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High Rollers and High Strangeness: The Haunted Casinos of Las Vegas

Ah, Viva Las Vegas. As a place for entertainment, gambling, and full on nightlife, the self proclaimed Entertainment Capital of the World is a place virtually unequalled. It is a place practically synonymous with good times, debauchery, bright lights, and all manner of ways to be entertained for all ages. Often notably known as Sin City due to its tolerance of adult entertainment, Vegas draws in countless visitors every year with its bright lights, mega-resort hotel casinos, buffets, seemingly non-stop shows and nightlife, conventions, and theme parks. Yet within this throbbing den of activity there lurks a darker underbelly. For among all of the mega-casinos, resorts, and high rise hotels, there lurk haunted places just as creepy as anywhere else. It is the last place on earth one might expect to be haunted, but plenty of places here are said to be pervaded by the spectral presence of the dead. Let us take a detour from the normal gambling, partying, and drinking associated with being here and take a tour of some of the allegedly haunted casinos of Las Vegas.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

Our first stop takes us to one of the oldest, most unique, and most readily recognizeable “family-friendly” casinos in Las Vegas, the one-of-a-kind Circus Circus, an enormous circus themed resort which houses a massive casino, the Adventure Dome Theme park, the largest stationary circus in the world, countless carnival games and attractions along its midway, and over 3,700 guest rooms and suites all stuffed into the garish facade of an enormous circus tent. Originally built in 1968, Circus Circus was the brainchild of a Jay Sarno, the very same man who had established the Roman themed Caesar’s Palace 5 years earlier, and it was the most complex, unique, and some might say weirdest casino in Las Vegas history at the time. Although it is now known as a family oriented establishment, it wasn’t always that way, and the Circus Circus has a shady history of crime and mob related activities.

Not long after its construction, Circus Circus started to lose money at a spectacular rate, since Sarno had neglected to have a hotel built in conjunction with the casino, which turned off the kinds of high rollers that casinos thrive on. To rectify this error, Sarno would go on to borrow around $23 million to build a hotel, a loan which went through the mafia and stipulated that the Chicago mob enforcer Anthony Spilotro would be allowed to run a gift shop on the premises under an assumed name. What could possibly go wrong? Sarno would eventually be investigated for his ties to the mafia as well as for tax fraud, and living in fear of the law and for his life would sell everything in 1974. It is from this point that the resort underwent numerous expansions and renovations, going on to become the family oriented Las Vegas landmark it is today. The casino resort has been featured in many films and books, including the James Bond film Diamonds are Forever and Hunter S. Thompson’s book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in which Thompson described the surreal design of the hotel thus:

The Circus-Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. This is the sixth Reich. The ground floor is full of gambling tables, like all the other casinos . . . but the place is about four stories high, in the style of a circus tent, and all manner of strange County-Fair/Polish Carnival madness is going on up in this space.

Circus Circus resort, Las Vegas

Circus Circus resort, Las Vegas

Oh, and it is said to be highly haunted. Although it is not known just how many people may have “accidentally” fallen out of windows or otherwise been silenced by the mob on the premises during its years caught up with organized crime, it is thought that it most certainly happened to some degree. This rather violent history most certainly contributes to stories of ghosts, but there have also been various mysterious murders allegedly committed here over the years, including a woman staying in room 123 who apparently shot her kid and then herself, three people who were allegedly killed in the hotel’s kitchen in a single night, and who knows how many more.

There are several places in Circus Circus which seem to attract the most ghostly activity if reports are to be believed. In the poker rooms, guests have allegedly heard disembodied voices crying for help, sometimes no louder than a whisper, other times as a bloodcurdling scream, and yet at other times alternating between the two. The same types of cries for help are also said to be heard in rooms 203, 230, and 576, where it is also reported that the words “Help Me” will occasionally materialize on bathroom mirrors as if drawn by unseen hands. Room 123, the location of the alleged murder-suicide of the woman and her child, is particularly imbued with strangeness. Here is is said that the cries for help are especially loud, and other activity is reported from here as well, such as moving furniture, mysterious voices, footsteps, and sightings of the apparition of the little boy. One chilling rumor surrounding the room is that the ghosts of the mother and child are searching for the father, who is said to be a dark haired man named Robert, and that anyone staying in room 123 by that description will be killed and hung up from the ceiling, one would only assume so that he may join them. This is most certainly an urban legend, but very spooky nevertheless.

