The Chicago Syndicate: Former Sinatra, Giancana Playground Gets New Boss

Magee 1866 Heritage Month

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Former Sinatra, Giancana Playground Gets New Boss

Friends of ours: Sam Giancana
Friends of mine: Frank Sinatra

Tom Celani, a Bloomfield Township gambling executive who was instrumental in the successful statewide ballot that led to Detroit's three casinos, has received approval from Nevada authorities to run the Cal-Neva Casino, once owned by Frank Sinatra.

Celani, who at one time owned 10 percent of Detroit's MotorCity Casino, will run the Cal-Neva Casino through his company Luna Entertainment. The casino is on the north shore of Lake Tahoe. The Nevada Gaming Commission approved the gambling operating license late last month, and Celani plans to take over the operation within several days. He will spend up to $7 million to upgrade the 80-year-old casino resort.

Gary Burkart, chief marketing officer of Luna Entertainment, said the fact Celani received his first gambling license in Nevada is significant for his future development plans in Las Vegas. "Tom wants to do something big on the Las Vegas strip," Burkart said. "Without having an existing license, it takes a lot longer to get a new one." Celani wants to be able to move quickly when he spots the right property for sale in Las Vegas, Burkart said.

The Cal-Neva Casino has an interesting history. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the casino became a playground for celebrities and socialities.

Sinatra purchased the casino in 1960 and added the Celebrity Showroom and a helicopter pad on the roof for his friends and guests appearing on stage at the casino Visiting celebrities included Peter Lawford, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Julie Prowse and Marilyn Monroe. In 1963, law enforcement officials spotted Sam Giancana, a Chicago mob boss, at the resort and yanked Sinatra's gaming license.

Celani has a long history in the gaming business. In 1988, he co-founded Sodak Gaming Inc., which distributed gaming devices like slot machines to Indian tribes in South Dakota. He built the company into a $150-million-a-year business before selling it a decade later.

In the mid-1990s, he developed and ran the Little River Casino Resort in Manistee for the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. Celani also owns the Red Dolly Casino in Black Hawk, Colo., about an hour's drive from Denver.

Thanks to Joel J. Smith

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