These are a few of the personalities who show up in Grandissimo: The First Emperor of Las Vegas.
Jay Jackson Sarno: Born 1921 in St. Joseph, Missouri. Graduated University of Missouri (business), before moving to Miami, then Atlanta and establishing himself as a hotelier. Built the Atlanta Cabana with a loan from the Teamster Central States Pension Fund, followed by Cabanas in Dallas and Palo Alto. In 1963, while visiting Las Vegas for the first time, conceived the idea for the casino that would become Caesars Palace, changing himself and Las Vegas. Compulsive gambler, eater, and womanizer with an overwhelming creative urge.
Alexander and Nellie Sarno: Parents to Jay Sarno; they immigrated to the United States from what is now Poland in 1911-12. Despite struggling in St. Joseph, they had a large family, with sons Herman, Samuel, Louis, and Jay and daughters Sarah, Hannah, and Phyllis.
Joyce (Cooper) Sarno: Met Jay while vacationing at Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau Hotel in the summer of 1957; within five days, agreed to marry him.
Jay C., September, Freddie, and Heidi Sarno: The four children of Jay and Joyce Sarno.
Carol Freeman: Jay’s long-term mistress, soul-mate, and confidante. Though they both were married to others, they maintained a relationship of varying intensity for over twenty years.
Evelyn Spinx: Sarno’s secretary of 25 years; she brought as much order as she could to a chaotic life.
Stanley Mallin: Sarno’s friend and fraternity brother (ZBT) at the University of Missouri, with whom he would partner in his most important business ventures, including the Atlanta Cabana, Caesars Palace, and Circus Circus.
Jimmy Hoffa: Embattled head of the Teamsters Union (1957-1967), his control of the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund brought him into contact with Jay Sarno, who received several loans from the pension and became a good friend to Hoffa. Hoffa’s high-profile feud with Robert F. Kennedy put Sarno in the crosshairs of the Justice Department.
Doris Day: A passive and not completely willing investor in Sarno’s Cabana hotels, the Hollywood star came to regret her investments.
Stuart Mason: Initially assistant project manager for Taylor International, lead contractor for Caesars Palace, he becomes friends with Jay Sarno.
Melvin Grossman: Miami Beach architect who designed the Seville and Deauville hotels there before helping Jay Sarno create the Atlanta Cabana and Caesars Palace.
Jo Harris: Jay Sarno’s designer, who began collaborating with him on the Atlanta Cabana and remained with him in his Las Vegas years.
Jerry Zarowitz: Former bookmaker who went to prison for attempting to fix the 1946 New York Giants-Chicago Bears National Football League championship game and had a unofficial, though domineering, role in Caesars Palace
Nate Jacobson: Former Baltimore insurance executive and part-owner of the Baltimore Bullets basketball team who helped Sarno secure funding for Caesars Palace, and became the casino’s president
Evel Knievel: America’s most famous daredevil, who became widely known after unsuccessfully attempting to jump the fountains at Caesars Palace.
Homer Rissman: Award-winning Las Vegas architect who designed several casinos, including Circus Circus.
Judd McIntosh: An investor and executive in Circus Circus; along with Sarno and Mallin, part of the triumvirate that guided the casino in its early years.
Robert Smith: An IRS agent who would figure importantly in Sarno’s life from 1973 to 1975; Sarno was accused of offering him the largest bribe in IRS history.
Tony Spilotro: Notorious reputed member of the Chicago underworld who, in 1972, moved to Las Vegas and set up shop in Sarno’s Circus Circus casino, allegedly masterminding the skim for his mob superiors.
Oscar Goodman: Rising young “mob” lawyer who represented Jay Sarno in his 1974-5 bribery trial.
Bill Bennett: Along with Bill Pennington, began leasing Circus Circus from Jay Sarno in 1974; eventually bought the casino outright. His company, Circus Circus Enterprises, was for a time the most profitable gaming company in the world.
Steve Wynn: First met Jay Sarno at the Caesars Palace opening in 1966; was influenced by Sarno’s aesthetic and design ideas, particularly the use of water and spectacle as a central feature. He subsequently became the preeminent casino building of his own generation, with casinos like The Mirage, Bellagio, and Wynn redefining Las Vegas. With Wynn Macau, he’s stamped his influence on another market Sarno only could have dreamed of.