Moving along to one of the other major casinos to be found in Las Vegas, we come to the Excalibur Hotel and Casino, the Arthurian themed resort with a facade made up to look like a stylized medieval castle which lies on the world famous Tropicana – Las Vegas Boulevard intersection, a place which holds the title of having the most hotel rooms of any intersection in the world. This massive casino resort includes a 100,000-square-foot (9,300 m2) gaming area, an elaborate pool area, a 13,000-square-foot (1,200 m2) spa and fitness center, a huge wedding chapel, and two popular permanent shows, the all-male revue Thunder From Down Under, and the medieval themed dinner show Tournament of Kings, which is performed in the 925-seat amphitheater called King Arthur’s Arena and features 32 cast members and 12 different breeds of horses. It is also the home of the decidedly odd Dick’s Last Resort, a restaurant opened in 2007 where servers are purposefully belligerent and rude to guests. As of 2009, the Excalibur was the fifth-largest hotel in Las Vegas and the seventh largest in the world.

Excalibur, Las Vegas

Excalibur, Las Vegas

But reading an article about haunted casinos, you want to hear about the ghosts, don’t you? Well, Excalibur apparently has those too. The 10th floor is said to be haunted, with the most commonly reported occurrences being the sense of being closely followed when no one is there, sudden frigid chills, and a voice that whispers directly into guests’ ears. Other weird phenomena said to occur hear are phones ringing in the dead of night only to have no one on the line, alarm clocks going off on their own, the sound of static emanating from televisions that are turned off, and furniture moving around on its own. The resort doesn’t have a particularly bloody or shady history, so it is uncertain what could be causing the hauntings but many visitors have sworn that these occurrences happen here.

Sitting on the very same bustling intersection is none other than the Tropicana Hotel and Casino, which opened in 1957 and features a Cuban ambiance, offers 1,467 rooms, a 50,000 sq ft (4,600 m2) casino, and 100,000 sq. ft (9,300 m2) of convention and exhibit space. It also features a supposedly cursed or haunted very large tiki mask which looms in the entrance of the hotel. For whatever reason, this tiki mask is said to be imbued with some mysterious force. It is said that anyone who takes a picture of the mask will find later that it is obscured by a weird purple fog or haze. Bizarrely, it is also said that some who have actually touched the mask have reported later developing an odd purple rash where the skin made contact. Not sure what to make of this one, but it certainly is strange.

Also sitting on the Tropicana – Las Vegas Boulevard intersection is Bally’s Las Vegas, which was formerly known as the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. With a casino that occupies 67,000 sq ft (6,200 m2), as well as175,000 sq. ft (16,300 m2) of banquet and meeting space, and 2,814 extra-sized guestrooms, all occupying 43 acres (17 ha), it is truly enormous. It also has the distinction of being the location of one of the worst high rise fires in United States history.

Bally's, Las Vegas

Bally’s, Las Vegas

On November 21, 1980, when the location was still known as the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, a fire broke out in a casino restaurant called the Deli at 7:00AM and swiftly spread through the casino and hotel, which were packed with around 5,000 people at the time. 87 people died and around 700 were injured in the blaze, many of these due to smoke inhalation. In the face of this tragedy, the MGM was nevertheless rebuilt within 8 months, and would go on to be sold to the Bally Entertainment Corporation in 1985. Perhaps because of this tragic history, the hotel and casino have gone on to be known as haunted ever since. Shadowy shapes and apparitions are often spotted in the stairwells here, which is creepy considering it was in the stairwells where most of the people died in the fire after they were trapped there while trying to escape. The restrooms are also said to be haunted, with toilets flushing by themselves, lights switching on and off, and faucets turning on or off inexplicably. Cleaning ladies report that beds sometimes have their sheets and blankets crumpled up or even ripped off right after the rooms have been cleaned and when no one was there, and there are occasional sightings of mysterious shadows lying on beds as well, perhaps because of the restless spirits of the many who died in the fire in their sleep. One persistent story passed around by casino employees is that a group of 12 ghosts wander the premises walking around together, or even taking seats together in the gaming area. One 21 dealer reported that he saw a table full of players staring strangely his way on a crowded night, and when he looked down and looked up again, the entire group had vanished into thin air. Phantom gamblers can be seen sitting about the casino staring blank faced and it must also be noted that slot machines on the premises are also known to go haywire from time to time for no apparent reason, although sadly it seems these episodes do not seem to result in any super jackpots.

