Jay Sarno

Jay Sarno (1922-1984) was a Las Vegas business entrepreneur who owned some important hotels there. He was the creator of the Caesars Palace hotel and the Circus Circus, and many credit him with being the father of today's more familiy-oriented Las Vegas. Ironically, although Sarno seemed to believe that Las Vegas could survive with less gamblers and more families visiting, he was himself a gambler. His former wife, Joyce Sarno Kerry, once declared that, during one day of gambling, Sarno won 100,000 dollars, only to leave the same night with a debt of exactly that same amount.

Some also believe that Sarno was a mafioso, and the FBI published files on Sarno.

Brief Biography

Jay Sarno was born in Missouri, during the era of the Great Depression. His father was a cabinet maker, his mother a homemaker. The Sarnos were a very poor family, and young Jay wanted a better way of living in the future. Because of his parent's efforts, he and his six siblings could attend college; Jay graduated from the University of Missouri, with a degree in business.

It was at the University of Missouri that he met Stanley Mallin, who would become his life long friend and business partner. He and Malley went to World War II and fought at the South Pacific theater. Sarno and Mallin settled in Miami, Florida, after returning to the United States; there, they became tile contractors. After that initial business venture failed, they moved north, to Atlanta, Georgia, where they became house builders. But Sarno and Malley's lack of a truck haunted the pair during their second business venture together, and, eventually, they gave up on building houses.

Sarno and Malley later on would meet Jimmy Hoffa. The union leader liked Sarno and Malley's willingness to become successful businessmen, and he introduced Sarno and Malley to Allen Dorfman, who loaned Sarno and his friend some money, allowing them to open the Atlanta Cabana Motel in 1958.

After Sarno hired interior designer Jo Harris, the Cabana motel became a successful business, and soon, other motel locations were opened, in Palo Alto, California, and Dallas, Texas.

The closeness of those two cities to the gambling capital of the time, Las Vegas, brought a temptation that Sarno was unable to resist. So he took a short trip to Las Vegas, and found what he thought was a plain city, with small hotel chains and not enough casinos for gamblers to play in. The way he saw it, he could make a hotel there that would appeal to gamblers and make much more money than the Hilton Hotel located there, which did not have a casino then.

The Caesars Palace era

Serno wanted a hotel whose name would sound European, yet at the same time appeal to Americans, and, in 1964, he, alongside Malley and Harris, began to build the Caesars Palace Hotel. The idea was at first met with skepticism, because many considered an European style hotel in the middle of an American desert to be a business failure in the making.

Harris, however, designed the hotel in a way that each of its amenities had to be approached by passing the hotel's casino first; this, in turn, would lead to people getting tempted to try their luck at the casino area, which made the hotel a profitable business venture. The Caesars Palace hotel was inaugurated in 1966; by 1969, Sarno and his business partners were able to sell the property for the amount of 60 million dollars.

Sarno and Mallin then opened what was one of Las Vegas' first family oriented venues, the Circus Circus. The attraction featured a circus tent with daily acts, and Sarno would dress up as a ringmaster and attend to families and children personally.

The Circus Circus was not an hotel when Sarno and Malley opened it: instead, it was a casino with, as its name implies, a circus. Sarno's idea was that, while children could go and use their money having fun at the circus' their parents, likewise, would use the money at the casino. But soon, a Gas crisis began in the United States, affecting tourism to Las Vegas, and the casino did not do well under Sarno and Malley's leadership, so Bill Pennington and Bill Bennett, a Del Webb executive, leased the Circus Circus.

Mafia connection

Sarno was always suspected of being involved with the mob in one of or the another, as aforementioned. In 1979, Carl Thomas testified in court that he had skimmed profit from the Circus Circus, to increase the teamster's riches. Malley denied this, however, when he testified. Malley did admit, however, that the teamsters would occasionally lend the Circus Circus operation.

Another fact is that Tony Spilotro, a mafia boss, owned a store at the Circus Circus. He apparently introduced himself to Sarno as "Steward Spilotro", leading Sarno to believe he had no mafia ties. It is said that when Sarno learned of "Steward"s real identity, he ordered Spilotro to close the store and get out of the Circus Circus.

After retiring from the Circus Circus, Sarno spent the rest of his time teaching would-be hotel owners about how to manage that type of business, and dreaming about a new hotel venture, which would have been called the "Grandissimo". One of his students was Steve Wynn, who would later on become the owner of The Mirage hotel. Sarno could not complete his dream of opening the "Grandissimo"; death surprised him during the planning stages of what would have been his third business venture in Las Vegas.

Family life

Sarno was married once, but he was well known for his womanizing skills, which implies that he may have had several relationships with other women outside his marriage. In 1974, he and wife Joyce Sarno Kerry divorced, but they remained on friendly terms, often reuniting for family events.

Jay Sarno had four children: Jay Sarno Jr, an engineering company owner, September, a former Miss Nevada contestant who is now a stockbroker, Heidi Sarno Strauss, a flower store owner, and Freddie Sarno, also a stockbroker.

Jay Sarno knew how much his son Jay Jr. loved the NASA Space program as a young boy; he once took Jay Jr. to a NASA collectibles show and bid ten thousand dollars on a patch used by Jack Swigert, of the famed Apollo 13 mission. Asked by his son why he would bid such a relatively large amount of money on an item like that, Sarno showed some affection, answering that he just wanted Jay Jr. to have it.

Jay Sarno later on grew frustrated because his dream of building the "Grandissimo" seemed impossible, and he was never able to overcome his gambling addiction. He died of a heart attack precisely at the same hotel he used to own, the Caesar's Palace, while on a gambling stay at the hotel.

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