Blvd South
Opening date September 2, 1948
Closing date July 6, 1992
Theme Western
Number of rooms 600
Casino type Land-based
Architect Marion Hicks
Previous names Thunderbird (1948-1976)
Silverbird (1977-1981)
Renovated in 1964, 1976, 1982, 1987, 2000

The El Rancho Hotel and Casino was a hotel and casino that operated on the Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, Nevada from 1948 to 1992. It was known as The Thunderbird Hotel from its opening to 1976, and The Silverbird from 1977 to 1981.



On September 1, 1948, the Thunderbird Hotel was the fourth resort to open on the Las Vegas Strip. The resort was built by developer Marion Hicks and owned by Lieutenant Governor of Nevada Clifford A. Jones. The resort had a Native American theme and featured portraits, a Navajo-based restaurant, the only bowling alley ever on the Strip, and a showroom. In 1955, articles surfaced in the Las Vegas Sun saying that Meyer Lansky and other underworld figures held hidden shares in the hotel.

In 1964, the casino was purchased by Del Webb for $10 million. He ran the resort until 1972, when he sold it to Caesars World, owner of Caesars Palace, for $13.6 million.[1] A $150-million, 2,000-room resort called the Mark Anthony was planned for the site, but Caesars was unable to find financing,[2] and sold the property four years later to banker E. Parry Thomas at a loss of $5.7 million.[3] Thomas later sold it to Major Riddle, owner of the Dunes Hotel, who renamed the resort as the Silverbird in 1976.

The Thunderbird has the distinction of being the resort where singer Rosemary Clooney made her first appearance in Las Vegas in 1951, and where Judy Garland made her final Vegas appearance in 1965.

The Silverbird[edit]

The Silverbird opened on January 1, 1977. Four years later, Major Riddle sold the resort to Ed Torres, who also owned the Aladdin Hotel and Casino. Torres renamed the Silverbird to the El Rancho, named after the nearby El Rancho Vegas, which burnt down in 1960.

El Rancho Casino[edit]

On August 31, 1982, the El Rancho Casino opened its doors. According to the Gaming Control Board, Torres had close ties with some of the most notorious crime characters of the time. However, this did not restrict him from owning a gaming license.[4] Rodney Dangerfield opened the "Rodney's Place" comedy club inside the El Rancho in 1982.

The El Rancho Casino closed on July 6, 1992. For several years the marquee claimed that Countryland USA would be coming soon, which called for two, 20-story cowboy boot-shaped hotel towers.[5] That project never came to be and the property was sold to Las Vegas Entertainment Network Inc. They failed to reopen it and sold it to International Thoroughbred Breeders Corp.,[4] founded by notorious penny-stock operator Robert E. Brennan. Other plans for the site have included a project slated as Starship Orion, a Star Wars-like casino-resort,[4] but all the proposed projects fell through, or were not approved.

In December 1999, local news channel KVBC News 3 was granted access to the El Rancho after being invited by two unnamed workers. KVBC conducted and aired an investigation of the resort's structures. Asbestos and exposed wiring were reportedly found throughout the buildings, as well as corroding chemicals which covered the floors. Rats and bugs were found to be inhabiting the resort. While most of the structures were decomposing, another section of the El Rancho was found to have been renovated with working slot machines, which had been lended to the owners by Bally Gaming three years earlier to showcase to potential investors for the Countryland USA project. After the investigation aired, the property's owners were fined for health and safety violations by the local building and fire departments, as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.[6]

In February 2000, Turnberry Associates acquired a six-month option to purchase the El Rancho, which Turnberry described as "an eyesore". Turnberry was in the process of developing Turnberry Place, a series of luxury high-rise condominium towers directly east of the El Rancho.[7] Later that year, Turnberry purchased the resort from International Thoroughbred Breeders for $45 million. On October 3, 2000, the resort was imploded. The site later became part of the land used for the Fontainebleau Resort Las Vegas.


  1. ^ "Caesars World closes hotel deal". Miami News. 1 November 1972. Retrieved 2012-04-22. 
  2. ^ "Las Vegas hotel plan canceled". Press-Courier (Oxnard). Associated Press. 12 June 1975. Retrieved 2012-04-21. 
  3. ^ "Large motel sold at loss". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Associated Press. 16 September 1976. Retrieved 2012-04-21. 
  4. ^ a b c "Ghosts of El Rancho". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Las Vegas Review Journal. December 1, 1999. Retrieved 2008-11-28. 
  5. ^ "Sale possible of old El Rancho on the strip". Las Vegas Sun. Las Vegas Sun. June 7, 1999. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  6. ^ Spears, Darcy (February 23, 2000). "El Rancho Eyesore". KVBC.  
  7. ^ "Developer takes option on shuttered casino". Las Vegas Sun. February 4, 2000. Archived from the original on 2000-08-16.