Sahara
255 North Sierra Street
1978 - 1981

Pam Goertler
Grade 2

Mark Englebretson
Grade 2

Early in November 1976 the Del Webb Corporation announced that it would start construction of a seventeen-story, 440-room hotel as soon as the City of Reno gave its approval. Webb's spokesman estimated that the cost of the facility would be between $50 million and $75 million. Construction began in April 1977, and in December the Del Webb Corporation announced that it was expanding the project, which was still under construction, to twenty stories and 610 hotel rooms.

The Sahara Reno property, which also included the Del Webb Primadonna property on Virginia Street, opened on July 1, 1978. Doyle Mathia, a former longtime employee of Harrah's Club, was the first vice-president and general manager of the Sahara Reno. His assistant was Vlad Chuhlantseff. Managing the casino was Ted Kelty, another former Harrah's employee, and in charge of the keno department was Vart Markarian. The casino area opened with nine hundred slot machines, sixty-four 21 games, seven poker games, two mini baccarat games, four roulette games, two big-six wheels, and one keno game. Natalie Cole was the opening act in the Sahara Showroom.

Early in 1979 the Primadonna property on Virginia Street was quietly swallowed up by its larger relative, the Sahara Reno, and the Primadonna image began to be phased out. The first and most noticeable change came when the famous "Primadonna Dollies" showgirl statues were removed from the marquee on Virginia Street and replaced with Sahara Reno signs.

Also in 1979 the Sahara Reno added three new Oriental games, pai-gow, sic-bo, and fan-tan, in a move designed to capture the Asian trade from the San Francisco Bay Area.

In June 1980 Doyle Mathia announced at the stockholders' annual meeting that in 1978 and 1979 the property had lost money. However, in 1979 new marketing techniques, streamlined hotel operations, a bingo game, four Broadway stage productions (including The Music Man and Annie), and expanded transportation efforts in Northern California had "turned things around," and the hotel-casino books were now in the black.

Mathia's optimistic comments at the stockholders' meeting failed to stop rumors that the property was for sale. The Sahara Reno continued to be plagued by labor troubles and management turnover. In the first thirty months that the hotel-casino was open, the property had three general managers and five casino managers, and in addition Del Webb's casino division had gone through three chief executive officers in less than four years.

Problems continued to multiply at the Sahara Reno, and in late 1981 the rumors of an impending sale were put to rest when it was announced that the Hilton Corporation would assume ownership of the Sahara Reno on December 29, 1981. The purchase price was $34.5 million (one half of what the property was appraised for less than six months earlier).

The property is now operating as the Reno Flamingo Hilton.

According to Dwayne Kling