The last days of the Tropicana on Las Vegas Strip

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Oakland Athletics and a hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, two legendary franchises facing demolition by neglect this season.

(Editor’s note: The initial version of this story ran in The Messenger on September 15, 2023. The Tropicana Las Vegas will close its doors for good on April 2, 2024.)

LAS VEGAS — The waitress at the Tropicana pool is trying to upsell me on a mojito I don’t want but probably need to get me through an afternoon dip in a desert oasis that has seen better days.

“It’s $15 in a 12-ounce cup but $27 in a 32-ounce souvenir cup,” she says. “It’s $20 for refills after that. It’s a great deal. Just come back and see me anytime – today, tomorrow, next year. Maybe not next year. I don’t know if we’ll be here.”

The Tropicana’s days are numbered, but no one who works at the third oldest hotel on the Las Vegas Strip knows exactly when it will be torn down and when construction on the new $1.5 billion, 30,000-seat ballpark for the Oakland Athletics will begin.

“The only thing we’ve been told is that it’s going to be sometime next year because the A’s want to start construction on their stadium by the end of 2024,” says the woman working the cashier station on the casino floor, as she tries to get me to join a loyalty program for a hotel on life support. “We’ll see what happens.”

There’s nothing in or around the Tropicana that lets you know you’re standing on the site of a future Major League Baseball stadium. There are no A’s hats or shirts being sold at the gift shop; no green-and-gold drinks being served at the bar and no televisions anywhere in the casino even showing the Athletics-Texas Rangers game as I looked for the hotel’s sportsbook last week. The hotel demolished its previous 11,134-square-foot sportsbook six years ago to make room for a restaurant owned by celebrity chef Robert Irvine, best known for shows such as Dinner: Impossible and Worst Cooks in America.

The Tropicana opened in 1957 on land owned by Ben Jaffe, part owner of the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, and featured a Cuban ambience that still exists today in the hotel’s Havana Room event space as well as the Cohiba, Montecristo and Trinidad meeting rooms, named after three popular Cuban cigars. There’s still a red 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air sedan parked in front. Interestingly enough as the Tropicana faces demolition, the Fontainebleau Las Vegas, four miles north on the Strip, is preparing to open by the end of the year, trying to recreate a Miami Beach vibe the Tropicana could never quite capture.

Bally’s, the face of a bankrupt regional sports network business, closed its purchase of the Tropicana just last year for $148 million from Penn Entertainment. Bally’s officials said at the time that they likely wouldn’t make any improvements to the hotel in the next year or two as they strategized the best long-term plan.

The long-term plan they settled on is to tear down the hotel, which sits on 35 acres at the intersection of Las Vegas Blvd. and Tropicana Ave., and features 1,470 rooms and 50,000 square feet of casino space.

When a hotel is one year removed from being sold to owners unwilling to invest in it and one year away from being torn down, things fall through the cracks that now cover the outside exterior of the hotel. Then again when your room costs $49, there’s not much you can complain about except for the $40 resort fee.  

Judging from the stadium renderings the team revealed in May, my corner room in the hotel’s Club Tower is roughly where an upper-deck seat in the A’s new ballpark would be, with a view of the MGM Grand in the distance. It’s hard to say what the stadium will actually look like when it’s built, given that A’s director of design Brad Schrock told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “You saw renderings in the newspaper, but wad those up for now.” They are in the process of designing new stadium renderings.

The first renderings helped the A’s secure $380 million in public funding from the Nevada State Legislature in June, sparking pushback from locals that the city’s three current major league sports teams did not face. The city quickly fell in love with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, the reigning Stanley Cup champions. Fans embraced the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, the defending WNBA champions. And Vegas has become the perfect home for the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, which will host Super Bowl LVIII at the end of this season.

But there’s just something about the Las Vegas A’s that hasn’t quite caught on with locals yet.

“I think the pushback on the A’s has several components to it,” said Steve Carp, a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year who currently writes for The Sporting Tribune. “First and foremost is the team being really bad, second-worst in the majors and for long stretches this season, the worst of the 30. Second, there’s a lot of people who believe the A’s made an end-run with the legislature using lobbyist tactics and bouncing from [potential] location to location. I think that was a turnoff for many. Third, the idea of giving corporate welfare to a billionaire like [A’s owner] John Fisher when teachers are fighting for a livable working wage and hotel and restaurant industry folks are worried about losing their jobs is hard to accept.”

Steve Cofield, who has hosted the popular Cofield & Company radio show on ESPN Las Vegas since 2007, can’t recall his listeners being so lukewarm about the prospect of getting a professional sports team. It’s not that fans don’t want a Major League Baseball team; they just don’t want the Oakland A’s.  

“We all follow sports, so we know how the A’s and its ownership have operated in recent years,” he said. “A team that doesn’t try to win, spend money or embrace local fans will have a tough time building any sort of loyalty here in Las Vegas. And the first couple of dealings here in Nevada, John Fisher and [A’s president] Dave Kaval haven’t come off as guys to believe in. The public money is a big issue, but you’d have a lot more Las Vegas locals open to the idea if the market was getting an expansion team or a good franchise.”

While Las Vegas sports fans quickly bought up Golden Knights merchandise when the team was named and Raiders gear when the team relocated, you would be hard-pressed to find anything A’s-related worn or being sold despite the team officially filing to relocate to Las Vegas as early as 2025 (pending approval by MLB’s other owners). Walking around the Tropicana last week and spending the afternoon walking up and down the Las Vegas Strip, I didn’t find a single A’s hat, shirt or jersey. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any A’s fans or won’t be any A’s fans, it just means the team isn’t exactly moving to a city holding up a big welcome sign.

“You’re talking about moving a self-sabotaged MLB franchise that would seemingly only work here if there was a rebrand from top to bottom,” said W.G. Ramirez, who has covered sports in Las Vegas since 1987 and is a regular guest on sports talk shows in town. “From the negligence toward the stadium in Oakland, to the lack of investment toward a successful roster, Las Vegas simply doesn’t want to support a franchise that has shown that if it doesn’t get its way, it won’t support the city it’s in or the personnel.”

While the A’s might not get a parade upon their arrival, legendary Las Vegas columnist Norm Clarke believes they will do just fine if they enjoy the same success the Golden Knights and Aces have had in a state-of-the-art stadium that will replace one of the oldest hotels in Las Vegas.

“I don’t have a problem with the Tropicana being torn down, and I love Las Vegas’ rich entertainment history as much as anyone,” he said. “Market the team right and put out a good product and they won’t have attendance issues.”

In the meantime, the Tropicana will continue to have its own issues. As I try to watch college football on the televisions by the pool, I discover one is broken while the other is covered by a red Tropicana sleeve. Like many things at the aging hotel, I’m told they are no longer in operation and won’t likely be fixed as the hotel counts down its final days.

On the bright side, the 32-ounce mojito and discounted refills worked just fine.