Frank Sinatra’s Former Cal Neva Lodge & Casino Sold to Oracle Founder Larry Ellison

Posted on: October 25, 2017, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: October 25, 2017, 01:53h.

Frank Sinatra’s famed Cal Neva Lodge & Casino, which has sat vacant since 2013, has been sold out of bankruptcy court to Oracle founder Larry Ellison for $35.8 million.

Frank Sinatra Cal Neva Larry Ellison
The shuttered Cal Neva Resort Lodge & Casino in Lake Tahoe, once owned by Frank Sinatra, has been sold to billionaire Larry Ellison. (Image: Reno Gazette-Journal)

The tech billionaire, estimated to be worth over $60 billion, was the sole bidder for the Lake Tahoe resort that straddles the Nevada and California border. Ellison hasn’t revealed his plans for the small casino and 10-story hotel tower that was once a playground for celebrities such as the Kennedys, Marilyn Monroe, and Sinatra’s Rat Pack.

The property has switched hands numerous times, the most recent owner being a real estate firm named Criswell Radovan. The California developer closed the resort in 2013 to make way for a $49 million renovation, but those plans were halted three years later after the company filed for bankruptcy.

Ellison is no stranger to the Lake Tahoe community. He’s currently building an 18,000-square-foot “getaway” mansion on the North Shore according to the Sacramento Bee.

Casino Plans

With Ellison and his investment holdings company mum Cal Neva’s future, observers can only wonder whether he plans to return the resort to its old luster, or reimagine the acreage into an entire new concept.

“They’ve been radio silent,” Strategic Gaming’s Regional Director Eric Dale told the Bee. Strategic Gaming was going to operate Cal Neva’s small casino space under Criswell Radovan’s ownership. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency spokesman Tom Lotshaw added, “We haven’t heard anything.”

When the resort closed, the casino space was very small at just 6,000 square feet.

According to reports, the massive renovation undertook by Criswell was nearly complete when the company went under. Nearly all of the property’s guestrooms have been refreshed, as has the resort’s main restaurant.

Storied History

Frank Sinatra purchased the resort in 1960 and transformed it into a retreat for his Rat Pack and A-list celebrity friends. He kept the casino and hotel open year-round, and built the Celebrity room and theater where the famed singer often performed.

Sinatra’s ownership went south when his mobster friends began hanging around. Sinatra used Cal Neva’s underground tunnels, which were built during prohibition to sneak alcohol into the resort, to move the mobsters around the property.

Chicago mobster Sam Giancana was a frequent guest, and that attracted the attention of the FBI, which began monitoring who was visiting the casino.

At the urging of the federal government, the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) revoked Sinatra’s casino license in 1963. That led to Sinatra selling the resort, and it would never return to similar prominence.

Though Sinatra became a key figure in the development and rise of the Las Vegas Strip, his ongoing rumored ties to organized crime kept him barred by the NGCB from holding a casino license.

That changed 18 years later in 1981 when the gaming board returned his gaming permit. At the time, the NGCB praised Sinatra’s charitable works, and criticized the persistent media reports that linked him to notorious mobsters in New York, Chicago, and Las Vegas.