Las Vegas’ Moulin Rouge Property Sold, Hope Remains to Honor History

Posted on: December 9, 2020, 04:53h. 

Last updated on: December 9, 2020, 01:54h.

Las Vegas’ long-vacant Moulin Rouge gaming property may soon be the site of a revived gambling venue. Before its demise, it was once the sole desegregated, upscale casino in Southern Nevada.

A new casino is planned for the site
Showgirls at the Moulin Rouge in 1955. Clockwise from lower left: Barbara McCory, Jane Craddock, Norma Talbert, Lorraine Riley, Anna Bailey, Dee Dee Jasmin, and (center) Norma Washington. The long-vacant casino property was sold recently. (Image: UNLV)

Last month, a local judge approved the sale of the historic property. The new owner is RAH Capital. That entity is a new firm based in Nevada.

RAH paid $3.1 million for the 11.3-acre site, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. New owners plan to place a casino on the vacant lot. RAH is associated with an Australian-headquartered financial firm, BBC Capital. Last month, Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez approved the sale of the property to BBC Capital.

Under the agreement, RAH Capital has to take over $2 million in liens. The firm gets an active, non-restricted gaming license from the state of Nevada.

The property takes its name from the original Moulin Rouge cabaret, which is still found in Paris. Launched in the 19th Century, it is best known as the birthplace of the modern can-can dance.

First Racially Integrated Casino

Inspired by the Paris cabaret, Las Vegas’ Moulin Rouge opened in 1955. It was the first upscale, integrated casino, where guests and performers of any race were welcome.

For the first time, African Americans could enjoy entertainment in a space of elegance denied to them previously,” Claytee White, director of the Oral History Research Center at UNLV and an expert on Las Vegas’ Black history, told

The late-night performances attracted entertainers and high rollers alike, including Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, and Frank Sinatra.

The Moulin Rouge featured the first line of Black dancers, many Black entertainers, and “an audience peppered with Hollywood royalty,” White recalled. These racially diverse performers led to national attention. Its dancers were depicted on the June 20, 1955 cover of Life magazine.

During the post-World War II period of segregation, the Moulin Rouge also provided housing for Black entertainers who found little options other than living in Westside boarding houses.

Nat King Cole, Pearl Bailey, Sammy Davis, Jr., and other stars were not allowed to stay at hotel-casinos on The Strip where they performed to adoring white audiences,” White said. “These entertainers entered through the kitchens of the Sands, Desert Inn, Stardust, and Flamingo, just like Blacks who worked in housekeeping.”

Back then, Las Vegas “was two separate spaces, separate worlds. Separate and unequal,” White added.

Tough Financial Times

Initial funding for the Moulin Rouge came from such investors as legendary boxer Joe Louis. But tough finances forced the Moulin Rouge to close after less than a half year of operation.

Some of the other casinos, such as the Dunes and Royal Nevada, were struggling then, too, but got assistance to make it through.

“None of the other hotels came to the aid of the Moulin Rouge, thus the heyday ended,” White said. The Moulin Rouge was shuttered by the local sheriff’s office for non-payment of contractors.

Eventually, the Moulin Rouge re-opened. But the venue fell short of his cultural heyday seen in 1955.

Site of Historic Civil Rights Meeting

The property was also significant in the civil rights history of Las Vegas. On March 26, 1960, it hosted a meeting “that hammered out an agreement to integrate public accommodations on the Las Vegas Strip and downtown,” White said.

She noted that the initial agreement failed to resolve many issues. In 1971, a legal consent decree was brokered to open jobs to Blacks in the front of the house.

Later, the Moulin Rouge got listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But multiple fires left the abandoned site in a state of disrepair.

In recent years, several leaders and activists in Las Vegas’ Black community urged that something be placed on the site. Many were hoping for local owners.  Many also wanted to find a way that the precious history of the Moulin Rouge and West Las Vegas could be presented to the public.

“I think it is good that the property will be reinvented,” White concluded when asked this week about the sale of the Moulin Rouge parcel. “But unfortunately, the history of the location will probably not be honored.”