Another iconic and unmistakeable presence in Las Vegas is the Luxor Hotel and Casino, with its unique pyramid shape and 42.3 billion candela Luxor Sky Beam, the strongest beam of light in the world. The 30 story luxury hotel contains a total of 4,407 rooms, including 442 suites, and has a 120,000-sq. ft (11,000 m2) casino, 20,000 sq ft (1,900 m2) of convention space, four swimming pools and whirlpools, a generous wedding chapel, Nurture Spa and Salon, and 29 retail stores, making in the fourth largest hotel casino in Las Vegas. It also has a rather dark past marked with tragic death. It is said that 3 construction workers lost their lives during construction of the resort and that there have been two guests who committed suicide on the premises by leaping from the elevated walkways onto the casino floor below. On May 7, 2007, Luxor was also the scene of the explosion of a handmade bomb which exploded on a vehicle in the hotel parking garage, killing one 24-year old victim but apparently not instigating an evacuation or slowing business down one bit. This dark past and indeed the unique pyramid shape of the resort have imbued the place with an air of ghostly mystique, and it is said to be the haunt of at least 5 ghosts. One of the most active is the ghost of a woman is said to wander the halls of the 12th to 14th floors, often allegedly breathing down guests’ necks or pushing them. Ghosts of the dead construction workers are also sometimes seen in quiet areas of the hotel, and some people even claim the building’s pyramid shape draws to it some form of palpable strange energy.

The Luxor, Las Vegas

The Luxor, Las Vegas

Another hotel and casino with a colorful and violent past is the Flamingo Las Vegas, which was the third casino to ever open on the Strip and is the oldest resort still in operation today. With the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne style of Miami and South Beach, and a garden courtyard housing a wildlife habitat replete with flamingos, it certainly stands out visually and it stands out historically as well due to its connection with the infamous mobster Bugsy Siegel. The story starts in 1945, when Seigel and some associates of his found their way to Las Vegas and in 1946, with funding from the mafia, helped complete the final construction phases of The Flamingo Hotel & Casino, which was billed at the time as “The West’s Greatest Resort Hotel.” The famously paranoid Bugsy himself had his own suite at the casino which he boasted had 18 inch thick walls, bulletproof windows, and a secret exit that led to the garage where a driver waited 24 hours a day ready to whisk the gangster away when called for. Unfortunately, none of these precautions would end up being any use during what happened next.

Within a year of opening, the Flamingo had failed to make any profit and was in fact serving only to drain money away from its mob investors, people who traditionally do not appreciate losing money. This caught the interest of Meyer Lansky, the notorious organized crime figure also known as the “Mob’s Accountant,” who became convinced that Seigel was skimming money off the top of the resort’s building budget. Things were made even more suspicious by the fact that Seigel was living lavishly even as investors were losing money on the resort. The mob was eager to put a hit out on him, but were persuaded to wait to see how the star studded opening of the hotel’s casino would pan out. It was a total flop, and after the hotel was closed and then reopened again, the mob had had enough. On 20 June 1947 Bugsy Seigel was dramatically shot to death by unknown assailants at his Beverly Hills home as he sat peacefully reading a newspaper.

The Flamingo, Las Vegas

The Flamingo, Las Vegas

Although he was killed in Beverly Hills, if reports are to be believed he was much more interested in spending his afterlife in his beloved Las Vegas. Over the years there have been hundreds of sightings of the ghost of Bugsy Seigel made at the Flamingo by witnesses ranging from guests, to cleaning ladies, to security guards and other employees. The spectral mobster is known to spend much of his time in the Presidential Suite, as well as the Wedding Chapel, which was allegedly built over where his old apartment was, as well as in the rose garden. Another place where he is sometimes seen is lounging around by the hotel pool late at night when few people are around. It appears that Bugsy Seigel enjoys the good life even in death.

It is often said that whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. And it would seem that perhaps whoever dies in Vegas stays in Vegas as well, or as in the case of Bugsy Seigel at least prefers to stay there. Such dark, spooky stories as these certainly put a different spin on the more popular image of Las Vegas as a nightlife mecca full of bright lights and never-ending entertainment. It seems that even in the most crowded, neon-lit places of the world haunted places can still exist. Whatever one may think of such eerie stories, whether you think they are tall tales, urban legends, or the real deal, they certainly give one something to think about next time they are in Las Vegas playing the slot machines, relaxing in their room, or lounging by the pool.